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Patrick Henry

Patrick Henry (May 29, 1736--June 6, 1799) was a prominent figure during the era of the American Revolution. In the opinion of most historians (and most of his contemporaries), he was one of, if not the most radical politician of the period.

Trained as an attorney, and noted for his heated oratorical skills, this Virginian first made a name for himself in a case dubbed the "Parson's Cause" (1763) which was an argument on whether the price of tobacco paid to clergy for their services should be set by the colonial government or by the Crown. Henry won the case, to the consternation of the British government.

Perhaps in part because of his success in this venture, Henry was elected to the House of Burgesses (legislative body of the Virginia colony) in 1765. That same year, he proposed the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions. 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 (many called it "treasonous") American political action to that point, and some credit the Resolutions with being one of the main catalysts of the Revolution.

Henry is perhaps best known for the closing words of a speech he made in the House of Burgesses on March 23, 1775, urging that legislature to take military action against the encroaching British military force:

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!"

During the Revolution, Henry led a military force in defense of Virginia, chiefly in defense of some disputed gunpowder coveted by the British.

After the Revolution, Henry was an outspoken critic of the Constitution and urged against its adoption, arguing it gave the federal government too much power. As a leading Antifederalist, he was instrumental in the adoption of the Bill of Rights to amend the new Constitution.

He served as the first Governor of Virginia, from 1776-79, and again from 1784-86. He died at Red Hill Plantation, Virginia.

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