He was the first governor of the state of Virginia and a member of the First Continental Congress. But it was for his extraordinary power as an orator that Patrick Henry is best remembered. His "Give Me Liberty" speech, delivered at Richmond’s historic St. John’s Church in the year before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, remains one of the most passionate and eloquent enunciations of the American ideal ever delivered. It was a fiery call to arms that caused an immediate and rousing reaction.
What historians in studying the period have generally neglected is the fact that Henry was in the throes of an aching grief at the time he issued that famous clarion call. Less than thirty days prior to the assembly on this day in 1775, Henry’s beloved wife, Sarah, died after a short illness. Henry’s grief was so deep that he confided to his family physician that he was "a distraught old man."
His bereavement was smothering. Indeed, many of his fellow delegates to the Virginia Convention, including President Peyton Randolph, questioned whether he was fit to attend the deliberations of government. No doubt they were all stunned by the power and suasion of his words.
Despite his personal anguish—or perhaps because of it—Patrick Henry stirred himself to sound for the theme of that which is right and good and true.