Known to generations of Americans for his stirring call to arms, “Give me liberty or give me death,” Patrick Henry is all but forgotten today as the first of the Founding Fathers to call for independence, the first to call for revolution, and the first to call for a bill of rights. If Washington was the “Sword of the Revolution” and Jefferson, “the Pen”, Patrick Henry more than earned his epithet as “the Trumpet” of the Revolution for rousing Americans to arms in the Revolutionary War. Henry was one of the towering figures of the nation’s formative years and perhaps the greatest orator in American history.
To this day, many Americans misunderstand what Patrick Henry’s cry for “liberty or death” meant to him and to his tens of thousands of devoted followers in Virginia. A prototype of the 18th- and 19th-century American frontiersman, Henry claimed individual liberties as a “natural right” to live free of “the tyranny of rulers”—American, as well as British. Henry believed that individual rights were more secure in small republics than in large republics, which many of the other Founding Fathers hoped to create after the Revolution.
Henry was one of the most important and colorful of our Founding Fathers—a driving force behind three of the most important events in American history: the War of Independence, the enactment of the Bill of Rights, and, tragically, as America’s first important proponent of states’ rights, the Civil War.
Harlow Giles Unger, a former distinguished visiting fellow in American history at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, is a veteran journalist, broadcaster, educator, and historian. His books include The Last Founding Father and four other biographies of America’s Founding Fathers, plus many more. He lives in New York.
©2010 Harlow Giles Unger (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"A veteran biographer specializing in the Founding Fathers offers a short, sharp life of the Virginia patriot…A fine appreciation—and explanation—of freedom’s champion." (Kirkus Reviews)
"[An] engaging popular biography…An appealing element here is the wealth of excerpts from Henry’s legendary speeches and revealing letters, seamlessly woven in with Unger’s narrative…. A good choice for general readers seeking a relatively brief account of Patrick Henry’s political activity and contributions to early America." (Library Journal)
"Pat Henry wasn’t a Johnny One-Note patriot. And the author strives to reveal the whole Revolutionary enchilada here—calls to arms, demands for a bill of rights, fights against big government. Why, we could almost call this guy a Tea Party member!" (Ashbury Park Press)
Patrick Henry is one of those characters in history that many people know his name, but know little about him. Many are familiar with the line from his famous speech where he declared "Give me liberty or give me death." Few know much more about him. Harlow Giles Unger has set out to change that. In the past Unger has written about James Monroe and John Quincy Adams. In this book he turns his attention to Patrick Henry. Henry was not like a lot of his Virginia colleagues. He was not born to a wealthy planter. After failing at a few business ventures he finally took up the study of law. Before long he had established himself as a well respected attorney. Henry's strong appeal was his common sense and his love of liberty. He was a radical long before it was popular.
He was married twice. He had six children with his first wife and twelve more with his second. Many in his own time joked that he was the true father of his country. Henry was a man who believed in personal liberty. The belief was so strong that he opposed the ratification of the Constitution. Like many in his age he feared the dangers that a strong national government posed. He particularly feared the lack of a Bill of Rights in the Constitution. He was not happy that the Constitution was ratified, but he refused to oppose the new government.
Unger is an entertaining writer. If he has one major flaw it is to take the side of his subject a little too freely. In his biography of Monroe he felt the need to downplay the importance of John Quincy Adams. In his biography of Adams he builds him up as being incredibly important. One glaring example stuck out in this book. When Edmund Randolph and Thomas Jefferson gave their approval of the Constitution, despite serious reservations, Unger implies not only that Henry thought that there was a conspiracy between these men and Washington, but also that such a theory might have credence. It is absurd to imply that George Washington bribed Randolph and Jefferson with cabinet positions. No evidence is given, just a random thought thrown out. The occasional lapse aside Unger is a good writer, if a bit on the enthusiastic. There are so few books on this important founder that it is well worth checking this book out.
I had very little knowledge of Patrick Henry entering into this listen. As influential as he was initially in the American Revolution, he is often overlooked today. What I liked about this book: the book did a great job of laying out the facts of Henry's life and place in eighteenth century American in an orderly fashion.
What I did not like: I did not find the book to be a particularly critical overview. It presented Henry in a glowing light but did little to go deeper in regards to analyzing his place in history.
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