On MARCH 23, 1775, Patrick Henry spoke to the Second Virginia Convention, which was meeting in Richmond’s St. John’s Church due to British hostilities:
“I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery …
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 … to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves …
… Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss …
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?
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 …
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 …
… 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 …”
Patrick Henry continued:
“There is a just God who presides over the destines of nations … who will raise up friends to fight our battle for us.
The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave …
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.”
After Patrick Henry ended his speech, there was stunned silence for several minutes.
Virginia delegate George Mason stated of Patrick Henry’s speech:
“He is by far the most powerful speaker I ever heard.
Every word he says not only engages but commands the attention, and your passions are no longer your own when he addresses them …
He is, in my opinion, the first man upon this continent, as well in abilities as public virtues …
Had he lived in Rome about the time of the first Punic War … Mr. Henry’s talents must have put him at the head of that glorious commonwealth.”
Present at Patrick Henry’s speech was 29 year old Lutheran pastor, John Peter Muhlenberg, who had been elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses.
Inspired, he approached George Washington, who made him a colonel and told him to raise a regiment of troops.
Muhlenberg recruited 300 men from his church and surrounding churches to form the 8th Virginia Regiment.
Muhlenberg’s statue is in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall.
After Patrick Henry’s speech, Virginia’s Provincial Congress passed a resolution for self-defense:
“Resolved, that a well regulated militia composed of gentlemen and yeomen is the natural strength and only security of a free government;
that such a militia in this colony would forever render it unnecessary for the mother country to keep among us … any standing army of mercenary forces, always subversive of the quiet, and dangerous to the liberties of the people.”
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