Tag Archives: Patrick Henry
were I to give his character in general terms, it would be of mixed aspect. I think he was the best humored man in society I almost ever knew, and the greatest orator that ever lived. he had a consummate knolege of the human heart, which directing the efforts of his eloquence enabled him to attain a degree of popularity with the people at large never perhaps equalled. his judgment in other matters was inaccurate in matters of law it was not worth a copper: he was avaritious & rotten hearted. his two great passions were the love of money & of fame: but when these came into competition the former predominated.
Thomas Jefferson to William Wirt, August 4, 1805
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Even-handed leaders acknowledge both virtues and faults.
Wirt (1772-1834) was a lawyer, writer and public official. He was collecting memories of the late Patrick Henry, who died in 1799. Wirt knew of the lengthy, contentious relationship between Henry and Jefferson and asked the latter’s opinion, “His faults, as well as his virtues.”
Jefferson began with Henry’s virtues. He
1. Was a very social man.
2. Was the greatest orator in history.
3. Understood the human heart very well.
4. Coupled that understanding with his eloquence to achieve a very high level of popularity.
And then his faults:
1. He lacked good judgment.
2. His legal knowledge was worthless.
3. He was greedy and mean-spirited.
4. He loved both money and fame.
5. When he could not have both, he chose money.
Jefferson offered this candid assessment only because the trustworthy Wirt asked for it, promised no one would read it but himself, and the letter would be returned to its author.
Two years later, the President appointed Wirt to be the prosecutor in Aaron Burr’s treason trial. President Monroe would appoint Wirt to be Attorney General in 1817, a position he would hold for a dozen years.