My name is Patrick Henry, and I was born in 1736 in Studley, Virginia. My father, John, was well-educated and served as a surveyor and a justice for the Hanover County Court. He supplemented my basic education in local schools with an understanding of the classics.
In my early life, I was not very successful as a shopkeeper or a farmer. The new responsibilities from my marriage at age 18 to Sarah Shelton forced me to seek a more profitable source of income. I studied law and, after passing the bar, found that I was quite good at it, especially in the area of criminal law.
In my first legal case involving the British King George, I defended a Hanover County parish against a suit, called “Parson’s Cause“, brought by Reverend James Maury over a Virginia law that the King disallowed. I prevailed using the doctrine of inalienable Natural Law Rights and, I am told, spoke with an astonishing eloquence that gave me widespread public notice.
I was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1765 and quickly became active in resistance to the British Stamp Act. Amid shouts of “Treason, Treason”, I supported my resolutions against this tax saying, “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George III may profit by their example.”
I became angered by the way King George abused the rights of we colonists and soon became a leader of the radical opposition to British rule. I knew in my heart that war with the British was inevitable. Cooperation among the colonies was very important, so I became a member of Virginia’s Committee of Correspondence and a delegate to the Continental Congress.
It was on March 23, 1775, at the second Virginia Convention, that I introduced resolutions to equip and train our Virginia militia to fight the British. Some of the delegates were timid, even favoring British rule. That’s when I stood up and said, “I know not what course others may take, but, as for me, give me Liberty of give me Death!”
After we won our War of Independence, I opposed ratification of the Constitution until the Bill of Rights was included. Liberty was always of foremost importance to me, and I would not rest until it was guaranteed to all.
I was known to be an eloquent orator. Here are some of the words I wrote and spoke. If some of what I said applies to your circumstances today, please take my words to heart and act accordingly.
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.Patrick Henry
United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.Patrick Henry
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 toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.Patrick Henry
The militia is our ultimate safety. We can have no security without it. The great object is that every man be armed.Patrick Henry
Power is the great evil with which we are contending. We have divided power between three branches of government and erected checks and balances to prevent abuse of power. However, where is the check on the power of the judiciary? If we fail to check the power of the judiciary, I predict that we will eventually live under judicial tyranny.Patrick Henry
The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.Patrick Henry
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!Patrick Henry
Resist Tyranny and Trust in Freedom!