Patrick Henry

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" 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).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Myths and Men: Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson
Bernard Mayo.
University of Georgia Press, 1959
American Rhetoric: Context and Criticism
Thomas W. Benson.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1989
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "Patrick Henry's 'Liberty or Death' Speech: A Study in Disputed Authorship"
FREE! Patrick Henry
Moses Coit Tyler.
Houghton Mifflin, 1898
The Virginia Plutarch
Philip Alexander Bruce.
The University of North Carolina Press, vol.1, 1929
Librarian’s tip: Chap. XII "Patrick Henry"
Western Lands and the American Revolution
Thomas Perkins Abernethy.
Russell & Russell, 1959
The Old Dominion and the New Nation, 1788-1801
Richard R. Beeman.
University Press of Kentucky, 1972
The Coming of the Revolution, 1763-1775
Lawrence Henry Gipson.
Harper, 1954
The Birth of the Bill of Rights, 1776-1791
Robert Allen Rutland.
University of North Carolina Press, 1955
Cavalier and Yankee: The Old South and American National Character
William R. Taylor.
Harvard University Press, 1961
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "From Natural Aristocrat to Country Squire"
The American States during and after the Revolution, 1775-1789
Allan Nevins.
Macmillan, 1927
Paradoxes of Freedom: The Romantic Mystique of a Transcendence
Thomas McFarland.
Oxford University, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Freedom, Slavery, and Death"
The South in American Literature, 1607-1900
Jay B. Hubbell.
Duke University Press, 1973
Librarian’s tip: "Patrick Henry" begins on p. 117
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