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Old 07-02-2022, 14:58   #1
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Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation

Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation; Author: Harlow Giles Unger, Da Capo Press, ISBN 978-0-306-82046-5

In commending this book, I offer a portion of the Afterword, which seems appropriate in current times. Rather than cherry pick certain areas of the book, the following might actually be the best synopsis of Henry's adult life, showcasing what he fought for, as well as against. The book itself does a fine job tracking all the relevant players of the time, revered or scoundrel, and placing them in their historic relationship to Henry's life and actions. It also makes good use of many directly quoted passages of letters and notes exchanged between parties of the time. It will keep just fine for when the winter snows fly, or for warmer climes, lying in a hammock and - having endeavored enough to persevere - deciding to declare war on the Union. Either way, this is a good'un.

Patrick Henry had just turned sixty-three when he died [June 6, 1799]. His family buried him without ceremony at Red Hill in a simple grave. His childen would later mark the site with a plain marble slab bearing his name, the dates of his birth and death, and the words, "His fame is his best epitaph." In 1796 his wife, Dorothea, had given birth to her tenth child - his seventeenth - a daughter Jane Robertson, who died after only four days. One more child - his eighteenth - would be born eighteen months before Henry's death.

George Washington died, at his home in Mount Vernon, in December, six months after Henry, thus ending the century of the American Revolution with the deaths of the two beloved patriots who had fathered that revolution. Each had sought different outcomes, however. Washington had envisioned freedom from Britain as a return to life as it was before the Seven Years War in 1763, but under an American rather than a British national government. Henry envisioned independence leaving each colony a sovereign state within a loose confederation of states, united only for common defense against foreign attack and mutual commercial advantages. Washington believed Henry's confederation would produce anarchy, while Henry predicted that the strong central government created by the constitution that Washington endorsed would inevitably restore the tyranny Americans had endured under the British Imperial government.

Henry's prophesies quickly proved all too true.

As noted earlier, Congress imposed a national whiskey tax without the consent of state legislatures - much as the British had done with the stamp tax - and President Washington sent troops to crush tax protests in western Pennsylvania, much as the British had in Boston. In 1798 President John Adams and Congress "colluded" to pass the Alien and Sedition Acts, suppressing free speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly - much as the British king and Parliament had done in 1774.

In the last year of Henry's life, his political foes Jefferson and Madison - once champions of the Constitution - conceded Henry's prescience and, with the Constitution in place as the law of the land, they scurried to mitigate its effects. Jefferson drafted resolutions adopted by the Kentucky state legislature giving any state the right "to judge for itself" whether the national government has acted unconstitutionally and to determine "the mode and measure of redress." Virginia's state legislature adopted an even stronger set of resolutions drafted by Madison that gave states "the right and...duty to interpose for arresting the evil" of federal government acts that exceed its rights under the Constitution.

Other states, however, rejected the resolutions and since then, almost every president, Congress, and Supreme Court has fulfilled Henry's prophesies by usurping powers not delegated by the Constitution. Presidents have routinely failed to enforce many laws that do exist and exercised powers that do not; Congress has just as routinely enacted laws in areas the Constitution originally reserved to the states; and the U.S. Supreme Court has routinely issued decisions tantamount to legislation and exercised powers the Constitution reserves to the executive.
. . .
Henry's cry for "liberty or death" continues to provoke profound emotions in the hearts of most patriotic Americans, but they - like their forefathers at the Constitutional Convention - seem unable to reach a concensus on the meaning of liberty. Their passive acquiescence to ever-increasing government intrusions into their lives, however, indicates that few would define it as Patrick Henry did when he cried out to his countrymen, "We must Fight!"
Following the Afterword, Appendix A contains the full text of "The Speech." Appendix B contains his writing "On Slavery" in a letter to Quaker leader Robert Pleasants in 1773. Appendix C discusses his vast holdings, and the disposition of them to his [many] heirs.

It occurs to me, almost sadly, that Patrick Henry's portrait has never been featured on any of the 50+ bills of US currency featuring them, throughout our history. That should be remedied.
"Civil Wars don't start when a few guys hunt down a specific bastard. Civil Wars start when many guys hunt down the nearest bastards."

The coin paid to enforce words on parchment is blood; tyrants will not be stopped with anything less dear. - QP Peregrino
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