Patrick Henry lived his entire life in what was to become the Commonwealth of Virginia. His life spanned 1736-1799. He served as Virginia's first and sixth governor.
Elected to the House of Burgesses from rural Louisa County in Virginia, he is most famous for a speech given 23 March 1775 at the Virginia Convention held at the St. John's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.
Still there, as the oldest church in Virginia, the church is located at 2401 East Broad Street.
The church was selected as the site to house the Virginia Convention to determine if Virginia would send troops to assist in the Revolutionary War.
The speech is fiery, and features a couple of themes:
1. The past will contribute to the future, so America needed to break from the past.
2. We should not be swayed by the "illusions of hope." (presciently mentioned twice)
3. The name of God is invoked frequently. After all, they are in church!
A fierce proponent of what he called Republicanism (that leaders should be elected and not inherit public office) and Anti-Federalism (he was a main antagonist of James Madison and essentially forced the adoption of the Bill of Rights), he remained true to the cause of America, and liberty, until his death.
It only takes about three minutes to read the speech. But some pertinent parts are offered here:
" NO man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope that it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen, if entertaining, as I do, opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely, and without reserve. 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 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 towards the majesty of Heaven which I revere above all earthly kings.
Mr. President it is natural to 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 the 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 of 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 ...
In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. 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!
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. 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 in 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! "