As a wee lad (Give me fruit snacks or give me death, Mom!), Henry attended Samuel Davies' Presbyterian meetinghouse with his mother. Davies, well educated and well connected throughout the colonies, was known for his preaching and writing.
In a time when the Church of England was the official religion of the empire, Presbyterianism was a dissenting sect of Christianity. Davies effectively worked within existing English law and used his rhetoric to spread Presbyterianism, in a mirror of the way Henry would later dissent from Great Britain itself. Davies is regarded as Henry's main rhetorical influence…which means that Davies is definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Victory in the "Parsons' Cause" established Henry as a rising star among Virginia lawyers and launched his political career. So what was this crazy case about? Well, it sounds weird, but official Church of England clergy and other public officials in colonial Virginia were paid in tobacco. Yeah, the Surgeon General would not recommend that.
Of course, the idea was not that they would smoke all that tobacco, but that they could sell or trade it, much as they would if they were tobacco farmers.
In 1759 and 1760, severe droughts drove the price of tobacco up. The colonial legislature declared that tobacco contracts should be paid according to the usual value instead of the increased value. The clergy and other public officials wanted their usual tobacco amounts (now worth more), naturally.
They went over the legislature's head to British authorities, who overturned the Virginia legislature's ruling, setting a dangerous precedent.
How did this affect a small-town lawyer in Hanover County? Reverend James Maury sued the county for his back pay (the extra cash he felt he should have gotten from that expensive tobacco) and won. Henry argued for the vestry (sort of like Maury's employers) and persuaded the jury that Maury should be awarded damages of only one penny.
The Stamp Act was both a) the most boring-sounding act ever and b) a tax on all paper goods in the American colonies. It was intended to help raise funds to pay Great Britain's debts from the Seven Years' War.
Colonists in opposition to the act argued that, because they hadn't elected representatives to Parliament to make decisions like the Stamp Act, the Stamp Act was unconstitutional. The Stamp Act was repealed in 1766, but it raised issues of taxation (money) and representation (power) that eventually led to the American Revolution.
The Stamp Act Resolves were the first major piece of legislation Henry presented after his election to the Virginia House of Burgesses. Basically, they said that Parliament had no right to tax the colonies, na-na-na-na-boo-boo.
They were narrowly passed, but their passage inspired Henry to give his "Caesar-Brutus" Speech, in which he said that Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I had his Cromwell, and George III was about to have somebody too. Oooh; them's fighting words.
Publication of the Stamp Act Resolves throughout the colonies and Great Britain cemented Henry among the leaders of the coming rebellion.
During the decade leading up to the American Revolution, the colonies established "Committees of Correspondence" to let each other know what was going on in their neck of the woods. In 1773, Henry helped establish the Virginia one and proposed all the other colonies should form committees too.
In one of the more famous incidents leading up to the American Revolution, Sam Adams and the Sons of Liberty snuck aboard three ships in Boston Harbor and tossed 342 tons of tea into the water.
This was in response to the Tea Act, which was, you guessed it, a tax on tea.
In response to the Boston Tea Party, Great Britain decided to stick it to Boston. Parliament passed the Coercive Acts, which were intended to bring Boston in line.
Pro-tip, Parliament: if you're trying to reconcile with your naughty colonies, maybe don't call your legislation the Coercive Acts. Colonists renamed them the Intolerable Acts. This led to a real sense of shared grievance, which served to unite the colonists in thinking what a jerk Great Britain was being.
In response to the Coercive Acts, colonists from every colony except Georgia (which was busy fighting a war with Native Americans and needed British military support) convened the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia on September 5th, 1774. The purpose was to tiptoe around the idea of united resistance to the Coercive Acts.
Henry did some awesome talking here too. Tweetable moment: "I am not a Virginian, but an American." #1stConCon.
The big thing that came out of the First Continental Congress was the idea that the colonies should work together, rather than being split up and working for their own concerns, as per usual. The big document is the Declaration of Rights, which basically says, "We're still loyal to Britain, but you guys have got to stop with the jerkitude."
And by jerkitude, we mean the Coercive Acts and taxes.
This is the scene of Henry's big "Liberty or Death" moment. Meeting in Richmond in Henrico Parish Church, the delegates passed Henry's resolutions to arm in self-defense by only a few votes. (And you thought politics was rough seas now.)
They also elected Henry to the Second Continental Congress, which would become famous as the scene of the Declaration of Independence.
These were the opening battles of the American Revolution. They started when the British stationed in Boston marched to take powder stores in Concord and ran into colonists who said that wasn't happening.
Something similar to what had happened in Lexington and Concord happened in Williamsburg, Virginia, a day later. Lord Dunmore, Royal Governor of Virginia, got wind of the fact that rebels (like Henry) were arming in self-defense, and he sent some British marines to take the powder from the magazine in Williamsburg.
This incident riled everybody up, but it didn't spill over into bloodshed like it had in Massachusetts. Instead, the militia, led by Henry, demanded payment for the powder before agreeing to disperse.
Oh, and in case it wasn't clear before now, powder was a big deal back in the day. No powder, no firing for cannons or guns.
This is exactly what it sounds like. Dunmore gave Henry a big wag of the finger…which gave Henry some street cred as a Founding Father.
The George Washington tells us this was not one of the Virginia Convention's smarter moves, writing, "I think my countrymen made a capital mistake when they took Henry out of the senate to place him in the field." (Source)
It was true.
Henry's military career lasted only a few months before he was replaced by people who knew their way around the battlefield like he knew his way around the English language. However, Henry's popularity had done its work in recruitment, so it wasn't a total loss.
Henry would serve three terms as governor during the war and two after it, leading Virginia through the revolution and the first years as part of a new nation.
The Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, which both declared independence (of course) from Great Britain and their right to be sovereign states.
Henry didn't sign…because he wasn't there. He was off governing Virginia instead. Hey, somebody had to.