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Delegate Patrick Henry of Virginia

June 06, 1799
Delegate Patrick Henry of Virginia Image courtesy of Library of Congress Despite only serving one year in the Continental Congress, Virginia Delegate Patrick Henry's support of the American Revolution was instrumental to its success.
On this date, Patrick Henry, a Virginia Continental Congress delegate and a renowned skeptic of centralized government, died at his Red Hill home near Brookneal in the Old Dominion. Henry was a self-taught lawyer with a gift for oratory. Capitalizing on his courtroom notoriety, Henry launched a political career by winning a seat in the Virginia house of burgesses in 1765—where he introduced the Stamp Act Resolves, challenging British Parliament’s taxation of the colonies. He represented Virginia at the First (1774) and Second (1775) Continental Congresses in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the 1775 Virginia Convention on the eve of the Revolution, Henry endorsed colonial military preparedness by exclaiming, reputedly, “Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace–but there is not peace. The war is actually begun! . . . I know not what course others may take but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Henry became Virginia’s first popularly elected governor in 1776, serving a full three-year term and a second term from November 1784 through November 1786. For much of the 1780s, he opposed efforts to strengthen the weak national government under the Articles of Confederation—often trading political salvos with fellow Virginians Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. At the Virginia ratification convention in 1788, Henry led a resolute Anti-Federalist faction that nearly blocked the state’s approval of the proposed federal constitution. After he retired from state elective office in 1790, the great orator was courted by the Federalist George Washington administration, turning down numerous offers: U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and Minister to Spain. He was re-elected in March 1799 to the Virginia house of delegates, but passed away before he could take his seat.

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