Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death - Patrick Henry Quiets the Room

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death - Patrick Henry Quiets the Room

“Give me Liberty, or Give me Death.”

Patrick Henry’s timeless declaration lives on in the pantheon of great American slogans.

But what were the circumstances of this speech, and did Henry ever really say it?


The Second Virginia Convention

By March of 1775, tensions between Great Britain and her American Colonies had come to a boiling point.

Within a month, war would erupt at Lexington and Concord just as Delegates were gathering in Philadelphia for the Second Continental Congress. 

At this time, representatives had gathered in Richmond for the Second Virginia Convention.

Most members were still hoping for reconciliation with the Mother Country, but a passionate few saw the use of violence to defend their freedoms as inevitable.

That’s when Patrick Henry took the floor.


The Speech

Although the exact transcript was not documented, Henry’s fiery speech lit the fuse which would move the men of his State to act.

Patrick lashed out at the repeated abuses hurled on the colonists by their government.

His oratory left the crowd of Delegates stunned.

According to Thomas Marshall (future Chief Justice John Marshall’s father), the men fell silent for several minutes.

Looking back, it is one of the highlight moments in American History.

For the people in the room, it was a moment filled with tension and fear.

What would happen next?


William Wirt’s Biography

Patrick Henry’s speech ended with the famous quote, “give me liberty, or give me death.”

It is an iconic saying in American lore.

However, and I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but he may never have said it.

The first time this slogan was printed was in a biography of Henry written by William Wirt.

It is quite possible that, in an attempt to sell books, Wirt dolled up the speech to make it more sound more courageous.  

That being said, we have every reason to believe that Wirt spoke with multiple people who attended the Second Virginia Convention and hear first hand accounts which were extraordinarily similar to each other.


Inspiration

The truth is, it doesn’t matter what the truth is.

If Henry did not utter, “give me liberty, or give me death,” exactly, he clearly did give this speech.

The oration also, clearly, had an effect on the hearts and minds of his contemporaries.

As is often the case, it is not what Patrick Henry said that matters, it is what he did.

More Revolutionary Virginian’s?

Here you go:

John Heath - America’s First Frat Boy

Edmond Pendleton and the Scandal that Started a Revolution

William Washington’s Quaker Gun

There are dozens of great books on the life of Patrick Henry.

‘Lion of Liberty’ just happens to be the one I’ve read most recently so I’ll recommend it here.

If you’d like a copy you can get one through the Amazon affiliate link below (you’ll support this site, but don’t worry, Amazon pays me while your price stays the same).

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