Patrick Henry (1736-1799)
“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!”
Henry hailed from Hanover County, Virginia. His early academic history would lead one to believe he had become an abject failure. He lived his early life in great poverty, failing in efforts as a clerk, storekeeper and farmer. However, completing his course of study in law at William and Mary he was subsequently admitted to the Virginia Bar in 1760. This man led our nation with strength, inspiration and great wisdom. Henry was Commander in Chief of the Armies of Virginia, first governor of Virginia, and a member of the first Continental Congress.
Desiring to help rebuild Virginia’s spiritual foundations, Patrick Henry authored the “Assessment Bill.” The bill would institute a tax that would support all religious denominations in an effort to rebuild infrastructure for them after the war. “This was in effect a tax for the support of secular education, with the privilege to each taxpayer of devoting his tax to the support of religious teachers of his own denomination” (Patrick Henry, Life, Correspondence, and Speeches, William Wirt Henry (grandson), 1891). Today we would call this a school voucher system. The fact that Henry was deeply concerned about the spiritual lives of the Virginian people is evident. The intent and support for this measure are unquestionable as Richard Henry Lee, George Washington and John Marshall among others endorsed it. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maryland all passed this type of legislation. Truly, the defeat of this bill only occurred in Virginia, and only because Lee had to return there to govern. The national temper supported the bill.
Henry wrote these words in the preamble to this bill:
“Whereas, the general diffusion of Christian knowledge hath a natural tendency to correct the morals of men, restrain their vices, and preserve the peace of society…”
This is the clear teaching in Romans 12:1-2. We also find this argument in favor of the bill, “Mr. Henry was a sincere believer in the Christian religion, and had a strong desire for the successful propagation of the gospel, but there was no tincture of bigotry or intolerance in his sentiments.” Henry stated:
“I am, however, much consoled by reflecting, that the religion of Christ, has from its first appearance in the world, been attacked in vain, by all the wits, philosophers, and wise ones, aided by every power of man, and its triumph has been complete.”
Only intellectual profligacy can attribute secularism to Henry in view of this legislative effort and his own comments. Equally, only vacuous impulsivity can identify Henry as a deist as Henry himself stated:
“Among other strange things said of me, I hear it is said by the deists that I am one of their number; and, indeed, that some good people think I am no Christian. …I have lived so long and have given no decided and public proofs of my being a Christian. But, indeed, my dear child, this is a character [Christian] which I prize far above all this world has or can boast.” (Life of Patrick Henry, S. G. Arnold, 1845) (emphasis and clarification mine).
“He was a sincere Christian…” his grandson wrote. William Wirt Henry also wrote that Henry, holding up the book to one of his friends stated the bible, “is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed.”(Sketches of the life and Character of Patrick Henry, William Wirt, 1817).
Deist? Secularist? Atheist? No. Christian? Most certainly.