Monday, January 29, 2018

Patrick Henry (Jon Kukla)

Jon Kukla’s Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty devotes nearly 400 pages to the life of one of the unsung heroes of the independence movement in America. Henry, known primarily for the quote “Give me liberty or give me death," never held federal office and spent the vast majority of his life in Virginia, serving his home colony and state in many different capacities. Kukla’s book documents Henry’s long and winding road as patriot, moderate, and devotee to his ideals of liberty.

This account is arguably one of the strongest biographies on this founding father, bringing to light how much leadership Henry brought throughout a several decade career in service as legislator, governor, attorney, and champion for the colonies as they struggled to break free of British rule. Kukla shows Henry’s leadership through the embryonic phase of America’s independence, both in his strength of moderation (such as in advocating for a strong bill of rights being attached to the Constitution despite his initial opposition to the document as it was written) and his occasional weakness in dealing with issues that would continue to plague the new country for decades to come (such as slavery and the divide between northern and southern states around economic policy and the role of the federal government in addressing issues).

Kukla brings out Henry’s eloquence of speech at various points throughout the book, whether addressing the issues of his day or addressing his opponents as they took challenge to what he would say. That eloquence shaped a man who was passionate about liberty and freedom, helping to spark the independence movement in this country beyond mere tavern talk. This thoroughly researched book is well worth reading, especially given Henry’s moderation and relative “maverick” spirit in comparison to much of our modern politics.