I just finished reading “Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation” by Harlow Giles Unger, and I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to dig a little deeper and understand more deeply the period of time around the American Revolutionary War.
Patrick Henry is oft cited blindly by today’s Tea Party, but I bet that few who quote Henry have any depth of knowledge of the man, what he stood for, how complicated his life and times were for our new nation. He’s known for saying “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death”, but that’s about all our schools cover of this man, belying his complex character.
Whether you are a modern “anti-Federalist”, or a proponent of a strong Federal government, or just a student (young or old) of American history, I strongly urge you to pick up a copy of this book and give it a read.
You’ll first note how strong individuals had to be “back in the day” in order to survive, much less get ahead in the wilderness of the colonies. More importantly, you’ll note that those who became leaders in their day had a much stronger conviction (call it “faith”) in their view of the way the colonies, and then the states, should be governed, as compared to modern politicians and political bloggers. These early patriots put their lives on the line for their beliefs. Next you’ll be amazed by how a simple country boy could become such a close scholar of any legal area of study, domestic or foreign, after having almost “faked” his way onto the bar.
Despite the willingness to die for their beliefs, the political leaders of the day were much less dogmatic than today’s pundits. Despite Henry’s far-Libertarian views of how the U.S. government should be formed (along the lines of a loose confederation, with limited powers held by the central government), he was very pragmatic. When the U.S. Constitution was formed, severe compromise had left ambiguous wording that would allow later usurping of state’s rights by the federal government. This led to Virginia and other states openly discussion secession. Despite being like-minded about states’ rights, Henry noted how an imperfect Union was preferred over dissolution and independent states, fearing a European system that was plagued by constant wars. He was willing to compromise, not for money or power, but in order to save the Union.
Any study of the American Revolution should include a study of Patrick Henry, to balance out the studies of Jefferson, Madison, Washington, Hamilton and Adams. This book is very well written, and includes copious notes and indices, and a thorough Bibliography that shows just how deep the Unger went to ensure accuracy and depth.
The link to Amazon is just there to help you find the book. I have not included any affiliate links, I’m not trying to make any money from this. Find it at your local library, borrow a friends copy, or reward the author by buying a new copy. Just read it!
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