Patrick Henry is one of the most influential figures of our time. Henry played an instrumental role in the American Revolution and is regarded as a great orator and intellectual. The purpose of this discussion is to explore the life and times of Patrick Henry. We will begin by discussing his early life and education. Our investigation will then focus on his early adulthood and his life as a lawyer. We will then discuss the years that he spent as a leading politician in Virginia. The research will also focus on the oratory skills that Patrick Henry possessed. Finally, we will discuss the last days of his life.
Early Life and Education
Encarta explains that Patrick Henry was a patriot of the American Revolution and was born in 1736 in Hanover County, Virginia. ("Henry, Patrick") Henry was raised on a tobacco farm and was educated by his father and in local schools. ("Henry, Patrick") According to a book on the life of Patrick Henry, his father (John Henry) was an intelligent man that was educated in Scotland. (Tyler 1898) The book asserts that,
"During the first ten years of his life, he seems to have made, at a small school in the neighborhood, some small and reluctant progress into the mysteries of reading, writing, and arithmetic; whereupon his father took personal charge of the matter, and conducted his further education at home, along with that of other children, being aided in the task by the very competent help of a brother, the Rev. Patrick Henry, rector of St. Paul's parish, in Hanover, and apparently a good Scotch classicist. In this way our Patrick acquired some knowledge of Latin and Greek, and rather more knowledge of mathematics, --the latter being the only branch of book-learning for which, in those days, he showed the least liking. However, under such circumstances, with little real discipline, doubtless, and amid plentiful interruptions, the process of ostensible education went forward with the young man; and even this came to an end by the time that he was fifteen years old." (Tyler 1898)
The book goes on to state that John Henry was well respected in the community and held several positions including; colonel of his regiment, county surveyor and a county court judge. (Tyler 1898) The book explains that Patrick Henry came from a long line of intellectuals including great orators, men of letters and divines in his father's family. (Tyler 1898) It also asserts that his mother's family possessed a great number of intellectuals.
Although Patrick's father was well regarded as an intellectual many believed that Patrick was not nearly as intelligent. Many have even suggested that he was illiterate and that he only excelled because he had great oratory skills and a positive attitude. In a book entitled "James Madison: Builder a New Estimate of a Memorable Career," the author describes Henry as a common loafer of little intelligence. The book also states that, 'He possessed neither fortune, education, nor much intelligence, and had risen from the status of a common loafer by the sheer enchantment of his oratory, which became fabulous even before he died. Now forty years old, he was just coming to the height of his influence. The common people followed him like sheep. He was a demagogue, eccentric, irresponsible, self-confident, and filled with a passion for liberty, whatever that might be." (Smith, 1937)
In any case, before he came known as the great orator he became an apprentice at the shop of a local businessman at the age of fifteen. (Tyler 1898) Eventually, he and his father opened their own shop and stayed in business for about a year. (Tyler 1898) Ultimately the two of them decided to close the shop when Patrick Henry was 18 years old. (Tyler 1898)
At the age of eighteen Patrick Henry decided to get married to a local girl named Sarah Shelton. (Tyler 1898) Shelton was the daughter of a small farm owner and was rather inconspicuous. (Tyler 1898) The couple did not have any money because Patrick no longer had a job. (Tyler 1898) Patrick and Sarah's parent decided to help the couple by purchasing for them a small farm. (Tyler 1898) Their parents expected the two to make living from this farm and gave them six slaves to help them carry out this task. (Tyler 1898) However, the two of them proved to be poor farmers and two years after they moved to the farm they sold the slaves and invested in a business that also failed. (Tyler 1898)
During this time in his life Henry became acquainted with Thomas Jefferson. (Tyler 1898) In one of his letters to William Writ, Jefferson describes Henry in the following manner,
"Mr. Henry had, a little before, broken up his store, or rather it had broken him up; but his misfortunes were not to be traced either in his countenance or conduct." "During the festivity of the season I met him in society every day, and we became well acquainted, although I was much his junior. . . . His manners had something of coarseness in them. His passion was music, dancing, and pleasantry. He excelled in the last, and it attached every one to him." (Tyler 1898)
By the age of 23 Henry decided that his temperament and personality would be best suited for the world of law. Henry became a lawyer is 1760 and was soon able to build a large clientele. ("Henry, Patrick") Throughout Virginia and the country he was revered as a great lawyer. ("Henry, Patrick") Encarta explains, 'By 1770 Henry was specializing in appeals before the Virginia General Court. His skill in criminal cases was perhaps unsurpassed by any other American lawyer of the period. Henry won prominence in 1763 in a case known as Parsons' Cause (1763). This famous suit involved a law that permitted parishes in Virginia to pay the Anglican clergy in currency, rather than in tobacco, the commodity mandated by the British government. The British king, George III, vetoed the legislation, which was passed after the price of tobacco rose because of a crop failure. Henry used the case to defend the rights of Virginians against the actions of the king. Henry held that government was a contract between the king and his subjects and that George III had broken the contract by attempting to deprive Virginians of their natural rights. Therefore, Henry asserted, George III had forfeited his claim to the colonists' obedience. The Parsons' Cause case bolstered Henry's reputation as a champion of colonial liberties." ("Henry, Patrick")
As you can see, as a young adult Henry was rather inauspicious at times but eventually found his niche in life as a lawyer. His great oratory skills and upbringing aided him greatly as a lawyer. Patrick Henry's experience as a lawyer also aided him later in life as a politician.
Henry as a Politician
Perhaps Patrick Henry is best known as a politician that aided in forming America's governmental structure. As a political leader in Virginia, Henry sought to unify the people of the state and aid America in the process. As a politician, Henry also displayed his great oratory skills in his time as a politician.
Encarta goes on to explain that Henry entered the world of politics in 1765 when he was elected to the Virginia house of Burgess. ("Henry, Patrick") While serving in this capacity, Henry fought tirelessly against the stamp act which had been implemented by the British Parliament. ("Henry, Patrick") As the politician Henry created seven resolutions that condemned the stamp act. ("Henry, Patrick")
By 1773 Henry had become an outstanding politician and worked feverishly with fellow politicians, Richard Henry Lee and Thomas Jefferson. ("Henry, Patrick") While he was in office, Henry "persuaded the House of Burgesses to appoint a committee of correspondence for Virginia. Committees were established in other colonies to exchange news, mobilize public opinion, and coordinate actions against Great Britain. Henry was a Virginia delegate to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774, where he urged vigorous collective measures by the colonists." ("Henry, Patrick") Henry's speech against the resolutions was given in 1775 and contained the famous words "give me liberty or give me death." ("Henry, Patrick")
For a short period of time Patrick Henry served as the colonel in command of the first regiment of Virginia. ("Henry, Patrick") He also became the first governor of Virginia in 1776 and spent three terms in this position. During his governance he lived in the palace at Williamsburg, which was previously the residence of Lord Dunmore. (Tyler 1898) As governor Henry was paid one thousand pounds sterling. (Tyler 1898) During his time as a governor Henry was instrumental in the drafting of the Virginia Constitution.
After leaving the office of the governor, Henry also served as a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention. ("Henry, Patrick") He attended the convention the first year but refused to come in 1787 and 1788 because he did not agree with the…