After finishing a biography titled, Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty, by John Kukla, I am convinced that Mr. Henry, Colonel Henry, nay, Governor Henry is the real father of our country instead of the beloved General, President George Washington. As I become more familiar with the particular history of Old Dominion and her role and that of her leading citizens in the first war for independence, it seems that Patrick Henry was the actual indispensable man. It was his writings that first dared name the final object while others were still calling it treason. It was his resolutions that prepared Virginia to become economically independent and arm herself when England’s aggression first became apparent. It was his conviction and energy that moved the goal of independence forward among a people whose timidity and lack of vision made them reluctant to pursue it.
In cannot be disputed that Virginia lead the revolution, so it must follow that one of her leading residents must be credited with spearheading the charge, defining its course, and seeing it through to fruition. I submit that it was the unchallenged leader of Virginia at the time; the man whose influence trumped all others, Patrick Henry, who was the real author of an independent America. Neither Thomas Jefferson, nor George Washington held positions with influence great enough to rival Henry during the true formative years of early American government. Patrick Henry’s education, experience, talents, and temperament gave him more credibility in the colonies than any other man. Jefferson may have written the final founding documents of the country, but before Jefferson was Henry, paving the way. Washington may have taken the helm when the new constitution was in place, but it was during his years of leadership that the principles of independence saw immediate decay.
No doubt Henry’s greatest talents were in law and legislation. He had no rival when it came to articulating and persuading through the written word and oratory how the rights of men were to be upheld, and a significant amount of his contributions came during his years serving as a burgess in Virginia and on various legislative committees. His career as a lawyer gave him experience in the judiciary sphere and unique resilience when it came to discussion and debate of the issues of the day that many of his peers lacked. Neither was he was devoid of military knowledge and even reluctantly served in a military command when the thrust of the independence movement turned to combat maneuvers in Virginia. He was willing to serve wherever the cause needed him.
Patrick Henry had extensive experience in all three branches of government. It has already been shown that he was an expert in the state legislatures and courts and then he became the first independent governor of Virginia after the expulsion of Lord Dunmore. He faithfully served the allowable three consecutive terms and even furthered his military experience by having to serve in this capacity during the war. This same wartime gubernatorial post was later taken and abandoned early by Thomas Jefferson, who did not want such a weighty responsibility, and buckled under the scrutiny it brought. Even after relinquishing his position of governor, Henry helped recruit soldiers for Nathaniel Greene as the war languished on and Virginia’s morale began to diminish.
At the conclusion of the war and as attention turned to augmenting the government connecting the states, Patrick Henry stayed alert and informed in order to be prepared to protect the liberty of the people when changes were proposed.
And what relationship should my proposed ‘Father of our Country’ have to the adopted Constitution? Ever faithful to principles of liberty, he naturally opposed it. Regardless of the promises and assurances given by its proponents, Patrick Henry was the one who prophetically saw its flaws and the abuses that were inevitable. Perhaps it was his superior ability to observe and judge the hearts of the people around him that allowed him to see that the Constitution had too much potential to be construed by imperfect human nature. He knew that Virginia’s sovereign happiness would be destroyed by being under the same rule as regions different and hostile to her culture. He was right and his perception deserves to be acknowledged.
Why do men like Jefferson, Madison, and Washington take center stage? Similar to the fate of the South after the ‘Civil War’, those that won the war wrote the history. The Federalists won the ratification debate and became major players in the new government. Henry recedes into Virginia history working to remedy the threats to Liberty instead of taking the national limelight. When this man said, “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” they were not just idle words. He truly meant that Liberty was more important than anything else, even union, and he proved to be its greatest advocate until his death. Regardless of what America has become today, Patrick Henry represents its true spirit, the protection of individual rights, and the best of what it should be; free and independent states.