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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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He was selected to serve as a delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774. There, he met Sam Adams and, together, they stoked the fires for revolution. During the proceedings, Henry called for the colonists to unite in their opposition to British rule: "The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers and New Englanders, are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American."
The following year,
Henry gave perhaps his most famous speech of his career. He was one of the attendees of the Virginia Convention in March of 1775. The group was debating how to resolve the crisis with Great Britain—through force or through peaceful ends. Henry sounded the call to arms, saying, "Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? ... 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!"
Only a short time later, the first shots were fired, and the American Revolution was under way. Henry became the commander in chief of Virginia's forces, but he resigned his post after six months. Focusing on statesmanship, he helped write the state's constitution in 1776. Henry won election as Virginia's first governor that same year.
As governor, Henry supported the revolution in numerous ways. He helped supply soldiers and equipment for George Washington. He also sent Virginia troops—commanded by George Rogers Clark—to drive out British forces in the northwest. After three terms as governor, Henry left the post in 1779. He remained active in politics as a member of the state assembly. In the mid-1780s, Henry served two more terms as governor.
Henry held strong anti-Federalist views, believing that a powerful federal government would lead to a similar type of tyranny the colonists had experienced under Britain. In 1787, he turned down an opportunity to attend the Constitution Convention in Philadelphia. His opposition to this famed document did not waver, even after receiving a draft of the Constitution from George Washington after the convention. When it came time for Virginia to ratify the Constitution, Henry spoke out against the document, calling its principles "dangerous." He felt that it would negatively impact states' rights. Considering the strong support for Henry in Virginia, many Federalists, including James Madison, feared that Henry would be successful in his anti-Constitution efforts. But the majority of lawmakers were not swayed to Henry's side, and the document was ratified in an 89-to-79 vote.
In 1790, Henry left public service. He chose to return to being a lawyer, and had a thriving practice. Over the years, Henry received numerous appointments to such positions as Supreme Court justice, secretary of state and attorney general, but he turned them all down. He preferred being with his second wife, Dorothea, and their many children, rather than navigating the world of politics.
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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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