Patrick Henry Analysis
In order to solicit young readers’ attention, Campion fabricates extensive, often implausible, dialogues. Relying heavily on this technique, she gratuitously fictionalizes much of Henry’s life. Numerous conversations, for example, have been invented between Henry and his personal slave, Caesar. The two are depicted as close friends, an improbable relationship given the social structure of eighteenth century Virginia. Discussions between Henry and his wives and between Henry and his political companions are also manufactured in detail. While few historical records reproduce any of Henry’s private life, Campion attempts to resurrect his thoughts.
Seeking to portray Henry to young readers as an individual worthy of emulation, Campion continues her exaggerations. For example, she repeatedly underscores Henry’s purported opposition to slavery; he is recorded informing his son, “we must pray to God to deliver us from this evil.” Yet Henry exhibited virtually no concern about purchasing slaves throughout his life. He never campaigned against slavery and, indeed, paid the issue less attention than many of his fellow planters.
Campion also overstates Henry’s role as a champion of the common people, Native Americans, and slaves. Characterizing him as the quintessential frontiersman, she produces a Henry apparently happier dressed as and imitating a tribal warrior than participating in Virginia government. Furthermore, Campion insists that Henry’s origins were humble and that, accordingly, he was uninterested in class distinctions. In reality, Henry’s family was both wealthy and well-connected. Moreover, Henry always aggressively augmented his personal fortunes while courting positions of high authority in Virginia government. In Campion’s work, Henry’s land speculations and his desire to protect his extensive frontier investments are deemphasized as incompatible with her noble vision of him.
Henry’s career as lawyer and orator are notable and should require no exaggeration. Campion inflates his achievements, however, making extravagant and unsupportable claims. For example, devoting a chapter to Henry’s opposition to the Townsend duties, she places him in a decisive position. From her perspective, he appears to have led the resistance. Yet Henry was not in attendance in the House of Burgesses through two crucial months during the crisis and played no critical role in its resolution. Likewise, his opposition to the new Constitution, the most conspicuous of his postrevolutionary political role, is also distorted. According to Campion, the struggle over ratification had distilled itself into a debate between only two individuals: James Madison, “the Father of the Constitution,” and Henry, “the Father of Virginia.” Henry, however, was far from being the most influential of Virginia’s anti-Federalists. Campion further misleads her young readers with her dubious claim that Henry was the father of Virginia.
Beyond fictionalizing events, Campion often misreports facts. By her reckoning, Francis Lightfoot Lee was twenty years older than his brother Richard Henry Lee although the two famous brothers were born only one year apart. In addition, Campion has George Wythe serving as professor of law at William and Mary College in the 1760’s when the position was not created until 1779. A plethora of such errors seriously mar this work.
The author also adopts a didactic tone, using Henry’s purported virtues as models of appropriate behavior. Repeatedly, the reader is instructed that Henry neither drank alcohol nor smoked tobacco, dubious assertions in Colonial Virginia. Yet Campion insists that, while Henry was a teetotaler, he was still “one of the most popular young men in Hanover County.” Other moralistic judgments are common, the reader being informed that much of Henry’s inspiration came from the Bible and that even his legal reasoning is based on this work. In many other connections, Campion is judgmental; the distinguished Governor William Berkeley is dismissed as a “stupid governor” because he did not support public education in the seventeenth century.