“A brilliant orator, a firebrand for freedom and individual rights, Henry stands as an American luminary, and Kukla’s magisterial biography shines the glow of achievement on subject and author alike” (Richmond Times Dispatch). Patrick Henry restores its subject, long underappreciated in history as a founding father, to his seminal place in the story of American independence.
Patrick Henry is best known for his fiery declaration, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Born in 1736, he became an attorney and planter before being elected as the first governor of Virginia after independence, winning reelection several times. After declining to attend the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Henry opposed the Constitution, arguing that it granted too much power to the central government. He pushed vigorously for the ten amendments to the new Constitution, and then supported Washington and national unity against the bitter party divisions of the 1790s. Henry denounced slavery as evil, but he accepted its continuation.
Henry was enormously influential in his time, but many of his accomplishments were subsequently all but forgotten. Jon Kukla’s “detailed, compelling…definitive” (Kirkus Reviews) biography restores Henry and his Virginia compatriots to the front rank of advocates for American independence. Kukla has thoroughly researched Henry’s life, even living on one of Henry’s estates. He brings both newly discovered documents and new insights to Henry, the Revolution, the Constitutional era, and the early Republic. This “informational and enlightening biography of the great agitator for democracy” (Library Journal) is a vital contribution to our understanding of the nation’s founding.
Jon Kukla is the author of Patrick Henry, Mr. Jefferson’s Women, and A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America, as well as many scholarly articles and reviews. An authority on early American history, he has directed research and publishing at the Library of Virginia and served as executive director of the Historic New Orleans Collection and of Red Hill-The Patrick Henry National Memorial in Charlotte County, Virginia. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.
“Jon Kukla restores Patrick Henry to the front rank of American Revolutionary patriots. Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty is a magnificent achievement, the best biography by far of the great orator and statesman who played such a crucial role in shaping the course of Revolutionary Virginia's history. Kukla's Patrick Henry will not be surpassed.”
– Peter S. Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Professor of History, Emeritus, University of Virginia; and coauthor, with Annette Gordon-Reed, of “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination
“Before the Declaration of Independence, before Lexington and Concord, Patrick Henry spoke treason to power and chose liberty over death. Jon Kukla tells the story of the first founding father, a passionate populist, devout Christian and first-class legal mind.”
– Richard Brookhiser, author of Founders' Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln
"A brilliant orator, a firebrand for freedom and individual rights, Henry stands as an American luminary, and Kukla’s magisterial biography shines the glow of achievement on subject and author alike."
– Jay Strafford, Richmond Times Dispatch
“Kukla has written a compelling biography that serves his subject well. . . . A detailed, lively, probably definitive biography of a revolutionary figure who merits more recognition.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“Patrick Henry provided much of the fire that lit the American Revolution in 1775 and 1776, and remained true to his democratic principles through a life of service to his country. In this wise and learned biography, Jon Kukla gives us the authoritative account of this essential figure in the creation of America.”
– David O. Stewart, author of Madison’s Gift and The Summer of 1787