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BREATHES there the man with soul so dead,
“This is my own, my native land!” Whose heart hath ne'er within him burned, As home his footsteps he hath turned
From wandering on a foreign strand?
SIR WALTER SCOTT
HOW PATRICK HENRY SOUNDED THE
CALL FROM VIRGINIA
In George Washington's own state of Virginia the first of the great American buglers of liberty made himself heard. It was in the city of Richmond and Patrick Henry was speaking to the Virginia Assembly. The colonists had stood all the oppression they could from England's King, and the Assembly faced the serious question: What course shall we now follow?
Some of the members still hoped that England could be induced to repeal her unjust laws, and they wanted the door between them and the mother country left half open so that if things did look better they might still be counted good Englishmen. But Patrick Henry thought differently. He believed that Virginia should no longer submit to British tyranny. Virginia, he insisted, must go bravely out and slam the door behind her, and he made a motion that the colony should raise an army of her own and should put herself "in a posture of defense."
This was going too far for the conservative members. They were not ready for such extreme measures. They needed to be roused, to be led to see that love of liberty must come ahead of love of England. So it remained for Patrick Henry to sound the call, and springing to his feet he made a wonderful speech that thrilled his hearers. When he had finished, the resolutions which he had proposed were carried unanimously.
One who was there says, “Henry rose with an unearthly fire burning in his eyes. The tendons of his neck stood out white and rigid like whipcords. His voice rose louder
and louder, until the walls of the building and all within them seemed to shake and rock. Finally his pale face and glaring eye became terrible to look upon. His last exclamation, 'Give me liberty or give me death!' was like the shout of a leader which turns the rout of battle."
GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME
(Delivered by PATRICK HENRY at Richmond, in the Virginia Assembly, on a Resolution to Put the Commonwealth in a State of Defense, March 23, 1775.)
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 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