March 23, 2018
Thomas Jefferson surveyed the audience, analyzing the faces of those listening to the speech. A fellow lawyer and Patriot, he appreciated Patrick’s ability to stir the hearts and minds of those in attendance. Time would show he was witnessing a speech of prophetic importance.
“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.”
The 120 delegates were still and silent as Patrick presented his case for his proposal. Even though he was addressing the president of the Convention, the delegates were mesmerized by Patrick’s every word whether they agreed with him or not.
“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.”
General George Washington shifted in his seat as Patrick’s words penetrated his soul. Others leaned in as the fires of freedom and independence were kindled deep inside them.
“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;”
Raising his hands as if in chains, Patrick broke them apart declaring, “but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” before simulating plunging an ivory letter opener into his chest.
Patrick Henry took his seat as the other delegates sat speechless for several minutes. He knew he was facing varied and diverse opinions in the room. Some delegates remained loyal to the crown while others feared war with the well-organized British forces. However, Patriots like Henry realized war with Britain was inevitable, whether the colonists wanted it or not, and the Red Coats were already fighting. When the votes were cast, Henry’s speech moved just enough delegates to barely pass his proposed resolution authorizing a Virginia militia for defense purposes.
John Murray, the Earl of Dunmore, remained the Royal Governor of Virginia and pushed back against colonial organization. Commonly known as Lord Dunmore, he ignored and then dissolved Virginia’s House of Burgesses of the Colonial Assembly in 1774. (see ) As a result, the Second Virginia Convention delegates decided not to meet in Williamsburg, the state’s capital, fearing Dunmore’s interference. Instead, they assembled in Richmond at St. John’s Church where Henry delivered his speech on March 23, 1775.
Since the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765, Henry and other Patriots began openly rejecting Britain’s tyrannical behavior, demanding “No Taxation Without Representation.” Patriots in Boston took the lead in the resistance, guided by Samuel Adams under the Liberty Tree. (see ) Regardless of the colonists repeated requests for redress of their grievances, tensions continued to rise over the years as the king and Parliament dismissed their pleas. Bostonians were instead greeted with more taxes and the arrival of British soldiers to enforce said taxes, leading to such events as the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre. (see , and )
Henry highlighted his concerns regarding the large British military presence at the beginning of his speech, arguing that Great Britain was laying a course for war. (see ) He noted, what “conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years” justified their hopes of reconciliation “with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House.” Cautioning the delegates that Britain’s actions speak louder than their words, Henry advised, “Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss.”
Henry continued his warnings, pointing to the British armies and navies invading America’s shores. “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.” As a climax to his point, Henry asked why would the king do this, “if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it?” He then blatantly stated, “They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other.”
As part of the First Continental Congress the previous fall, Henry and the other members of Congress sent a petition to King George III on October 25 detailing their grievances along with a request for their correction. (see ) Many of Virginia’s delegates still held out hope for an answer from the King that never would come. However, he did condemn the American’s “daring spirit of resistance and disobedience to the law,” in late 1774, a sentiment that had already spread throughout the colonies.
Henry reminded the delegates, “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!” (see and ) He then presented the only path the colonists had left. “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!”
Henry’s speech resonated with enough delegates for them to narrowly approve his proposal, which stood in support of Boston regarding Britain’s attacks. Nevertheless, they still unanimously acknowledged “our worthy Governor Lord Dunmore, for his truly noble, wise and spirited Conduct in the late Expedition against our Indiana Enemy,” referencing his defeat of the Shawnee at the Battle of Point Pleasant. (see ) However, colonists soon began questioning Dunmore’s trustworthiness as he quickly became brazenly hostile towards Virginians. Ranting to a councilman, he threatened to “declare Freedom to the Slaves, and reduce the City of Williamsburg to ashes” if attacked. He proclaimed, “I once fought for the Virginians. By God, I would let them see that I could fight against them.” The Point Pleasant soldiers already considered Dunmore a traitor to the Americans, seemingly setting them up to be slaughtered by the Shawnee. Now his actions were making it more and more evident to the rest of Virginia as word of his conduct spread.
Because of Henry’s speech, Dunmore ordered the confiscation of Williamsburg’s public gunpowder supply a month after the Convention. Fifteen barrels were secretly removed from the city’s magazine on April 21. This was just two days after the Red Coats marched on Lexington and Concord near Boston, Massachusetts, in efforts to not only raid and destroy their armories, but to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock. (see )
Known as the Gunpowder Incident, Virginians immediately mustered the Hanover militia led by Henry, and headed towards Williamsburg. Furious with Henry’s demand for the return of or compensation for the stolen gunpowder, Dunmore published an edict against Henry on May 6. However, as Henry and his militia waited at Doncastle’s Ordinary, an inn fifteen miles from Williamsburg, word was received that the gunpowder was paid for, postponing bloodshed in Virginia for the moment. Nevertheless, they were also informed the war had already begun with the Battles at Lexington and Concord.
Lord Dunmore fled his Williamsburg palace on June 9, 1775, ending the royal government in Virginia. A year later, on June 29, 1776, the Fifth Virginia Convention elected their first governor of the independent Commonwealth of Virginia, Patrick Henry.
Liberty, while Loyalists, or Tories, continued to support King George, armed forces were entering the colonies for no other purpose but to enslave the colonists. As the British tried to raid the public armories near Boston, and successfully confiscating gunpowder in Williamsburg, their motives were obvious. It was evident they planned to removed the settlers’ ability to fight back so they could completely conquer and control the Americans. As a result, James Madison drafted the declaring a citizen's right to bear arms “shall not be infringed.” (see )
Yet here we are again, Liberty, two hundred and forty-three years later, having the same argument. Anti-gun advocates demand the government confiscates our guns while pro-Second Amendment supporters repeat Patrick Henry’s plea. Many other countries have had this same dilemma, with the vast majority ending in a tyrannical dictatorship taking their guns followed by the slaughter of millions of civilians. (see )
A prominent voice in the Patriot’s cry against British tyranny, Henry had made another passionate speech on the floor of the First Continental Congress in which he declared, “The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers and New Englanders are no more. I am not a Virginian; I am an American.” For a solid decade, citizens have been divided, categorized and sorted. Political machines then use social media, as well as main stream media, to pit those groups against each other, planting and fostering hatred for one another. This only helps those who crave power, and they are perfectly fine in destroying the solidarity of the country to get it.
Henry did not mince words as he began his speech. “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.” Liberty, this is exactly why I refuse to allow political correctness and progressive bullying to shove me into silence.
It is imperative that we continue civil and honest debate if we wish to keep America free. The distinctions between conservatives, progressives, anarchists, libertarians, Christians, Jews, atheists, Muslims, heterosexuals, homosexuals, transgenders, blacks, whites, natives and immigrants are no more. We are not defined by our groups. We are Americans. It is time that we put aside are differences and unite against those who want and need the demise of our rights for them to succeed.
That’s my 2 cents.
GIVE ME LIBERTY