Patrick Henry (1736-1799), American orator and revolutionary, was a leader in Virginia politics for 30 years and a supremely eloquent voice during the American Revolution.
Patrick Henry was born into a family of lesser gentry in Hanover County, Va. He received a good education from his father and his uncle, an Anglican clergyman. He largely failed at attempts to become a storekeeper and a farmer, and his early marriage to Sarah Shelton made him at 35 the father of six children, whom he was always hard-pressed to support. A cursory training in law at Williamsburg about 1760, admission to the bar, and a modest beginning in a crowded profession did not at first improve his standing.
In 1763, defending a Louisa County parish against claims by its Anglican rector, Henry discovered the twin foundations of his public career—a deep empathy for injustice to the plain people and an eloquent voice that could overwhelm a jury. After he had scorned ecclesiastical arrogance and the British power supporting it, Henry's listeners carried him triumphantly from the courtroom. Two years later, as a member of the House of Burgesses, he made his stirring speech denouncing the Stamp Act. Henry also sponsored resolves against the Stamp Act, denying the power of Parliament to tax Virginians, which, published throughout the Colonies, marked him as an early radical leader. For 10 years Henry used his powerful voice and popular support to lead the anti-British movement in the Virginia Legislature.
During the crisis precipitated by the Boston Tea Party and the Coercive Acts, Henry was at the pinnacle of his career. He spurred the House of Burgesses to repeated defiances of the stubborn royal governor, Lord Dunmore. In August 1774 Henry, George Washington, Richard Henry Lee, and others traveled to Philadelphia as the Virginia delegation to the First Continental Congress. Henry stood with the Adamses of Massachusetts and other radicals, urging firm resistance to Britain, and union among the Colonies. "The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are no more," Henry said. "I am not a Virginian, but an American." John Adams referred to Henry as the "Demosthenes of America." Back home in Virginia, Henry resumed his leadership of the radical party, "encouraging disobedience and exciting a spirit of revolt among the people," reported Lord Dunmore, who, as a result of Henry's exertions, was soon driven from the colony.
Elected to the first Virginia Revolutionary Convention, of March 1775, Henry made one of the most famous orations in American history. Attempting to gain support for measures to arm the colony of Virginia, Henry declared that Britain, by dozens of rash and oppressive measures, had proved its hostility. "We must fight!" Henry proclaimed. "An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us! … Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" The delegates were entranced by Henry's eloquence and swept away by his fervor. Virginia rushed down the road to independence.
Henry capped his seditious activities during the spring of 1775 by leading a contingent of militia that forced reparations for gunpowder stolen by British marines from the Williamsburg arsenal. In the Second Continental Congress, of May-September 1775, Henry again spoke boldly for the radicals. In Virginia for 6 months he commanded the state's regular forces, but exhibiting no particular military talent, he resigned to resume civilian leadership. At the Virginia Convention of May-July 1776, Henry sponsored resolves calling for independence that eventuated in the Declaration of Independence by Congress on July 4, 1776. "His eloquence," wrote a young listener, "unlocked the secret springs of the human heart, robbed danger of all its terror, and broke the key-stone in the arch of royal power." Henry was elected first governor of Virginia under its constitution as an independent commonwealth.
In three terms as wartime governor (1776-1779), Henry worked effectively to marshal Virginia's resources to support Congress and George Washington's army. He also promoted George Rogers Clark's expedition, which drove the British from the Northwest Territory. During the years of Henry's governorship, the legislature, led by Thomas Jefferson, passed reforms transforming Virginia from a royal colony into a self-governing republic.
Henry's retirement from the governorship gave him time to attend to pressing family concerns. His first wife had died in 1775, leaving him six children, aged 4 to 20. Two years later he married Dorothea Dandridge, who was half his age and came from a prominent Tidewater family. Beginning in 1778, Henry had 11 children by his second wife, thus giving him family responsibilities that taxed his resources and provided abundant distraction from public life.
Meanwhile, Henry continued to serve in the Virginia Assembly, engaging in oratorical battles with Richard Henry Lee and sharing leadership during the breakdown in government after the British invasion of Virginia in 1780-1781. Though Henry backed some measures for strengthening the Continental Congress, his concern increasingly centered on Virginia and on efforts to expand its trade, boundaries, and power.
After the Revolution, Henry served two further terms as governor of Virginia (1784-1786). Increasingly opposed to a stronger federation, he refused to be a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. As an old revolutionary, he distrusted the ambitions of men like Virginia's James Madison and New York's Alexander Hamilton, fearing that they would sacrifice simple, republican virtues to the alleged needs of a grandiose nation.
"Peaceable Citizen" Henry
At the Virginia Convention of 1788, Henry engaged Madison and his colleagues in a dramatic debate. He called upon all his oratorical powers to parade before the delegates the tyrannies that would result under the new Constitution: Federal tax gatherers would harass men working peacefully in their own vineyards, citizens would be hauled off for trial in distant courts before unknown judges, and the president would prove to be a worse tyrant than even George III. Furthermore, in his most telling practical arguments, Henry insisted the new Federal government would favor British and Tory creditors and negotiate away American rights to use the Mississippi River. The Federalists nevertheless managed to win a narrow victory, which Henry accepted by announcing that he would be "a peaceable citizen." He had enough power in the legislature, however, to see that Virginia sent Antifederalist senators to the first Congress, and he almost succeeded in excluding Madison from a seat in the House of Representatives.
Finally, shorn of his domination of Virginia politics, Henry largely retired from public life. He resumed his lucrative law practice, earning huge fees from winning case after case before juries overwhelmed by his powerful pleas. He also extended his real estate interests, which, through skillful speculations, made him at his death one of the largest landowners in Virginia, with huge tracts in Kentucky, Georgia, and the Carolinas as well. His continuing national fame, and his switch by 1793 to support of President Washington and the Federalists, led to a series of proffered appointments: as senator, as minister to Spain and to France, as chief justice of the Supreme Court, and as secretary of state. In poor health and content to stay amid his huge progeny, Henry refused them all. Only one final cause—repeal of the Virginia Resolutions of 1798—prompted his return to politics. In 1799 Henry won election to the Assembly, causing the Jeffersonians to fear that he would carry the state back under the Federalist banner. Henry was mortally ill, however. On June 6, 1799, he died of cancer at his Red Hill plantation and was laid to rest under a plain slab containing the words "His fame his best epitaph."
Two early accounts of Henry, often inaccurate but filled with the drama of his life and containing extracts from the small surviving body of his earlier papers, reminiscences of his associates, and "reconstructions" of his speeches, are William Wirt, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (1817; 15th ed. 1852), and William Wirt Henry, Patrick Henry: Life, Correspondence and Speeches (3 vols., 1891). The standard biography of Henry is Robert D. Meade, Patrick Henry (2 vols., 1957-1969). A hostile view of Henry's career is given in Irving Brant, James Madison (6 vols., 1941-1961). □
"Patrick Henry." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/patrick-henry
"Patrick Henry." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved February 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/patrick-henry
Born: May 25, 1736
Died: June 6, 1799
Red Hill, Virginia
American revolutionary, orator, and lawyer
Patrick Henry, American orator (public speaker) and lawyer, was a leader in Virginia politics for thirty years. He became famous for the forceful and intelligent way he spoke that persuaded people to believe in, and act upon, his beliefs. He used this gift to help bring about the American Revolution (1775–83).
A slow start
Patrick Henry was born in Hanover County, Virginia. He was the second son of John Henry, a successful Scottish-born planter, and Sarah Wynston Syme. He received most of his education from his father and his uncle. After his failed attempt as a storekeeper, he married Sarah Shelton and began a career as a farmer on land provided by his father-in-law.
Henry's farm days were cut short by a fire that destroyed his home. He and his growing family were forced to live above a tavern owned by his father-in-law. He earned money by working in the tavern. By 1760 Henry had decided to become a lawyer. He educated himself for about a year and then was admitted to the bar, an association for lawyers.
By 1763 Henry had realized two things: he wanted to help the common people, and he had a gift for public speaking. While defending the members of a church from a lawsuit filed against them by church officials, Henry criticized the church for pushing its members around. He also criticized the British government, claiming that it encouraged the church in its disrespectful behavior. These arguments made Henry very popular, and his supporters carried him victoriously out of the courtroom.
Two years later, as a member of the House of Burgesses (the elective lawmaking body in the British colony of Virginia), he made a powerful speech against the Stamp Act. This law, passed by Britain in 1765, placed a tax on printed materials and business transactions in the American colonies. Henry also supported statements against the Stamp Act that were published throughout the Colonies and made him even more popular. For ten years Henry used his voice and wide support to lead the anti-British movement in the Virginia legislature.
During the crisis caused by the Boston Tea Party (a 1773 protest against Britain in which Boston colonists disguised as Native Americans dumped three shiploads of British tea into the harbor), Henry was at the peak of his career. He traveled with George Washington (1732–1799) and others to Philadelphia as representatives from Virginia to the First Continental Congress. The First Continental Congress was a group of colonial representatives that met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1774 to discuss their dissatisfaction with British rule. Henry urged the colonists to write in firm resistance toward Britain. "The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are no more," Henry said. "I am not a Virginian, but an American."
Elected to the first Virginia Revolutionary Convention in March 1775, Henry made one of the most famous speeches in American history. Trying to gain support for measures to arm the colony, Henry declared that Britain, by passing dozens of overly strict measures, had proved that it was hostile toward the colonies. "We must fight!" Henry proclaimed. "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" The representatives were greatly affected by Henry's powerful speech and Virginia rushed down the road to independence.
In 1775 Henry led a group of soldiers that forced the British to pay for gunpowder taken by British marines from an arsenal (a place where military weapons and equipment are made or stored) in Williamsburg, Virginia. He commanded the state's regular forces in Virginia for six months, but he eventually decided that he was not suited for a military role. At the Virginia Convention of May–July 1776, Henry supported the call for independence that led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence by Congress on July 4, 1776. In that same year, Henry was elected as the first governor of Virginia.
Devoted to Virginia
In three terms as wartime governor (1776–79), Henry worked effectively to use Virginia's resources to support Congress and George Washington's army. He also promoted the expedition of George Rogers Clark (1752–1818); the expedition drove the British from the Northwest Territory. During the years Henry served as governor, the legislature passed reforms that changed Virginia from a royal colony into a self-governing republic.
Henry left his post as governor in 1778 after serving two one-year terms to focus on family matters. His first wife had died in 1775, leaving him six children. Two years later he married Dorothea Dandridge, who was half his age and came from a well-known family of Tidewater, Virginia. Beginning in 1778, Henry had eleven children by his second wife, and family life kept him distracted from public life.
Still, Henry continued to serve in the Virginia assembly, engaging in verbal battles with other public speakers and focusing on efforts to expand Virginia's trade, boundaries, and power. Henry also served two more terms as governor of Virginia (1784–86). He grew more and more opposed to a stronger central government and refused to be a representative to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He did not trust men like James Madison (1751–1836) from Virginia and Alexander Hamilton (1755–1804) from New York, fearing that they were too ambitious and too focused on the nation as a whole, overlooking the needs of individual states.
At the Virginia Convention of 1788, Henry began a dramatic debate with Madison and his supporters. He called upon all his powers of speech to warn the representatives of the dangers that he felt would be created by the new Constitution. He feared that federal tax collectors would threaten men working peacefully on their own farms and that the president would prove to be a worse tyrant (a ruler who has absolute control) than even King George III (1738–1820) of Britain. Henry also insisted that the new federal government would favor British creditors (persons to whom money or goods are owed) and bargain away American rights to use the Mississippi River. Despite Henry's arguments, the Federalists (a political party that believed in a strong central government) managed to win a narrow victory. Henry accepted their victory by announcing that he would be "a peaceable citizen." He had enough power in the legislature, however, to make sure that Virginia sent anti-Federalist senators to the first Congress.
Once Henry's influence over Virginia politics began to weaken, he retired from public life. He returned to his profitable law practice, earning huge fees from winning case after case before juries that were impressed by his powerful pleas. He also increased his real estate holdings, which made him one of the largest landowners in Virginia. Although he was offered many appointments—as senator, as minister to Spain and to France, as chief justice of the Supreme Court, and as secretary of state—he refused them all. He was in poor health and preferred to stay home with his family. On June 6, 1799, Patrick Henry died of cancer at his plantation in Red Hill, Virginia.
For More Information
Mayer, Henry. A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic. New York: F. Watts, 1986.
Meade, Robert D. Patrick Henry. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott, 1957–1969.
Sabin, Louis. Patrick Henry: Voice of the American Revolution. Mahwah, NJ: Troll Associates, 1982.
Tyler, Moses Coit. Patrick Henry. New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1887. Reprint, New York: Chelsea House, 1980.
Vaughan, David J. Give Me Liberty: The Uncompromising Statesmanship of Patrick Henry. Nashville, TN: Cumberland House Pub., 1997.
"Henry, Patrick." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/henry-patrick
"Henry, Patrick." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved February 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/henry-patrick
Henry, Patrick (1736-1799)
Patrick Henry (1736-1799)
Lawyer and orator
Family. Patrick Henry, probably the most eloquent orator of the Revolution, was born on 29 May 1736, the second son of John and Sarah Henry. John had emigrated from Scotland in 1727 and befriended a countryman who had become a successful farmer and gentleman. Upon the friend’s death John married his widow. Patrick and his brother were schooled at home, and when they came of age their father set them up as shopkeepers, but they quickly failed.
Alternate Vocation. When he was eighteen Henry married Sarah Shelton, and together they had six children. He tried unsuccessfully to farm the three hundred acres that were his wife’s dowry. He opened another shop and then an inn and tavern. His establishments were located near the courthouse, and Henry decided to become a lawyer. He had to pass oral examinations given by two lawyers who had been appointed by the colony’s Privy Court. Henry spent about six weeks immersed in the study of the laws of Virginia and Sir Edward Coke’s A Commentary upon Littleton (1628-1644), an enormous treatise on the common law. (Most prospective lawyers spent a year or more mastering this material.) In April 1760 Henry passed several hours of rigorous oral examination and was admitted to the bar. For the next three years Henry rode the circuit, from county seat to county seat, handling the small cases that came the way of a country lawyer—enough to keep him busy and to support his family, but no more.
The Parsons’ Cause. Henry won fame in 1761 for his argument on behalf of a church treasurer sued by a clergyman. Colonial law had set clergy salaries at sixteen thousand pounds of tobacco per year. When the tobacco crop failed in 1758, Virginia’s assembly passed the Twopenny Act providing that debts payable in tobacco could be paid in paper currency at the rate of two pence per pound of tobacco. Since tobacco sold for six pence per pound at the time, creditors such as clergymen objected. Britain’s Privy Council declared the law void. Several clergymen sued their churches for the difference due them. Henry, representing one church treasurer, held the jurors and the courtroom audience spellbound for an hour. The real issue, he argued, was the power of the colonial assembly to pass laws for the benefit of the people of the colony. The British constitution put limits on the King’s power, and Henry questioned the power of the Privy Council to nullify a law passed by the colonial legislature. He described the compact that existed between a king and his subjects and suggested that the king could not violate that compact by nullifying an act by the people’s assembly. Henry also argued that the clergy were not concerned with the welfare of all the people of Virginia, who would benefit from the Twopenny Act, but were concerned only with their own salaries. He denounced as “rapacious harpies” those clergy who were enemies of the people they were supposed to serve. Henry acknowledged that the jury had to find for the clergyman in this case because the Privy Council had nullified the Twopenny Act. However, he urged the jurors to teach the clergy a lesson for opposing an act of the colonial assembly. As soon as Henry finished his argument, the jurors returned a verdict. They upheld the clergyman and awarded him only one penny. Henry immediately became famous and was shortly afterward elected to the House of Burgesses.
“Treason!” Henry became a member of the House of Burgesses, the lower house of the Virginia assembly, in the spring of 1765, just as it was reacting to Parliament’s passage of the Stamp Act. In 1764, when the Stamp Act was first proposed, the House of Burgesses petitioned Parliament, begging that the tax not be imposed. Henry joined a small group of members who urged the House to file a briefer, more forceful statement that would stir popular opinion against the Stamp Act. Henry proposed a resolution specifically denying Parliament’s power to tax the colonies. More-cautious members argued against including such bold assertions in the resolution, as they thought it bordered on treason. Henry reportedly warned: “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I his Cromwell, and George III. . . .,” at which point the Speaker, horrified, shouted “Treason!” Henry paused, then finished his sentence: “... may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.” Parliament rescinded the Stamp Act, but as the issue of Parliament’s power over the colonies recurred during the next nine years, Henry became increasingly bold. He was among the first members of the House of Burgesses to talk about separation from, instead of reconciliation with, England. His political fame boosted his law practice. He was one of the colony’s leading political voices and one of its most successful trial attorneys.
Virginia Convention. In March 1775 Virginians convened to choose and instruct their delegates to the Second Continental Congress, to be held in August. Henry urged the formation, equipping, and training of a local militia for the purpose of defending the colony if needed. In his view the convention was now acting as the governing body and was preparing for war. Some delegates suggested reconciliation with Britain was still possible, but others argued that separation was inevitable. It was in the course of this debate, on the subject of forming a militia, that Henry made one of his most famous speeches. He reviewed the developing dispute with Britain, especially Parliament’s tightening of restrictions as it sought to exert its control. This showed, Henry said:
There is no longer any room for hope. . . . If we wish to be free we must fight. . . . An appeal to arms . . .is all that is left . . . . Gentlemen may cry “peace, peace” but there is no peace. [If war is coming, he said] let it come! Let it come!... Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me—give me liberty or give me death.
Governorship. In May 1776, at the next colonial convention, Henry proposed a resolution that Virginia’s delegates to the next session of the Second Continental Congress move for independence. His resolution also called for Virginia to draft a declaration of rights and to prepare a plan for its own government. In June he drafted a constitution for the new Commonwealth of Virginia, and by the end of that month the convention adopted a constitution and elected Henry the Commonwealth’s first governor. He served for three years, creating an administrative and judicial system while simultaneously supporting the war effort. In 1777, two years after his first wife’s death, Henry married Dorothea Dandridge, and he fathered eleven more children. By 1779 he was ready to retire from public life. After only one year he returned to the assembly, where he served for four years. In 1784 he was elected governor again and served three more years. During this period Henry helped pass a religious freedom law in Virginia. When the Constitution was presented to the states for ratification, Henry opposed it because of the lack of a bill of rights. He devoted his final years to his law practice and to western land speculations until his death in 1799.
Lawrence Henry Gipson, The Coming of the Revolution, 1763-1775 (New York: Harper, 1954);
Henry Mayer, A Son of Thunder (New York: Franklin Watts, 1986).
"Henry, Patrick (1736-1799)." American Eras. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/henry-patrick-1736-1799
"Henry, Patrick (1736-1799)." American Eras. . Retrieved February 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/henry-patrick-1736-1799
Patrick Henry was a leading statesman and orator at the time of the American Revolutionary War. Several of Henry's speeches have remained vivid documents of the revolutionary period, with "Give me liberty or give me death" his most remembered statement.
Henry was born May 29, 1736, in Hanover County, Virginia. Though Henry attended public school for a short time, he was largely taught by his father, who had a good education. From 1751 to 1760, Henry was a storekeeper and farmer. When his business and farming ventures failed, he turned to the study of law, and received his license to practice in 1760.
Within three years, Henry had become a prominent attorney, owing in great measure to his oratorical skills. He was drawn to politics, and was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1765. In this colonial legislature, Henry became an outspoken critic of British policies toward the thirteen colonies. He introduced seven resolutions against the stamp act, which levied a tax by requiring that stamps be affixed to documents and other papers. In one speech opposing the act, he stated, "If this be treason, make the most of it."
Henry's efforts led the Virginia House of Burgesses to pass five of the seven resolutions he introduced. All seven resolutions were reprinted in newspapers as the Virginia Resolves. Colonial businesspeople, in support of the resolves, agreed not to import British goods until the Stamp Act was repealed. Trade diminished, and business owners refused to use the stamps on business documents. Faced with organized resistance in the colonies, and the displeasure of British businesses that had lost trade, the British Parliament repealed the Stamp Act on March 4, 1766.
"The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave."
Henry grew more radical after the repeal of the act, arguing that the colonies should break away from Great Britain. In 1773, he joined with thomas jefferson and Richard Henry Lee to form the Committee of Correspondence to transmit messages throughout the colonies. When the House of Burgesses was dissolved in 1774, he became a member of the Virginia Provincial Convention, which advocated revolution. Before this convention, he made his most famous remarks, words that became the clarion call that led the colonies into revolution: "I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death."
During 1774 and 1775, Henry attended the First continental congress as a member of the Virginia delegation, advocating military mobilization. When the Second Continental Congress convened in 1775, he helped draft the legislation that organized the Continental Army. In 1776 he also helped draft the Virginia Constitution.
In 1776 Henry was elected governor of the newly independent commonwealth of Virginia. A tireless administrator, Henry worked vigorously to meet the demands of the Revolutionary War. As commander in chief, he recruited the state's quota of six thousand men for the Continental Army, plus the state militia's allotment of five thousand soldiers.
After the war, Henry continued as governor, eventually serving five terms. During his second term, Henry provided supplies to George Rogers Clark for his expedition to the Northwest Territory. Clark rid the territory of British control.
In 1788, Henry attended the Virginia convention for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Henry opposed ratification, fearing that it imperiled the rights of states and individuals, but Virginia ratified it. Henry successfully advocated the addition of the bill of rights to the document. This first ten amendments to the Constitution protect the rights of states and individuals, allowing Henry to support the Constitution.
Following ratification, Henry was offered many government posts, but was forced to resume his Virginia law practice to rescue himself from personal debt. He quickly became a wealthy man, since his fame attracted many clients. In 1794, he retired to his estate at Red Hill, near Appomattox, Virginia. Despite his new wealth, Henry refused pleas to resume public service, turning down President george washington's request to serve as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Washington finally persuaded Henry to seek election to the Virginia legislature. Henry won election in 1799. He died June 6, 1799, before he could take office.
Mayer, Henry. 2001. A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic. New York: Grove.
Rivkin, Victoria. 1998. "Patrick Henry." New York Law Journal 220 (August 24): 4.
Wirt, William. 2002. Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry. Birmingham, Ala.: Palladium Press.
"Henry, Patrick." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/henry-patrick
"Henry, Patrick." West's Encyclopedia of American Law. . Retrieved February 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/law/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/henry-patrick
Patrick Henry, 1736–99, political leader in the American Revolution, b. Hanover co., Va. Largely self-educated, he became a prominent trial lawyer. Henry bitterly denounced (1765) the Stamp Act and in the years that followed helped fan the fires of revolt in the South. As an orator he knew no equal. Several phrases attributed to him—e.g.,
"If this be treason, make the most of it"
"Give me liberty or give me death"
—are familiar to all Americans. Henry became a leader among the so-called radicals and spoke clearly for individual liberties. He was a delegate to the house of burgesses (1765–74), the Continental Congress (1774–76), and the Virginia provincial convention (1775). His hopes for a military career in the American Revolution were frustrated, but as governor of Virginia (1776–79) he sent George Rogers Clark to the Illinois country. He was (1784–86) again governor and led the fight for the Virginia Religious Freedom Act of 1785. Although he later became a Federalist, Henry opposed ratification of the U.S. Constitution, believing that it endangered state sovereignty, and he worked successfully to have the first 10 amendments (Bill of Rights) added to the Constitution.
See W. W. Henry, Patrick Henry: Life, Correspondence, and Speeches (3 vol., 1891; repr. 1970); biographies by M. C. Tyler (1898, repr. 1972), R. D. Meade (2 vol., 1957–69), R. R. Beeman (1974), and H. Mayer (1986).
"Henry, Patrick." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/henry-patrick
"Henry, Patrick." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved February 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/henry-patrick
"Henry, Patrick." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 26, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/henry-patrick
"Henry, Patrick." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved February 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/henry-patrick