Saturday, March 27, 2010

"Give me Liberty or Give me Death" Rings True Today

March 2010 marks the 235th anniversary of one of the most important speeches delivered in US history as the colonies prepared to shed its chains from the British tyrants. The rhetoric used by the great statesman, Patrick Henry, resonates very well today as this nation faces tyrants of its own.

The atmosphere in 1775 was tense. The colonists, who were outraged by a British government that was drunk with power, responded by dumping 342 containers of tea into the Boston harbor in 1773. This became known at the Boston Tea Party. The British Parliament responded with a series of laws known as the "Intolerable Acts."

By early 1774, the British backed up its harsh taxation with military action, sending General Thomas Gage and, after that, four regiments of British troops. In response to these growing hostilities, the first Continental Congress met in the fall of 1774 in Philadelphia, with 56 American delegates, representing every colony, except Georgia. On September 17 this Congress not only made it clear they had no intention to follow these law and took the important steps to form local militias to prepare to fight.

By early 1775, economic and military tensions reached an all time high and a provincial congress was held in Massachusetts. At this event, John Hancock and Joseph Waren began to prepare the state to go to war. Meanwhile, in Britain, the English Parliament declared war on Massachusetts for its rebellion. With only one state on England's list, the war should be an easy victory for the British. Other colonists became increasingly aware that the only way the colony of Massachusetts could win its war is if it became all of the colonists' war. Enter Patrick Henry.

The largest colony in America, Virginia, held an important meeting on March 23 for the colony's delegates. It was held in St. John's church in Richmond. Resolutions were presented by Patrick Henry putting the colony of Virginia "into a posture of defense...embodying, arming, and disciplining such a number of men as may be sufficient for that purpose." Before the vote was taken on his resolutions, Henry delivered one of the most important speeches in the history of our republic and one of its most important lines became a battle cry for the colonists.

In spite of his eloquence and the words he chose, it came very natural as he did not use a single note. As the speech went on, he became louder and louder and by the end, a measured and some what timid group of delegates took the major step of supporting Henry's resolutions by a narrow margin, placing Virginia in the Revolutionary War.

The speech should be read by every American in its entirety. However, the following lines alone should stir even the most complacent of Americans to appreciate the great country we have enjoyed and that we certainly need to restore. It should be no surprise that even Time Magazine ranks this speech among the ten greatest in human history.

"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."

"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. I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves..."

"Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with these warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation -- the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motives for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies?"

"They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer on the subject? Nothing. "

"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?"

"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."

"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!"

"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!"

I have watched politics and the trends of this nation for three decades and I have never seen a message such as this ring more true as it does towards our own government. Americans are angry and I think their capacity to restore liberty is greater now than we have seen in generations.

Kevin Price is a syndicated columnist whose articles frequently appear at ChicagoSunTimes.com, Reuters.com, USAToday.com, and other national media. Kevin Price is also host of the Price of Business (M-F at 11 AM on CNN 650). Hear the show live and online at PriceofBusiness.com. Visit the archive of past shows here.

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