Today in History: Patrick Henry’s Birthday

On May 29, 1736, Patrick Henry was born. Known as “Hot Head” and “The Voice of the Revolution,” Henry was a renowned Virginian whose talents as a lawyer and politician were matchless. Henry had an uncanny penchant for fiery oratory, using his skills to persuade Virginians to adopt the patriot cause.

During the Stamp Act Crisis, he proposed a set of resolutions that would effectively undermine the controversial policy’s legitimacy and nullify enforcement of the act within the state. While Henry produced a valid argument that the Stamp Act was contrary to the constitutional boundaries of the British system, some considered his resolutions seditious. When accused of treason, Patrick Henry stated: “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third…may he profit by their example.” Henry’s rhetoric was also instrumental in convincing Virginia to commit its militia to the War for Independence.

Henry was undoubtedly the strongest political force of his time in Virginia, and one of the most famous figures of the era. He was so successful in opposing the political aims of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison that Jefferson once remarked the only political hope was to pray for Henry’s death. While not everyone agreed with all of Henry’s political views, they certainly realized his influence and popularity.

Henry was also known for his strong opposition to the United States Constitution. When called as a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention, Henry’s response was to decline, believing he “smelled a rat.” Henry was convinced that a subset of delegates would attempt to impose a nationalistic government and usurp the powers of Virginia, and prognosticated that the convention would “oppress and ruin the people.” Henry attacked the possibility of a direct taxation power, congressional control over state militia, and the creation of an executive office. Along with George Mason, he was a strong proponent of a bill of rights, considering its inclusion as a necessity should the Constitution be considered.

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