Little Bits of History

Patrick Henry

Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 23, 2011

Patrick Henry's "Treason" speech before the House of Burgesses in a painting by Peter F. Rothermel

March 23, 1775: Patrick Henry speaks to the Virginia House of Burgesses at Saint John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia. The House of Burgesses was the legislative body of the colony of Virginia. In the audience for this momentous speech were Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, noted revolutionaries themselves.

Patrick Henry, born in May 1736, was educated at home by his father, an education that included classical Latin. He then studied law on his own and took his examination in Williamsburg in 1760 becoming a lawyer as well as an integral part of the Revolutionary landscape. He was a delegate to the House of Burgesses from 1765-1775 and a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1774-1775.

Henry became a vocal supporter of representation in the governmental process. He deplored the Stamp Act. In 1763, he noted that a King who vetoed laws enacted by the citizenry was more a tyrant than a father figure. He offered seven radical resolutions to the House of Burgesses on May 29, 1765 – five of them adopted with one rescinded the next day. After the War, Henry was the first governor of Virginia, serving five terms. He retired to his home, Red Hill, in 1794 to practice law. Because of poor health, he turned down positions of power within the new Country, including Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Secretary of State.

The speech to the House in 1775 is perhaps his most famous speech. The speech itself lasted less than 10 minutes. He spoke with a passion to the men of power gathered there. He pointed out that although these men were reluctant to take up arms against superior British forces, those forces were converging on the colonies with no enemy in sight except for the colonials themselves. The colonists had failed in all attempts to have a voice in their own governance. Henry cried out, “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” This resounding cry led to the crowd’s responding, “To Arms! To Arms!”

“It is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope. 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… 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.” – Patrick Henry

“Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.” – Patrick Henry

“No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; and by a frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.” – Patrick Henry

“Patrick Henry should come back to see what taxation with representation is like.” – Bob Phillips

Also on this day:
The Man Who Would Be Pope – In 752, Pope Stephen was elected but he died before taking his seat.
Elisha Otis – In 1857, Otis installed the first safety elevator.

Tagged with: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: