This is a review of A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic, by Henry Mayer, Grove Press, 1991.
[Insert your favorite hip-hop beat here. If you don't have one, use whatever beat is coming through the ceiling from the neighbors' party upstairs. I don't care if you live in a yurt: everybody's got a neighbor's party going on upstairs.]
Nah this ain't Park Slope this is freaking southwest Vee Ay and that's fo' shizzle--ride that rhyme all the way to Fo't Chiswell (I learned to pronounce it from the book! Don't denounce it, take a look! Fo' shizzle Fo't Chiswell fo' shizzle Fo't Chiswell) and then turn south into Tennessee and that's where you just might find me dangling feet and stirring up mud in tailwater crud of a TVA dam named for the fort that was named for the man that popped open a big ol' can of terms way way back in Stamp Act days when the Brits thought they could just have their ways. With taxes. "What the hell?" is what people thought. "We can only tax ourselves! Not them! If they want us to give assent then they better let us represent!" But how to say this and who would brave it? Who would stand up and who would save it? Be the poet for a people as yet so inchoate that they did not know it was time to show it: an unborn nation stirred in the womb, where one there was who felt the bloom and boomed it with a lawyer's theatric energy (do it), and his name was Patrick Henry, to wit: Julius had his Brutus, and Charles had his Cromwell. Britain! Hear this American tell! All tyrants get sent down to hell! It was lightning that sprang from Henry's mouth, it sizzled north and sizzled south, far beyond the Chesapeake. And a people sat up, galvanized, to hear words their own minds would speak.
Virtue. It's gotta hurt you.
And here I must ask you something: to drag through all your memory's dumping and find if you can the time and place where first you yourself gave breath to "Give me liberty, or give me death!" And when did Patrick Henry, he himself, on what occasion, rise to utter the oration that will undie as long as there's a US flag to fly? In what time frame, and in what scale were the words weighed and hearers swayed? Early, early, it was early on by the reckonings of revolution. Hahaha, dust off your history, don't gripe at me for making it a mystery, it's just a teaser (I didn't know either). With Burgesses suspended and Boston harmed, it was literally a call to arms that surged from Henry, forth to colonists yet emerging, the minutemen and their exertions, on to Lexington, on to Concord, onward onward was the word: to nationhood, unconquered.
Virtue. It's gonna hurt you.
Frontier Baptists baited the hook of faith with ecstatic preaching that sure wasn't Established Teaching but Henry (tho not one of them) could see them reaching for whatever kind of eternal truth was there for anyone who might be seeking, so he got up to advocate that the free conscience is where we must locate a Common Good, which heroed him--the Baptist Robin Hood--even though, however much they might emote, many if not most of them could not vote, and not so much cuz they was just off the boat, but, well see, you could be with the angel band, but you could not vote if you didn't have ...
Virtue. I mean land.
Land. Land in America, oh say can I see ya, land to Henry was a panacea. In due time by his way of thinking there was so stinking much that everybody'd have it to the Mississippi, and the Indians all pissed and hissy would just pack their smoke while the white folks with their religion and all would just mix in land and face with bravery a life of freedom: without slavery. Ah but Patrick Henry, not even he could face the hard reality that a master's dominion became a greed that shackled his state to a race opinion, all splayed out in a fateful pinion, a gruesome place where hackles raised by slavering war-dog howls would shiver to see the battle-spilled bowels there had to be, before the land was truly free.
Virtual. Reality. Ain't.
More to say and so much more--how Henry thought the Constitution was worse than having no solution but finally came to the conclusion that, now the boat's afloat--know what I mean--we gotta take care of this "crazy Machine," but don't just take my word, cuz if you did the book would be unheard, and Henry Mayer (this is his book) deserves for you to take a look at the way he revivifies a life and a time, and does it so well it'd be a crime if someone came along to save you the chore by putting it up on some stage floor or some movie screen where it'd be seen instead of read but (I gotta ask) why do that? You can wait to not-read 'til after you're dead.
And besides: by now you know the slip 'n' slide: