Modified: November 12, 2022

Patrick Henry Became a Lawyer Without a Law Degree? How?

Patrick Henry Became a Lawyer Without a Law Degree? How?

Yes. Like most patriots who become lawyers, Patrick Henry had no law degree and was able to become a lawyer with no law school degree. Henry was born as a native Founding Father of the United States of America and the first governor of Virginia in the House of Delegates. Overall, Henry was a significant figurehead and gifted orator in the American Revolution.

In a sense, his rousing speeches fired Americans to fight for independence, including the famous address from 1775. He considered himself a Virginian but an American none the same. Henry was very outspoken as an Anti-Federalist on behalf of the People of Virginia and opposed the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. In a sense, he felt that too much power went to the hands of the national government. From there, Henry helped to craft the Bill of Rights, guaranteeing personal freedoms and setting limits on the power of the government. True, like all great cultures before our civil war, slavery (“Slav” is a term for white Europeans enslaved by fellow white Europeans.). Later, the U.S. Supreme Court found that God granted the rights of Citizens, former subjects of the Centralized KING George, which would also be given to newly freed black slaves as “privileges” under the 14th Amendment.

You might be surprised to learn Patrick was a lawyer but never earned a law degree. That’s similar to Michael Ehline’s story, as he had no formal education initially. If you have been injured because of someone’s negligence, please call Ehline Law Firm at (213) 596-9642 for a free consultation.

His Early Life

Patrick Henry was born on his family’s farm in Hanover County, Virginia, on May 29, 1736, to Sarah and John Henry. His father, a Scottish planter, attended a Scotland college and home-school Henry. Overall, Henry struggled to get a job as an adult. He failed as a planter and storeowner many times. However, he chose to teach himself law while working at his father-in-law’s inn as a tavern keeper, opening a law practice in 1760 in Hanover County.

Patrick was a lawyer and politician known for giving passionate and persuasive speeches appealing to emotion and reason. Most of Henry’s contemporaries compared his rhetorical style to the Great Awakening evangelical preachers of the time. Henry was against Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom.

Parson’s Cause

Henry’s first major legal case was called the Parsons Cause in 1763. It was a dispute that involved a Colonial Virginia Anglican clergy. This case was one of the first attempts to challenge the power limits of England over the American colonies and is seen as a crucial event that led to the American Revolution.

Church of England ministers in Virginia got paid the tobacco industry annual salaries. However, a shortage from drought led the price to increase in the 1750s. The Virginia legislature passed a Two-Penny Act to set the value of the salaries at two pennies for each pound of tobacco instead of the inflated price, which was about six pennies a pound. Therefore, the Anglican clergy appealed to King George III, who overturned the law, encouraging the ministers to sue for any back pay they should have received.

This case established Patrick Henry as the leader in an up-and-coming movement for independence. During the case, Henry delivered a passionate speech against the British overreach into colonial affairs. Henry was elected into the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he was notable for his inflammatory speech against the Stamp Act.

Stamp Act

Great Britain then passed the first of many taxes in 1765 to defend the American colonies. Overall, the Stamp Act required Americans to produce small amounts of tax on each piece of paper used. Colonists saw it as an attempt to raise money for the colonies without approval from the Virginia legislature and had resolutions against the Stamp Act.

Therefore, Patrick Henry responded to it with various resolutions introduced into the legislature in his speech. The resolves were adopted and published in other colonies to help voice America’s stance on no taxation without British Crown representation. These resolves said that Americans should only be taxed by their representatives, so Virginians should pay no other taxes but those that the Virginia legislature voted on. Likewise, New York paid taxes on what New Yorkers voted on and all the rest.

He claimed no distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders, as they were all Americans and not under the British government. Since Henry had no formal training, he flirted with treason as he hinted that the King could go down like Julius Caesar if he continued his oppressive policies.

Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death

The Second Virginia Convention met in March 1775 at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia. There, they discussed the strategy against the British.

Here, Patrick Henry delivered one of his most famous speeches:

“Gentlemen may cry, ‘Peace, Peace,’ but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? … Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” – Patrick Henry

Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and about six other Virginians who went on to sign the Declaration of Independence (unanimous Declaration) were there that day. Historians believe Henry’s Liberty or Death speech convinced them to prepare troops for war on Great Britain. Royal Governor Lord Dunmore removed gunpowder from his magazine as a response. He finally issued Dunmore’s Proclamation, promising to free the enslaved people.

Henry spoke at the Virginia Convention without any notes, and there are no transcripts from the famous address. William Wirt reconstructed the speech from an 1817 biography of Henry. Some wonder if Wirt fabricated the Henry quote to sell more copies of his book.

Regardless, historians know Henry was a great speech-giver and knew the law, even without formal training.

Wives and Children

Henry married Sarah Shelton in 1754 as his first wife, and they had six children together. However, she died in 1775, the year of Patrick Henry’s famous Liberty or Death speech. Two years later, he married Dorothea Dandridge from Tidewater, Virginia, and they had 11 children.

United States Bill of Rights and Anti-Federalism

Patrick Henry served as governor of Virginia from 1776 to 1779 and the sixth governor from 1784 to 1786. After the Revolutionary War, Henry was an outspoken Anti-Federalist. Henry and others opposed the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, which created a stronger federal government.

Generally, Patrick Henry worried that a powerful federal government that was too centralized might turn into a monarchy. He wrote many Anti-Federalist papers written arguments from the Founding Fathers who opposed it.

Though Anti-Federalists didn’t stop the U.S. Constitution from being written, those Anti-Federalist papers helped shape the Bill of Rights. Henry never held a national public office except for a brief stint as a delegate to the First Continental Congress. When asked, he turned down the Second Continental Congress appointment. Attended the General Assembly in May 1781.

Later, he became part of the defense team for Jones v. Walker in 1791. Though a judge died, the sections were reassembled. It was argued before an Associate Justice and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and they took Henry’s argument into account, making them successful. However, the plaintiffs appealed, and the Supreme Court ruled for the British creditors. Patrick Henry did attend the Virginia constitutional convention and rose to become the very first governor of Virginia, even after the colonies became independent from the U.K.

Patrick Henry was stricken with illness toward the end of his life. Because of this, he could not accept an offer to become Secretary of State by President George Washington. He also was forced to refuse an appointment as Minister to France under President John Adams. Henry finally passed away at age 63 on June 6, 1799. His plantation is called Red Hill – The Patrick Henry National Memorial.


Most people aren’t aware that Patrick Henry did so much to form America as we know it now. Without Henry, things might have been entirely different. His framework allowed the U.S. to end outright slavery and turned America into a tax-slavery corporation using a “progressive” Central Banking, FIAT currency scheme. Though he didn’t go to law school or have a law degree, he turned the colonies on their heads and made them shift away from British rule.

Other men are similar to Henry; Michael Ehline started at the bottom and built a powerhouse law firm. Please call (213) 596-9642 today to discuss your potential case through a free consultation.

Top Notch American Injury Lawyer, Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline

Michael is a managing partner at the nationwide Ehline Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC. He’s an inactive Marine and became a lawyer in the California State Bar Law Office Study Program, later receiving his J.D. from UWLA School of Law. Michael has won some of the world’s largest motorcycle accident settlements.

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