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Patrick Henry was a brilliant orator and a major figure of the American Revolution, perhaps best known for his words "Give me liberty or give me death!"
Patrick Henry - Full Episode (43:50)
Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, two former friends, engaged in a long feud as a result of Jefferson's belief that Henry was critical of his performance as Governor during the Civil War.
Patrick Henry issued a challenge to his colleagues and threatened the crown of England with his Stamp Act protest speech.
Though no notes have ever been found written by Patrick Henry himself, a Baptist minister reported the content of his famous "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" speech.
A full biography about Patrick Henry.
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Born on May 29 (May 18, Old Style), 1736 in Studley, Virginia, Patrick Henry was an American Revolution-era orator best know for his quote "Give me liberty or give me death." Henry was an influential leader in the radical opposition to the British government, but only accepted the new federal government after the passage of the Bill of Rights, for which he was in great measure responsible.
"Give me liberty or give me death."
"If this be treason, make the most of it."
With his persuasive and passionate speeches, famed patriot Patrick Henry helped kickstart the American Revolution. He was born in Hanover County, Virginia, on a plantation that belonged to his mother's family. Unlike his mother, who had strong roots in the region, his father immigrated to the colony from Scotland.
The second oldest out of nine children, Henry received much of his schooling from his father, who had attended university in Scotland, and his uncle, an Anglican minister. He was a musical child, playing both the fiddle and the flute. He may have modeled his great oratory style on the religious sermons by his uncle and others. With his mother, Henry sometimes attended services held by Presbyterian preachers who visited the area.
At the age of 15, Henry ran a store for his father. The business didn't last, and Henry had his first taste of failure. He married Sarah Shelton, the daughter of a local innkeeper, in 1754. As part of his wife's dowry, Henry received some farm land. He tried growing tobacco there for three years, but he didn't fare well in this new venture either. In 1757, Henry and his wife lost their farmhouse to a fire. He then managed a tavern for his father-in-law and studied to be a lawyer. In 1760, he secured his law license.
As a lawyer, Henry developed a reputation as a powerful and persuasive speaker with the 1763 case known as "Parson's Cause." The Virginia Colony passed a law changing the way church ministers were paid, resulting in a monetary loss for the ministers. When King George III overturned the law, one Virginia clergyman sued for back pay and won his case. Henry spoke out against the minister, when the case went to a jury to decide damages. Pointing out the greed and royal interference in colonial matters associated with this legal decision, he managed to convince the jury to grant the lowest possible award—one farthing, or one penny.
In 1765, Henry won election to the House of Burgesses. He proved himself to be an early voice of dissent against Britain's colonial policies. During the debate over the Stamp Act of 1765, which effectively taxed every type of printed paper used by the colonists, Henry spoke out against the measure. He insisted that only the colony itself should be able to levy taxes on its citizens. Some in the assembly cried out that his comments were treason, but Henry was unfazed. His suggestions for handling the matter were printed and distributed to other colonies, helping to spur on the growing discontent with British rule.
An active force in the growing rebellion against Britain, Henry had the remarkable ability to translate his political ideology into the language of the common man.
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They are American icons—they're on our dollars and coins, they are the subject of our monuments, and we live our daily lives in the world their ideas helped create. America's Founding Fathers include George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and, of course, Benjamin Franklin. These men, together with several other key players of their time, structured the American democracy and left a legacy that has shaped the world. But beyond their legends, these men were human beings who led complex and fascinating lives. Learning their stories helps us better understand what made them tick, as well as their influence on our world today.
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