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University of Virginia

Patrick Henry: Forgotten Founder

University of Virginia and UVA Lifetime Learning, Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation via Coursera


“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. Image Attribution: The background image for this webpage is Patrick Henry before the Virginia House of Burgesses by Peter F. Rothermel (1851) with special thanks to the owner, the Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation. The painting of Patrick Henry's 1765 "Caesar had his Brutus" speech (discussed in the second lecture) is entirely romanticized -- neither Henry nor the House of Burgesses looked at all like this -- but it does show that hagiography of Henry, almost god-like veneration, began shortly after this death.


  • Course Introduction
  • Patrick Henry: Failure and Success
  • Revolutionary Henry
  • Constitutional Henry
  • Patrick Henry Legacy

Taught by

John Ragosta


4.9 rating, based on 16 Class Central reviews

4.9 rating at Coursera based on 172 ratings

Start your review of Patrick Henry: Forgotten Founder

  • Anonymous
    This is one of the finest courses I have taken having studied early American history and culture for over 50 years. John Rogosta sets a new standard for understanding the vital role of Patrick Henry in the shaping of the American republic. We all…
  • Profile image for Zeb Dillon Gray
    Zeb Dillon Gray
    Dr. Ragosta brings Henry alive in this course. It was an extraordinarily informative and interesting educational experience. Mr. Henry shows his character and commitment to the American experience following the Virginia Convention to ratify the Constitution. He, George Mason, and James Monroe all voted “no” but when Mason challenged the outcome Henry told him to “go home”. This course very much enriched my understanding of the critical founding years of the republic. I heartily recommend taking the course.
  • Anonymous
    Great course in which I learned that Patrick Henry was not only a powerful orator, but an astute politician and a founder of American liberty. His role in the emerging Virginia leadership and as a thoughtful protagonist as an Anti-Federalist were highlighted. At the same time, I gained insights into his family. The professor delivered passionate lectures and provided important insights into American history.
  • Kimberly
    Very strait forward, with lots of great information about Patrick Henry and the politics of the day. The lecturer was interesting to listen to, and passionate about his subject. I would recommend this course to anyone interested in colonial history. I wish there were more like this!
  • Robert Diamond
    The course is a wonderfully informative and engaging introduction to an often overlooked figure in the creation of our nation. I particularly appreciated the emphasis on Henry's relationships with other founders in terms of how this influenced his thinking and our appreciation of him in history.
  • Anonymous
    a terrific orator representing a terrific orator! Dr Ragosta's sincere passion for this forgotten founder made me want to know more.
    If you are interested in the American Revolution and the founding of our country, this class will be very compelling. I found it so. Thanks.
  • I wish there were more classes which provided instruction in the biographies of important political folks throughout history. I enjoyed the course and learned a lot. Thanks.
  • Anonymous
    Very interesting presentation of an important founding father. The teacher was knowledgeable and interesting. Although I though I knew a great deal about our founding fathers this course taught me a great deal.
  • Excellent course about one of the founding fathers of the US. Patrick Henry has not gotten as much attention as many of his contemporaries and this course fills in with important information on his contributions.
  • Anonymous
    Extremely informative class, I did not know how little I knew about our history. John did a great job of presenting and sparkling my dormant history interest.
  • Suzan Hann
    It was a very informative course, with a lot of unknown facts about Patrick Henry that I didn't know or had forgotten.
  • Anonymous
    Excellent class, very informative and kept my interest. Wish there were more classes like this one. Length and depth was appropriate for the audience.
  • Anonymous
    The class was both informative and entertaining. The pace and the depth of the class was ideal, as was the length of the video clips.
  • I learned a lot about Patrick Henry. He was more that his famous quote. Mr. Ragosta (sp?) was very knowledgeable about Patrick Henry and wasn't reticent about pointed out that much of what Henry said in his speeches was written down from memory many years after he died. His role in the development of the US was more that I thought. It was an interesting and beneficial class.
  • Anonymous
    There isn't a lot of absolute truth available about Patrick Henry, other than universal acclaim for a few powerful "Give me liberty..." oratories. Instead, the professor does a great job at framing the context by tying in what tidbits are recorded to be able to propose the missing elements of this early patriot. Enjoyed it; you may as well...
  • Profile image for Carmen Shick Nicklaus
    Carmen Shick Nicklaus
    I have always admired Patrick Henry’s courage and clever oratory. I learned a great deal in this course. He was so much more than a gifted speaker. It is exciting to learn of his other accomplishments. I thoroughly enjoyed this course and learned much. I plan to read the professor’s book. Informative course to be certain.

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