Patrick Henry

We have talked about several of the Founding Fathers of this country who were great with the writing pen. Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton are three that come to mind. But there was one man among the leaders of our early history who stood head and shoulders above all the rest when it came to the spoken word. Who was the great orator of the Revolutionary period? Patrick Henry.
Patrick Henry was born near Richmond, Virginia, in 1736. He started out as a farmer and storekeeper but was not successful so he turned to the Law and after six weeks of study, he presented himself before the judges at Williamsburg, Virginia for an examination.
With some misgivings, the judges granted him a license, and at the age of 24 he was in business as a full-fledged lawyer. His dramatic court room demeanor soon made him a very popular and successful attorney, and he was soon elected to the House of Burgesses for the State of Virginia.
Virginia led the way in opposition to the various taxes levied against the Colonists, and Patrick Henry became a leading spokesman for this opposition. After he had been a member for 30 days, Patrick Henry presented to the House of Burgesses six resolutions which were adopted after much debate.
His resolutions were as follows:
1. English Colonists brought with them to the new world the rights of Englishmen.
2. They have never surrendered those rights.
3. Englishmen have always taxed themselves or were taxed by their representatives in the English Parliament.
4. The Americans are not represented in Parliament and Parliament cannot tax them.
5. The only body that has the right to tax the Colonists is the Legislative Assembly of the Colonies.
6. The Colonists are represented in these local legislative assemblies.
It was in his speech urging the adoption of these resolutions that he closed with that classic statement we were taught in our history classes in school. “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the 1st his Cromwell and George the III his…” At this point he was interrupted by several cries of “treason.” He finally finished his speech with these words: “George the III may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.”
After this rowdy session, Lord Dunmore dissolved the colonial Assembly, so Patrick Henry gathered the legislators at the Raleigh Tavern the next day and issued the call for a Virginia convention and a Continental Congress.
A year later the Continental Congress met at Philadelphia and Patrick Henry was a delegate from Virginia. He helped draft the Constitution of the State of Virginia and was Governor of the Virginia for four years during the Revolutionary War. After the War, he served another term as the Governor of his state. He was elected as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, but refused to serve as he opposed the Constitution on the grounds that it would interfere with State rights.
After the Constitution was drawn by the Constitutional Convention, it was sent to all the states for ratification. Patrick Henry opposed ratification, but James Madison led the forces in favor of ratification and won by a small majority. Patrick Henry accepted his defeat but insisted on a Bill of Rights being included as Amendments. This was accomplished by the first Congress, and Patrick Henry was satisfied. He retired to his plantation and lived out his life as a country gentleman.
Patrick Henry has always been one of my historical favorites. His rugged character, his mastery of the spoken word, his flair for dramatic speech—where can you find a better example of his artistic use of words than in his speech against the Stamp Act.
“Why sit we idle here when the next breeze from the North will bring the sound of clashing arms. Is life so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased with chains and slavery? I know not what course others may take but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

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