Henry, Patrick, 1736–99, political leader in the American Revolution, b. Hanover co., Va. Largely self-educated, he became a prominent trial lawyer. Henry bitterly denounced (1765) the Stamp Act and in the years that followed helped fan the fires of revolt in the South. As an orator he knew no equal. Several phrases attributed to him—e.g.,
If this be treason, make the most of itand
Give me liberty or give me death—are familiar to all Americans. Henry became a leader among the so-called radicals and spoke clearly for individual liberties. He was a delegate to the house of burgesses (1765–74), the Continental Congress (1774–76), and the Virginia provincial convention (1775). His hopes for a military career in the American Revolution were frustrated, but as governor of Virginia (1776–79) he sent George Rogers Clark to the Illinois country. He was (1784–86) again governor and led the fight for the Virginia Religious Freedom Act of 1785. Although he later became a Federalist, Henry opposed ratification of the U.S. Constitution, believing that it endangered state sovereignty, and he worked successfully to have the first 10 amendments (Bill of Rights) added to the Constitution.
See W. W. Henry, Patrick Henry: Life, Correspondence, and Speeches (3 vol., 1891; repr. 1970); biographies by M. C. Tyler (1898, repr. 1972), R. D. Meade (2 vol., 1957–69), R. R. Beeman (1974), and H. Mayer (1986).
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