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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Patrick Henry (1736–1799)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
PATRICK HENRY’S fame as an American statesman and orator has the elements of permanency. A high-minded and broad-minded patriot, he had rare powers of persuasion by speech,—powers used for the welfare of his country. His forensic writing loses something in the reading, which is true of all good oratory. But certain of his flaming sentences still ring in the ears of Americans, and have historical significance.  1
  Henry was born at Studley, Virginia, May 29th, 1736. He was of good Scotch and English blood, and was educated by his father; he married at eighteen and went early into business. He became a lawyer when twenty-four, and was successful from the first. When pleading the cause of a clergyman in 1763 in the celebrated tobacco-tax question, he showed himself to be a fine speaker; and from this on, advanced rapidly in public life. Elected in 1765 to the Virginia House, in a fiery speech he advocated resistance to the Stamp Act and became the leader of his colony. He was a delegate to the first Continental Congress, and in 1776, on the adoption of the Constitution, his own State made him four times governor; he declined re-election in 1786, to be again elected in 1796 and again to decline.  2
  His policy throughout these public services was wise, broad, progressive. His spirit is reflected in the words of an early speech: “I am not a Virginian, but an American.” Retiring from public life in 1791 at the age of fifty-five, he practiced law, preferring to guard his broken health and provide for his large family; although subsequently Washington offered him the post of Secretary of State and that of Chief Justice, and President Adams named him minister to France. In 1799, however, at Washington’s appeal he allowed himself to be elected to the Legislature; but died, June 6th, before taking his seat.  3
  Henry’s biography was written by William Wirt in 1817, in the tone of uncritical panegyric which biographers so rarely escape, and the rather tinsel brilliancy peculiar to Wirt. Good lives of Henry have since been written by his grandson, William Wirt Henry, and in the American Statesmen Series by Professor Moses Coit Tyler.  4
 
 
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