March 23: Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!

This Day in History

Rumors of revolution circled the brisk Spring air as the Second Virginia Convention huddled together at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia.

A few months prior, the First Continental Congress had signed a petition to King George III to repeal the Intolerable Acts (a series of laws passed by Parliament meant to punish the colonies after the Boston Tea Party). 

On this day in 1775, the Virginia Congress convened to discuss negotiations with Parliament. Among the throng of patriots gathered to determine their colonies’ fate was George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry.

The latter, known for his mellifluous speaking abilities, rose and addressed the congress with one of the most inspirational speeches in American history. He was also known for his staunch patriotic stance.

After the Stamp Act of 1765, Henry was outspoken in his opposition of British rule, going so far as to suggest that King George risked the same fate as Caesar if he continued his tyrannous acts. Needless to say, Henry’s famous lines were not a passive, peaceful advocacy for the British throne. The following is a segment from his fiery speech:

Patrick Henry

“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…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?

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…

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…

The war is inevitable and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace…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!”

Although he did not sign the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, Patrick Henry was instrumental in the founding of United States of America. For his service and patriotic loyalty, he was bestowed the honor of being Virginia’s first Governor in 1776. His call to arms speech was and is a clarion call for all liberty-loving people.

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