Patrick Henry’s Finest Hour: Give me Liberty or give me death


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There comes a time in all of our lives when we must take a stand; when riding the fence just doesn’t get it done.   It was 236 years ago this past Wednesday 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!

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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.

Original Post: The Sentry Journal


  • Many have heard the last line of that speech, but have no idea where it came from. It’s a good thing John publishes that every year.

    • It captures the passion for liberty we should all feel and embrace. Where are the Patrick Henrys today? Thanks for the comments.

  • Being a Richmonder, I have had occasion to visit St. John’s and experience a re-enactment of this speech – very powerful stuff.

    My favorite part is how he speaks about the last ten years of English rule of the colonies, and how anyone can expect the future to be better. If more people would use the past as a guide for future behavior of not only our enemies like Islam and Leftists, but also the general slide and decline of our federal government. This blind hope for a better future is not only deleterious, it is suicidal.

    • I would love to see the re-enactment. This speech was one of the most important speeches in our nation’s history. It should be read aloud each year. All I can do is post it each year on it’s anniversary. How we need this kind of love and selfishness for liberty again.

  • Don

    Amazing, refreshing and inspiring. Thank you, John.

    • I thought so too Don. Patrick Henry was a powerful speaker with such a profound passion for liberty. As I have stated in other comments, we need that kind of passion today.

  • Where are the Patrick Henrys today?

    Look inward. That’s the only place he can be found.

    Americans really need to ask themselves … What kind of country do I want to live in?

    For those o us who find inspiration in the founding, we have to ask ourselves: How far are we willing to go? What sacrifices are we willing to make? How important are Natural Rights? Is government subordinate to the people? Are we willing to give up programs we currently support since they’re not allowed according to a plain language reading of the Constitution? Will we put our moral and philosophical beliefs above partisanship and political expediency? Will we fight for the “extreme” liberty Patrick Henry endorsed?

    We can’t wait for someone else to do it for us, the “group” to agree, or hope for a “leader” (demagogue) to guide the way. If we want liberty, it has to come from within.

    • Very well said CL. I’m back in PA for a couple of weeks to help my mother. As I was on the road traveling from ND to here I did a great deal of thinking. I asked myself how far was I prepared to go? I’m going to do a post on the answer I came up with. Thanks for the comments.

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  • MK

    I think there are plenty of people in the west who are sick and tired of the soft fascism that’s being crammed down our throats in various forms. And we’re ready to fight, the only thing missing is someone we can rally around, someone who can lead us. I have a bad feeling that things have to get worse before that person will emerge.

    • Thanks for the comments MK. What has happened is that people are starting to loose faith in the system. They seed the double standard and wrongs going on in our government and feel as if they are helpless to do anything about it. I do believe that Patrick Henry types will indeed emerge from the shadows again, but I believe things will need to get much worse.

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  • We certainly do need our “Patrick Henry’s” of today. We need those who are willing to stand up and lead this fight against tyranny. Thanks for posting a great, moving speech John.

    • Thanks for the comments Teresa. I post it every year to remind people where we came from and who we can be once again.

  • Sorry I took so long to respond. This is an inspiring post. We need thousands of Patrick Henry’s. I also have to agree with CL. I would also add that the sacrifices might be even more steep. As with the Founders, some may be ruined by this stand, or even worse.

    • Put it in this perspective Matt. When our founders spoke as Patrick Henry and pledged their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor they were committing high treason punishable by death. They realized that freedom and liberty were worth the risk. Where is that same fire today?