Patrick Henry - Important Figures in US History

Patrick Henry giving his famous speech at the Virginia House of Burgesses.
Patrick Henry giving his famous speech at the Virginia House of Burgesses.

Patrick Henry was one of the most accomplished American nationalists who influenced the country's independence and shaped the history of the nation. A well-educated lawyer and politician, Henry was a key figure in the events that led to American Revolution which began in 1775 leading to independence of America in 1776. An excellent orator and a successful farmer, Henry’s influence was felt in pre and post-independent America.

Early Life

Patrick Henry was born on May 29, 1736. He was the second born son of John Henry and Sarah Winston Syme in a family of nine. Patrick was enrolled for basic education at an early age although most of the learning was acquired from home where he was taught by relatives. At the age of fifteen, he began running a business under his father’s guidance but the venture became unprofitable. Patrick got married in 1754 to Sarah Shelton and started farming but the venture failed. He opted to join law school with the hope of bettering his family living standard. He successfully graduated as a lawyer in 1760.


Patrick Henry began his career as a lawyer immediately after graduating from law school. His proficiency in law made him win many cases in court, prompting many clients to come to him for legal advice. His first major case in his career was in 1763. The lawsuit was based the “Two Penny Act” that required the people to be taxed two pennies per pound of tobacco, an issue the members were opposed to. Henry used his knowledge and oratory skills to convince the trial judges to rule in favor of the members. This endeared him to the people who saw him an advocate of their rights.

In 1765, Henry began his political career with his election to the Burgesses house, a body mandated to make laws within the colony of Virginia. His first outstanding motion was against the “Virginia Stamp Act” which imposed taxation on printing and business undertakings. His argument and tactics made him gain support against the Act.

In 1774, the house was dissolved, angering Henry and others. They opted to start a movement to fight the British who were oppressing them. On March 23, 1775, Henry attended the Virginia Convention and convinced those in attendance to fight for their freedom. It is here that he made the famous quote “Give me liberty or give me death” which mobilized all to look for a military solution to freedom. He united all the states to fight for a common goal of freedom.

Major Contributions

As a politician, Henry altered the course of national politics when he spearheaded the movement against the “Virginia Stamp Act Resolution” which stopped unnecessary taxation on Americans to support the British military. As a nationalist and a freedom fighter, he contributed to the independence of America by planting the seed of discontentment among the people that led to the American Revolution and consequently the independence of all the States of America. In post-independent America, he was instrumental in formulating and ratifying the first constitution which embraces the bill of human rights.


Despite his successful career, Henry faced myriad of challenges throughout his life. Growing up, most of the economic activities he ventured in failed, rendering him and his family poor until he took up law. Politically, he was often treated with suspicion by the British who saw him as a threat to its colonies. His major fallback was in 1788 in the Virginia Convention when Madison and his group wanted to pass a new constitution. He foresaw a threat in the presidency that would tax the people and become a tyrant. The federal supporters prevailed in passing the motion on the presidency with Henry conceding defeat and calling himself a “peaceful citizen.”

Death and Legacy

Patrick Henry died on his farm in Brookneal on June 6, 1799, at the age of 63, He is still remembered as the “founding father of the American States”. He was the first governor of independent Virginia. As the orator of revolution, Henry is remembered for his consistency in mobilizing people to fight for their rights.


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