Patrick Henry

I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Patrick Henry (29 May 17366 June 1799) was a prominent figure in the American Revolution, known and remembered primarily for his stirring oratory.

QuotesEdit

Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third — may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.
  • A King, by disallowing Acts of this salutary nature, from being the father of his people, degenerated into a Tyrant and forfeits all rights to his subjects' obedience.
    • Speech on the Parson's Cause, in the Hanover County Courthouse (1763)
  • I am not a Virginian, but an American.
    • Speech in the First Continental Congress, Philadelphia (14 October 1774). Compare: "I was born an American; I will live an American; I shall die an American!", Daniel Webster, Speech, July 17, 1850
  • Suspicion is a virtue as long as its object is the public good, and as long as it stays within proper bounds. ... Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that jewel.
  • Show me that 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?
    • Speech on the Federal Constitution, Virginia Ratifying Convention (5 June 1788)
  • 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.
    • Last Will and Testament (20 November 1798), as quoted in Patrick Henry : Life, Correspondences and Speeches (1891) by William Wirt Henry, Vol. H, p. 631.
      • This also often appears (incorrectly) as "I have now disposed of all my property to my family; there is one thing more I wish I could give them, and that is the Christian Religion. If they had that, and I had not given them one shilling, they would be rich; and if they had not that, and I had given them all the world, they would be poor." This version goes back at least to 1823, when it appeared in the 29 November 1823 issue of The Manchester Iris, a Weekly Literary and Scientific Miscellany, vol. II, p. 387. A complete transcription of the will may be found at the Red Hill Patrick Henry Memorial website.
  • Let us trust God and our better judgment to set us right hereafter. United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs. Let us preserve our strength for the French, the English, the Germans, or whoever else shall dare invade our territory, and not exhaust it in civil commotions and intestine wars.
    • Last public speech before his death (4 March 1799); as quoted in Patrick Henry: Life, Correspondences and Speeches (1891) by William Wirt Henry, Vol. 2, p. 609-610

"Give me liberty or give me death!" (1775)Edit

The entire "Liberty or Death" Speech is controversial, as it was not recorded at the time it was given. The text below was based on a later edition by William Wirt and is not closely based on a contemporary record. However, it is still often quoted. See A. Craig Baird, American Public Addresses, 1740-1952, p. 29.

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.
The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.
Speech at the Second Virginia Convention at St. John's Church in Richmond, Virginia (23 March 1775); first published in Life and Character of Patrick Henry (1817) by William Wirt
  • 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 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.
  • It is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope and pride. 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 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 no way of judging of the future but by the past.
    • Compare: "You can never plan the future by the past", Edmund Burke, Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, Vol. iv. p. 55.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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.
    • This is also sometimes quoted as "The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty".
  • 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 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!


MisattributedEdit

  • 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 towards each other.
    • Virginia Bill of Rights, Article 16 (12 June 1776); Henry was on the committee which drafted the Virginia constitution and he supported this Bill, but it is not clear to what extent he was the author of any portion of it. This statement is also sometimes misattributed to James Madison who quoted it in his arguments for the United States Bill of Rights.
  • There is an insidious campaign of false propaganda being waged today, to the effect that our country is not a Christian country but a religious one—that it was not founded on Christianity but on freedom of religion. It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by "religionists", but by Christians—not on religion, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.
    • This has been cited at some sites as being in a speech to the House of Burgesses in May 1765, but the date and quote are both spurious. Patrick Henry never said anything like it; it was written in the 1950s. The writer David Barton misread a book and became in The Myth of Separation (1988) the first person to claim Henry wrote it (see "Fake Quotations: Patrick Henry on “Religionists”" (2009)). On internal evidence alone it could not have been written in the 18th century, for it is anachronistic to have Henry speaking of the colony of Virginia in 1765 as a "nation" that afforded "peoples of other faiths" the "freedom of worship." In fact this statement first appeared in the April 1956 issue of The Virginian in a piece partially about, not by, Patrick Henry, as the next sentence clearly shows: "In the spoken and written words of our noble founders and forefathers, we find symbolic expressions of their Christian faith. The above quotation from the will of Patrick Henry is a notable example." (The "above quotation from the will" which is cited, is also quoted here, as a quote dated 20 November 1798.).
  • The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government — lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.
    • As quoted in The Best Liberal Quotes Ever : Why the Left is Right (2004) by William P. Martin. Though widely attributed to Henry, this statement has not been sourced to any document before the 1990s and appears to be at odds with his beliefs as a strong opponent of the adoption of the US Constitution.

Quotes about HenryEdit

  • One of his neighbors going to see him found him reading the Bible. Holding it up in his hand, he said: "This book is worth all the books that ever were printed, and it has been my misfortune that I have never found time to read it with the proper attention and feeling till lately. I trust in the mercy of Heaven that it is not yet too late."
    • William Wirt Henry, in Patrick Henry : Life, Correspondence, and Speeches (1891), vol. 2, p. 519. He gives the source of this anecdote as "Statement of George Dabney, MS. Letter to Mr. Wirt". Dabney was a lifelong friend of Henry's.

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Last modified on 14 April 2014, at 03:52