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Patrick Henry Biographer Gives Coffeehouse Lecture

January 24th, 2012

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722
OfficeOfCommunications@phc.edu

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Dr. Thomas Kidd (center) during Newsmakers Interview Series with Dr. Marvin Olasky (L) and PHC Provost Dr. Gene Edward Veith (R)

When Baylor University historian and Patrick Henry biographer Thomas Kidd visited Patrick Henry College this past fall for the Newsmakers Interview Series with Marvin Olasky, PHC eagerly anticipated inviting him back. Now, with the recent publication of Kidd’s biography of Henry, Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots, the College is indeed bringing back to campus one of the few scholars who have an intimate knowledge of the College’s fascinating namesake.

On Wednesday, February 1, at 6:30 p.m., Dr. Kidd delivered a lecture in the Barbara Hodel Center Coffeehouse, detailing the life, passions, and convictions of one of our nation’s prominent founding statesmen.

Known superficially for his famous quote, “Give me liberty or give me death,” Henry was in fact a deeply complex, politically motivated, homeschooled student raised in the Virginia back country, who grew to become an incredibly powerful and persuasive statesman committed to faith, limited government and freedom.

In Dr. Kidd’s visit to Patrick Henry College in September, he described in captivating detail many little known aspects of Henry’s early upbringing:

“Henry was born in 1736,” he began, “and he was the child of a Scottish immigrant who married into some property in Virginia, and so Henry was from sort of a middling, back-country Virginia family. Since there was almost no educational infrastructure in Virginia, except in the major towns, he was – like so many boys of the time -- largely schooled at home by his father, which mainly meant reading and history and classics, math and that sort of thing. I think he really had deep exposure to the Christian tradition, to Greek and Roman antiquity, to the heroes of the ancient past, the Reformation and so forth, which really stuck with him through his career.”

He also discussed the colonial backdrop and intensifying political climate toward Britain that led to his famous quote and fueled sentiment for the Revolutionary War:

“The Massachusetts' colonists, leaders of the patriot movement, are being targeted for arrest, and what shall the other colonies do?” he explained. “And Henry, of course, urges the Virginia Convention, that has been assembled to deal with the growing crisis with Britain, to take up defensive arms and prepare for military conflict. There are others at the Virginia Convention who say, ‘No, no, we've got to continue to pursue a reconciliation,’ and Henry says, ‘we've been doing that for ten years, and we're getting nowhere with this. Now is the time to stand in our own defense.’ And of course, at the end of the speech, is when he says, ‘I know not what others may do, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!’”

In both his book and in his September interview, Professor Kidd addressed Henry’s puzzling and, some would say, paradoxical opposition to the U.S. Constitution, which Henry, as it turns out, feared might lead to consolidation of federal power and the growth of empire.

“As much as we may like and support the Constitution,” Kidd observed, “I think there were also real reasons to be concerned in 1787. Henry's approach was to say, ‘Was the Revolution not a revolution against strong, centralized government?’ And of course it was. And he says, ‘So why would we now, ten years later, put that kind of government back in place?’ He thought this was basically a betrayal of what the American Revolution was about.

“Most fundamentally,” he continued, “Henry thought, ‘We know that human nature will naturally abuse consolidated political power, and so what we need is a very diffuse state-based kind of government,’ which is what you had under the Articles of Confederation. He knew that the articles needed some revising -- there were problems there of course -- but he didn't think a strong national government was the answer.”

These and many other intriguing themes were discussed in Dr. Kidd’s Feb. 1 lecture at Patrick Henry College, providing a penetrating profile of a man that Kidd describes as “an utterly brilliant orator and motivator.” This event was also webcast, so that our friends and supporters across the country could join us for this fascinating lecture. Dr. Kidd's biography is available for sale in the PHC Bookstore.

To watch the video of the September, 2011 Newsmakers Interview with Dr. Marvin Olasky and Dr. Kidd, please go to Newsmakers Interview Series.

You can watch the recording of the Feb. 1 webcast below.