“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!”
(Patrick Henry at St. John’s Church, Richmond, Virginia on March 23, 1775 to the Second Virginia Convention in favor of the patriot cause.)
“Patrick Henry’s career was celebrated the most for his speeches. His performances summoned the memory of ancient heroes of the Greek and Roman republics who rallied their citizens to a noble and urgent cause with orations that changed history and made history themselves. But one of Henry’s speeches thunders above his others in American patriotic memory: the address to the Virginia Convention at St. John’s Church in Richmond in 1775, when he shamed reluctant colonial delegates into taking defensive measures against the British. Tension between crown and colonists was at a historic high, and many Americans expected war to begin shortly. Some Virginia delegates continued to push for reconciliation with Britain, which to Henry seemed cowardly. “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!” he declared, his voice echoing in the rafters of the white clapboard church.” (Kidd)
Henry’s resolution declaring that the United Colonies should separate from the control of Great Britain passed.
The future Virginia governor Edmund Randolph said the speech, “blazed so as to warm the coldest heart. . . when he launched forth in solemn tones various causes of scruple against oppressors, that the British king was lying prostrate from the thunder of heaven.”
Thomas Marshall told his son, John Marshall (future Chief Justice of the United States) the speech was “one of the boldest, vehement, and animated pieces of eloquence that had ever been delivered.”
George Mason (drafter of the Virginia Declaration of Rights) proclaimed: “Every word he says not only engages but commands the attention, and your passions are no longer your own when he addresses them.”
His unwillingness to support the US Constitution has blackened his legacy in the minds of some, but his contributions to the patriots cause shouldn’t be forgotten.
Without a doubt, Patrick Henry’s rousing call to arms was the most electrifying speech of the Revolution!
Source: “Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots” by Thomas S. Kidd