Master of Arts (MA)


Samuel Smith

Primary Subject Area

History, United States; Religion, History of


Anglicanism, Colonial Virginia, Enlightenment, Latitudinarianism, Patrick Henry, Presbyterianism


This study explores the complex religious influences shaping Patrick Henry's belief system. It is common knowledge that he was an Anglican, yet friendly and cooperative with Virginia Presbyterians. However, historians have yet to go beyond those general categories to the specific strains of Presbyterianism and Anglicanism which Henry uniquely harmonized into a unified belief system. Henry displayed a moderate, Latitudinarian, type of Anglicanism. Unlike many other Founders, his experiences with a specific strain of Presbyterianism confirmed and cooperated with these Anglican commitments. His Presbyterian influences could also be described as moderate, and latitudinarian in a more general sense. These religious strains worked to build a distinct religious outlook characterized by a respect for legitimate authority, whether civil, social, or religious. This study goes further to show the relevance of this distinct religious outlook for understanding Henry's political stances. Henry's sometimes seemingly erratic political principles cannot be understood in isolation from the wider context of his religious background. Uniquely harmonized religious strains influenced a consistent set of political principles. Thus the specifics of Henry's religious commitments have significant ramifications for Virginia liberty.