30 November 2012
Patrick Henryâ€™s Legacy
"Give me liberty, or give me death!", the slogan that became the call-to-arms for the American Revolution, is the final sentence of a speech given by Patrick Henry to the Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775. These compelling words were uttered at the St. John's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, and the sentiments were to be echoed in the houses of government throughout the land which would become the United States of America. This monologues considered by many to be the impetus for the Virginia Conventionâ€™s overwhelming vote to dedicate its troops to a military effort which would evolve ...view middle of the document...
Gradually, the position of he and his group began to represent the mainstream, save for the Loyalists.
Although historians disagree on whether Henry actually spoke the famous words attributed to him, many contending his biographer authored them, it is difficult to appreciate the full weight they had at the time they were uttered. Moreover, students of the specific period that have focused on the radical group consisting of Henry, Adams, and Paine seem to overwhelmingly support the notion that these famous words did indeed come out of Patrick Henryâ€™s mouth. They argue that the sentiments so closely parallel other speeches and essays by Henry that no one else could have spoken them. There are also references to the phrase in documents that precede by many years the actual publishing of Henryâ€™s biography. After reviewing several of Henryâ€™s works, I personally agree with those that believe the famous words were indeed spoken by Henry at St. Johnâ€™s Episcopal Church.
â€œIs life so dear or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? [...] I do not know what others decide, but I say give me liberty, or give me death!â€
In 1776 he became the first governor of Virginia, holding the post again from 1784-1786. Always opposing a strong central government, he raised some eyebrows when he refused to sit at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787, protesting the prevalent political climate of Federalism. (Cohen, 702).
He gathered craftsmen, farmers, and gentlemen merchants who opposed the Constitution. He believed that it gave too much power to the federal government. He vehemently opposed Federalists James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. When President Washington offered him the position of Secretary of State in 1795, he declined on the grounds of irreconcilable political differences (Randall, 90).
Henry was an avid critic of the Constitution and struggled in vain against its ratification, arguing that it gave too much power to the federal government. His opposition, however, led to the adoption of the Bill of Rights. In the late 1790s, however, he became a federalist supporter of Washington and Adams, while most of his supporters became Jeffersonian. In 1798, President Adams offered him the position of special envoy to France, but Henry had to decline due to ailing health.
During the campaign, he attacked the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, approved by the legislatures of the two states after they have been secretly written by Jefferson and Madison (Nelson, 90). In them, he judged unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Acts issued by the federal government and it was argued that the Constitution was a compact between states which had delegated some powers to the federation, while maintaining its sovereignty and the right to nullify federal laws deemed contrary to constitution. According to Henry, however, the claim of Virginia to rule on the validity of federal laws was unconstitutional. He was warned about the risks...