I've never read a full-length biography of Patrick Henry (29 May 1736-6 June 1799), statesman, lawyer, and fiery orator: he doesn't seem to be among the Founding Fathers who've attracted the attention of Joseph Ellis, David McCullough, et al. The American National Biography (online) recommends
- Patrick Henry, Life, Correspondence, and Speeches (1891), a 3-volume work by Patrick Henry's grandson William Wirt Henry
- Patrick Henry (2 vols., 1957-1969) by Robert D. Meade, as the most detailed modern biography
- Patrick Henry: A Biography (1974), is a briefer study by Richard R. Beeman
Favorite Patrick Henry quotes
Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third — ["Treason!" cried the Speaker] — may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it. - Speech on the Stamp Act, Virginia House of Burgesses (29 May 1765).
From the "Liberty or Death" speech, 1775:
It is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope and pride. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.
They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of Liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.
Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable—and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come. It is vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, peace! But there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! 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!
More on Wikiquote.