Go back to Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!

Patrick Henry (1736 - 1799)
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!

(March 23, 1775, at the third Virginia convention held in Richmond to
discuss relations with Great Britain)

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 the 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 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 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!

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. 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.

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.

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; but as for me,
give me liberty or give me death!

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