24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing Life of the Man Behind the Speech
There's much more to Patrick Henry than 'Give me liberty or give me death,' the most famous line from his most famous speech. But if ever a one-liner summed up a man's philosophy, this was the line for this man.
Sadly, many of the great figures of America's early history have faded from public understanding. Maybe we remember the ones who became President, but truly...
Published on September 26, 2000 by Andrew S. Rogers
78 of 84 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Does not supercede earlier works by R. Meade, R. Beeman
Few biographies manage to avoid the perils of the genre, and this one is no exception. Mayer celebrates his subject, misunderstanding Henry as a fore-bearer of Jacksonian democracy and failing adequately to appreciate Henry's conservative commitment to social hierarchy, genteel leadership, and religious establishment. As a consequence, Mayer cannot convincingly explain...
Published on April 28, 2001 by Kevin Hardwick
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78 of 84 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Does not supercede earlier works by R. Meade, R. Beeman,
There have been numerous other biographies of Patrick Henry. I would still recommend Moses Coit Tyler's 1887 PATRICK HENRY, which was reprinted by Chelsea House in 1980 with an introduction by Lance Banning. William Wirt Henry's three volume PATRICK HENRY, LIFE, CORRESPONDENCES, AND SPEECHES (originally published in 1891 but recently republished) should be used with care, since W.W. Henry incorrectly attributes a number of letters and other sources to Patrick Henry which more recent scholarship has established were written by others. Richard Beeman wrote a good analytic biography, PATRICK HENRY: A BIOGRAPHY, in 1974, which provides an excellent brief introduction to Henry's politics. The most comprehensive modern scholarly biography remains Robert Meade's two volume master-work, PATRICK HENRY (1959, 1967).
Mayer's prose is far more sprightly than Meade's, but Meade provides the more balanced and judicious treatment, and Meade's documentation of his conclusions is much superior. While Mayer updates Meade and Beeman in a number of places, his work does not supercede theirs, and should be read in conjunction with the earlier scholarship. Mayer's is a good book, especially as an introduction to a general audience. It is not, however, a work of historical biographical scholarship in the same class as, say, Drew Gilpen Faust's biography of James Henry Hammond, nor is it researched with the same meticulous care as Meade's account of Henry.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing Life of the Man Behind the Speech,
Sadly, many of the great figures of America's early history have faded from public understanding. Maybe we remember the ones who became President, but truly great and influential men like Patrick Henry and George Mason are all but forgotten. Mayer's excellent book shows what a tragedy this is.
From his early career as a Virginia lawyer, to the way his beliefs and oratory were shaped by circuit-riding nonconformist Christian ministers, Mayer lays the foundations for Henry's later greatness. But most absorbing, to this reader, was Mayer's depiction of the fight in the Virginia Assembly over the ratification of the Constitution. Henry's prescient warnings of the growth of centralised power at the expense of the sovereign states leads one to wonder if maybe the anti-federalists weren't right after all.
Vital insights into a vital figure in a vital period of our history.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and informative, showing a complex man of action,
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Many people think..........,
This review is from: A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic (Paperback)......he was a fictional character. A couple of years ago, I had this book on my desk, and a Nurse tried to argue with me to the effect that "Patrick Henry wasn't real". Poor soul, I never did convince her...Even if you accept that he was real, all you probably know is an eight second sound bite from an 8-10 minute speech. There was a LOT more to Mr. Henry than that.
This was no enigmatic Tom Jefferson or glacially distant George Washington; Henry was the nicest, and most personable of men. What you saw was what you got. Oh, he was tough in the courtroom, and in legislative debate, but he was, in most ways, an ordinary man supporting his [large] family with an extraordinary talent. He had his troubles: the initial failures at running a tavern drove him to the law [Who were the three signers of his law license? That's still debated]...his first wife's long mental illness, and eventual death just as The Revolution was starting would have taxed any man. But, Henry had a mission, and kept going.
At the time of "Liberty or Death", Patrick Henry had been a prominent legislator for ten years. Remember the "Stamp Act"?...And, before that, the "Parson's Cause", our first important court case on religious liberty? And after the famous speech...first elected Governor of Virginia...Militia Colonel...bitter opponent of ratification of the US Constitution...father [along with George Mason] of the "Bill of Rights". His ratification debates with John Marshall are the stuff of legend. Though Henry and Marshall were opponents, they remained friends, and law partners.[The famous Randolph murder case] Both were surpassingly nice guys. Henry was the father-in-law of Marshall's opponent, and enemy, Judge Spencer Roane. Marshall was so nice that his enemies liked him: Roane was so acidly unpleasant that even his friends couldn't stand him.
Henry had but one real enemy, and that was his political ally, Mr. Jefferson. The circumstances go back to the aftermath of Jefferson's unhappy time as Governor. The story is beyond this review, but was probably a misunderstanding. These are the two men largely responsible for our own freedom of religion; very different men. Henry was a lifelong devout Christian, and loyal Anglican, the nephew of a Priest, the son of a Vestryman. But, he always supported liberty. He was taught toleration early by his "dissenter" mother. [Dissenter doesn't mean athiest: in Mrs. Henry's case, it means Presbyterian: in some cases, Baptist. Methodists weren't dissenters; they were considered a branch of the Anglicans].The "Parsons Cause" was far from his only court case on the matter. When Baptist minister John Weatherford was jailed in Chesterfield County, near where I live, for preaching the Gospel, Henry got him out of the charges, and quietly paid his costs.[Weatherford didn't find out till later who had paid his fines]. Baptists telling this story will usually leave out the fact that an Episcopalian lawyer got Weatherford out of the mess...Episcopalians leave out Weatherford's name...From me, you get both. Though Mr. Jefferson wrote the "Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom", Patrick Henry laid much of the practical foundation.
On a personal note, I am honored to be, occasionally, one of the actors who regularly present a reenactment of The Second Virginia Convention of March 23, 1775 at St. John's Episcopal Church in Richmond. Yes, the original site is still an active Church. I'm not Mr. Henry, I'm either John Tazewell, or Thomas Nelson, jr. Should you ever get a chance to see either Mike Wells or Kevin McGranahan play Patrick Henry, take it. Different men, different renditions, both superb. Which do I prefer? Of course I don't dare say, since both are friends, who might read this. The honest answer is I don't know. My wife prefers one, my son and daughter the other, but I prefer both. This fine book is sold in the gift shop at St. Johns, and at Scotchtown, Henry's home in Hanover County. It is well written, and comprehensive. It is, sadly, the only academic biography of Mr. Henry we have in print. Robert Douthat Meade, famed as biographer of Judah P. Benjamin, wrote a wonderful two volume biography of Mr. Henry, published in 1957, and in 1969. Good luck finding it. But, even if you have Dr. Meade's [I do, signed; I won't tell where I got it, but it set me back $55], I can recommend this volume strongly. It's time you knew...
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat Flawed - but still Worthy to be Read,
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This review is from: A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic (Paperback)Most Americans are aware of Patrick Henry's famous, "Give me liberty, or give me death!" speech, but that is where most of our collective knowledge ends. In "A Son of Thunder" Henry Mayer helps to acquaint us with one most polarizing men of the revolution. What is surprising is that Henry only participated in two sessions of Congress - 1774 and 1775 - and was not a signer of The Declaration of Independence.
Mayer is very effective at showing how Patrick Henry was able to use his position in the confederacy's most populous (and important) state as a force for change. Henry may have been the first ever "Populist" in the world of politics. He specialized in taking and forming the opinions of the lower class farmer into political debate. It really is amazing that Henry's name lives on despite his virtual absence as a player in the newly formed Federal government.
Some points of interest-
- Henry was the first governor of Virginia and was followed by Thomas Jefferson.
- During Jefferson's gubernatorial session he became bitter enemies with Henry
- Henry was a strong opponent AGAINST the Constitution - and felt that Americans needed a very strong Bill of Rights to protect both the people and the states.
- Henry was one of the very first men to call for a war of Independence with Britain.
While "Son of Thunder" is an excellent political biography on the maneuvering of Henry on the various issues it does leave a lot to be desired on understanding his personal life. When I think of McCullough excellent biographies on Truman and Adams the suthor is able to point to moments that shaped their thoughts and their belief systems. Unfortunately (and this may be due to a lack of private correspondence left by the Henry estate) we gain little insight on his private thoughts. The result is a one-sided biography that describes the actions of Henry, but with little reflection on his reasoning. Another result is that we lose any possible personal connection between the reader and Henry which gives the work a textbook like feel
Final Verdict - Despite the lack of personal reflection "A Son of Thunder" is still a worthy biography of an important contributor in the American Revolution. While it is not as colorful (or interesting) as McCullough's "Adams" or Chernow's "Hamilton" it is well-worth reading for anyone who enjoys Revolutionary history.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Son of Thunder,
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Give me liberty, or give me death. The man behind the words,
This review is from: A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic (Paperback)I enjoy history. I enjoy reading about the history of The United States, and the history of the world. While earning a BS in Physics I took almost enough history credits to get a BA in History. Through all the history I've read Patrick Henry seemed to be a supporting actor in the creation of the US.
Last year my family and I went to Colonial Williamsburg. For one of the events Richard Schumann acts as Patrick Henry. Mr. Schumann stands out under an Oak tree. He greets the audience, informs them of the events of the day (in 1776) and then takes questions from people. I was so fascinated and so enjoyed this the first day I went, that I went every day I could for the rest of the week, and when recently we flew back to the East Coast to see Washington DC and Colonial Williamsburg, I went again.
In response to some questions, Richard Schumann as Patrick Henry will "speculate" on the future. I asked if he thought there would be any good biographies written on him. As a typical Patrick Henry speech, he responded with a five to seven minute answer. He talked about the first biography written, about 30 years after Patrick Henry died, and gave the background on a number of other biographies written over the last 200 years. Finally he recommended "A Son of Thunder" by Henry Mayer.
This is a well written book. It is informative and engaging.
The book moves chronologically through Patrick's life. It starts with his ancestors, focusing on his parents. We learn of some of the major events in his childhood. As a child Patrick Henry was pretty easy going and had little drive. One he got married Patrick Henry finally grew up and started studying to become a lawyer.
Patrick joined Virginian politics and led a major change. For decades politics were run by the Virginian aristocracy. Patrick worked with the common men. He supported them, and they supported him.
Patrick is known for his ways with the spoken word. He was very gifted. The book gives some insight into how he developed this gift. As a lawyer he lost few cases. In fact after he beat Thomas Jefferson in a case, Thomas Jefferson gave up law.
Patrick Henry was very influential in the creation of the United States. The first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, are largely due to Patrick Henry forcing James Madison to commit to supporting them.
The book shows that Patrick Henry was a good man. He had a few flaws, but Patrick Henry rates high in my mind for making the effort to make a difference.
This is a good book to read. If you have any interest in the creation of The United States of American, this book is worth reading.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the few books on the revolution from the anti-federalist side,
This review is from: A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic (Paperback)Patrick Henry is one of the forgotten founding fathers despite heralding one of the most famous lines of the revolution "Give me Liberty or give me Death". His role in military affairs, government as an anti-federalist, and as governor of Virginia was pivotal acts in the revolution. Henry served with George Mason as the primary anti-federalist and arguing against the addition of a large government with enumerated powers and felt the only way to defend liberty was through a bill of rights. This bill would guarantee the peoples freedoms against an encroaching government. Patrick Henry was the master of back door politics despite his distaste for it and even carried on an illegal war in the Virginia back county almost leading to a siege of Detroit. The state of Virginia at the time of the Civil War was largely through his efforts and his expedition that took significant territory from what might have been PA or MD.
One of the most interesting parts of this book is the idea that Patrick Henry represented the common man and was truly the peoples voice during the debates in Virginia and Philadelphia always arguing for the rights. The author does a very good job of making this case and I find it very hard to refute. Henry's speaking ability was undisputed as a man of the people and a person who could get crowds energized and excited. He seemed to thrive off that attention using his background as a man of the people (not of the landed gentry) to draw his audience in.
For those looking for a different take not often discussed in the literature and really seeing something from the anti-federalist point of view I highly recommend this book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Give Me More Henry,
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Man!,
This review is from: A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic (Paperback)Henry Mayer's well written, thoroughly researched, most interesting look at the life of a most fascinating Revolutionary War hero was a page turner. Patrick Henry was a most persuasive, passionately powerful speaker who had firm moral convictions which he refused to back down on. He opposed the constitution because of the numerous inadequacies he saw in it. For one, it did not do enough to protect the freedoms of the common man. He wrote his own Bill of Rights. Also, there were no term limits on either the presidency or congressmen. His reasons for opposing the Constitution were prophetic. Just what he said could happen because of certain flaws in the document have happened. If you think politics are nasty today, they weren't any nicer in Henry's day. Just like today, they attacked their opponent rather the focusing on the issues. His speaking style was that of a revival evangelist. He had a booming voice, which could be heard at the back of the room in days when there was no microphone. Henry was a devout Christian and a family man who cherished time with his wife and children. Mayer's detailed writing gave one a feel for what life in Colonial America was like. I really enjoyed this book.
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A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic by Henry Mayer (Paperback - June 9, 2001)