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Patrick Henry

United States Founding Father(1736 - 1799)
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Events in the life of Patrick Henry

Date

Event


1775 03/23   Patrick Henry delivers the "Give me liberty or give me death!" speech  [URL]
Patrick Henry Signature

Patrick Henry Biography [Text Version]


"Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" were the burning words which fell from the lips of Patrick Henry, at the beginning of the War for Independence, and aroused the Continent to more vigorous and united action.1 He was the son of a Virginia planter in Hanover county, and was born on the 29th of May, 1736. At the age of ten years he was taken from school, and commenced the study of Latin in his father's house. He had some taste for mathematics, but a love of idleness, as manifested by his frequent hunting and fishing excursions, for sport, and utter aversion to mental labor, gave prophecies of a useless life. At twenty-one years of age, he engaged in trade, but neglect of business soon brought bankruptcy. He had married at eighteen, and passed most of his time in idleness at the tavern of his father-in-law, in Hanover, where he often served customers at the bar. As a last resort, he studied law diligently for six weeks, obtained a license to practice, but he was twenty-seven years of age before he was known to himself or others, except as a lazy pettifogger. Then he, was employed in the celebrated Parsons' cause,2 and in the old Hanover court house, with his father on the bench as judge, and more than twenty of the most learned men in the colony before him, his genius as an orator and advocate beamed forth in that awful splendor, so eloquently described by Wirt.. From that period he rose rapidly to the head of his profession. In 1764, he made Louisa county his residence, and his fame was greatly heightened by a noble defence of the right of suffrage, which, as a lawyer, he made before the House of Burgesses, that year. In 1765; he was elected to a seat in that house, and during that memorable session, he made his great speech against the Stamp Act.3 In 1769, he was admitted to the bar of the general court, and was recognized as a leader, in legal and political matters, until the Revolution broke out. He was a member of the first Continental Congress, in 1774, and gave the first impulse to its business;4 and when, in 1775, Governor Dunmore attempted to rob I lie colony of gunpowder, by having it conveyed on board a British war-vessel, Patrick Henry, at the head of resolute armed patriots, compelled him to pay its value in money. In 1776, Henry was elected the first republican governor of Virginia, and was reelected three successive years, when he was succeeded by Thomas Jefferson. During the whole struggle, he was one of the most efficient public officers of the State; and in 1784, he was again chosen governor.

Patrick Henry was a consistent advocate of State Rights, and was ever jealous of any infringement upon them. For that reason, he was opposed to the Federal Constitution, and in the Virginia convention, called in 1788, to consider it, he opposed its ratification with all the power of his great eloquence. He finally acquiesced, when it became the organic law of the Republic, and used all his efforts to give it a fair trial and make it successful. Washington nominated him for the office of Secretary of State, in 1795, but Mr. Henry declined it. In 1799 President Adams appointed him an envoy to France, with Ellsworth and Murray, but feeble health and advanced age compelled him to decline an office he would have been pleased to accept. A few weeks afterward, his disease became alarmingly active, and he expired at his seat, at Red Hill, in Charlotte county, on the 6th of June, 1799, at the age of almost sixty-three years. Governor Henry was twice married. By his first wife he had six children, and nine by the second. His widow married the late Judge Winston, and died in Halifax county, Virginia, in February, 1831.

1 In the Virginia convention, held in St. John's church at Richmond, in March, 1775. It was one of the most powerful speeches ever made by the great orator, and ended with the words quoted above. They were afterward placed on flags, and adopted as a motto under many circumstances.

2 This was a contest between the clergy and the State legislature, on the question of an annual stipend claimed by the former. A decision of the court had left nothing undetermined but the amount of damage. Berry's eloquence electrified ,judge, jury, and people. The jury brought in a verdict of ors penny damages, and the people took Henry upon their shoulders, and carried him in triumph about the court-house yard.

3 He had introduced a series of resolutions, highly tinctured with rebellions doctrines, and supported them with his wonderful eloquence. The house was greatly excited; and when, at length, he alluded to tyrants, and said, "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third-" there was a cry of "Treason! Treason!" He paused a moment, and then said, "may profit by their example. If that be Treason, make the most of it."

4 When all was doubt and hesitation at the opening of the session, and no one seemed ready to take the first step, a plain man, dressed in ministers' grey, arose and proposed action. "Who is it? who is it?" asked several members. "Patrick Henry," replied the soft voice of his colleague, Peyton Randolph.

Source: Lossing, Benson J. Eminent Americans

More Information about Patrick Henry

Religion: Catholic
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Documents from our document library

Biography for Patrick Henry

((1736 - 1799)) Biography for Patrick Henry
Document Type: (File Size: 5.43K)
Patrick Henry

Anti-Federalist Papers

(1787 - 1788) Anti-Federalist Papers is the collective name given to the scattered writings of those Americans who during the late 1780s to early 1790s opposed to or who raised doubts about the merits of a firmer and more energetic union as embodied in the 1787 United

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death - Speech

(03-23-1775) Full text of the speech by Patrick Henry. Give me liberty, or give me death! is a quotation attributed to Patrick Henry from a speech he made to the Virginia Convention in 1775, at St. John's Church in Richmond, Virginia, he is credited with having swung
Document Type: (File Size: 6.86K)
Patrick Henry

Documents from The Digital Public Library of America

There are currenlty are 1595 items in the DLPA for Patrick Henry, only 25 are displayed here.

Patrick Henry
Type: image
Wallach Division: Print Collection. The New York Public Library
Patrick Henry
Date: 1880-1880
Type: image
Wallach Division: Print Collection. The New York Public Library
Patrick Henry
Date: 1888-1888
Type: image
Wallach Division: Print Collection. The New York Public Library
Patrick Henry
Type: image
Wallach Division: Print Collection. The New York Public Library
Patrick Henry
Date: [1962]
Type: text
University of California
Patrick Henry
Type: image
National Portrait Gallery
Patrick Henry
Date: 1899
Type: text
Rev. ed.
University of Michigan
Patrick Henry /
Date: [1962]
Type: text
Includes bibliography.
Cornell University
Patrick Henry
Date: 1887
Type: text
Library of Congress
Patrick Henry
Date: 1840-1840
Type: image
Wallach Division: Print Collection. The New York Public Library
Patrick Henry
Type: image
Wallach Division: Print Collection. The New York Public Library
Patrick Henry
Date: 1775 - 1890
Type: image
Wallach Division: Print Collection. The New York Public Library
Patrick Henry
Type: image
Wallach Division: Print Collection. The New York Public Library
[Patrick Henry]
Type: image
Wallach Division: Print Collection. The New York Public Library
Patrick Henry
Date: c. 1835
Type: image
National Portrait Gallery
Patrick Henry
Type: image
Wallach Division: Print Collection. The New York Public Library
Patrick Henry
Date: 1775 - 1890
Type: image
Wallach Division: Print Collection. The New York Public Library
Patrick Henry
Type: image
Wallach Division: Print Collection. The New York Public Library
Patrick Henry
Date: 1887
Type: text
Series title also at head of t.-p.
University of Michigan
Patrick Henry
Date: 1894 [c1887]
Type: text
Series title also at head of t.p.
University of California
Patrick Henry
Date: 1890
Type: text
University of Michigan
Patrick Henry
Date: 1887
Type: text
Library of Congress
Patrick Henry
Date: 1898
Type: text
List of printed documents cited in this book...": p. [424]-429.
University of Virginia
Patrick Henry
Date: 1916-1916
Type: image
National Portrait Gallery
Patrick Henry
Date: 1886-1886
Type: image
Wallach Division: Print Collection. The New York Public Library
See all the items for "Patrick Henry" at the Digital Public Library of America

Quotes by Patrick Henry


It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace-- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? 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!

-= Unknown =-

This book is worth all the books that ever were printed, and it has been my misfortune that I never found time to read it with the proper attention and feeling till lately. I trust in the mercy of heaven that it is not too late.

-= Unknown =-

Amongst other strange things said of me, I hear it is said by the deists that I am one of the number; and indeed, that some good people think I am no Christian. This thought gives me much more pain than the appellation of Tory; because I think religion of infinitely higher importance than politics; and I find much cause to reproach myself that I have lived so long, and have given no decided and public proofs of my being a Christian. But, indeed, my dear child, this is a character which I prize far above all this world has, or can boast.

-= Unknown =-

Doctor, I wish you to observe how real and beneficial the religion of Christ is to a man about to die....I am, however, much consoled by reflecting that the religion of Christ has, from its first appearance in the world, been attacked in vain by all the wits, philosophers, and wise ones, aided by every power of man, and its triumphs have been complete.

-= Unknown =-

This is all the inheritance I give to my dear family. The religion of Christ will give them one which will make them rich indeed.

-= November 20, 1798, in his Last Will and Testament =-

The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.

-= Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 9, 1788 =-

Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.

-= Unknown =-

Are we at last brought to such humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our defense?

-= Unknown =-

I have now disposed of all my property to my family. There is one thing more I wish I could give them, and that is the Christian Religion. If they had that and I had not given them one shilling they would have been rich; and if they had not that and I had given them all the world, they would be poor.

-= Unknown =-

The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is a instrument for the people to restrain the government...

-= Unknown =-

I am not a Virginian, but an American.

-= Speech from the First Continental Congress, October 14, 1774 =-

There is no retreat but in submission and slavery. Our chains are forged. Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston. The ware is inevitable. And let it come! I repeat it, sire, let it come! It is vain, sir to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen my cry, peace, peace - but there is no peace. The war is actually begun. The next gale that surveys from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms. Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand idle here? Is life so dark 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!

-= speaking to the Virginia legislature, march 23, 1775 =-


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