Lessons in Leadership: Patrick Henry

You can’t discuss early American leaders without Patrick Henry being in the mix.

His famous words “Give me liberty or give me death!”—shouted during a speech to the House of Burgesses in 1775—put into clear terms how the colonies should respond to an encroaching British military force. This call to arms has since been immortalized, much like the man himself. A leader through and through, Henry’s life motto might as well have been “no compromise,” making him a great study in leadership.

Lesson 1: Patrick Henry did not compromise on the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions

Early on in Henry’s political career, he was elected to “the House of Burgesses, the legislative body of the Virginia colony, in 1765 to fill a vacated seat in the assembly” (link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Henry). Not long after he took office, he introduced the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions, which asserted that only the elected representatives of Virginia could levy taxes on the people. This was in direct response to “taxation without representation” from the British Empire.

So controversial were Patrick Henry’s resolutions, which many conservative members felt were treasonous, that he had to wait until the right time to bring them up for a vote and employ expert persuasion. He succeeded. While his primary opposition was away, and through much debate, he got his resolutions passed.

Lesson 2: Patrick Henry did not compromise on confronting Great Britain

Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death!” speech, as previously noted, was given in 1775. It became a precursor to the conflict that birthed an entire free nation—the Revolutionary War.

Henry would later prove, in August of 1775, that his words and deeds were inseparable. He became colonel of the 1st Virginia Regiment, leading a band of militia “against Royal Governor Lord Dunmore in defense of some disputed gunpowder, an event known as the Gunpowder Incident.” During the Revolutionary War, he “served as the first post-colonial Governor of Virginia” (link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Henry).

Lesson 3: Patrick Henry did not compromise on the Bill of Rights

It was 1787, long after the war had ended. Patrick Henry, seeing the possibility of tyranny as the result of a newly proposed United States Constitution, he rose in opposition to fellow founder, James Madison. Henry would not be satisfied until a Bill of Rights was adopted as part of the constitution, making him the primary historical force behind the liberties Americans have today.

Though strongly anti-Federalist, Henry later changed mind after learning of the radicalism of the French Revolution. He did not want America to suffer the same fate. This showed that while he was certainly a leader of principle, he could be convinced of another course if the evidence was overwhelming enough—an important quality to have in a leader. Henry joined up with George Washington and John Adams to support Federalist policies, and later on was even “elected to the Virginia House of Delegates as a Federalist” (link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Henry).

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