American Character: Patrick Henry

Nearly everyone knows the name Patrick Henry. But we are a nation of people only barely acquainted with our Founders. There is little depth to that knowledge.

Henry was a man who was motivated by his Christian faith, something some historians try to deny. As a young boy, he was taken to the revival meetings of the First Great Awakening by his mother. It was at these meetings that he learned his method of public speaking, an approach that made him the most eloquent voice of resistance to the aims of the British government.

Attendance at those meetings also helped him see how the official church of Virginia, the Church of England, was treating dissenters. Baptists were often put in jail for not getting permission from the government to preach. Henry took the side of the Baptists, saying they should have the liberty to speak without government interference.

In his first year as a member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses, Henry authored resolutions against the Stamp Act that called this act an imposition of taxes that violated the British constitution. Those resolutions passed the House and put Virginia in the forefront of the resistance. Henry said this about the passage of his resolutions:

Whether this will prove a blessing or a curse will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt a nation. Reader! Whoever thou art, remember this; and in thy sphere, practise virtue thyself, and encourage it in others.

His most famous speech, of course, was the one he made in March 1775, to convince the Virginia House to prepare for the eventual clash of arms. We usually refer to it as the “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. But all too few of us have read it; therefore, we don’t know that it is filled with Biblical allusions. He says he is speaking out because it would be an act of disloyalty to God if he didn’t. He talks about being betrayed with a kiss, and how that can prove a snare to the nation. He says there is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and he is trusting in Him to guide the resistance.

Finally, in his will, Henry states, after he has disposed of all his property:

This is all the inheritance I give to my dear family. The religion of Christ will give them one which will make them rich indeed.

That’s the Patrick Henry too few people know. This posting, though, has just added to the number of those who know him better.