Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation by Harlow Giles Unger

Continuing with my meanderings in history – I thought the next subject I would look into was our founding fathers.  There are so many and much ink has been spilled analyzing each phrase and aspect of their lives.

So, I veered away from Washington, Jefferson, and Adams and choose to read about Patrick Henry – Patrick “Give me Liberty or give me Death” Henry.  Harlow Giles Unger provides a light and refreshing read of Henry’s life in Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation.

Here is a brief description of the book from its inside cover:

In this action-packed history, award-winning author Harlow Giles Unger unfolds the epic story of Patrick Henry, who roused Americans to fight government tyranny—both British and American. Remembered largely for his cry for “liberty or death,” Henry was actually the first (and most colorful) of America’s Founding Fathers—first to call Americans to arms against Britain, first to demand a bill of rights, and first to fight the growth of big government after the Revolution.  As quick with a rifle as he was with his tongue, Henry was America’s greatest orator and courtroom lawyer, who mixed histrionics and hilarity to provoke tears or laughter from judges and jurors alike. Henry’s passion for liberty (as well as his very large family), suggested to many Americans that he, not Washington, was the real father of his country.

This biography is history at its best, telling a story both human and philosophical. As Unger points out, Henry’s words continue to echo across America and inspire millions to fight government intrusion in their daily lives.

This book has helped me understand more about the political battles that were fought during the Continental and Confederation Congresses.  I did not realize how much animosity there was toward the delegates who wrote the Constitution – our country was on the verge of a civil war over states rights against federal control (similar to what occurred 70 some years later).  As Unger points out, Henry was at the forefront of the Antifederalists in their quest to limit the authority of the federal government.  Unger captures Henry’s passion for states rights.

It is interesting to note (as Unger highlights) that the British oligarchy was replaced by an American one – many of our founding fathers were wealthy men who wanted to control the direction our country was headed.  According to Unger, these men were more interested in keeping their own power than giving more power to the common man.  I do not know enough about our founding fathers to have an opinion beyond the basics that I am glad the America won its independence, but it does make one think about the real winners of the American Revolution – was it the aristocratic elite or the average American who benefited the most from the Revolution?

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