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November 4, 2014: Doug Thomas

Patrick Henry as portrayed by Doug Thomas
of the American Historical Theater
Doug Thomas as Patrick Henry

When His Excellency Patrick Henry (he was the first governor of the free and independent Commonwealth of Virginia) first stood up to speak before the packed house at the Washington Memorial Chapel, he removed his hat and offered up prayer for God’s blessing on the assembly in that sacred place.

Notes from his talk:

  • In 1754 at 18 years old Patrick Henry married his childhood sweetheart, Sarah Shelton.
  • He persevered in the face of great difficulty and failure. Twice he was set up in the mercantile business and failed. He took up farming when he married, but after the farm and house burned, he and his wife moved in with her parents.
  • After a brief time studying on his own, he obtained his license to practice law.
  • Patrick Henry’s fame first began with his arguments on behalf of the people in the settlement of the Parsons Cause Case. The jury awarded the plaintiff/clergymen a “single penny.”
  • The Parsons Case resulted from the king’s veto of the 1758 Two Penny Act passed by the Virginia House of Burgesses. It was an effort to provide relief to the people after several years of drought and poor crops. Cries of “Treason” rang through the courthouse when Henry said those famous words, “Caesar had his Brutus, and Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third…”
  • The American Revolution can be said to have started in Virginia with the Parsons Cause Case in Virginia in 1763.
  • “Mr. Henry” pointed out to his 21st century audience the value of hard coin as opposed to the worthlessness of paper money.
  • On May 29, 1765, in his first term as a delegate to the House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry introduced his Stamp Act Resolves. The dreaded act, passed by Parliament on March 22, 1765 over the protests of the colonies, was the FIRST DIRECT TAX ever levied on the American colonists by Parliament and not by their own elected legislators.
  • Henry’s defiant resolves spread like wildfire throughout the colonies, giving birth to the Sons of Liberty and the Liberty Trees.
  • The Stamp Act was repealed the following February (1766).
  • In 1774 as an elected delegate to the First Continental Congress, Patrick Henry was the first to speak to the matters at hand. Among many other things he said, “I am not a Virginian, but an American.” These words of union and nationality set the tone and gave Congress courage and vigor for the task at hand.
  • Back in Virginia in March 1775, Henry presented resolution to raise a militia and prepare for defense. He concluded with these words, “The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! … 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!” The first shots at Lexington and Concord were fired less than a month later.
  • After serving in the 2nd Continental Congress, where George Washington was elected Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, Patrick Henry was elected the Commander in Chief of the Virginia forces.
  • In 1776 the army was reorganized and Henry returned to the legislature where Virginia declared her independence, drafted her Constitution, and sent instructions to Richard Henry Lee, a Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, to introduce a resolution for the united colonies to declare their independence.
  • On July 6, 1776, Patrick Henry was sworn in as the first Governor of Virginia – the first elected executive of a free republic with a written constitution in the history of the world! He served three consecutive terms, the maximum allowed by their constitution. He later served two addition terms.
  • As governor, Henry secretly commissioned George Rogers Clark to secure what is known as the Northwest Territory to the state of Virginia.
  • George Washington and Patrick Henry had much mutual respect for one another. They were good friends and allies.
  • Henry believed the newly proposed national constitution of 1787 to be as radical as the War for Independence. He opposed its ratification without a Bill of Rights, “an indispensable necessity!”
  • Henry was offered appointments in the federal government as secretary of state, attorney general, chief justice of the Supreme Court, and minister to Spain and to France, but he declined.
  • “... the dissolution of the Union is most abhorrent to my mind: The first thing I have at heart is American liberty; the second thing is American Union.” Patrick Henry, June 5, 1788, at Virginia’s Ratifying Convention.