Patrick Henry - 1

Patrick Henry - 1

Henry introduced an amendment to Pendleton's resolution on March 23 "that this colony be immediately put in a posture of defense; and ... [there] be a committee to prepare a plan for the embodying, arming and disciplining such a number of men as may be sufficient for that purpose." The resolution to arm Virginia against the crown shocked some of the delegates. Many of them remained loyal to the British crown and hoped the colony could patch up differences with England.

To pass the amendment, Henry arose and delivered his now-famous "Give me liberty or give me death" speech. He began in soft tones, gradually increasing in volume as he explained the hopelessness of reconciling with the crown and the disastrous impact of inaction. "Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction?" he asked. "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?"

By the conclusion of his speech, according to the fragmentary historical record, Henry had raised his voice to a thunderous volume and to tremendous impact, declaring: "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!"

When Henry concluded, the whole audience was momentarily silent and stunned, as if shaking off the shock of a bomb exploding in their midst. One man who had listened to the speech from outside the church through an open window, Edward Carrington, was so impressed with the oratory that he exclaimed: "Let me be buried on this spot." Carrington later became a colonel in the militia, and his request was granted upon his death in 1810. After the silent pause, a general outcry of "To arms!" arose in the chamber, and Richard Henry Lee arose to support Henry's amendment, which eventually passed by the narrow margin of 65-60....

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