The Declaration of Independence
When in the course of human events . . .
Virginia House of Burgesses
|Born:||May 29, 1736|
|Birthplace:||Hanover County, Virginia|
|Work:||Elected to Virginia House of Burgesses, 1765; Admitted to the Bar of the General Court in Virginia, 1769; Elected to the Continental Congress, 1774; Virginia Militia Leader, 1775; Governor of Virginia, 1776-1778, 1784.|
|Died:||June 6, 1799|
"Radical," is a title that few men can wear with ease. The name Patrick Henry, during the revolution and for some time after, was synonymous with that word in the minds of colonists and Empire alike. Henry's reputation as a passionate and fiery orator exceeded even that of Samuel Adams. His Stamp Act Resolutions were, arguably, the first shot fired in the Revolutionary War.
Patrick Henry's personality was a curious antidote to the stern honor of Washington, the refined logic of Jefferson, and the well-tempered industry of Franklin. Young Henry was an idler and by many accounts a derelict; though everyone knew he was bright, he simply would not lift a finger except to his own pleasure. By the age of 10, his family knew that he would not be a farmer, and tried instead to train him toward academic studies, but he would not apply himself schoolwork either. He married at 18 and at age 21 his father set him up in a business that he quickly bankrupted. Finally the general public disgust in Hanover and pressure from his young family caused him to study for six weeks and take the bar exam, which he passed, and begin work as a lawyer.
In 1764 he moved to Louisa county, Virginia, where, as a lawyer, he argued in defense of broad voting rights (suffrage) before the House of Burgesses. The following year he was elected to the House and soon became its leading radical member. It was that year that he proposed the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions. Few members of the Burgesses, as aristocratic a group of legislators as existed in the colonies, would argue openly for defiance of Great Britain. Henry argued with remarkable eloquence and fervor in favor of the five acts, which by most accounts amounted to a treason against the mother country. In 1774 he represented Virginia in the First Continental Congress where he continued in the role of firebrand. At the outbreak of the revolution, he returned to his native state and lead militia in defense of Virginia's gunpowder store, when the royal Governor spirited it aboard a British ship. Henry forced the Governor Lord Dunmore to pay for the powder at fair price.
In 1776, Henry was elected Governor of Virginia, and re-elected twice, serving three consecutive 1-year terms. In 1779 he was succeeded by Thomas Jefferson. He was again elected to the office in 1784. Patrick Henry was a strong critic of the constitution proposed in 1787. He was in favor of the strongest possible government for the individual states, and a weak federal government. He was also very critical of the fact that the convention was conducted in secret.
President Washington appointed him Secretary of State in 1795, but Henry declined the office. In 1799, President Adams appointed him envoy to France, but failing health required him to decline this office too. He died on June 6, 1799 at age of 63.