The following is an excerpt from a newly published book, Thomas Jefferson - Roots of Religious Freedom. It shows Jefferson's personal involvement with George Wythe. It is preparing the way for Patrick Henry's famed court trial on the Two-Penny Act.
To find out more about the book, click on the website below.
Thomas Jefferson left Reverend Maury’s Boys School in 1760. Over three years later, Tom heard his former teacher. Rev. James Maury was pleading his case against the church’s vestry called “The Parson’s Cause” in Hanover Court House. A fledging rookie lawyer named Patrick Henry would be defending the vestry against Maury.
George Wythe, who helped admit Henry to the bar, decided to attend the trial. He would take his clerk, Jefferson, with him to advance his legal training.
The two men prepared for their lengthy assignment as Wythe’s most trusted slave went to the stable to retrieve the carriage. When Tom saw two dapple gray horses passing by the Bruton Parish Church next door, he knew they would soon be fastened to Wythe’s coach, and they would be on their way. Their seventy-mile journey allowed them plenty of time to discuss the importance of the occasion. After they left the outskirts of Williamsburg, Wythe began telling Tom the purpose of the trip.
“Thomas, you’ve told me a lot about Reverend Maury, your former teacher. Did he ever tell you about the Two Penny Act?”
“Yes he did, Mr. Wythe, but he tried to keep it to himself. Therefore, I never quite understood it.”
“It’s a long story that began in 1758 and now five years later we hope to reach the conclusion of that conflict between the Anglican clergy and the planters of Virginia.” George paused momentarily as he covered his face to keep the dust from road inflaming his nostrils.
“As you know, all the Anglican clergy receive their wages from the taxpayers. We used to give each minister 16,000 pounds of tobacco for their annual salary.”
“I remember hearing that figure.” Tom sat with his eyes intensely glued on George, although he struggled whenever the coach hit some bumps in the jagged road.
“When an economic crisis hit the land, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Two Penny Act in 1758. Rather than pay the clergy in tobacco, the planters would give them two pence per pound of tobacco that was sold. That meant the ministers would get a drastic cut in wages.” Wythe continued to cough as he struggled with the dust coming in the windows.
“No wonder Reverend Maury was upset about that.” Tom replied. “That all happened while I was in his school.”
“Well, Thomas, the law was only supposed to be for one year. But it was never changed. So here we are five years later, and the ministers want their wages to be paid retroactively back to 1759.”
“I guess that’s what this court trial will be about.”
“Right, Tom, your Reverend Maury is representing the Anglican clergy in a lawsuit against the planters called ‘The Parson’s Cause.’ We’ve been invited to bring some assistance to Maury’s side. It won’t be long before you will see your good friend and former teacher.”
Tom sat in shock at what he heard. George never had seen him so speechless. Tom couldn’t imagine what it would be like to see his favorite teacher in the middle of a court battle. He knew Maury was one of the two still alive who shared his father’s dream.
George Wythe, being a stickler for punctuality, arrived with Thomas Jefferson well ahead of the trial. What they were about to behold was the likes of which Tom never had seen before. He was quick to seek out Reverend Maury and offer him his full support. Maury told him the best support he could offer was that of earnest prayer for him.
With George and Tom seated in the gallery, they saw the prestigious attorney, Peter Lyons, representing Maury’s cause. He was one of the ablest prosecutors around, and they knew the minister was in good hands. They noticed that Colonel John Henry was the presiding judge. Tom thought it was a conflict of interest for the justice to be the father of Patrick Henry arguing for the defense. How could an impartial judgment be reached in this situation?http://www.jeffersonreligiousfreedom.com/