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SENTRY JOURNAL » Uncategorized » Patrick Henry’s finest hour: Give me liberty or give me death

Patrick Henry’s finest hour: Give me liberty or give me death

There comes a time in all of our lives when we must take a stand; w/hen riding the fence just doesn’t get it done.   It was 236 years ago this day when a passionate Virginia lawyer stood before 120 delegates at St John’s Church in Virginia and took a stand against tyranny.  This lawyer was Patrick Henry and if he was alive today the left and even some on the right would label him as an extremist.  He was indeed radical when it came to his love for liberty and freedom.  I for one believe this kind of passion should be honored and never forgotten.

It was the fourth day of the Virginia convention on Thursday on March 23rd 1775 when Patrick Henry facing a skeptical audience stood up to make the case for freedom over tyranny.  He had enough of the cowering down to King George and felt it was time to stand up for liberty.  It was time for the colonists to push back.  No more scraps, no more being treated as children; it was time for a change.  Every time I read his words I’m hopeful because I know that there was a time when such great men lived and that time can be again.  So to honor Mr. Henry I post his speech every year on the anniversary of it.  Please take the time to read it.  Hopefully it will inspire you as much as it has inspired me over the years.

March 23, 1775

Henry presented a proposal to organize a volunteer company of cavalry or infantry in every Virginia county. By custom, Henry addressed himself to the Convention’s president, Peyton Randolph of Williamsburg.

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The questing before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free– if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending–if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained–we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable–and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. 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? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? 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!

Source: The University of Oklahoma College of Law

After the speech those who originally favored a more conciliatory approach in regards to mother England were moved by his words and when a vote came to the floor the majority voted to support his resolutions.  Words do matter.

It was Thomas Jefferson who described Patrick Henry as the man who “set the ball of Revolution rolling” in Virginia.

Powerful stuff folks.

Liberty forever, freedom for all.

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Comments
  • Steve Dennis March 23, 2011 at 7:59 PM

    I didn’t realize today was the anniversary of this speech, thank you for sharing it as it has been a long time since I have read it.

    Barack Obama offered to give the people hope when he was campaigning, so I found this quote in the speech interesting:

    “Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts”
    Steve Dennis recently posted..The United Nations has authorized military strikes on Libya- but has the United States CongressMy Profile

    • John Carey March 23, 2011 at 10:15 PM

      Steve this is actually one of my all time favorite speeches from one of our founders. It’s a man that has had enough of tyranny and is ready to do something about it. The difference between now and then is what he was saying was treasonous. Today it viewed as extreme and that’s sad enough. Desiring liberty as extreme. What have we become?
      John Carey recently posted..Patrick Henry’s finest hour- Give me liberty or give me deathMy Profile

  • Jim at Conservatives On Fire March 23, 2011 at 8:34 PM

    A truely moving speach. Thank you, John. I don’t think I have ever read the complete speach before. I wonder how many young Americans today have even heard of Patrick Henry.
    Jim at Conservatives On Fire recently posted..If Inflation Doesn’t Exist- Why Does It Hurt So MuchMy Profile

  • Matt March 23, 2011 at 11:18 PM

    John, I hadn’t read that for a long time. It is very appropriate to our current situation, is it not.
    Matt recently posted..Support Local Teachers Unions- Question State Teachers Unions- Oppose National Teachers UnionsMy Profile

    • John Carey March 23, 2011 at 11:59 PM

      Very much so Matt. I read it every year at this time and I’m still moved by Mr. Henry’s passion for liberty. We should all be this passionate when it comes to our liberties and freedom.

  • Martin March 24, 2011 at 9:51 AM

    John, it’s a great speech. Every time I read it, I want to hi-lite certain sections.

    Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts.

    The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.

    There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free– if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending–if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained–we must fight!

    For those interested, Harlow Giles Unger recently wrote a great biography of Patrick Henry (which I reviewed) and here’s a crossword based upon it.

    Martin recently posted..Federalist No 16My Profile

    • John Carey March 24, 2011 at 7:08 PM

      Thanks for the info Martin.

  • Infidel de Manahatta March 24, 2011 at 2:47 PM

    I can see the MSM’s reaction to his speech: “He’s a typical angry white male. Probably racist. Definitely a tea-partier.”

    We could use more angry white (or any color) men in America today.
    Infidel de Manahatta recently posted..FDA Reverses 50 Years of Policy on CigarettesMy Profile

    • John Carey March 24, 2011 at 7:09 PM

      Just a smattering of passion would do a republic good. Where is the passion to save it?

  • Maggie@MaggiesNotebook March 29, 2011 at 6:30 PM

    John, I haven’t read this in so many years. What a precious and pertinent part of our history. No telling how many graduate high school knowing nothing about Patrick Henry. I’m linking in a post tomorrow.
    Maggie@MaggiesNotebook recently posted..Iran Behind Attacks on Israel on Way to Takedown USMy Profile

  • […] SENTRY JOURNAL reminds of us Patrick Henry’s stirring speech 236 years ago, which should be among the most precious and quoted part of our history: A couple of snippets (I hope you will read it all and be refreshed, renewed and enthused): This is no time for ceremony. The questing before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery;… […]