Revolutionary firebrand Patrick Henry bellowed, “Give me liberty or give me death!” while proposing to fellow Virginia leaders that the colony raise troops to battle the British on this day in history, March 23, 1775.
“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” the rousing orator reportedly thundered before the Second Virginia Convention at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond.
“Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
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His demand that Virginia form citizen-soldier companies of cavalry and militia in the cause of liberty proved prescient.
Just four weeks later, on April 19, open hostilities broke out between armed colonists and crown at the Battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, igniting the American Revolution.
Henry’s fellow Virginian, George Washington, arrived in New England in July to lead its militiamen.
It was a symbolic and physical union of the far-flung northern and southern colonies in common heroic cause against the age-old system of hereditary monarchy that had ruled the world for time immemorial.
“I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” — Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775
Washington most likely heard Henry’s stirring call to arms.
He was one of about 120 American patriots from Virginia, including Declaration of Independence signatories Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee and Benjamin Harrison, called to consider the course of the colony’s future at the convention.
They met in Richmond instead of Williamsburg, then the capital of Virginia, 50 miles away, to avoid the gaze of royal governor Lord Dunmore John Murray.
“Henry pleaded with the delegates to recognize that the presence of [British] armies and navies was an act of hostility, not of reconciliation,” writes the website of Historic St. John’s Church, where he delivered the stirring oratory.
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“He warned them that the time for action had arrived, that no matter how weak they perceived themselves to be, they would be even more vulnerable if disarmed and in the presence of the British army.”
St. John’s hosts a reenactment of Henry’s speech every March 23.
“Henry pleaded with the delegates to recognize that the presence of [British] armies and navies was an act of hostility.” — Historic Church of St. John’s
“One voice can change the world,” the church website notes.
Henry’s demand of liberty at all costs became a patriotic rallying cry for the American people during the War of Independence. It stirred future generations in the global fight for freedom.
His speech, though powerful, passionate and patriotic, was recorded only years later.
“Henry’s first biographer, William Wirt of Maryland, was three years old in 1775,” writes the website of Colonial Williamsburg.
“An assistant federal prosecutor in Aaron Burr’s trial for treason at Richmond in 1807, and later attorney general of the United States, Wirt began to collect materials for the biography in 1808, nine years after Henry’s death. From the recollections of men like Thomas Jefferson, Wirt reconstructed an account of Henry’s life.”
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The fiery moment in Richmond was among the milestones of Henry’s life Wirt chronicled years later.
The combative climax of his speech before the convention is largely undisputed, however.
“Henry’s words were not transcribed, but no one who heard them forgot their eloquence, or Henry’s closing words,” states Colonial Williamsburg.
Henry served nobly in service of Virginia and then the cause of American independence.
He spent more than 20 years as a member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses, signed the Declaration of Independence at the risk of his life, fortune and sacred honor, and served five terms as Virginia’s first governor.
“He may only be known for one speech, but that speech represents a lifetime of work in the pursuit of liberty.” — American Battlefield Trust
Henry died amid a battle with stomach cancer on June 6, 1799.
“Every Virginia paper devoted long sections lamenting his loss and the impact he had on American and Virginian society,” writes the American Battlefield Trust.
“He may only be known for one speech, but that speech represents a lifetime of work in the pursuit of liberty.”
Source: Fox News