HENRY, Patrick, American orator and statesman : b. 29 May 1736, in Hanover County, Va., within a few miles of the birthplace of Henry Clay; d. 6 June 1799, in Charlotte County, Va. His father, John 1-fenry, was a well-educated Scotchman, presiding judge of the Hanover court. He was a cousin of Wil liam Robertson, author of the 'History of the Emperor Charles the Fifth.' Another relative of his was Henry Erougham, the radical Scotch writer, who became lord chancellor of England. Of Patrick Henry's mother, oa portly, hand some dame," a pleasing portrait is left us by William Byrd, of Westover,dthe genial littera teur of colonial Virginia.
The schools were poor in his neighborhood, and Patrick seems to have profited little by them. From his uncle, the rector of the parish, he gained a rudimentary knowledge of the classics and mathematics. He was a frolicsome and vagrant youth, fond of hunting and frontier life in general. At 18 years of age, and without money or employment, he married Sarah Shel ton, a poor girl of the neighborhood. He kept a store and failed; he tried farming, and failed; then he returned to the store, only to fail again. He now turned to law, and spent a few weeks in reading upon that subject. Having received his license, he began to practise in his native county, while he assisted in the tavern kept by his father-in-law.
In 1763 Henry singled himself out as a born orator by his impassioned plea in "The Parsons' Cause.' The king had annulled a statute of the Virginia burgesses, which compelled the clergy to accept the depreciated currency of the colony in payment of their annual salaries, in lieu of 16,000 pounds of tobacco as theretofore, a product which was then selling at a high price. Henry startled the court and the countryside by asserting °that a king, by annuling or dis allowing acts of so salutary a nature, from being the father of his people, degenerates into a tyrant, and forfeits all right to his subjects' obedience.' Henry's utterance on this occasion was in keeping with the bold address, two years previous, of James Otis, who declared that the tyranny lurking in general search warrants had 'cost one king of England his head and another his throne." Henry became a member of the House of Burgesses in May 1765, just at the time of the arrival of the Stamp Act. Unabashed, by his rustic appearance and inexperience in legislative matters, he brought forward a series of resolu tions to the effect °that the general assembly of this colony have the only sole and exclusive right and power to lay taxes.' In the bloody debate which followed he was "opposed by Randolph, Bland, Pendleton, Nicholas, Wythe, and all the old members, whose influence in the House till then had been unbroken," so we learn from Jefferson, then a college student, who was present at the session of the burgesses. In
pleading the injustice of the Stamp Act, Henry used the famous words : "Caesar had his Brutus; Charles the First, his Cromwell ; and George the Third ['Treason!) shouted the Speaker. °Trea son,' (treason,' echoed others. After a mo ment's pause, the orator completed the inter rupted sentence in a manner that showed no less defiance than adroitness] and George the Third may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it." As the royal governor of Massachusetts wrote the ministry: "The Vir resolves proved an alarm bell to the disaffected." By his intrepidity, his oratory, and his intuition, at once patriotic and prophetic, Patrick Henry became henceforth the protag onist of the colonial cause, sharing with Otis, Gadsden, and Samuel Adams the high honor of launching the American Revolution.
Henry represented Virginia in the first Palo nial Congress, which met at Philadelphia 5 Sept. 1774, when he gave final expression to the feel ing of nationality: °The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are no more. I am not a Vir ginian, but an American." With this speech compare Christopher Gadsden's remark nine years before at the Stamp Act congress in New York: "There ought to be no New Eng land men, no New Yorkers, known on the continent, but all of us Americans." On 23 March 1775, Henry, as a member of the second Virginia convention, which met in Saint John's Church, Richmond, moved that the colony be armed, and again electrified the patriots with his eloquence in support of this radical measure by the oft-quoted utterance: "Gentlemen may cry peace! peace ! — but there is no peace! The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the North will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! . . . Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God I I know not what course others may take; but as for me. give me liberty, or give me death!" Col. Edward Carrington, listening at a window in the cast end of the church, was so transported by the eloquence of Henry, that he exclaimed, "Let me be buried at this spot," a wish that was respected at his death in 1810. Such was the universal testimony of those present as to the over mastering effect of Henry's speech at that crisis.