Patrick Henry was one of the leading figures of American Revolution and a prominent political founder who saw the formation of initial Independent United States. Henry is known for being the most prominent revolutionary leader who raised his voice against the government corruption and atrocities against people of America. Patrick went on to liberate his homeland, Virginia and became the first and sixth Governor of Virginia in the new era of the post-colonial. Being an active promoter of Republican thoughts which included new age thoughts on people's sovereignty, liberty and American civic thought Henry was a founding father of the revolution and independence of America. Henry will always be remembered for his popular speech where he urged people with his "Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" Patrick's journey in educating people and making them rise against their endangered rights is noteworthy. Henry is also known for his leading role in moving the anti-federalists in Virginia to oppose the United States Constitution which as Henry felt, went against the freedoms of individuals and states' rights.
Patrick Henry Childhood
Patrick Henry was born on 29 May 1736 in Studley, Hanover County, Virginia which was under British America at that time. Henry’s father John Henry had immigrated from Aberdeenshire, Scotland where he had studied in King's College, Aberdeen. John had immigrated in the 1720s and settled in Hanover County, even marrying Sarah Winston Syme (who was also of English origin) in 1732. So Patrick descended from a high class having ancestors from middle rank of the Virginia gentry.
Henry spent his childhood educating himself in local schools for some years. As he grew up he was tutored by his father. Henry failed in business which led him to marry soon. Henry married Sarah Shelton in 1754 having six children with her. Henry’s father gifted the couple with a big Pine Slash Farm which was more than a kilometre in its area and six slaves as their wedding gift. Henry started his early days as a planter. Henry’s home was destroyed in fire in 1757. Henry reattempted to start another business which failed again. In 1760 Henry decided to take up law as his career.
Henry stood for his first legal case as a lawyer in 1763 with a case which later came to be known as “Parson's Cause”. With this case Henry stood apart and earned a name for himself as a lawyer. This case made Henry place an argument on whether the tobacco price setting, which was paid to clergy for their services should be done by the colonial government or by the Crown. Henry fought his case leaving aside legal terms and niceties. Henry won the case setting an example and initiating a new dawn.
In 1765 Henry got to start a new role in his career. He was appointed into the House of Burgesses which was the legislative body of the Virginia colony being elected from Louisa County. Henry was elected in order to fill an empty assembly seat. During Henry’s arrival in Williamsburg the legislature had already started its session. Henry fast became a notable figure by introducing the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions. This act was proposed by Henry after just 9 days of swearing.
Henry started to make his presence felt by debating and persuading the House members to pass his Virginia Stamp Act. He was instrumental in standing against the conservative House members. Henry’s move was regarded as the most prominent anti-British American political action taken at that point. Henry showed his loyalty to the king but his impact making speeches formed the base for the American Revolution. Henry’s proposals were based on principles that were well-established British rights. The most notable speech given by Henry was, “Caesar had his Brutus; Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third ....may he profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it!” With time Henry’s speech became more famous and legendary. However there is much confusion as to what his exact words were. The records of Henry’s speech are in the sole accounts of the eyewitnesses.
Role in the American Revolution
Henry took up the Virginian cause in order to create committees of correspondence to coordinate the reaction of the colonies to the British government. This action was in response to the pleas placed before by Massachusetts in order to create colony committees. It was in March 1773 when Patrick Henry along with Thomas Jefferson and Richard Henry Lee moved the Virginia House of Burgesses to make resolutions in order to formulate a standing committee of correspondents. With Henry’s leading role committees were set up by each colony which made way for the formation of the First Continental Congress in 1774. Henry was elected to this Congress.
On 23 March 1775 Henry made his very famous speech in the House of Burgesses which was held in Saint John's Church in Richmond, Virginia. The House took much time to decide whether to appoint military forces to confront the ever increasing British military forces. It was Henry who decided to give his verdict in favour of military mobilization. According to Henry's first biographer, William Wirt (who accounted Henry’s speech at the House 42 years later) Henry had stated “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!” to which the crowd had jumped up and shouted (according to Wirt’s record) “To Arms! To Arms!”.
Henry was appointed as the colonel of the 1st Virginia Regiment in August 1775. American war of Independence had started out around this time with Henry leading a militia to fight the Royal Governor Lord Dunmore’s forces to fix a dispute over gunpowder. This was a major event in the American Revolution and is known as the Gunpowder Incident. After taking the office of the first post-colonial Governor of Virginia Henry led Virginia during the war and played an integral role in leading his army to fight against the Cherokee Indians who were allied with the British forces, in his several expeditions.
Henry lived in his huge 10,000-acre (40 square km) Leatherwood Plantation in Henry County, Virginia during the war. His first cousin Ann Winston Carr and her husband Col. George Waller also lived with Henry in the plantation during the latter’s part stay during the war. While staying at the plantation from 1779 to 1784 Henry had 75 slaves working under him and he grew tobacco in his farm. Henry enjoyed warm friendship with Joseph Martin who worked as an agent (as Henry’s directive) in the Cherokee nation and with him Henry took part in investing in real estate. The name Henry County was named for Martin in the later years.
Henry along with James Madison got elected as founding trustees of Hampden-Sydney College in November 1775. The college was opened for classes on 10 November 1775. Henry made major contribution in achieving passage for the College's Charter in 1783. His action got delayed due to the ongoing American Revolution. Henry possibly wrote the Oath of Loyalty towards the newly formed Republic which got included in the charter. Henry’s seven sons attended Hampden-Sydney College.
Henry married Sarah Shelton in 1754 having 6 children with her. In 1771 Henry and his wife moved to their Scotchtown estate along with their children: Martha (Patsy), Anne, Elizabeth (Betsy), John, William, and Edmund (Neddy). Sarah got diagnosed with a mental problem which increased with time. It was Henry’s friends and his physician, Dr. Thomas Hinde who advised Henry to shift Sarah to a public hospital in Williamsburg. The grim conditions of the hospital made Henry shudder and he built a private, two-room apartment for her in the basement of Scotchtown. Henry made sure to have everything Sarah needed for right living, windows, fireplace and a nice bed. It was Henry or perhaps a slave who took care of Sarah. Sarah died in 1775 without being given a proper funeral service or a Christian burial because she was proclaimed as “possessed by the devil” during the time’s ill notions about the illness.
On 25 October 1777 Henry got married to his second wife Dorothea Dandridge having eleven children from this marriage.
Post Revolution Role
As the revolution came to an end Henry got elected again as the governor of Virginia from 1784 to 1786. He refused to attend the Constitutional Convention of 1787 as he felt that there were still people who supported the British monarchy. Henry opposed everything that went against basic people and state’s rights. He openly criticised the United States Constitution. He was in the forefront in leading the Virginia opposition as he felt that the constitutional ratification was evil giving federal government too much power and a possibility of the presidency taking a shape of the monarchy. Henry became a renowned Anti-federalist and pressurized the adoption of the Bill of Rights to incorporate it in the amended new Constitution. All his measures made Henry stand in opposition to James Madison.
Henry represented the Virginia convention of 1788 and became a part of the U. S. Constitution’s ratification. Henry opposed voted against ratification. In 1789 election Henry was elected to become the elector of the Campbell District. Henry’s district had Bedford County, Campbell County, Charlotte County, Franklin County, Halifax County, Henry County, Pittsylvania County, and Prince Edward County which are areas covering the region between Danville and Lynchburg in the south of Virginia. 10 electors who voted gave one of their two votes for George Washington, 5 gave their other vote for John Adams, 3 cast theirs for George Clinton, 1 cast his vote for John Hancock and 1 cast his for John Jay. Out of all the candidates Clinton was a leading Anti-federalist figure joining hands with Henry.
In 1795 American President George Washington invited Henry to take up the post of Secretary of State which was rejected by Henry because of the latter’s opposition to Washington's Federalist policies. Gradually Henry’s views and ideas started changing due to his realization of the radical nature of the French Revolution which he saw declining and feared that the same thing would come down upon his beloved America. By late 1790s, Henry started supporting Federalist policies of Washington and Adam.
Later Years and Death
In 1798 Henry was elected by John Adams as a special emissary to France but Henry’s health failure stalled the process. Henry showed strong support for John Marshall and got elected to the Virginia House of Delegates as a Federalist after being urged by George Washington to stand for the post. Henry was about to take his seat in the state legislature but he died three months before this as he was suffering from stomach cancer. Henry died on 6 June 1799.