Patrick Henry was born in Hanover County, Virginia, on May 29, 1736, to John and Sarah Henry. Although he was mostly educated at home by his father, Patrick took an active interest in law, which he pursued on his own. In 1760, Patrick was admitted to the Virginia bar. He soon became a well-known and persuasive attorney and a staunch advocate for American independence.
Patrick Henry’s words were extremely influential. In 1763, Henry argued against the King of England in the Parson’s Cause case in Hanover County. Henry defended the right of the colony to fix the price of the tobacco in which the clergy were paid. When clergymen complained to the king, the ruling was nullified. Henry argued that any king who would veto a law implemented by a locally elected council is not a father to the people but a tyrant undeserving of the allegiance of his subjects. Henry was equally as vociferous in his opposition of the 1765 Stamp Act, which he voiced at the Virginia House of Burgesses. Despite cries of treason throughout the meeting room for his impassioned scolding of the Stamp Act and its creators, the House ultimately sided with Patrick Henry and his resolutions asserting that colonists, as Englishmen, have the exclusive right to tax themselves.
Henry became a delegate to the House of Burgesses in 1765 and served until 1774. Henry became a powerful voice in the quest for American independence and advocated the arming of civilians. His famous words, “Give me liberty or give me death,” spoke for a generation of Americans ready to rebel against England.
Patrick Henry was more than just a radical—he was a very successful politician. He was a delegate to the Virginia Provincial Convention in 1775 and was a member of the Continental Congress from 1774–1776. Henry was twice elected as governor of Virginia and led the fight for the Virginia Religious Freedom Act of 1785. Even though he was a Federalist, Henry opposed ratification of the US Constitution, asserting it jeopardized states’ rights. He worked hard to have the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution. Henry died June 6, 1799.