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Who was Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry
From a planter to a lawyer and finally reaching the pinnacle of success as one of the Founding Fathers of America, Patrick Henry is an interesting case study for historians. An expert attorney and a politician, Henry won public attention with his exemplary oratory skills during the American War of Independence in the 1770s. A native of Virginia, Patrick Henry served his state as a Governor from 1776 to 1779 and 1784 to 1786.

Foray into Politics
Patrick Henry’s first step into political arena was in 1765 when he was elected from Louisa County for the legislative body of the Virginia colony. He soon got into action by leading a movement against the Stamp Act of 1765. His persuasive speech against the law earned him admiration. According to his biographers, his voice of dissent and deft arguments were without a parallel. Patrick Henry took little time to establish himself as one of the proponents of Republicanism who championed the cause of the freedom-loving Americans.

Patrick Henry also came to prominence for his strong opposition to the US Constitution. To ensure that the new constitution doesn't abrogate the rights of the States and the people's freedom, he tirelessly worked towards the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

American Revolution
In March 1773, Patrick Henry convinced the Virginia House of Burgesses (legislative assembly) to build a consensus on setting up a standing committee of correspondence. With each colony establishing such committees, the First Continental Congress came into existence in 1774. At a time when the Virginia legislature was in two minds on whether to mobilize forces against the encroaching British military, he delivered a powerful speech in favor of mobilization. The impact of "Give me liberty, or give me death!" speech was discussed for many generations before it became synonymous with Patrick Henry. Regarded as the "Trumpet" and "Voice" of the American Revolution, he gave acall to rise against the British rule. He put to good use his ability to disseminate political ideology to the common man.

Although Patrick Henry was made the commander-in-chief of Virginia's forces in 1775, his tenure was brief. He stepped aside and concentrated on statesmanship. The year 1776 is a notable phase in his career when he drafted the Constitution of Virginia and won the election as the first governor of the state. As a governor, he made a rich contribution towards stepping up the American Revolution. As the historical accounts of his life reveal, he helped George Washington with a steady supply of soldiers and equipment. He was also instrumental in sending Virginia troops to fight British forces.

Patrick Henry's Role After the War of Independence
A year later, after the War of Independence came to an end, Patrick Henry was elected as the Governor of Virginia for three consecutive one-year terms. His rebellious spirit was manifested once again when he criticized the Constitution of United States. As a representative to the Virginia convention of 1788, he argued against formalizing the constitution, since it gave sweeping powers to the federal government. He was largely responsible for ensuring adoption of the Bill of Rights and amending the new Constitution so that individual rights are preserved. He denounced the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which proposed to give states the right to declare any federal law unconstitutional.

Final Years of Patrick Henry as a Lawyer and Politician
Patrick Henry left public service in 1790 only to return as a member of Virginia legislature in 1799. During these nine years, he thrived as a lawyer and turned down several appointments as the Supreme Court jjury, attorney general and the secretary of state. The last offer was declined by him as he was opposed to President George Washington's federalist policies.

As someone who espoused the value of freedom, Patrick Henry's observations are worth noting:

  • “The liberties of people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them."
  • “I know not what others may choose but, as for me, give me liberty or give me death."
  • “For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst and provide for it.”
  • “Perfect freedom is as necessary to the health and vigor of commerce as it is to the health and vigorvivigor of citizenship.”


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