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Patrick Henry

Lawyer / Revolutionary War Figure

Born: 29 May 1736
Died: 6 June 1799
Birthplace: Hanover County, Virginia
Best known as: The American patriot who said, "Give me liberty or give me death!"
Patrick Henry was the American orator who urged colonists to take up arms against the British, proclaiming, "I know not what course others may take; but as for me... give me liberty or give me death!" Henry began his career as a storekeeper and tobacco farmer, but in 1760 he began practicing law. He soon earned a reputation as a passionate and convincing speaker, and in 1763 he gained attention throughout the colonies for opposing King George III and the Stamp Act in a speech that many considered treasonous. On 23 March 1775, Henry gave a rousing speech before Virginia's legislature, urging his fellows to arm themselves in anticipation of hostilities with the British and uttering the line for which he remains famous. No manuscript or stenographic record of the speech exists; it was reconstructed some forty years later in a biography by William Wirt. Henry later served as Virginia's first governor and dominated the commonwealth's politics throughout the 1780s. He declined to serve in the Constitutional Convention (1787), but afterward emerged as a strong opponent to federalism and helped secure the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. He turned down opportunities to serve in the U.S. Senate and the Supreme Court, choosing instead to remain active in Virginia law and politics until his death.

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