Thomas Jefferson was insanely jealous of the successful oratorical skills in court by his fellow Virginia attorney Patrick Henry. Jefferson had spent years preparing for the practice of law under Virginia’s outstanding attorney George Wythe, whereas Henry became a lawyer without any legal training or preparation. It is questionable if Henry ever read a legal book before becoming a lawyer. Henry mesmerized juries and won almost every case he tried, whereas Jefferson, a brilliant legal scholar with a notoriously poor speaking voice, “In not one of his major cases had he succeeded.”
In 1773, Jefferson was preparing notes on the subject of divorce. He sat in court observing Henry try a matrimonial case for Kitty Eustice Blair who sued the Blair family for her sizable dower right to Blair’s slaves, after his death. “The evidence,” Jefferson wrote as to Henry’s legal presentation, “was voluminous and indecent.” Kitty, however, won her case and her mother heaped praise in correspondence on Henry, her lawyer; “He shined in the cause of Justice backed by the law.”Jefferson was left sputtering by Henry’s performance and results.
“If Jefferson ever ranted, it was on the subject of Henry.” While their political views conformed exactly (Jefferson’s later Declara- tion of Independence and Henry’s ‘Give me liberty or give me death’), Jefferson said that Henry could not draw up a bill or a brief “on the most simple subject which could bear legal criticism…for indeed there was no accuracy of idea in his head.”
Jefferson’s criticism of Henry was also “an indication of his growing disillusion with the practice of law.” As a financial crisis in the colonies continued, few clients were paying him. As he turned away from trials and concentrated on preparing briefs and pleadings, his earnings dropped nearly 50% in 1773, his last full year of practicing law. Collections rarely exceeded 50% of his legal bills. Finally, in 1774, at age 31, he abandoned his law practice and sacrificed two thirds of the moneys owed by clients. Jefferson’s jealousy of Henry later turned to bitter hatred, which remained with him for the rest of his life.
Short URL: http://www.communitynewspapers.com/?p=19534
Comments are closed