Patrick Henry: Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death

Written by on March 23, 2013 in Christian History, Founding Fathers
Patrick Henry Cropped

Patrick Henry

On March 23, 1775, the Second Virginia Convention had convened at St. John’s Church in Richmond, away from the watchful eye of the Loyalist Governor. They had assembled to consider some weighty matters concerning the British tyranny and oppression of the King of England.  A thirty-nine year old delegate from Hanover County named Patrick Henry took a seat in the church.  Henry listened as many babbled on and on in favor of continued conciliatory measures and more pleading with Parliament.  Finally, the delegate from Hanover rose from his pew to address the wavering assembly of Virginians, and with great passion in his voice, this is some of what he said:

“Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope… but… let us not deceive ourselves, sir… If we wish to be free… 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…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… 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 [2 Chron. 32:8]. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone [Eccl. 9:11]; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.  Besides, sir…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 [Jer. 6:14].

"Give me liberty or give me death"

“Give me liberty or give me death”

The war is actually begun! …. Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle [Matt. 20:6]? 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!”

Patrick Henry, who first learned his oratory skills by listening to Presbyterian Pastor Samuel Davies, laced his passionate call to arms with allusions to Scripture and that is another lost episode in American history.

Read and Reflect: Read 2 Chron. 32:1-8 and reflect on the words of Hezekiah to Judah and compare them to Patrick Henry’s speech.

Prayer: God of our forefathers, we praise you for your Providential presence from age to age to defend, protect, and provide help, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

*Source Citation: William Wirt, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (Philadelphia: James Webster, 1817), 120-23.  Bracketed items added.

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