Patrick Henry (1736-1799) had very little in the way of formal education, but his home-schooling included Greek and Latin, and he was apparently well-read in classics and history. He was an impressive orator from the very beginning of his career. He is reputed to have passed his bar exam with slight knowledge of the law, on style alone. He went on to become a very successful and busy lawyer.

An early advocate of independence, he was elected delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774, and the Second Virginia Convention in 1775. It was at this latter convention that he delivered the address, "The War Inevitable" which concludes with the famous line, "Give me liberty or give me death!" He served briefly in the Continental Army in 1776, and was elected Governor of Virginia in that auspicious year. He was re-elected as Governor several times.

He opposed the federal Constitution. On this matter he did not prevail, but one of his arguments was that the Constitution had no Bill of Rights, and this lack was soon remedied. He then dedicated the remainder of his life to the pursuit of money, and the promotion of Christianity.

Patrick Henry was a proponent of moderate religious freedom. As a lawyer, he frequently defended the rights of minority sects. He drafted the article of the Virginia Bill of Rights on religious freedom:

That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

In 1784, he promoted a "Bill Establishing a Provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion". In one respect, Henry's views were progressive for the time, because he demanded public support for all Christian sects, not just the Episcopals. This did not placate some of his more radical fellow Virginians, however. Opposing the establishment bill, James Madison wrote the immortal "Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments". The establishment bill was finally narrowly defeated by one vote, when Henry was removed from the legislature by being elected once more as Governor. In 1786, the Virgina legislature passed Thomas Jefferson's "An Act for Establishing Religious Freedom". In the end, both views were combined: Henry's free exercise view was combined with Madison and Jefferson's anti-establishment rule in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Gorganzola notes:

Whatever else you say, remind readers that the man who said "Give me liberty or give me death" owned slaves, and did not free them when the contradiction was pointed out.

It's true that Henry owned slaves and never freed them. Here is his response, in 1773, to a Quaker friend who sent him an abolitionist pamplet:

Would any one believe that I am Master of Slaves of my own purchase! I am drawn along by ye. general inconvenience of living without them, I will not, I cannot justify it. However culpable my Conduct, I will so far pay my devoir to Virtue, as to own the excellence & rectitude of her Precepts, & to lament my want of conforming to them.--
I believe a time will come when an oppo. will be offered to abolish this lamentable Evil.--Every thing we can do is to improve it, if it happens in our day, if not, let us transmit to our descendants together with our Slaves, a pity for their unhappy Lot, & an abhorrence for Slavery. If we cannot reduce this wished for Reformation to practice, let us treat the unhappy victims with lenity, it is ye. furthest advance we can make toward Justice. We owe to the purity of our Religion to shew that it is at variance with that Law which warrants Slavery.--

Patrick Henry to Robert Pleasants, January 18, 1773.

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