The following short speech on freedom and liberty by my father, Ron Mann, is appropriate for today’s world, although it was written over 10 years ago.
Patrick Henry gave his most famous speech on March 23, 1775, in Richmond, Virginia, where he argued to mobilize for military action against the British – at the time the members of the 2nd Virginia Convention were undecided on this matter. Thomas Marshall, who was present at this speech, gave utterance to the unanimous verdict of all who heard it, when he described it “as one of the most bold, vehement, and animated pieces of eloquence that had ever been delivered.” Indeed it was so powerful that it consolidated all the forces in attendance to military resistance against the Crown.
Prior to Patrick Henry’s remarks the opposition had delivered several eloquent speeches as to why Virginia should remain neutral, await further information from Congress and continue to hope for a reconciliation with the Crown. However, then it was his turn.
“Henry arose with an unearthly fire burning in his eye. He commenced somewhat calmly—but the smothered excitement began more and more to play upon his features and thrill in the tones of his voice. The tendons of his neck stood out white and rigid like whipcords. His voice rose louder and louder, until the walls of the building and all within them seemed to shake and rock in its tremendous vibrations. Finally his pale face and glaring eyes became terrible to look upon. Men leaned forward in their seats with their heads strained forward, their faces pale and their eyes glaring like the speaker’s. His last exclamation—‘Give me liberty or give me death’—was like the shout of the leader which turns back the rout of battle! The old clergyman said, when Mr. Henry sat down, he (the auditor) felt sick with excitement. Every eye yet gazed entranced on Henry. It seemed as if a word from him would have led to any wild explosion of violence. Men looked beside themselves.”
The power of his conviction mandated the only course and that was the pursuit of Liberty. Now, let us return to hear the exact words of Patrick Henry which galvanized the delegates and justified the comments of Mr. Thomas Marshall. After giving a brief history of the events to that date and the hopelessness of waiting for a reconciliation with the Crown he said:
“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!
Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of the means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against 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.
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! 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!” —Full text of Patrick Henry’s speech (HTML, PDF).
The penalty for insurrection against the Crown was death. The delegates had, by agreeing to the resolution, signed their own death warrant. Slowly at first and picking up speed with time, the other colonies eventually agreed to separation from England. Henry’s words were resoundingly vindicated on July 4, 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed. By 1783, when the Paris Peace Treaty was signed, over twenty-five thousand patriots had given their lives for freedom. Tens of thousands more had suffered loss of limb, family and homes. The price of freedom was substantial. Over the intervening years over 1,100,000 Americans have given their lives for the freedom we enjoy at a cost of over 600 billion dollars and an incalculable amount of anguish and suffering. Freedom has proven to be costly, but if the dead could speak they would probably with a resounding voice say it was worth it! Let us not ever allow the Freedoms we have been given be traded for slavery by our inaction or neglect.
With the erosion of Freedom in America largely attributable to the unprecedented growth in national debt and the continual expansion of the federal government it is time the states stand up and exercise their Constitutional rights on our behalf. Over 100 years ago William George Jordan described the consolidation of power at the federal level this way.
“The Federal Government, following the spirit of the age, is itself becoming a trust—a great governing trust, crowding out, and threatening openly still further to crowd out, the States, the small jobbers in legislation. As the wealth of the nation is concentrating in the hands of the few, so is the guidance of the destinies of the American people becoming vested in the firm, tense fingers of a small legislative syndicate. The nation soon will be no longer a solid impregnable pyramid, standing on the broad, firm safe base of the united action of a united people, but a pyramid dangerously balanced on its apex—the uncertain wisdom of a few. …
This centralization has not been the work of one administration. It has been evolving for years. During the present term it has merely assumed a more vivid, picturesque, startling phase, sufficiently distinct to be portentous, but this centralization is natural and under past conditions inevitable. If there is today Federal usurpation of States rights it is so merely because the States have largely abrogated their rights through disuse—through lack of proper exercise. The States themselves have been to blame.” – William George Jordan, The House of Governors, 1907
These words are equally if not more applicable today.