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Patrick Henry

History books say little about the Scottish role in the settlement and development of America. The story is too often lost under the heading English, or British, or even Scotch-Irish. Nevertheless, the Scottish contribution was considerable and at times crucial. Before he was 30, Patrick Henry impressed his critics with his skill at declamation, generally laced with references to the importance of self-government and human rights.” Thomas Jefferson said of him, “His voice flowed in torrents of sublime eloquence.”

Patrick Henry was born on May 29, 1736 at Studley, Virginia. He was the son of John Henry, a well-educated Scot who emigrated to Virginia with a considerable number of other people from Scotland. His father served as a judge, surveyor, and army officer. He had been educated at Aberdeen University. “It was the rugged, cantankerous Scottish frontiersmen, mainly in Virginia, but also Pennsylvania, with little or no loyalty to the British monarchs who touched off the first fires of rebellion. And the man who struck the match was Patrick Henry, the silver tongued orator, son of John Henry from Aberdeen.”

Henry’s was the first voice raised against England in her attempt to impose taxation without representation. He rose to his full stature in attacking the infamous Stamp Act, which was hotly debated at the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg in 1765. The other delegates quailed when Henry hurled defiance at George III with the challenge, ‘If this be treason, make the most of it’.” His most famous speech was delivered in 1775 at St. John’s Church in Richmond. His words centered around human rights and individual liberty which could only win independence from the British Crown. “With courage and eloquence, he cried, “Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? 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.” When the revolution ended, Henry continued working for individual freedom.

His greatest contribution to the nation was in working for the adoption of the Bill of Rights. “He was adamant in demanding protection of basic individual civil liberties.” The first governor of Virginia, he served five exhausting terms. In 1794, he retired and resumed private legal practice. “Failing health forced him to refuse numerous posts, including Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, Secretary of State and minister to Spain and to France. He even turned down a sixth term as governor. “George Washington persuaded Patrick Henry to become a candidate for the state legislature in 1799.

The foundations of the young republic were endangered by the rumblings of men who argued that any state has the power to nullify acts of the Federal Government. Bowed with age and his health deteriorating, Henry delivered his last public oration. It was an inspiring, non-partisan, patriotic appeal for unity to preserve the nation. Historian Henry Adams declared that nothing in Henry’s life was more noble than his last public act.” “Three months later, on June 6, 1799, death came to Patrick Henry. The ‘Voice of the Revolution’ was silenced forever.”

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