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08/27/2017

Mark David Hall and Emily-Lynn Warren on Patrick Henry’s Impact on the Declaration and the Constitution
Michael Ramsey

Mark David Hall and Emily-Lynn Warren at Liberty Law Blog: The Fiery Patrick Henry. From the introduction:

In 1775, a 36-year-old named Patrick Henry swung the balance of the Second Virginia Convention with these words:

Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

This impassioned statement, with its famous concluding phrase, convinced the delegates to commit troops to the War of Independence. Henry dominates the American imagination as a fiery orator and champion of independence.

Jurists and scholars interested in church-state relations often remember him for his proposed “Bill Establishing a Provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion” (1784), a purportedly illiberal scheme to create an established church that was defeated by a coalition of enlightened liberals and religious dissenters. But Henry—the sixth in the present series on the Founders’ debates on matters of church and state—was actually one of the most effective advocates of religious liberty during the formation of the new country. He was, moreover, far more prescient about the threats to liberty posed by the federal Constitution of 1787 than many Founders.