The south end of the UVA Lawn at night

Patrick Henry: Forgotten Founder


An online course by Coursera
FREE course opens March 1--Registration Closed


This FREE course is taught by John Ragosta, a fellow at Virginia Humanities.

Patrick Henry was enormously popular during the American Revolution. Even Thomas Jefferson, who over time developed a deep loathing of Henry, had to admit that “it is not now easy to say what we should have done without Patrick Henry.” Edmund Randolph, a patriot leader in his own right, explained that “It was Patrick Henry … awakening the genius of his country, and binding a band of patriots together to hurl defiance at the tyranny of so formidable a nation as Great Britain.”

Yet, today, Patrick Henry is ill-remembered; most Americans might recall at best a snippet from a famous speech: “give me liberty, or give me death.” The reasons for our historic forgetfulness are several: after the Revolution, Henry chose to oppose ratification of the U.S. Constitution, believing that it created a distant and too-powerful government, and he refused proffered position in George Washington’s administration, diminishing his historic memory. Equally important, Henry died in 1799 shortly after a political campaign in which, at Washington’s behest, he opposed Jefferson’s and James Madison’s ill-advised radical states’ rights attack on the U.S. government, and Jefferson spent the next 26 years systematically attacking Henry’s legacy.

Patrick Henry, who helped to ignite a revolution, deserves better. This course will explore how Henry overcame challenges to reach the pinnacle of Virginia politics and unite Americans behind a challenge to Britain, why he opposed the U.S. Constitution, and why he then came out of retirement to defend the people’s Constitution against the attacks of Jefferson and Madison.

Participants should evaluate Henry’s role in proclaiming a revolution and consider whether he had an equally important role in saving it. The course should also develop an improved appreciation for the complex political, economic, and religious forces that shaped the early republic. As a biographical course, it also demonstrates how personalities play an important role in even the most foundational national history.

Course Instructor
John Ragosta, Fellow at Virginia Humanities
Author of  Patrick Henry: Proclaiming a Revolution

John Ragosta is a historian, lawyer, and award-winning author. He has taught law and history at the University of Virginia, George Washington University, and Oberlin, Hamilton, and Randolph Colleges. Ragosta has held fellowships at the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello and is currently a fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. He authored Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, released in 2013 by the University of Virginia Press, and Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia’s Religious Dissenters Helped to Win the American Revolution & Secured Religious Liberty, Oxford University Press 2010. His most recent book, Patrick Henry: Proclaiming a Revolution, was released by Routledge Press in 2016. Ragosta is a frequent speaker and commentator, having appeared at, inter alia, Monticello, Poplar Forest, Colonial Williamsburg, the David Library of the American Revolution, Montpelier, The Smithsonian, and the Virginia Festival of the Book; his comments have appeared, for example, in the pages of The Washington Post and Richmond Times Dispatch. Ragosta is lead faculty for Summer Jefferson Symposium sponsored by Lifetime Learning in UVA’s Office of Engagement.

Before returning to academia, Ragosta was an international trade and litigation partner at Dewey Ballantine LLP and was deeply involved in litigation before the World Trade Organization, NAFTA, and U.S. courts and agencies, and he frequently represented clients before Congress and administrative agencies. Holding both a PhD (early American history) and a JD from the University of Virginia, Ragosta also received an MA from George Washington University (early American/U.S. legal) and a BS (Physics-Chemistry, Philosophy) from Grove City College. Ragosta is also a beekeeper.

About This Free Course

Opens: Monday, March 1
Closes: Monday, April 12

This free UVA group course will be open for six weeks and is sponsored by UVA’s Lifetime Learning program, Office of Engagement. Joining a private UVA group for this course WAIVES the “Statement of Accomplishment” fee (regularly $49) and includes access to all course materials, including graded assignments.

This course takes approximately seven hours to complete and can be finished in fewer than six weeks for those with the time and inclination to work at a faster pace. Students may also audit the course.

Click here for an overview of Patrick Henry: Forgotten Founder, but DO NOT enroll in this course through the Coursera website. (Note: you will need to set up a Coursera account before joining the UVA group for the free course on March 1.)

Register for this free course through Lifetime Learning (via Eventbrite). You will receive an invitation from UVA Coursera to join the UVA group on March 1.

You can begin to work on the course any time after March 1 when you join the UVA group. Coursera allows you the flexibility to work online whenever it is convenient—day or night. You can download the Coursera app on your mobile device and download the course materials to watch offline.

For questions about this course, please email the UVA Coursera contact, Kristin Palmer, at We hope you join the UVA group for this fascinating course!

About UVA Coursera

Coursera is an entrepreneurial company that partners with top universities around the world to offer free online courses to anyone. Coursera students watch lectures taught by world-class professors, learn at their own pace, test their knowledge, and reinforce concepts through interactive exercises. For questions about this course, please contact the UVA Coursera contact, Kristin Palmer, at

Vitual Lecture With Course Instructor

Patrick Henry v. Thomas Jefferson: The Crisis of Union that Died in 1799
with John Ragosta, Virginia Humanities

This talk begins at the end, looking at Patrick Henry’s final political speech and campaign—when he defended the community’s right to decide issues at the ballot box and under the Constitution (and why that speech and campaign were not simply forgotten, but intentionally suppressed). If you study Patrick Henry, having a sense of how his story ends may assist you in seeing patterns and context. His life in many ways presaged what he would become, although many of the signs were missed or forgotten, making Patrick Henry, in many ways, a “Forgotten Founder.”

When: Tuesday, March 9 at 3:00 p.m. EST (lecture will be recorded and posted at a later date)

Who can register: All UVA alumni, parents, and friends, even if not enrolled in the Patrick Henry course