Point of View

January 6, 2012

Patrick Henry
by Kerby Anderson

 

 

 

If you ask people to name some of the American patriots, a few might mention the name Patrick Henry. Then if you ask them to tell you something about him, most likely they would say that he is famous for his “give me liberty or give me death” speech. But there is much more about Patrick Henry than that one speech, and that is why I recommend you read the new book, Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots.

    The author is Thomas Kidd, associate professor of history at Baylor University and author of many other books on American religious history. He was on my radio program last month and helped us understand Patrick Henry’s influence in the American Revolution and formation of the republic.

    Patrick Henry grew up in Virginia and was largely schooled at home by his father. Pastor Samuel Davies had a profound influence on him and was a significant influence on Henry’s oratorical skills. And he was influenced as well by the First Great Awakening that preceded the American Revolution.

    His second famous speech was his 1765 speech denouncing the Stamp Act. Some of it is shrouded in myth and embellishment. It is likely that he did imply (perhaps unintentionally) that the king should be assassinated when he said “Julius [Caesar] had his Brutus, Charles had his Cromwell.” But it is unlikely that he later responded to a critic by saying: “if that be treason, make the most of it!” In any case, he was a fiery orator.

    His best known speech occurred ten years later. The “Liberty or Death” speech relied heavily upon biblical references for its persuasive power. Someone reading the speech today that is unfamiliar with the Bible would miss many of these references, especially the ones that come directly from the book of Jeremiah.

    Patrick Henry was also concerned about the Constitution. He thought that human nature would abuse the consolidated power proposed by the Federalists. Today we can see that some of his concerns were indeed correct.

    This book provides a wonderful insight into one of America’s fiercest defenders of liberty, virtue, and limited government. I’m Kerby Anderson, and that’s my point of view.

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