A Radical Man with Treasonous Aspirations
History has portrayed Patrick Henry as a radical man, a title that few men can wear with ease yet, Patrick Henry, was synonymous with the word in the minds of colonists and British Empire. Even though many of us know Henry for his immortal words, we know very little about the hero that contributed greatly to the revolutionary cause. As we glimpse into the past, I hope to give you a brief look into the life of Patrick Henry as well as pop culture's take on the revolutionary icon.
He, like so many of the founding fathers, by definition of the British empire, committed acts of treason in their fight for an ideal so radical that their beliefs set the keystone for the identity of the new nation that was about to emerge from the ruins of the American Revolutionary War. A Patriot and symbol in America's struggle for liberty, Patrick Henry was a lawyer, orator, and active participant in virtually every phase of the founding of America. His Stamp Act Resolutions are still at the epicenter of what many historians hail as the first shot fired in the Revolutionary War.
A Synopsis of Patrick Henry's Life
Patrick Henry was born in Hanover County, Virginia in 1736, to John and Sarah Winston Henry. His family quickly became aware that he was not interested in becoming a farmer, and instead began to educate Patrick. John Henry educated young Patrick at home teaching Henry Latin. Patrick took on the study of law on his own. In 1760, he traveled to Williamsburg to take his attorney's examination, and from that day forward, Patrick Henry became indivisible from American history.
In 1763, arguing the famed Parson's Cause in Hanover County, Patrick Henry proclaimed that a king who would veto a good and necessary law made by a local representative government was not a father to his people but "a tyrant who forfeits the allegiance of his subjects." Henry's oratory skills soon became his forte and used this skill to his advantage. Soon after he was elected to the House of Burgesses in 1764 and became its leading radical member. Defending his resolutions against the Stamp Act in the House of Burgesses May 30, 1765, he proposed the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions. In March 1775, at the Second Virginia Convention, Patrick Henry urged his fellow Virginians in an appeal at St. John's Church in Richmond, where the legislature was meeting. Here his uttered the immortal words, "I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death."
Henry called the citizens of Virginia to arms and his protest was carried over the protests of other soft spoken patriots and was one of the causes of the order for Lord Dunmore, the royal governor, to remove gunpowder from the local Magazine. Henry mobilized the militia to force the return of the powder. Since Henry's action followed the British march on Concord by only a few hours, it is said to mark the beginning of the American Revolution in Virginia.
In 1776, Henry was elected Governor of Virginia and was re-elected for three terms and then succeeded by Thomas Jefferson. He was again elected to the office in 1784. Patrick Henry was a strong critic of the constitution proposed in 1787. He was in favor of the strongest possible government for the individual states, and a weak federal government. President Washington appointed him Secretary of State in 1795, but Henry declined the office and in 1799, President Adams appointed him envoy to France, but failing health forced him to decline this office too. He died on June 6, 1799 at age of 63.
The actions of Patrick Henry and other Patriots paved the way for America's eventual break from the British empire. As we continue to discover Patrick Henry as a founding father we will begin to explore how popular culture perceives the man, whose words will forever be remembered.
The portrait (left) by Thoams Sully, depicts the serious and punctual demeanor of...
Bibliography: Freedman, Russell Give Me Liberty! The Story of the Declaration of Independence. New York: Holiday House, 2000.
The author, Russell Freedman, writes this children 's book as a synopsis of the event leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. His representation of revolutionary history is well researched and his story is easily conveyed to the intended audience. One cause for debate is his portrayal of Patrick Henry as the main catalyst for the beginning of the American Revolution. Historians have argued which events can be considered key to defining the beginning of the war and they do acknowledge Henry 's actions as essential to the cause for independence but not the primary catalyst. I have to agree that Patrick Henry 's actions were fundamental to the revolutionary cause but not the chief factor in the beginning of the war. Russell 's book is successful in leading children to believe that Patrick Henry 's famous phrase, "Give me liberty, or give me death", is the fuel that fed the fire and begun the march for independence.
Meade, Robert Douthat. Patrick Henry: Patriot in the Making. Philadelphia and New York. J.B. Lippincott Company, 1957
Robert Douthat Meade took on the challenging task of writing a biography of the life of Patrick Henry from childhood until 1775. He purposely excluded the events beginning with the commencement of the Revolutionary war to give us a view into the events that shaped the character of the revolutionary hero and founding father we all know as Patrick Henry. He takes into account all of Henry 's journals, unpublished material concerning Henry, newspaper articles , and Henry 's personal letters that have surfaced since the writing of the three volume biography of Henry, published in 1891 and incorporates all this material into an in depth view of Patrick Henry. This biography helps us understand the man behind the revolutionary genius that many of us know litte about. Other than his famous "give me Liberty" speech, American culture has failed to recognize the radical contribution of Patrick Henry to the founding of The Unites States of America.
Writ, William. Skethches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry. Philidelphia: Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co.,1845
William Writ gives us a clear and concise representation of Patrick Henry through his research and numerous first hand accounts of the life of Henry. Writ had began his research long before 1817 when the first edition of this book was published and was fortunate enough to interview the widow, many friends, and family of Patrick Henry. As I was flipping though the worn and tattered pages of the ninth edition of this book, published in 1845, I could only imagine the history that William Writ was experiencing as he was collecting first hand accounts of the life of Patrick Henry. This Biography gives us an interesting perspective into the life of Patrick Henry though first hand accounts of his life. We begin to see the man as he was seen by his peers and not the representation of the man that history has painted. This book contributes greatly to our perception of Henry as a man with a talent for speaking his mind and a man with a strong, unbreakable will to accomplish what he set out to do.
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