Patrick Henry

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Related to Patrick Henry: Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, James Madison

Henry, Patrick

Henry, Patrick, 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” and “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).

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Henry, Patrick

(1736–1799) famous American patriot known for his statement: “Give me liberty or give me death.” [Am. Hist.: Hart, 367]
See: Freedom
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Henry, Patrick

(1736–99) orator, political leader; born in Hanover County, Va. He took up law in 1760 after failures in business and farming. He vigorously opposed the Stamp Act (1765). He was a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses. In 1775, he proposed revolutionary motions to the Virginia assembly, including one for the arming and training of militiamen. He carried the day with a speech that included "I do not know what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death." He was governor of Virginia (1776–79, 1784–86) and he opposed the new Constitution (1787) because he felt it endangered individuals' and states' rights. He retired from public life in 1788 and refused several offers of posts in the federal government. He was influential in the creation of the Bill of Rights (1791). Although he became reactionary in his later years, his dramatic presence was considered to be integral to the early patriot cause.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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