Rotunda at dusk

Patrick Henry: Forgotten Founder


Online (5-week certificate course)


“Give me liberty, or give me death:” Remembering Patrick Henry, the Forgotten Founder

Patrick Henry was enormously popular during the American Revolution. Even Thomas Jefferson, who over time developed a deep loathing of Henry (some would say jealousy), 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 perhaps 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 twenty-six years systematically attacking Henry’s legacy. Patrick Henry, who helped to ignite a revolution, deserves better. This course will explore how he over¬came challenges to reach the pinnacle of Virginia politics and unite Americans behind a challenge to Britain – the eighteenth century’s super-power, why he opposed the U.S. Constitu¬tion, 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.

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Course Instructor

John Ragosta

Fellow, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

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. Dr. 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. Dr. 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, and the Virginia Festival of the Book; his comments have appeared, for example, in the pages of the Washington Post and Richmond Times Dispatch. Before returning to academia, Dr. 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.