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Due to revisionist history and other factors, the average adult American has not heard of Patrick Henry.  If the phrase “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” is mentioned, then about three out of ten adults over the age of 40 may recognize it.  But why did he say it, when did he say it, what was the significance of the remark?


Just who was this Patrick Henry?                                   


 Born May 29, 1736 on a farm in Hanover County in Virginia,

Henry was one of our most prominent Founding Fathers. He was held in high regard by all of his peers and most likely would have been our second President had he any political ambitions on a national level.  He was a very strong Christian and a Lay Preacher.  He also fathered seventeen children.


His very close friend, George Washington, offered him the position of Secretary of State. He was also offered Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Ambassador to Spain and France.  He refused all, including his party’s nomination for the United States Senate.


There was such a strong draft for him to succeed Washington that he took out articles in all of the major newspapers asking people not to vote for him.  He was still fourth in the Electoral College to John Adams.


Henry loved his state of Virginia and was quite content to stay there.

Henry did serve in the Virginia Legislature a total of 25 years and was elected Governor of Virginia for six terms.


Henry’s began his career on a very inauspicious beginning.  He failed as a farmer, and filed bankruptcy after his first commercial venture failed.  His last commercial attempt ended with closing the doors and liquidating assets to pay the liabilities.


 Henry decided to become an attorney, and he was a very successful one. He drew the first Living Trust in America.  The courtroom, however, was his “arena.”  He often had a hypnotic effect on his audiences as he had a bombastic, dramatic and flamboyant style of delivery


He became famous for a case called The Parson’s Cause.  England could pay clergy either in pounds or based on the price of tobacco.  When tobacco became scarce, driving the price up, Parliament tried to renege on the choices.  Henry won the case.


Henry also once heard that three Baptist Pastors had been arrested for speaking on a street corner without a license.  He traveled at great speed to the court house and after watching the proceedings asked the court to be recognized.  In his large authoritarian voice he said “DO I UNDERSTAND THAT THESE MEN HAVE BEEN ARRESTED FOR SPREADING THE WORD OF GOD?  FOR SPEAKING ABOUT GOD?”


After a few moments of silence the defense attorney requested the case to be dismissed and the judge agreed.


He began his rise to national prominence with his speech attacking the Stamp Act.  “Caesar had his Brutus!  King Richard had his Cromwell! And King George III may profit from their example” Thomas Jefferson, listening to this speech later said that “Henry spoke as the poet Homer wrote.”


Henry was a delegate to the First Continental Congress.  There is a plaque in front of Carpenters Hall which records Henry’s first address to the delegates:


“The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, New Englanders are no more. I am not a Virginian but an American.’


Henry was a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in 1775.  John Adams said at the time “There was but one man in Congress, Patrick Henry, who appeared to me to have the sense of the precipice of the danger upon which we would stood and had the courage and the ability to address it.”




From 1765 to 1775, King George III unleashed a series of unpopular taxes; Stamp Act, Townshed Act, Quartering Act.  During the forment that followed these we had the Boston Tea Party as well as the Boston Massacre.


The colonies vainly petitioned the Crown and Parliament to stop these oppressive laws.  To no avail. All eyes were on Virginia. Virginia was the bellwether colony at the time.  Largest in size, it had the most leaders of our nation: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, George Mason but to name a few.


A meeting of the Virginia Provincial Council was held at St John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.  On the fourth day, March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry submitted a motion for the immediate armament of a militia.  Amid cries of “Treason, Treason!” his motion was seconded by Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.


After a long heated debate Henry made the summation speech on behalf of his motion. He called upon God eight times and at least twenty one of his comments came directly or indirectly from the Bible.


Approximately halfway into his speech he said:


“Gentlemen, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm that is now approaching.  We have petitioned, we have remonstrated, we have supplicated, and we have cast ourselves at the foot of the throne, and begged its interposition to resist the tyrannical hands of Parliament and the ministry.


  “Our petitions slighted, our remonstrance’s met with violence and insult, our supplications have been disregarded, and we have been spurned with contempt at the foot of the throne!”


 “After these things, do gentlemen still have fond illusions of hope!  There is no longer any room for hope!  If we would be free, if we mean to hold inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have so long contended, if we mean not basely to abandon the noble cause for which we have so long contended, and to which we have pledge ourselves never to abandon until the glorious cause of our contest shall be obtained, then we must fight!  I repeat it Sir, we must fight!


A call to arms and an appeal to the God of hosts is all that we have left”.


(Several delegates jumped up and said that we were unprepared, needed more time, etc.)


“They tell us Sir, that we are weak, unable to fight such a formidable adversary.  Well then gentlemen, when shall we be stronger?  Next week, next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed and a British soldier is stationed in every house.


Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Or shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs, hugging the elusive phantom of hope, until our enemies have bound us hand and foot?


….three millions of people, armed in the glorious cause of liberty and freedom are invincible against any force our enemies can send against us.

Besides Sir, we do not fight our battles alone.  There is a just God who presides over the destiny of a nation and Who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.  The battle does not go to the strong alone, it goes to the active, the vigilant and the brave.


…It is too late for an election, even if we were base enough to desire it,there can be no retreat from this contest…it would end in chains and slavery, our chains are forged….war is inevitable and let it come, I repeat Sir, let it come.”


(Again several delegates rise to their feet advocating peaceful solutions to the matter)  “Gentlemen, you may cry Peace, Peace!  There is no peace! The war has actually begun, the next clash from the north will bring to our ears the sound of resounding arms, our brethren are already in the field.  Why stand we here idle?


What is it 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 course what others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”


(Henry’s motion carried 65 to 60.  During the entire war less than one third of the colonies supported the war, another one-third gave material aid to the enemy and the other one-third really didn’t care (Editors Note; not much has changed))


Less than 30 days later on April 19th the “shot heard round the world” occurred.  The Battle of Lexington and Concord was the first official battle of the war.


Henry was chosen as a delegate to the Third Continental Congress.  He did not attend because he was Governor of Virginia.  Virginia had already declared its independence in April of 1776.  Henry and Mason had collaborated on Virginias Declaration of Rights which later became the foundation for our Bill of Rights.


Article 16 which Henry wrote said “That religion, or the duty which we owe to our creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence: and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience: and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.”




We would not have a Bill of Rights were it not for George Mason and Patrick Henry.


After the war, he was selected as a delegate to the Fourth Continental Congress.  He did not attend because he was still Governor and as he said at the time “I smelled a rat.”  He later remarked that this was the one decision he regretted for the rest of his life.


James Madison and Alexander Hamilton spearheaded this convention which was held allegedly merely to modify the Articles of Confederation.  The convention was held in secret and the Constitution was the end result.


George Mason, left the Convention without signing the document because it did not contain a Bill of Rights.


The country became bitterly divided.  The Federalists led by Washington, Madison and Hamilton wanted it adopted without amendments.  The Anti-Federalists led by Henry, Mason and others were appalled by the Constitution. 


Henry spoke five hours without stopping, arguing against its ratification in Virginia.  It did pass 81 to 71.  As a concession to Henry and Mason, (and in order to get them to stop blocking his nomination for Congress) James Madison agreed to take THEIR FOURTY AMENDMENTS TO THE CONSTITUTION and do his best to get them through Congress.


 Madison, (perhaps fulfilling the only campaign promise made and kept)  persuaded Congress as a conciliatory gesture, to get twelve through committee and ten adopted.  Those ten were contained in Virginias nineteen Declaration of Rights.


Among Henry’s major concerns were these:

1.     He was afraid that in the hands of the wrong man the office of the Presidency could become a monarchy or dictatorship.

2.     He was frightened over the power of taxation

3.     He had a huge concern about a Standing Army.

(Regarding 2 an 3 Henry said; “I ask you gentlemen, which free nation has ever endured when its government had the power of the sword in one and the power of the purse in the other?”

4.     It had no provision for freedom of the press, religion, and the right to bear arms.



Ponder Henry’s prophetic warning:  “Your President may easily become King, your senate is so imperfectly constructed, that your dearest rights may be sacrificed by what may be a small minority: and a very small minority may continue forever unchangeable in this government, although  horribly defective. Where are your checks in this government?  Your strongholds will be in the hands of your enemies. Show me the age and country where the rights and liberties of the people were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men, without a consequent loss of liberty?


I say that the loss of that dearest privilege has ever followed, with absolute certainty.



If your American chief is a man of ambition and abilities, how easy will it is for him to render himself absolute…And sir, will the American spirit solely relieve you when this happens? 


If you have a good President, senators and representatives, there is no danger. But can this be expected from human nature?  Without real checks, it will not suffice that some of them are good…. (They) will have a natural weakness. Virtue will slumber; the wicked will be continually watching: consequently you will be undone. If you depend upon your President’s and senator’s patriotism, you are gone…We ought to be exceedingly cautious in giving up this life, this soul!”


What prophetic insights Henry had as all of his worst fears have materialized time after time.


George Mason said “In my opinion, Patrick Henry was the first man upon the Continent as regards to abilities and public virtues.




Henry retired to his estate at Red Hill and continued to practice law.  George Washington, like Henry, had written of their visions of the Civil War which occurred in 1861. Washington already saw the beginnings of this schism and begged Henry to come out of retirement and run for a seat in the Virginia House.


Henry had been in declining health but acceded to his wishes.  He was elected but died before taking office on June 7, 1799 at the age of 63.


As his family gathered around him, he turned to his physician Dr. Cabal who was not a Christian.


“I am going to show you how a Christian meets his maker.”  Henry led his family in a short prayer, thanking God for all of his blessings. He died after taking a vial of mercury.


Henry’s will concludes with these remarks: “This is all the inheritance I can give to my dear family.  The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed.”


Henry’s tombstone simply says “Patrick Henry, His fame his best epitaph.”


Oh where oh where is our Patrick Henry for today?



This author’s close friend Lance Hurley wrote this article.  Lance is the founder of Patrick Henry Ministries.  For thirteen years he has traveled the United States portraying Patrick Henry. Lance speaks at churches, political conventions, trade shows, public and private schools, etc.  The author has seen his presentation and highly recommends his ministry and encourages you to have him come speak to your church, etc.  Please visit his website www.HURLEYPATRIOT.ORG You can call Lance at 623 594 8869 to discuss his ministry.



Remember, freedom isn't free.  God Bless you, and God, please bless the United States of America.