Although your recent article “Overrated & Underrated Americans” (July/ August issue) made the disclaimer that one need not agree or disagree with its judgments, I feel compelled to answer Walter Lord and to defend the honor of one of my junior high school students’ favorite heroes, Patrick Henry.
Patrick Henry’s prominence as a lawyer and member of the Virginia House of Burgesses began more than ten years before his “Liberty or Death” speech. I suggest that Mr. Lord read up on the “Parson’s Cause” case of 1763 and the Virginia Resolves of 1765. Henry’s “Liberty or Death” speech cannot be taken lightly. Prior to his speech the Loyalists appeared to have gained the upper hand. They had pointed out how the war would hurt the colonies economically. And so they had called for peace, even at the price of freedom. It was to this that Patrick Henry responded, and his strong oratory carried the day for those seeking independence.
To say that Patrick Henry “contributed only mischief to the adoption of the Constitution” might be construed as a compliment. His opposition was based largely on the ground that the Constitution threatened the rights of states and the individual. Patrick Henry’s efforts on these matters were instrumental in the adoption of the Bill of Rights two years later.