"Give Me Liberty or Death!" - Where Patric Henry Said Those Famous Words

In American annals no political speech, unless it be Webster's Reply to Hayne, ever made more stir or won more fame than did PatrickHenry's appeal of 1775.

". . Give me liberty,i,or give me ath!" this much we often quote; but what more do we remember? And where were these words uttered? Before the Continental Congress in Philadelphia?

No: it was before a Virginia convention in Richmond. Was the convention held in the capitol on Shockoe Hill? No, for the capitol was not begun until 1785; it was based on plans that Jefferson supplied of a rarely beautiful Roman temple.

Where Patric Henry Said The Famous Phrase Liberty or Death

© Underwood & Underwood

If you are a visitor in Richmond, you may readily learn the answer. At Broad and Twenty-fifth streets stands St. John's Episcopal Church—"Old St. John's," natives call it. It is within comfortable walking distance from the heart of the town. In Old St. John's flamed up the ardor of Patrick Henry's patriot souk The pew from which he spoke that day is marked by a white memorial tablet.

The church dates from 1740, and was therefore once a mission of the Church of England and within the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London. In every respect it was a strange setting for what has been called Patrick Henry's individual declaration of war.

The old building has in later years been enlarged, but the spacious churchyard, with its noble trees and many archaic gravestones, preserves something of its ancient mien.

Hither, in that distant March, came the delegates to the convention. Not a few of the more prominent were, by tradition and temperament, conservatives: such were Edmund Pendleton, and Col. Richard Bland, and Col. Benjamin Harrison of Berkeley.

The Boston Tea-party had been held more than a year before; Parliament had closed Boston Port; the first Continental Congress had met; it was less than a month before the events of Lexington and Concord.

Yet these Virginians were not inclined to speak of war as inevitable—which is not surprising, for until March 28, 1775, no public man in America had openly spoken of war as inevitable.

On March 23, Patrick Henry presented to the Convention a set of resolutions for the arming of the Virginia militia and the placing of the colony in "a posture of defense." On the 28th, he supported them, boldly crying out: . . . "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!" A clergyman who heard that speech told afterward of the fire that burned in the plain young lawyer's eye, of the tones that thrilled in his voice.

From a calm beginning his utterance grew in intensity and fulness. In his earnestness, the tendons of his neck stood out like whipcords. Men leaned forward in their seats to hear him, their faces strained and pale with emotion.

Then burst forth that tremendous peroration: "Why stand we here idle? What is it that the 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!" The resolutions were passed. The trumpet-call of the Revolution had been sounded—there in Old St. John's.

By George S. Bryan.

Source: THE MENTOR, Volume 9, Number 6, July 1, 1921, Page 35

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