Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation

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In this action-packed history, award-winning author Harlow Giles Unger unfolds the epic story of Patrick Henry, who roused Americans to fight government tyranny—both British and American. Remembered largely for his cry for “liberty or death,” Henry was actually the first (and most colorful) of America’s Founding Fathers—first to call Americans to arms against Britain, first to demand a bill of rights, and first to fight the growth of big government after the Revolution.

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Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation

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Overview

In this action-packed history, award-winning author Harlow Giles Unger unfolds the epic story of Patrick Henry, who roused Americans to fight government tyranny—both British and American. Remembered largely for his cry for “liberty or death,” Henry was actually the first (and most colorful) of America’s Founding Fathers—first to call Americans to arms against Britain, first to demand a bill of rights, and first to fight the growth of big government after the Revolution.

As quick with a rifle as he was with his tongue, Henry was America’s greatest orator and courtroom lawyer, who mixed histrionics and hilarity to provoke tears or laughter from judges and jurors alike. Henry’s passion for liberty (as well as his very large family), suggested to many Americans that he, not Washington, was the real father of his country.

This biography is history at its best, telling a story both human and philosophical. As Unger points out, Henry’s words continue to echo across America and inspire millions to fight government intrusion in their daily lives.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Kirkus Reviews, 9/1/10
“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.”

Library Journal, 10/1
“[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.”

Asbury Park
Press, 9/19
“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!”
 

Wall Street Journal, 10/22/10
“[A] vivid biography of the Virginia firebrand.”

The Oklahoman, 10/31/10
“Unger shows how down-to-earth Henry was and how connected he was to regular people… [A] great book about one of our nation's founders.”

Bookviews.com, November 2010
“This biography adds to our further knowledge of the men who were our Founding Fathers.”
 

HudsonValleyNews, 11/3/10
“Very readable, engaging.”

New York
Journal of Books, 10/26/10
“Harlow Giles Unger does a remarkable job of putting together the life and times of this most noted but little known Founder. Unger provides a startling history of the man who, though never in combat, remains one of the great patriots of his new country…Unger is not only a superior storyteller, he is also a gifted researcher; he sweeps the reader into the story, also enveloping us in the times…The book brings fresh insights to the process of building a nation with little direction from which to work…If you want to know what the Founders meant while deliberating the creation of the Confederation and the Constitution, and if you wish to understand why they made the decisions they did, read Lion of Liberty.”
 
Associated Press, 11/15/10
“With quotes from Henry's vivid oratory, Unger traces his rise in Virginia society before the Revolution. Though not quite a rags-to-riches tale—his folks were well-established lawyers and clergymen—Lion of Liberty tells entertainingly of how a homespun-clad upcountryman with an odd accent fitted into a British-trained, plantation-owning aristocracy of velvet jackets and white neckcloths.”

The Federal Lawyer,
November/December 2010

“[An] excellent biography…Will be valued by all who have an interest in the birth of this nation and the origins of government.”
 
Asbury ParkPress, 11/14/10
“An easy-to-read and entertaining biography…Today's Tea Party talk of liberty and small government has made Patrick Henry seem especially relevant.”

Richmond
Times-Dispatch, 11/14/10
“Unger recounts Henry's life and explores its ramifications in contemporary America. Whether you find it cautionary or inspiring might depend on your own political beliefs…[Unger] brings an ardent spirit of libertarianism to this engrossing and articulate biography; he argues implicitly that in Henry's aversion to a strong central government, the tea-party movement finds its philosophical cornerstone…Unger's telling of Henry's story is a beacon of vivid, accessible and thought-provoking biography.”

Norfolk
Virginian-Pilot, 11/14/10
“A reintroduction to this silver-tongued rabble rouser who was so blunt in his disregard for English law that dumbstruck opponents could think of no other response than to accuse him of treason.

NPR.org, 11/22/10
“Excellent…[Unger] does remarkable work untangling a difficult subject…Fantastically engaging…Unger proves to be impressively sensitive and perceptive when chronicling some of the patriot's darker moments…[He] is able to weave the sometimes disparate, frequently contradictory strands of Henry's life into a coherent, absorbing narrative. He's adept at explaining Henry's proto-libertarianism, which will sound familiar to current American readers, as new political movements suspicious of the federal government have dominated the American conversation in the past several months. Unger's book is the perfect introduction to the founder whose rhetoric started a revolution.”

Newcity, 11/22/10
“In this accessible, elegantly written biography Harlow Unger brings the leonine patriot vividly to life, skillfully weaving his story together with the outsize history he helped shape.”

InfoDad.com, 11/24/10
“Provides a fine, multifaceted portrait of a stirring orator and accomplished politician…This is a noteworthy biography that shows both Henry’s importance to the establishment of the United States and the distance between the sort of nation he hoped to create and the one that exists two centuries later.”

Taft Bulletin, Fall 2010
“In this action-packed history, award-winning author Harlow Giles Unger unfolds the epic story of Patrick Henry.”

HanoverReview, Winter 2010
“The first major new biography of Patrick Henry in a generation.”

Kingman Daily Miner, 12/3/10
 “Exactingly researched…Unger has captured the essence of Henry…Highly recommended…[A] personable historical account of one outstanding patriot.”

The Lone Star,
November 2010
“This excellent book should be read by all Americans.”
 

Our History Project Book Review, 1/10/11
“In this magnificent book Harlow Unger paints a portrait of Patrick Henry that will inspire, recharge and get us excited; if not passionate; about what freedom is and why we as Americans strive, desire and covet that ideal…[He] combines true story telling mixed with sound academic research.”
 
WhatWouldtheFoundersThink.com, 1/10/11
“One of the most interesting facets of this book was how the author tied the various actors in the Revolution together and placed them at various events.”
 
CharlestonPost and Courier, 2/6/11
“A well-written story of one of the key figures in America's Revolutionary movement and his later efforts in safeguarding the hard-won freedoms during the formation of the new nation…The author is a good storyteller, and his brisk, narrative style ably conveys the importance of the life and contributions of this great ‘Lion of Liberty’…An informative and enjoyable read.”
 
Reference & Research Book News, February 2011
“A popular biography of the public and private life of Patrick Henry…A compelling story that illustrates Henry's beliefs by centering on his actions and the events of his life.”
 

WashingtonTimes, 2/16/11
“A highly readable account of the life of one of our most prominent revolutionaries.”
 

The Waterline, 2/24/11
“Unger brings Colonial Williamsburg to life.”
 
Magill Book Reviews
“An engaging account of Patrick Henry’s lifelong quest to promote individual liberties and fight against government interference.”
 
American Spectator, April 2011“[An] admirable new biography…Goes far to restore that able, eloquent, and courageous man to a proper place in our national memory…Unger’s vivid, gracefully written narrative brings Patrick Henry back to life.”

San Francisco Book Review, 4/5/11, and Sacramento Book Review, 4/8/11
Lion of Liberty, a book by Harlow G. Unger, is in many ways like Patrick Henry. Both don’t seem special from the outside, and both seem modest and homely at first glance. Yet, inside these two ordinary objects is a fire that excels on natural talent. a marvelous biography and has a different take on revolutionary heroes. Remember that they were mortal men.”

Collected Miscellany, 5/5/11
“A light and refreshing read of Henry’s life…This biography is history at its best, telling a story both human and philosophical. As Unger points out, Henry’s words continue to echo across America and inspire millions to fight government intrusion in their daily lives.”

Choice, July 2011“[Unger] wields a facile pen…There is insightful treatment of Henry’s family life and Henry as a lawyer…Recommended.”

PortlandBook Review, 4/3
“[A] peek at the experiences of one of the most colorful and opinionated of America’s founding fathers. Anyone with an interest in American history will be fascinated with Henry’s myriad of speeches on independence and liberty. This book presents a behind the scenes look at not only the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, but one of the men who fought for its very existence…Cleverly written…Students and adults alike will enjoy this read about an incredibly important time in American history.”

Christian Science Monitor, 11/12/12
“Compelling.”

Library Journal
In this engaging popular biography, Unger (The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness) recounts the career and examines the political and moral philosophies of the persuasive anti-Federalist best remembered for the American Revolution's rallying cry, "Give me liberty, or give me death!" Unger focuses on Henry's radical views on individual liberty and states' rights as well as his vehement opposition, as Virginia's governor, to strong presidential powers. Unger argues that Henry, who feared an American monarchy, used his theatrical oratorical skills, developed as a successful young defense attorney in rural Virginia, to win nation-shaping political arguments. An appealing element here is the wealth of excerpts from Henry's legendary speeches and revealing letters, seamlessly woven in with Unger's narrative. Appendixes include the entirety of Henry's legendary "Give me liberty, or give me death!" speech and a letter outlining his views on slavery. VERDICT Lacking new information and perspective, this title is a good choice for general readers seeking a relatively brief account of Patrick Henry's political activity and contributions to early America. However, scholars and even well-informed lay readers won't be satisfied.—Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia
Kirkus Reviews

A veteran biographer specializing in the Founding Fathers offers a short, sharp life of the Virginia patriot.

Most Americans know Patrick Henry only for his 1775 "liberty or death" speech. Like his northern counterpart, Samuel Adams, he was a driving force for independence who never received the first-tier historical treatment reserved for only a handful of the Founders. Unger (The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness, 2009, etc.) offers a few reasons why. First, notwithstanding his service in the House of Burgesses, his distinction as Virginia's first governor and his election three more times to that office, Henry was always something of an outsider, a kind of Andrew Jackson Democrat before there was such a thing. He made his name as a defender of the common people, an eloquent, unusually effective attorney in the state's Piedmont area. Though he always retained the healthy regard of Washington and John Marshall, Henry stood apart from the rest of the Tidewater aristocracy that ruled Virginia and later the nation. Second, though he frequently inserted himself in the raging political battles of his era, Henry was not as consumed by politics as, say, Jefferson or Madison. He preferred his thriving legal practice, large family and wide circle of friends. He bought and sold numerous properties and frequently relocated his home plantation, despite debilitating illnesses that plagued him most of his adult life.Finally, with the Revolution won and the new nation organizing itself years later under the proposed Constitution, Henry opposed ratification, thundering against the surrender of liberty to a federal authority, a stance that prevented his joining Washington's administration. Though he later softened his criticisms of the federal government, his health had so deteriorated that he declined Washington's numerous offers of high office, posts which might well have further burnished his name.

A fine appreciation—and explanation—of freedom's champion.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306818868
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 10/26/2010
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 9.52 (w) x 11.30 (h) x 1.11 (d)

Meet the Author

A veteran journalist, broadcaster, educator, and historian, Harlow Giles Unger is a former Distinguished Visiting Fellow in American History at Mount Vernon and is the author of sixteen books, including five other biographies of America’s Founding Fathers. He lives in New York.

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Table of Contents

Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xi

Chronology xiii

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 Tongue-tied 5

Chapter 2 Tongue Untied 19

Chapter 3 The Flame Is Spread 27

Chapter 4 We Are Slaves! 47

Chapter 5 To Recover Our Just Rights 65

Chapter 6 We Must Fight! 83

Chapter 7 "Give Me Liberty..." 93

Chapter 8 "Don't Tread on Me" 107

Chapter 9 Hastening to Ruin 127

Chapter 10 Obliged to Fly 141

Chapter 11 A Belgian Hare 161

Chapter 12 Seeds of Discontent 183

Chapter 13 On the Wings of the Tempest 197

Chapter 14 A Bane of Sedition 215

Chapter 15 Beef! Beef! Beef! 233

Chapter l6 The Sun Has Set in All Its Glory 257

Afterword 275

Appendix A The Speech 279

Appendix B Henry on Slavery 283

Appendix C Henry's Heirs 285

Notes 287

Bibliography 305

Index 311

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 14, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    An excellent account of Patrick Henry

    In my opinion, Mr. Unger gave an excellent account of Patrick Henry, one of our great founding fathers. The book was a bit short, but still when I read this book I got the impression that Patrick Henry was not only devoted to his family but also to the forming of a new nation: USA. Mr. Unger consistently drives home the point that Henry had casts grave doubts on our Constitution in that he believed that there was an enormous amount of control given to the Federal Government. Maybe his beliefs are ringing true today when you consider the power that the Federal government has at its disposal today. Overall, if you want to learn about Patrick Henry this is an excellent book to start with.

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  • Posted April 9, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    An important biography of a political career

    Mr Unger writes in a style that is easy to read. He provides a lot of information without making it read like a textbook. Mr Unger uses writings of Patrick Henry, family and compatriots alike to weave snippets into his narrative or passages from speeches or first-hand accounts of Henry's orations. This book proves that no one was more adamant in his desire for independence from Britain as Patrick Henry; yet he led the charge in opposition to the Constitution as drafted. Before I finished Lion of Liberty, I ordered his book on James Monroe.

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  • Posted January 10, 2011

    Should be on every shelf!

    Before my review I did read the only other review posted here. Since it anonymously posted and the review shows that they did not even bother to read the book. 18 complete pages of documented reference material, research, writing and accounts are in this book. Views are both personal and secondhand relating to Henry. Apparently Mr. Unger has hit a raw never with someone. I am a Historian and am completely familiar with academic and story based history. This one is a keeper.

    "LION OF LIBERTY" Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation
    Harlow Giles Unger
    Da Capo Press-2010
    321 pages

    In this magnificent book Harlow Unger paints a portrait of Patrick Henry that will inspire, recharge and get us excited; if not passionate; about what freedom is and why we as Americans strive, desire and covet that ideal.

    Harlow Unger, I have to admit is one of my favorite authors. He combines true story telling mixed with sound academic research and writing that leaves nothing out. Each chapter referenced is Healy laden with reference notes (18 pages), which include writings from Henry himself to letters of others, firsthand account documents, Court records, Church records and more. This serves in giving you, not only personal insight on his views, but a complete portrait of how others viewed him at the time.

    The opening leaves you in suspense as the young Henry makes his first appearance in a courtroom, seemingly not sure what to do. The Judge was on the verge of throwing out the case and awarding the other party the victory. We find out later that Henry, a master of the courtroom stage was more than ready to argue almost any point. We see his love of family, love of country and love of law shine through.

    In this work we see how Patrick Henry developed his skills in the backwoods. We see who his first audience (the animals) was and how he crafted his art and performance. As the book progresses we see his genius from soon to be peers to taking on challenges of the mother country in respects to the legal standings. These accounts you will just have to read for yourself, and I will say it is well worth the read.

    This book sounds the cry of freedom and political statement s that are as relevant today as they were then. "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death" may be Henry's legacy to our Nation, but what you will find is that he left so much more. This Masterpiece and Portrait of Patrick Henry is something every American should read, regardless of your viewpoints; left or right. To continue on as a nation we have to have an understanding of who we are and the other viewpoints of the opposition, then we can grow. As much as Van Buran brought us party politics, Henry brought us the will and the determination to speak out, stand up and demand to be heard.

    Reviewed by
    Craig Anderson
    Our History Project, Inc.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2010

    Full of conjecture. DO NOT recommend!!!

    If you are looking for a real historical book on Patrick Henry, this is NOT the one. The author is too opinionated and the quotes by the founding fathers have been taken out of context. I have read a lot of books on the American Revolutionary War and the Founding Fathers and this is the worst. The title of the book depicts his ideas of the "Sons of Liberty" by throwing them to the Lions. Because of this book I will not be ordering his other book about James Monroe. I don't want to read opinions. I want true, factual history. Right or wrong. Also, Patrick Henry was not called the "Lion of Liberty". He was called, "THE SON OF THUNDER". He was one man that spoke for thousands.

    This is one book that will not be in my home library of historical books.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted September 6, 2011

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