Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots

Overview


Most Americans know Patrick Henry as a fiery speaker whose pronouncement “Give me liberty or give me death!” rallied American defiance to the British Crown. But Henry’s skills as an orator—sharpened in the small towns and courtrooms of colonial Virginia—are only one part of his vast, but largely forgotten, legacy. As historian Thomas S. Kidd shows, Henry cherished a vision of America as a virtuous republic with a clearly circumscribed central government. These ideals brought him into bitter conflict with other ...
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Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots

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Overview


Most Americans know Patrick Henry as a fiery speaker whose pronouncement “Give me liberty or give me death!” rallied American defiance to the British Crown. But Henry’s skills as an orator—sharpened in the small towns and courtrooms of colonial Virginia—are only one part of his vast, but largely forgotten, legacy. As historian Thomas S. Kidd shows, Henry cherished a vision of America as a virtuous republic with a clearly circumscribed central government. These ideals brought him into bitter conflict with other Founders and were crystallized in his vociferous opposition to the U.S. Constitution.

In Patrick Henry, Kidd pulls back the curtain on one of our most radical, passionate Founders, showing that until we understand Henry himself, we will neglect many of the Revolution’s animating values.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
SG While Patrick Henry’s words, “Give me liberty or give me death,” urged fellow colonists toward revolution and shaped his own legacy in the annals of American history, as Baylor University historian Kidd (God of Liberty) points out in this lively portrait, Henry’s greatest contribution to the young republic lay in his challenges to the Constitution, which he believed failed to preserve the ideals of liberty won in the Revolution. For Henry, the Revolution promised a return to the best kind of republic, a virtuous society with healthy and strong local governments. Kidd skillfully traces Henry’s rise from a young farm boy in Virginia to a political figure whose passionate support of liberty won him the friendship of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, among others. Henry lost much of this support when he opposed the Constitution. In his eyes the Constitution consolidated political power and triggered moral and political tyranny. Although Madison’s amendments—which became the Bill of Rights—were at least partially attempts to placate Henry, he saw these articles as simply protecting enumerated rights from government infringement rather than actually reining in the power of the national government. Kidd’s passionate biography offers compelling new insights into the life of one of America’s most beloved figures. (Dec.)
From the Publisher

Richard Beeman, John Welsh Centennial Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution
“Thomas Kidd’s account of the life of Patrick Henry combines first-rate scholarship with a lively and elegant gift for story-telling.  It makes a powerful case for the Virginia orator’s pre-eminent role in the fight to limit central government power during the era of the Revolution and early republic.”

Wilfred M. McClay, SunTrust Chair of Excellence in Humanities, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
“We’ve long needed this book, a fresh look at the life of Patrick Henry, the “forest-born Demosthenes” who became one of the most eminent of American patriots, and one of the greatest orators and phrasemakers of early American history. His historical reputation has suffered somewhat because of his opposition to the Constitution, but as Thomas Kidd shows in this vivid and lucid new biography, that judgment fails to do him justice. Indeed, his fears of the Constitution’s tendency toward consolidation and empire turned out to be well-founded, and the principal themes of his life, including his emphasis upon the cultivation of virtue and the protection of limited government, have never been more relevant. May this fine book lead to a long-overdue reconsideration of a great but neglected figure.”
 
Daniel L. Dreisbach, American University and author of Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State
“Few characters of the American Revolution are more celebrated and, yet, less understood than Patrick Henry.  In this vivid portrait of the firebrand orator, Thomas S. Kidd scrapes away the myths and misconceptions that have long obscured our understanding of Henry, revealing a patriot of uncommon conviction, vision, and, yes, contradictions.  This engaging biography offers rich insights into not only Henry’s controversial life but also the tumultuous age and fractured society in which he lived – a world turned upside down by the cruel institution of slavery, religious revivals and disestablishment, a bitter separation from Great Britain, and the creation of a new nation.”
 
Mark Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame, and author of America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln
“Patrick Henry is well known for crying ‘Give me liberty or give me death’ at a crucial moment in the struggle for American independence.  This well-researched biography shows that there was a great deal more to this strangely neglected founding father.  Thomas Kidd is especially compelling on why Henry’s life-long devotion to liberty could never move him to free his own slaves and why that same devotion led him to OPPPOSE the United States Constitution of 1787.  The book is accessible history at its best.”
 
Kirkus
“Kidd’s biography awakens us to the depths of Henry’s devotion to liberty and small government.”

Publishers Weekly
“[A] lively portrait…Kidd skillfully traces Henry’s rise from a young farm boy in Virginia to a political figure whose passionate support of liberty won him the friendship of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison…Kidd’s passionate biography offers compelling new insights into the life of one of America’s most beloved figures.”
 
Booklist
“An easily digestible tribute to an important and still-controversial American icon.”
 
History Book Club “Although Patrick Henry is not a thick biography, it is a life and times biography. Thus Thomas Kidd usefully situates Henry in the larger fascinating issues of his time in a book that is a pleasure to read.” 

Library Journal
“Kidd convincingly explains that the popular but controversial Henry was passionate about both liberty and virtue and believed that for America to succeed its laws must be grounded in Christianity, with strong local and state (rather than strong federal) government. . . . Kidd’s investigation into the role of religion in Henry’s politics and the contradictions between what he publicly espoused and personally practiced gives readers fresh, illuminating insight into a leader whose orations inspired revolution and turned a minor lawyer into a political giant.”

The Star Ledger
“Thomas Kidd’s new biography portrays [Patrick] Henry as a fiery radical who treasured small government and personal liberty…. The Patrick Henry who emerges from Kidd’s narrative would fit in well with tea party voters.”
 
WashingtonIndependent Review of Books
“[Patrick Henry] provides a valuable service in placing the man and his beliefs in the context of his religious and ethical concerns.”

WashingtonTimes “There was more… to Patrick Henry than lung power. The man had heart, and the soul to go with it.  The narrative unfolded by Thomas S. Kidd, a Baylor University scholar, is that of a man with deep, instinctive convictions regarding the necessities of a free and mighty people such as Americans held themselves to be. . . . It seems improbable to place on Henry’s mighty brow the crown of sainthood. Nor does Mr. Kiddattempt the project in this well-researched, even-tempered book.”

Library Journal
Kidd (God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution) examines how Patrick Henry's Christian values shaped his radical political beliefs. Kidd convincingly explains that the popular but controversial Henry was passionate about both liberty and virtue and believed that for America to succeed its laws must be grounded in Christianity, with strong local and state (rather than strong federal) government. Henry often put Virginia's, and sometimes his own, interests before those of the nation, in conflict with his rivals James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and other Founding Fathers. This brief work serves best as an exploration and analysis of Henry's values as manifested in his support for revolution and, later, in his opposition to the Constitution. As a biography it has gaping holes, but Kidd's investigation into the role of religion in Henry's politics and the contradictions between what he publicly espoused and personally practiced gives readers fresh, illuminating insight into a leader whose orations inspired revolution and turned a minor lawyer into a political giant. VERDICT Recommended for students and informed lay readers as supplemental reading but not as an introduction to Henry's life and work.—Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia
Kirkus Reviews
A deeper look at Patrick Henry. Henry was a true radical, and his "give me liberty or give me death" speech perfectly illustrated his politics and his struggle for liberty and religious freedom. Moved by the Great Awakening, he agreed with the evangelical preachers who railed against the tax-supported Anglican Church. While he never moved away from the established church, he took up the cause of religious freedom and fought to include it in the Bill of Rights. His speeches against slavery belied his ownership and purchase of slaves throughout his life, illustrative of his moral standings versus his real-life efforts for financial success. His entry into the House of Burgesses was noteworthy because of his speech against the Stamp Act, which many feel instigated the struggle for independence. Henry was a brilliant debater, but in politics he had no patience for deliberation. He was a motivator, not an organizer. Kidd (History/Baylor Univ.; God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, 2010) illustrates the connections between the revolution, religion and politics. Henry spoke eloquently about the need for virtue and moral courage in his compatriots, even as they refused to join the Continental Army, and the Great Awakening had a deep affect on him. The great preachers trained him to be the most effective orator of the revolutionary period. He surely would have been president had he not so often retired to his law practice, farming and land speculation. His quest for greater riches caused him to refuse appointments and withdraw from politics on a regular basis. Kidd's biography awakens us to the depths of Henry's devotion to liberty and small government.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465009282
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 11/22/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 369,417
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author


An Associate Professor of History at Baylor University, winner of a 2006–2007 National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and author of numerous books on American religious history, Thomas S. Kidd lives in Waco, Texas.
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Table of Contents

Introduction "The nefarious and highly criminal Patrick henry Patrick Henry in American Memory ix

Chapter 1 "If your industry be only half equal to your genius' Patrick Henry Backcountry Virginia 1

Chapter 2 "The infatuation of new light' The Great Awakening and the Parsons' Cause 27

Chapter 3 "If this be treason" The Stamp Act Crisis 51

Chapter 4 "The first man upon this continent" Boycotts and the Growing Crisis with Britain 67

Chapter 5 "Liberty or death" Arming for Revolution 91

Chapter 6 "To cut the knot" Independence 109

Chapter 7 "Our worthy governor" Patrick Henry in Wartime 129

Chapter 8 "Virtue has taken its departure" The War's End and a New Virginia 151

Chapter 9 "I smelt a rat" Defending the Revolution by Opposing the Constitution 183

Chapter 10 "To care for the crazy machine" Reconciling with the Republic 213

Epilogue: "Mourn Virginia Mourn!" The Legacy of Patrick Henry 245

Acknowledgments 255

Notes 257

Index 293

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