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Pride in America: Patrick Henry

Pride in America: Patrick Henry

Ryan Claassen
July 3, 2023

Welcome to Pride in America Month. Every day in the month of June and through Independence Day, we will highlight a figure who has demonstrated and defended American values. Consider it a healthy alternative to the Left's June celebration that has taken over the media and corporate America.

“Give me liberty or give me death!” This phrase has become legendary in the story of America’s founding and has been forever memorialized in the American spirit. Embodied by the founding fathers and American combatants in the American War of Independence, this served as a rallying cry against the British empire of King George III and government encroachment on the rights of man. The man celebrated today is the underappreciated source of this fundamental foundation of America.

Patrick Henry, born in Virginia in 1736, served as a lawyer, statesman, and military leader. His greatest successes relied on his skills as an orator, which inspired countless Americans to take action. Before the American War of Independence, he became a lawyer through self-study and argued against British overreach and for individual liberty. Henry’s rhetoric soared his popularity in Colonial Virginia, leading to his election to the House of Burgesses — the lower house of Virginia’s legislature — in May 1765.

Fortunately, Henry did not have to wait long for the opportunity to combat the British, as the Stamp Act of 1765 was passed by the British Parliament shortly before he was sworn into the legislature. His emphatic speeches were instrumental in Virginia’s legislature passing five resolutions that decried the Stamp Act and drew accusations of treason against Henry. In response, Henry said, “If this be treason, make the most of it!”

In 1775, Henry began to directly confront the British, coinciding with uprisings across the colonies, by leading a militia to demand a store of British gunpowder be returned to Virginia’s control. Known as the Gunpowder Incident, this culminated in the then-British Governor of Virginia Lord Dunmore retreating by sea, scurrying away from Virginia without a shot being fired.

After this, Henry was briefly appointed as the commander of Virginia’s militia until he was elected to Virginia’s Fifth Convention in April 1776, in which Virginia declared itself independent from British rule. On June 29, 1776, Henry was elected by the legislature the first Governor of a free Virginia by a vote of 60-45 in which he served until 1779 and was elected again serving from 1784-1786.

After this term, the Constitutional Convention — the meeting in Philadelphia that replaced the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution we know today — occurred in 1787. Henry voiced his opposition to the Constitution’s lack of a Bill of Rights and argued that it put too much power into the federal branch, as he was a strong proponent of states’ rights. He authored several of the Anti-Federalist Papers, which served a crucial role in limiting the scope of the Constitution and protecting individual liberties.

Although Henry is recognized as a founding father by many, he remains overshadowed by other great men from Virginia, such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. 

Henry’s oratory craftsmanship helped him create speeches that invoked an undying flame of liberty in the hearts and minds of his fellow countrymen. America needs more inspiring voices that hold government accountable and inspire those around them. Henry deserves to be recognized for being one of those voices when it was needed most.

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