PATRICK HENRY: A Biography by Richard R. Beeman


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A diligent study of the political footwork of Virginia's great orator, Patrick Henry -- hardly a simple task, since in Henry's career there was no quiet unfolding of dominant principles, but the author has drawn some tenable general conclusions as to Henry's motivation and influence. Henry did in a sense represent a new breed in the oligarchic House of Burgesses, but not, the author stresses, as a radical or liberal. He only seemed so in his Liberty-or-Death approach to American independence because he had not had the power elite's experience in mitigating differences with the mother country. Later, after the Revolution, in which Henry had a brief, highly unsuccessful military career, he became an accepted member of the ruling faction, and as Governor came down on the side of more autocratic and traditional executive authority. The only constant theme in Henry's actions was his concern with local, particularistic Virginian interests -- or his own. Yet although he had not the administrative or conceptual brilliance of a Jefferson (his performances, except for oratory, as delegate to the two Continental Congresses were undistinguished), he was a formidable and effective figure, risen from western oriented impecunious beginnings, possessing some gritty, American virtues much appreciated in the hustings. A scholarly, discreet political biography of a man never quite as tall as his myth.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1974
Publisher: McGraw-Hill