A SON OF THUNDER: Patrick Henry and the American Republic by Henry Mayer

A SON OF THUNDER: Patrick Henry and the American Republic

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An assiduously researched biography of the man whose fiery 1775 ""Give me liberty or give me death"" became a rallying cry for the increasingly rebellious American colonists. As Mayer makes abundantly clear, Henry was far more: an astute politician who, in early manhood, successfully challenged the preeminence of Virginia's House of Burgesses, a radical who instinctively believed in the equality of all men regardless of wealth or birth, and who distrusted centralized authority--be it that of parliament or of an American federal government. He envisioned a nation organized as a confederacy of near-sovereign states in which a central government would be responsible for little more than national defense and interstate commerce. When the Constitutional Convention produced a document that created a central government, Henry feared that this concentration of power would lead to yet another tyranny. As a delegate to the Virginia ratification convention, he fought acceptance of the new constitution, calling for amendments that would severely limit federal power to raise a peacetime army, impose direct taxes and override state prerogatives. He also insisted on a ""bill of rights"" guaranteeing individual liberties. Although Virginia ratified the proposed constitution, it attached a request for prompt adoption of Henry's proposed amendments. Because his ringing oratory had galvanized public opinion throughout the former colonies, the new government's first order of business became passage of the first Ten Amendments, which included Henry's so-called Bill of Rights but (to his chargin) provided no shackling of federal power over the states. In detailing Henry's life, Mayer also provides a bluegrass-roots-eye view of the temper of the times that led to the American Revolution and formation of the republic. In doing so, he draws exclusively on official documents of the period as well as newspaper reports, diaries, letters and so on. The wealth of this material, unfortunately, results in a thicket of minutiae that virtually makes the narrative disappear. Despite the jazzy title, then, not popular history. Mayer provides scant interpretation of the significance of the events he details, and assumes a thorough grounding in Colonial and Revolutionary history. The end result is a com. mendable effort that requires of its readers considerable effort.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1986
Publisher: Franklin Watts