Eagle Forum Legislative Alerts

Friday, July 27, 2012

Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots

Patrick Henry has always been a favorite of activists in all parts of the political spectrum, and it's not hard to see why. He is best known for his oratory; his words are easily co-opted to fit a variety of views even today. Patrick Henry held views that were generally typical of his times, but to modern eyes he seems like a walking contradiction. He called himself a Christian, but had no problem with owning slaves. He was sympathetic to the evangelical cause of his day, but was a lifetime member of the Anglican Church. He was a key leader in the American Revolution and the demand for independence, but he opposed adoption of the U.S. Constitution.

In this new biography, scholar Thomas Kidd explains that Patrick Henry's views were not unique but were ordinary views of Americans of his day. He was a more complex figure than is typically assumed. Thomas Jefferson thought Patrick Henry was the sort of man who could say nearly anything and get away with it. That's why almost anyone can call on Henry to support a cause and he is often misquoted. But even the quotes we think he could have said are eloquent and inspiring.

For example, the author says that Patrick Henry probably never uttered one of his most famous lines: "If this be treason, make the most of it." The original source of this line is unknown; it was attributed to Henry because the words seem like something the Patrick Henry who is known to history would have said. This author argues that Patrick Henry would not fit neatly into either the Right or Left today, but would instead remind members of both groups to "reconsider the value of public morality. ... Freedom is doing what we should do, for the sake of community and the republic." The name of this book by scholar Thomas Kidd is Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots.

Listen to the radio commentary here:

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