Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Give me Liberty or give me death!

St. John's Church, Richmond, Virginia
March 23, 1775.

MR. PRESIDENT: 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 fulfil 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 offence, 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 these war-like 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 free² if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending²if 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!
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. Three 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 inevitable²and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace²but 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: Wirt, William. Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry . (Philadelphia) 1836, as reproduced in The World's Great Speeches, Lewis Copeland and Lawrence W. Lamm, eds., (New York) 1973.

Patrick Henry was a great champion of the American Revolution and he was a great servant of the most high God. The Second Virginia Convention met March 20th, 1775 at a church in Richmond to discuss the escalating tensions between the colonies and Great Britain. Patrick Henry used many clear references to scripture in his speech to the Convention, igniting the passion of the delegates. He suggested Virginia enter into a state of defense and raise a militia.
Patrick Henry was probably the most gifted orator in Virginia during the time leading up to the American Revolutionary War. He had a strong passion for Christianity and liberty. His most famous speech is now referred to as the “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. He began the speech addressing delegates whom might disagree with his position, indicating he would not censor himself regarding the plain truth of the matter. He then stated, “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.” This reference to scripture indicates the average man's responsibility to God and country. This would have appealed to the colonists and delegates because of the strong Christian attitude in the colonies at that time, due in part to the Great Awakening that had occurred.
The first reference to scripture that I took particular note of was when Patrick Henry confronts the idea of speaking truth, suggesting that he would not accommodate those who claim to have eyes, but don't see, and claim to have ears, but don't hear. This is a clear reference to Jeremiah 5:21 (NIV) which states”Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear.” Jeremiah was a prophet known for constant intercession between God and his people in weaping prayer. The power of this reference is also important because at the time of Jeremiah, Israel had gone astray from God, and was about to be conquered by a foreign nation, Babylon. The delegates may have drawn a powerful comparison between their desperate situation in the colonies and the situation of Israel before the Babylonian captivity.
The second reference to scripture that was of particular mention was when Henry said that the delegates should not allow themselves to be betrayed with a kiss by Great Britain. This is obviously a reference to Matthew 26:49. When Judas betrayed Jesus, he identified Jesus to the Romans by kissing him on the cheek. This would have been a powerful reference to the delegates, as the betrayal of Jesus was such a powerfully awful thing to consider, for a Christian. At the time Great Britain was exchanging somewhat amicable correspondence with the colonies. Some delegates hoped to maintain peace, but Henry pointed out that the words of Great Britain were appealing, but their actions, by the presence of armed troops and naval forces told a different story.
The third reference that warranted noting was when Patrick Henry stated, “There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.” This is probably a reference to Joshua 23:10 (NIV) “One of you routs a thousand, because the LORD your God fights for you, just as he promised.” It could also be a reference to Exodus 14:14. This was a powerful way for Patrick Henry to stir the courage of the delegates and Virginians. Fear was probably a great cause for the colonies lack of action, and letting the delegates and Virginians know God would fight for them would encourage them greatly. It's interesting to note that Henry's prediction was correct. God assisted the colonies with support from two Native American tribes, the Spanish, and primarily the French.
Patrick Henry makes use of scriptural references for several important reasons. For one, Christianity was very important in the colonies. It was an important part of everyday life, and more so than today, people in the colonies viewed God as sovereign over the nation and it's future. For two, the American Revolutionary attitude drew many ideas and considerations from the Great Awakening that had occurred in the colonies just prior to the beginnings of dissension. Many of the delegates would've taken special consideration of scriptural references due to the fact that many of their constituents were children of the Great Awakening. For three, there was a great state of fear and uncertainty in the colonies at that time. It was wise of Patrick Henry to appeal to the delegates in their fear, that there was certainty and hope in an all powerful God. For four, the convention took place in a church, and within those walls the delegates might have been more receptive to Biblical principles.
Patrick Henry was a great patriot and Christian, and paved the way for Virginia leading the way in the fight against the British army. Patrick Henry's use of scriptural references definitely played a key part in swaying the delegates and citizens to action. He obviously had a keen understanding of the Bible and made fine use of scriptural references to persuade Virginia that war was the only way. Henry backed up his words with action by leading resistance in Virginia against the royal governor, and later by fighting in the war. He was a great orator, statesmen, and servant to his God.

Henry, Patrick. “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!” Speech to the Virginia Convention, March 23, 1775.
Brands, H.W., T.H. Breen, R.Hal Williams, and Ariela J. Gross. "Chapter 5." American Stories A History of the United States. Boston, MA: Pearson, 2011. 111-137. Print.
NIV Bible. Large Print ed. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd :, 2007. Print.