by Gerald Boerner


JerryPhoto_8x8_P1010031 As we approach the celebration of the 4th of July American Independence Day festivities, we believe that this is a good time to reflect on how and why we became a new nation over two hundred years ago. To a great extent, it had to do with the abuses of the British colonial system AND the presence at that point in time of great men of vision — the Founding Fathers.

Last year we posted an extensive series on the American Revolution. We will draw upon some of those posts again this year, but with more emphasis on the specific roles selected Founding Fathers played in the quest for independence. Today we will examine the contributions of that great orator and one of the primary advocates for a “Bill of Rights” to be included in the U.S. Constitution.

We hope that you will follow us through this exploration and come out with a renewed respect for our great struggle in those years in the 18th century. GLB

[ This is Part 3 of 10. ]

[ 2788 Words ]


“I see happiness as a by-product. I don’t think you can pursue happiness. I think that phrase is one of the very few mistakes the Founding Fathers made.”
— James Hillman

“I was on a founding members of the Canadian theatre movement in the late 60’s till the mid 70’s and performed theatre from Halifax to Vancouver and all places in between.”
— Nick Mancuso

“In another situation, and in an active station in life, I should have been keenly occupied, and the founding of an order would have never come into my head.”
— Adam Weihaupt

“In my view, far from deserving condemnation for their courageous reporting, the New York Times, the Washington Post and other newspapers should be commended for serving the purpose that the Founding Fathers saw so clearly.”
— Hugo Black

“If the Founding Fathers and other patriots who fought during the Revolutionary War could see the United States today, I believe they would be proud of the path that the thirteen colonies, now fifty strong states, have taken since then.”
— John Linder


America’s Founding Fathers: Patrick Henry, the Orator

I want to start looking at some of the Founding Fathers of the American Revolutionary War. We will start with that great orator of the colonies — Patrick Henry of Virginia. When the passion of the Americans needed a voice, Henry was there for them. He was able to craft the appropriate phrase that could give heart to the colonists in their confrontation of the British. GLB

(The following Patrick Henry: Thinking About the American Revolution to this blog on Sunday, June 28, 2009)


“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”
— Patrick Henry

Patrick_Henry_Rothermel This statement sets forth the radical view of an American Patriot, Patrick Henry, a Virginian. He was speaking to an ex-offico meeting of the Virginia legislature, the House of Burgesses, in 1775, after it was disbanded by command of the British governor. Henry was the leading spokesman for the radical revolution of the Britain’s American colonies. He was at once an advocate of both Federalism, in relationship to Britain, and anti-Federalism within the colonies themselves at the Constitutional Convention in the late-1780s.

How could this occur? We can gain some perspective by examining a later federalist movement in Argentina during the mid-1800s. The central government was located in the province that included Buenos Aires and this province was the contact point with foreign trade and export. The other provinces, mostly agricultural, were isolated from the rest of the world. The gauchos in the interior provinces rose up against the centralized government in the Gaucho Revolution to demand that they be enabled to deal directly with other countries and control their own fate. This war, won by the gauchos, became a prime example of Federalism — the equal confederation of all provinces (or stated) within a country for the benefit of all.

Applying this analogy back on the American colonies in the latter half of the 1700s, we see that what the colonies were seeking was a federalist relationship with mother Britain. But the British required all manufactured goods to come from British firms and all of the raw goods from the colonies be sold only to Britain. The British Parliament and Monarch wanted full control of the colonies in terms of governance; the colonies were given charters by previous English Kings that enabled them to form their own legislatures to deal with local issues. To the colonists in the 1760s and 1770s, all the concerns were local and any attempt by the British to tax or legislate on the colonies were illegitimate. This was an example of American Federalism — the equality of the colonies in the control of their own destiny!

After the defeat of the British and the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the colonies became legally independent of British rule. They formed a new government that was based upon a loose confederation of the colonies and a weak central government to deal with a limited range of duties. Each colony functioned essentially as relatively independent states, our working of a federalist state. This was working well for the larger, stronger colonies like Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. It did not work as well for the smaller states. This led to the call for a revision to the Articles of Confederation, under which the young country was working within, by a Constitutional Convention in the late 1780s.

Here the definition of Federalism came to be changed! The proponents for a strong central government within the context of Montesquieu’s structure came to be called Federalists. Those that supported state’s rights and a weaker central government were called Anti-Federalists. A confusing change in designation. As the new constitution was drafted, many Anti-Federalists, including Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, George Mason, and Richard Henry Lee, refused to participate. They were offended by the opening words of the draft constitution — “We the People…” This was taken as a move to remove power from the states and give it to the central government. The new government was to be a republic with a separation of powers between the judiciary, legislature, and executive branches. There was a fear among the Anti-Federalists that the strong executive branch would morph into another monarchy.

“I know of no way of judging the future but by the past.”
— Patrick Henry

This is the context that we need to keep in mind as we examine the contributions of Patrick Henry. The ideas of many of the American Patriots of this period were aware of the philosophical seeds that we have been considering over the past few days. These ideas came to fruition in the American Revolution; we will not examine the battles of this revolution, but, instead, will focus on the intellectual and bold actions, speeches, and writings of these patriots. So, let’s start our journey through this fertile landscape by considering the great orator of the era, Patrick Henry…

Patrick Henry (1736 – 1799)

 “Caesar had his Brutus; Charles the First his Cromwell; George the Third may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.”
— Patrick Henry

Patrick_henryPatrick Henry was a lawyer and an orator and is considered by many to be the firebrand liberal behind the American Revolution. As a freshman member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, he managed to have his ‘Resolutions’ pass to negate the legitimacy of the British parliament to levy taxes upon the American colonies, especially the hated “Stamp Tax” that affected all business transactions. This idea was picked up by other colonies, especially Massachusetts where the ‘Boston Tea Party’ occurred in response to the “Tea Tax”. These actions reduced the profits of many British companies and eventually resulted in several of these taxes being withdrawn. However, the gauntlet had been thrown and the colonists began their trek down the road to revolution.

During the revolution, Henry was initially in command of the Army of Virginia, but found a more suitable seat in the Governor’s Office instead. He became the first American governor of Virginia and served for the first of his three terms at this time. He mobilized the Virginian forces to join Washington’s army. After a brief break, he returned to the Governor’s Office for one additional term in the mid-1780s. His oratory skills were used to mobilize public opinion and support for the long revolutionary war. Upon its completion, Henry was a strong supporter of the Articles of Confederation and the relative autonomy of the states.

“Perfect freedom is as necessary to the health and vigor of commerce as it is to the health and vigor of citizenship.”
— Patrick Henry

His role in the history of this country, however, was not done when he finished his fourth term as Governor of Virginia. When the Constitutional Convention was called in the late 1880s, he was named as one of the delegates from the state of Virginia. He declined to participate and became an eloquent spokesman for the Anti-Federalist position on the proposed Constitution’s strong central government and the direct inclusion of the people as the foundation of the new government instead of the individual states.

His oratory came into play during the intense fight for ratification of the new Constitution by the Virginia legislature. He felt that it did not protect the rights of the states or the population against abuses by the central government. The conflict with the British were too fresh for him to give up the independence that was won through a costly war. While the Virginia legislature DID ratify this Constitution, he was successful in getting a “Bill of Rights” included in the new Constitution as the first ten amendments when congress first met. This satisfied many of the other colonies’ concerns as well. Our country has succeeded in this great experiment in democracy. Our constitutional government has weathered this stormy period and Henry’s concerns for this centralized form of government has benefited from this experiment.

“For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know this worst and provide for it.”
— Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry’s strong oratory was an important factor in both the colonies’ rebellion against the British and his insistence on the rights of the states and the people — the “Bill of Rights”. He was a defender of America’s freedom to the end. In the final scene, he was elected for a final term as a Federalist, but died before taking office.

Thank you, Patrick Henry. You arrived on the scene in time to work your magic and help define a better democracy.


Adding Perspective on Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry (1736 – 1799) served as the first and sixth post-colonial Governor of Virginia from 1776 to 1779 and subsequently, from 1784 to 1786. A prominent figure in the American Revolution, Henry is known and remembered for his "Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" speech, and as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Along with Samuel Adams and Thomas Paine, he is remembered as one of the most influential, radical advocates of the American Revolution and republicanism, especially in his denunciations of corruption in government officials and his defense of historic rights. After the Revolution, Henry was a leader of the anti-federalists who opposed the replacement of the Articles of Confederation with the United States Constitution, fearing that it endangered many of the individual freedoms that had been achieved in the war.

Stamp Act

Patrick Henry was elected from Louisa County to the House of Burgesses, the legislative body of the Virginia colony, in 1765 to fill a vacated seat in the assembly. When he arrived in Williamsburg the legislature was already in session. Only nine days after being sworn in Henry introduced the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions, "in language so extreme that some Virginians said it smacked of treason".

The freshman representative waited for an opportunity where the mostly conservative members of the House were away (only 24% was considered sufficient for a quorum). In this atmosphere, he succeeded, through much debate and persuasion, in getting his proposal passed. It was possibly the most anti-British American political action to that point, and some credit the Resolutions with being one of the main catalysts of the Revolution. The proposals were based on principles that were well-established British rights, such as the right to be taxed by one’s own representatives. They went further, however, to assert that the colonial assemblies had the exclusive right to impose taxes on the colonies and could not assign that right. The imputation of treason is due to his inflammatory words, "Caesar had his Brutus; Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it!"

According to biographer Richard Beeman, the legend of this speech grew more dramatic over the years. Henry probably did not say the famous last line of the above quote, i.e. "If this be treason, make the most of it." The only account of the speech written down at the time by an eyewitness (which came to light many years later) records that Henry actually apologized after being accused of uttering treasonable words, assuring the House that he was still loyal to the king. Nevertheless, Henry’s passionate, radical speech was cause for notable interest at the time–even if his exact words are unknown.

American Revolution

Patrick Henry is perhaps best known for the speech he made in the House of Burgesses on March 23, 1775, in Saint John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia. The House was undecided on whether to mobilize for military action against the encroaching British military force, and Henry argued in favor of mobilization. Forty-two years later, Henry’s first biographer, William Wirt, working from oral testimony, attempted to reconstruct what Henry said. According to Wirt, Henry ended his speech with words that have since become immortalized:

Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, Give me Liberty, or give me Death!

The crowd, by Wirt’s account, jumped up and shouted "To Arms! To Arms!". For 160 years Wirt’s account was taken at face value, but in the 1970s historians began to question the authenticity of Wirt’s reconstruction. Historians today observe that Henry was known to have used fear of Indian and slave revolts in promoting military action against the British, and that according to the only written first-hand account of the speech, Henry used some graphic name-calling that failed to appear in Wirt’s heroic rendition.

In August 1775, Henry became colonel of the 1st Virginia Regiment. At the outset of the Revolutionary War, Henry led militia against Royal Governor Lord Dunmore in defense of some disputed gunpowder, an event known as the Gunpowder Incident. During the war he served as the first post-colonial Governor of Virginia and presided over several invasions of Cherokee Indian lands.

Patrick_Henry_broadside A Hue & Cry,
Virginia broadside, 1775

Henry lived during part of the War at his 10,000-acre (40 km2) Leatherwood Plantation in Henry County, Virginia, where he, his first cousin Ann Winston Carr and her husband Col. George Waller had settled. During the five years Henry lived at Leatherwood, from 1779 to 1784, he owned 75 slaves, and grew tobacco. During this time, he kept in close touch with his friend the explorer Joseph Martin, whom Henry had appointed agent to the Cherokee nation, and with whom Henry sometimes invested in real estate, and for whom the county seat of Henry County was later named.

In early November 1775 Henry and James Madison were elected founding trustees of Hampden-Sydney College, which opened for classes on November 10. He remained a trustee until his death in 1799. Henry was instrumental in achieving passage of the College’s Charter of 1783, an action delayed because of the war. He is probably the author of the Oath of Loyalty to the new Republic included in that charter. Seven of his sons attended the new college.

On October 25, 1777, Patrick Henry married his second wife, Dorothea Dandridge (1755–1831). From this marriage came eleven children.


Background and biographical information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: American Revolution…

Wikipedia: Patrick Henry…

Brainy Quote: Founding Quotes…