May 29, 1736, marks the birth of Patrick Henry in Studley, Va. 

Most Americans recognize Henry as the fiery young orator who declared, “Give me liberty or give me death!” at the Second Virginia Convention. Henry was one of the greatest orators in American history, but he was so much more. His principled, Scripture-based defense of liberty marks him as one of the greatest Christian statesmen of all time. 

The son of an Episcopal vestryman and a Presbyterian mother — who traced her lineage back to Alfred the Great — young Patrick’s parents faithfully took him to church on Sunday mornings, requiring him to take notes on the sermon and recite them over Sunday dinner. He learned the Scriptures well, as the Scriptural allusions in his “liberty or death” speech reveal: 

  • The British assurances of goodwill would “prove a snare to your feet” (Jeremiah 18:22)

  • Virginians will become like those “who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not” (Jeremiah 5:21; Ezekiel 12:2; Psalm 115:5; Acts 28:27)

  • “Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace but there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14)

  • “Our chains are forged!” (Ezekiel 7:23)

  • “Betrayed with a kiss” (Matthew 26:48)

  • “Battle … is not to the strong” (Ecclesiastes 9:11)

  • “An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts” (Psalm 84:3)

A strong believer in religious liberty, Henry often defended Baptist pastors charged with preaching without a license from the Church of England, sometimes paying their fines for them when they lost their cases. On one occasion in 1768, he demanded of the court, 

“May it please the court … What did I hear read? Did I hear it distinctly or was it a mistake of my own? Did I hear an expression as of a crime, that these men whom your Worships are about to try for a misdemeanor are charged with what? … For preaching the Gospel of the Son of God?” 

In the famous “Parson’s Cause” he defended tobacco planters against a Virginia law that required them to pay a tax to support Anglican clergy. Knowing the law was on the side of the clergy, he knew he could not get a verdict for the planters, but he asked the jury to bring a verdict for the Anglican clergy in the amount of one penny – which they did. 

Although he objected to a law supporting one denomination over others, he had no objection to government support for Christianity in general. When the House of Burgesses considered a new tax to support all Christian clergy, Henry supported it, while Madison and Jefferson opposed it.  

A strong Calvinist, Henry believed in the total depravity of human nature, and he, therefore, feared excessive government power in the hands of sinful persons. Thus, he opposed efforts to expand the power of government, refusing to attend the 1787 Constitutional Convention, saying he “smelled a rat.” At the Virginia Ratifying Convention in 1789, he and George Mason stood almost alone against the leading intellects of the day who supported the Constitution, Federalists like James Madison, George Wythe, John Marshall, Edmund Randolph, Edmund Pendleton, Richard Henry Lee, and others. Although in bad health, Henry held the field against the arrayed forces supporting the Constitution for nearly a month, declaring: 

Where are your checks in this government? Your strongholds will be in the hands of your enemies. It is on a supposition that your American governors shall be honest, that all the good qualities of this government are founded: but its defective and imperfect construction puts it in their power to perpetrate the worst of mischiefs, should they be bad men; and, sir, would not all the world, from the eastern to the western hemisphere, blame our distracted folly in resting or rights upon the contingency of our rulers being good or bad? Show me that age and country where the rights and liberties of the people were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men, without a consequent loss of liberty! 

Virginia eventually ratified the Constitution by a narrow 89-79 margin. But Henry’s firm stance compelled Federalists to promise a Bill of Rights, and many of his warnings that the Constitution would not adequately restrain the growth of Big Government stand as a warning today. 

A lion of liberty, Henry drew his courage and strength from his Christian faith. His grandson Patrick Henry Fontaine wrote that Henry regularly spent “one hour every day … in private devotion. His hour of prayer was at the close of the day, including sunset; … and during that sacred hour, none of his family intruded upon his privacy.” Every Sunday evening he read sermon notes to his family, “after which they all joined in sacred music, while he accompanied them on the violin.”   

Henry died June 6, 1799, witnessing to his unbelieving doctor how great a comfort and benefit the Christian religion was to a man about to die. But his final witness came in his last will and testament: 

This is all the inheritance I can give to my dear family. The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed. 

Happy Birthday, Patrick Henry!‘

Colonel Eidsmoe serves as Professor of Constitutional Law for the Oak Brook College of Law & Government Policy ( and as Senior Counsel for the Foundation for Moral Law ( He may be contacted for speaking engagements at

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to

Don’t miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.