Americans who are fighting the left’s attempts to restrict our liberties, destroy our culture, and manipulate our society using the imperious power of the government sometimes may forget that we’ve been struggling to preserve our liberty and freedoms from overbearing governments since the beginning of our nation.
But my wife and me received a stirring reminder and an inspiring reminder in Richmond, Virginia this past Sunday. St. John’s ChurchThe oldest church in the area is.
Built in 1741 on a high hill with a sweeping view of the James River, St. John’s is still a functioning church today. St. John’s is the place where American patriot Patrick Henry gave one of the most famous speeches in history, concluding with the immortal words, “Give me liberty, or give me death.”
Nearly 250-years later, we regret that the government has gotten into nearly every aspect of our lives, from our families to our professions and our businesses.
Henry’s 1775 speech, and his defiance, helped inspire the colonists who were rebelling against the all-powerful British monarchy that had sunk its tightening claws into almost every aspect of their lives, too.
As related by the St. John’s Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving this church: “American soldiers of the Revolutionary War marched into battle carrying ‘Liberty or Death’ flags.”
Patrick Henry’s words have inspired people around the world ever since he first spoke them.
That includes the brave protesters who gathered in Tiananmen Square in 1989 to take on the despotic, tyrannical Chinese government—a government that has gotten only worse since then, repressing its citizens and threatening the world. Many of those Chinese protesters carried signs quoting Henry’s words over 200 years after he appeared at St. John’s Church on March 23, 1775, during the second Virginia convention.
My wife and I were at St. John’s for a recreation of the crucial part of that convention—the debate over what to do about Britain’s treatment of the colonies.
In October 1774, Philadelphia was host to the first Continental Congress. The British government had imposed a variety of taxes on Americans, including the Stamp Act and Sugar Act, Townshend Acts and Intolerable Acts. This was viewed by colonists as a violation of their rights and their idea about self-government. These acts led to many acts defiance, including the Boston Tea Party of Dec. 16, 1773. This resulted in the British navy closing Boston and blocking it in March 1774.
Williamsburg was still the capital city of the Virginia colony on March 23, 1775. The Virginia convention’s second meeting was held in Richmond. Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, could not send troops to arrest the attendees due to the distance of 50 miles between them.
Several potential signers of the Declaration of Independence were among the delegates, including Benjamin Harrison V, Richard Henry Lee and Thomas Nelson Jr. Peyton Randolph was also the first and second presidents of Continental Congress. The three most prominent attendees—Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington—often have been referredAs the voice, pen and sword of American Revolution.
The debate that led to Henry’s fiery oration was over a resolution he introduced to go forward with Virginians arming and organizing to protect themselves from the tyranny of the royal government and military occupation. Henry’s resolution said that “a well-regulated militia is the natural strength and only security of a free government” and was “at this time, peculiarly necessary for the protection and defense of the country.”
These words may sound familiar if they do. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution contained much of the same language.
Henry called for Virginia to “be immediately put into a state of defense and that a committee be named … to prepare a plan for embodying, arming, and disciplining such a number of men as may be sufficient for that purpose.”
Lee seconded Henry’s resolution. Jefferson and Washington were among the delegates who supported it. Washington said that as a soldier, he believed “in being prepared,” a simple but straightforward proposition that should be the main driving force of our military policy even today.
Harrison voiced opposition, though, saying Henry’s resolution was “rash and inexpedient” and that Virginians “should do nothing hastily, offer no provocation.”
Edmund Pendleton agreed, arguing that the colony should “proceed slowly before rushing Virginia into war,” while Robert Carter Nicholas said Henry was being “hasty, rash, and unreasonable.”
Henry was not having it. Americans should take heart from him if they have been silenced by school boards, university administrators, liberal media pundits, social media censors, and others who are trying to restrict any speech that doesn’t fit within the political orthodoxy of the radical left because it is “offensive.”
“Should I keep back my opinions at such a time through fear of giving offense,” Henry said, “I should consider myself guilty of treason toward my country and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.”
At times, the forces against us today include Hollywood, social media platforms and news outlets, academic institutions, corporations like Disney, and government bureaucracies. But Henry and his fellow Americans faced the world’s largest, strongest empire and military power.
Henry said it:
They tell us, sir, that we are weak—unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when will we be stronger? It will be next week or next year. It will be when we are completely disarmed and when a British guard will be stationed at every house. Will we be able to rely on inaction and irresolution to gain strength? Do we seek to gain the means of effective resistance by lying down on our backs, hugging the elusive Phantom of Hope, until our enemies will have bound us hand in foot?
Sir, we can not be weak if the God of Nature has placed in our power. … The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. …
Is life so precious or is peace so sweet that it has to be bought at the cost of chains and slavery? Almighty God, forbid it! I don’t know what other people will do; but for me, give me liberty and death!
Unlike Patrick Henry, we’re not facing an armed oppressor (at least domestically). But we are facing a formidable array of forces internally that want to abolish our precious heritage of individual freedom and liberty, rewrite our history with their propaganda, pollute the minds of our children, and transform us into their version of a socialist “paradise” (everyone else’s version of a nightmare).
It was moving to be in the beautiful church in Virginia where the Virginia convention met in 1775. This is also where Henry gave his passionate speech. To hear Henry’s passionate speech and the debate reenacted was refreshing.
This experience gave me the energy and motivation to continue working towards what the overwhelming majority of Americans desire. It’s what my Heritage Foundation colleagues and I work at every day: building and preserving an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish.
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