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Patrick Henry – ‘The Voice of the Revolution’

 

Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation
Amazon.com

 

Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Patrick Henry - Colonial Williamsburg Foundation


American Profile recently highlighted the well known American Founding Father and fierce patriot – “Patrick Henry – The first Founding Father to call for revolution”.

In an interview with Harlow Giles Unger who has written a new biography on this ardent advocate of liberty, we are reminded of the critical role this “freedom-loving Virginian” played in rousting colonial America to “fight government tyranny – both external and internal”.

“Caesar, had his Brutus, Charles his Cromwell, and George the Third may profit by their examples. Sir, if this be treason, make the most of it.”

 

Thomas Jefferson’s recollection of the Caesar-Brutus Speech
“I well remember the cry of treason, the pause of Mr. Henry at the name of George the Third and the presence of mind with which he closed his sentence, and baffled the charge vociferated.”

Henry’s Early Life and Times – 1765

 

Patrick Henry was born into a family of Scot-English ancestery on the Virginia frontier. He was fashioned by his environment hunting and fishing in the wilderness, helping his family farming, educated at home learning the Classics and Latin. After attempting various businesses, he studied law on his own and in 1760 passed his attorney’s examination. He was widowed in his first marriage, and married a second time to Dorthea Dandridge having a total of 18 children.

He served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, a delegate to the Virginia Convention and Virginia Constution Ratification Convention, and served five terms as governor of Virginia.

Henry’s fame as an orator grew as he lashed out at British efforts to impose manifold forms of taxation and increasing authority over the American colonies. His commentary elicited cries of alarm and treason from those faithful to Britain, but acclamations of hero and patriot by many of his countrymen for challenging heavy handed Enghlish rule and eventual oppression.

In March of 1775 Patrick Henry entered St. John’s Church in Richmond where the most important men of Virginia were in legislature, and he appealed in his most famous speech with the immortal words “Give me liberty or give me death!”

 

Patrick Henry's "Treason" speech before the House of Burgesses in an 1851 painting by Peter F. Rothermel - Wikipedia

 

His rallying cry swayed the Virginians, the largest colony, to begin preparations for war with England. Patrick would throw his efforts into developing a Virginia militia and prepare his colony for conflict.

As the Constitutional Convention was hammering out the Nation’s guiding charter, “Henry feared the Constitution would give federal government too much power and threaten state sovereignty and individual liberties. He warned that the document set no limits on congressional taxing powers and gave the president the authority to lead the nation into undeclared wars. Above all, he argued that the Constitution failed to protect individual rights and would let the federal government encroach upon every facet of an American’s daily life.” He strongly championed the Bill of Rights, which guaranteed Americans freedom of speech, press, religion, the right of trial by jury, and other individual oiberties.

Henry become a firery symbol and force for America’s struggle for liberty and self-government, a bold spokesman in almost every aspect of the birth of America. And he continued his ardent support for limited government and American’s liberties once the nation was formed. His example still fires hearts and minds today of modern Americans.

 

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 numbers 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.

 

Further reading

  • Patrick Henry – Colonial Williamsburg
  • A Chronology of US Historical Documents
  • Patrick Henry Center For Individual Liberty
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    Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!

    Speech – Give Me Liberty – Patrick Henry
    Images, paintings, cartoons, history and facts of the era

    Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

    March 23, 1775
    By Patrick Henry
    Virginia Legislature
    St. John’s Church, Richmond, Virginia

     

    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 question 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 the 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 numbers 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 gentlement 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 but 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 extentuate 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!

    A Chronology of US Historical Documents, The University of Oaklahoma

     

    Plow & Hearth

     

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