Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!

In my History class, I was assigned a 5 page essay on Patrick Henry's famous speech, "Give me liberty or give me death!" Then, I was to cite specific quotes and relate them to The American Revolution and the American Civil War. Enjoy, leave comments. OMGyes
Patrick Henry is regarded as one of the most renowned orators of the 18th Century. He compelled his audiences with talk of liberty, sectionalism and other issues pertaining to the government. Patrick Henry delivered this specific speech in St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia to the Virginia House of Burgesses on March 23, 1775. He created many opinions amongst his court with talk of militia round-up and liberty from Great Britain. Henry became a representative of America’s obstacle for popular sovereignty and liberty. Henry’s “Give me Liberty or Give me Death” speech is described as “the most famous cry for freedom in the world”. Although this speech was delivered during the time of the American Revolution, the principles are easily related to the Civil War.

The American Revolution is by definition, a period in which the Thirteen Colonies gained independence from Great Britain to become the United States of America. A little after the mid- 18th century is when the revolutionary era initiated. Britain enforced a series of taxes on the colonies because the colonists lacked representation amongst the British Parliament. Some of these taxes included the Sugar Act, Currency Act and Quartering Act. This violated the colonists’ rights as Englishmen. The colonists had to pay for imported molasses, were prohibited to issue any paper currency and had to allow British militia to stay in their homes. Further Acts and Congressional meetings led up to the actual War.

“It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace ” but there is no peace. The war is actually begun (Henry)”. When Patrick Henry states this in the last part of his speech, he refers to how both wars have taken a turn for the worse. The war has already begun and now it’s time to face it with whatever power remains. “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 (Henry)”. Henry said this to Peyton Randolph, President of the Continental Congress. He explained to Randolph that even though the colonists have done everything in their power to petition, protest and plead against the Parliament, Great Britain had ignored and insulted their efforts, thus bringing a lack of hope. However, Henry believed they shouldn’t give up easily. “… 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 (Henry)”. Henry wanted to fight for what was left of hope and resilience for the United States of America.

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery (Henry)”? This specific quote refers to the Civil War. Patrick Henry said this because life is too dear for it to be reduced to slavery and chains. The American Civil War is known for war between the United States of America, or the Union and the southern slave states, or the Confederacy. The Civil War was an event that lasted for five years as well as a culmination of four decades. It included sectional conflict and ultimately political, economical and social differences between the North and South. “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 (Henry)”. This rather lengthy quote pertains to Great Britain and demonstrates how they deceive the colonists, whereas the colonists believed in the Parliament’s “room for change”.

“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 (Henry)”! Henry believed that fighting battles pertained to not only resiliency, but to courageous and cautious individuals. Because he believed this, the last part of his quote is almost like a bantering tone. “Let it come…” states a confidence of how inevitable the Revolutionary War was. No matter what, the colonists were prepared to fight. “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 (Henry)”? Henry was rather impatient when he said this. He basically asked Randolph when the colonists were going to be strong enough to fight Great Britain and how they shouldn’t wait any longer; even if British soldiers are quartered in colonists’ homes.

“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 (Henry)”? Patrick Henry generally says that everything the British ministry has done does not change, even with the experience he’s gained over the last ten years. He asks Randolph, “What makes you think the British ministry will change now that we know what they’re capable of?” “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 (Henry)”. Patrick Henry delivered this at the beginning of his speech and made note of his opinions being spoken to the House. Had he not delivered his opinions of freedom and slavery, he would be charged with treason amongst his country. He believed that the colonists were forever in favor of God whom it is he that provided them with responsibility and trust.

Patrick Henry’s speech proposes many resilient actions against the British Parliament. However, throughout history, Henry has been known for the strongest and profound quote of the 18th century. “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death (Henry)”! This profound quote connects with both the American Revolution and the Civil War. During the Revolutionary era, colonists began protesting, “Live free or die.” They believed in living as an independent individual. If the colonists were not granted this liberty, they would rather have their life taken because it was worthless. This also applies to the culmination of the Civil War. Because the North and South regions were fighting over sectional differences, southern slave states were supportive of slavery. The enslaved race applies to Henry’s quote. They as anyone else wanted to be free from southern plantation owners. Although Conscience Whigs (Northerners) were supportive of the African Americans, the enslaved people would rather die than have to be owned as “property” to Caucasians. Patrick Henry advocated liberty and changed the face of the United States of America.
Posted on March 23rd, 2008 at 10:12pm


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