Unsuccessful as a merchant, Patrick Henry turned to the law. He was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1760 and rose rapidly to prominence and prosperity. In 1765 Henry was elected to the House of Burgesses and, in his first term, won fame and popularity with a series of resolutions opposing the STAMP ACT as an unconstitutional imposition of TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION. A flamboyant and persuasive orator, Henry became the leader of the radical patriot faction in Virginia. As a delegate to the FIRST CONTINENTAL CONGRESS Henry favored both issuance of a declaration of grievances and formation of the ASSOCIATION. At home, he successfully urged the arming of the militia and served briefly as commander-in-chief of Virginia's forces. He was a member of the convention that, in 1776, adopted the VIRGINIA DECLARATION OF RIGHTS AND CONSTITUTION and instructed the state's congressional delegation to call for a DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. Henry was himself a delegate to Congress but resigned in June 1776 when he was elected first governor of Virginia. In 1776 Governor Henry supported a BILL OF ATTAINDER (written by THOMAS JEFFERSON) against a notorious Tory brigand. When Jefferson and JAMES MADISON proposed to end the ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION in Virginia, Henry countered with a plan for general assessment to support all Christian churches and teachers.
Although Henry was a longtime self-proclaimed nationalist and had often called for enlargement of the powers of Congress under the ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION, he declined appointment as a delegate to the CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OF 1787. In the Virginia state convention of 1788 he was the leader of the anti-Federalists and spoke and voted against RATIFICATION OF THE CONSTITUTION. He argued that the document lacked a BILL OF RIGHTS and infringed on state SOVEREIGNTY, and he warned that the new federal Congress might someday abolish SLAVERY.
Henry later converted to the Federalist cause; in 1795 President GEORGE WASHINGTON offered to make...