A deeper look at Patrick Henry.
Henry was a true radical, and his “give me liberty or give me death” speech perfectly illustrated his politics and his struggle for liberty and religious freedom. Moved by the Great Awakening, he agreed with the evangelical preachers who railed against the tax-supported Anglican Church. While he never moved away from the established church, he took up the cause of religious freedom and fought to include it in the Bill of Rights. His speeches against slavery belied his ownership and purchase of slaves throughout his life, illustrative of his moral standings versus his real-life efforts for financial success. His entry into the House of Burgesses was noteworthy because of his speech against the Stamp Act, which many feel instigated the struggle for independence. Henry was a brilliant debater, but in politics he had no patience for deliberation. He was a motivator, not an organizer. Kidd (History/Baylor Univ.; God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, 2010) illustrates the connections between the revolution, religion and politics. Henry spoke eloquently about the need for virtue and moral courage in his compatriots, even as they refused to join the Continental Army, and the Great Awakening had a deep affect on him. The great preachers trained him to be the most effective orator of the revolutionary period. He surely would have been president had he not so often retired to his law practice, farming and land speculation. His quest for greater riches caused him to refuse appointments and withdraw from politics on a regular basis.
Kidd’s biography awakens us to the depths of Henry’s devotion to liberty and small government.