Patrick Henry

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I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Patrick Henry (29 May 1736 - 6 June 1799) was a prominent figure in the American Revolution, known and remembered primarily for his stirring oratory.

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Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third — may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.
  • Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third — ["Treason!" cried the Speaker] — may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.
    • Speech on the Stamp Act, Virginia House of Burgesses (29 May 1765).
  • I am not a Virginian, but an American.
    • Speech in the First Continental Congress, Philadelphia (14 October 1774). Compare: "I was born an American; I will live an American; I shall die an American!", Daniel Webster, Speech, July 17, 1850.
  • Suspicion is a virtue as long as its object is the public good, and as long as it stays within proper bounds. ... Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect every one who approaches that precious jewel.
    • Speech on the Federal Constitution (5 June 1788); published in American Eloquence : A Collection of Speeches and Addresses by the Most Eminent Orators of America (1857) edited by Frank Moore, Vol. I, p. 15; This has sometimes been paraphrased as "Suspicion is a virtue if it is in the interests of the good of the people."
  • This is all the inheritance I can give my dear family. The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed.
    • Last Will and Testament (20 November 1798), as quoted in Patrick Henry : Life, Correspondences and Speeches (1891) by William Wirt Henry, Vol. H, p. 631; also in America's God and Country : Encyclopedia of Quotations (1996) by William Joseph
  • United we stand, divided we fall, Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.
    • Last public speech before his death (4 March 1799)
  • The Bible is worth all other books which have ever been printed.
    • As quoted in The Supreme Court Decision on Bible Reading and Prayer: America's Black Letter Day (1964) by Adolph Bedsole
  • The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government — lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.
    • As quoted in The Best Liberal Quotes Ever : Why the Left is Right (2004) by William P. Martin

"Give me liberty or give me death!" (1775)

The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.
Speech at the Second Virginia Convention at St. John's Church in Richmond, Virginia (23 March 1775); first published in Life and Character of Patrick Henry (1817) by William Wirt
  • It is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope and pride. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that 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 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.
  • I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging of the future but by the past.
    • Compare: "You can never plan the future by the past", Edmund Burke, Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, Vol. iv. p. 55.
  • They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? 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 those 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.
    • This is also sometimes quoted as "The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty..."
  • 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.
  • It is 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!

Misattributed

  • That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.
    • Virginia Bill of Rights, Article 16 (12 June 1776); Henry was on the committee which drafted the Virginia constitution and he supported this Bill, but it is not clear to what extent he was the author of any portion of it. This statement is also sometimes misattributed to James Madison who quoted it in his arguments for the United States Bill of Rights.
  • There is an insidious campaign of false propaganda being waged today, to the effect that our country is not a Christian country but a religious one—that it was not founded on Christianity but on freedom of religion. It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by "religionists", but by Christians—not on religion, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.
    • This has been cited at some sites as being in a speech to the House of Burgesses in May 1765, but the date and quote are both spurious: it is extremely anachronistic to have Henry speaking of the colony of Virginia in 1765 as a "nation" that afforded "peoples of other faiths" the "freedom of worship." In fact this first appeared in the April 1956 issue of The Virginian in a piece partially about, not by, Patrick Henry, as the next sentence clearly shows: "In the spoken and written words of our noble founders and forefathers, we find symbolic expressions of their Christian faith. The above quotation from the will of Patrick Henry is a notable example." (For the "above quotation" from the will, see above.)

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