Liberty or death
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Give Me Liberty, Or Give Me Death


On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry gave his famous Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death Speech. In today’s climate, it’s just as – if not more so – important as it was in 1775. This is why usa-evote is providing you with the entire text.

St. John’s Church, Richmond, Virginia:

 No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do, opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely, and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. 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; 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 offence, 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.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. 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 of 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 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, and the House? 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 war-like 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 motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other. 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 upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free² 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!

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. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! 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.

It is in 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!

Currier & Ives | "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!–Patrick Henry ...

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The Boston Massacre

What began as a street brawl on King Street in Boston on March 5, 1770, turned into what today we know as The Boston Massacre.

Tensions between the British and the Americans was already high in early 1770. “More than 2,000 British soldiers occupied the city of 16,000 colonists” (Source). Meanwhile, the Colonists were busy rebelling against the number of tax laws that had been pressed on them. They could be heard in the streets crying, “No taxation without representation!”

So, what else would happen but a riot. Snowballs, stones, and sticks were thrown. But then a British sentinel, Private Hugh White was attacked. “At some point, White fought back and struck a colonist with his bayonet” (Source). So, Captain Thomas Preston, a British officer, called in additional help. This clearly didn’t help solve the problem, because the Colonists continued to attack, some even taunting the soldiers to fire. The violence escalated, and the British soldiers fired into the crowd, killing five men and wounding six more. Preston and the other soldiers were arrested and jailed.

What resulted was the famous trial in which John Adams was called to defend them. He certainly wasn’t a loyalist, however, he wanted to be sure that the British soldiers still got a fair trail. And with them as their defender, they certainly did.

[Below: Depiction of the bloody Boston Massacre]

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His first act was to see that the jury was filled with non-Bostonians since those from Boston were sure to have pre-judged the case and were all ready to even the score, even if it meant sending these men to be executed.

Then, during the trial, Adams explained that due to all the confusion, it was hard to know just which accounts were accurate and which weren’t. But then, Richard Palmes testified:

“…After the Gun went off I heard the word ‘fire!’ The Captain and I stood in front about half between the breech and muzzle of the Guns. I don’t know who gave the word to fire” (Source).

This was all that Adams needed to hear to know that reasonable doubt existed. With this testimony, he was able to make sure that Preston was not found guilty.

With that established, the rest of the soldiers on trail claimed self-dense. None were found guilty of murder, save for Hugh Montgomery and Matthew Kilroy, who were both found guilty of manslaughter. They were “branded on the thumbs as first offenders per English law” (Source).

After this, the Royal Governor evacuated the occupying army out of Boston.

The Boston Massacre served to further the negative feelings between the two countries. Now, the Colonists were only more incensed by the unfair taxation and were fighting for their independence. The Massacre led to the Revolutionary War. But Preston was also accurate in his description of the events:

“None of them was a hero. The victims were troublemakers who got more than they deserved. The soldiers were professionals…who shouldn’t have panicked. The whole thing shouldn’t have happened” (Source).

[Below:  Boston Massacre trial]

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Up Next:

The Gaspee Affair

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“If This Be Treason, Make the Most of It!”

In the midst of the uproar over the Stamp Act, Patrick Henry, newly elected to the House of Burgesses, decided to offer up seven resolutions to the Stamp Act.

After a heated debate within the House, all seven of Henry’s resolutions were passed by the Congress on May 30, 1765. It didn’t take long for all of these resolutions to also appear in the colonial newspapers.

By the time the vote had moved to the House, the resolutions were already considered official. Back at the House of Burgesses, however, only a mere 39 of the 115 members were actually present. “The older, more conservative members opposed Henry’s resolutions on the grounds that the action taken the previous year by the House of Burgesses sufficiently responded to the Stamp Act, especially in light of the fact that Parliament had yet to answer those earlier resolutions” (Source). But younger members, such as Henry, argued that immediate action was necessary, given that the taxes would be required within months.

By the end of the 30th, five out of the seven amendments had been passed – by very narrow margins. During the debates over the 5th, Henry stood up to speak out in support of his fifth resolution:

“Caesar had his Brutus — Charles the first, his Cromwell — and George the third — ” (“Treason,” cried the Speaker — “treason, treason,” echoed from every part of the House. — It was one of those trying moments which is decisive of character. — Henry faltered not an instant; but rising to a loftier attitude, and fixing on the Speaker an eye of the most determined fire, he finished his sentence with the firmest emphasis) “may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it” (Source).

Unfortunately, there is not actually any record of this speech. In 1817, when William Wirt was attempting to write an account of the famous speech, he had to rely on accounts from Thomas Jefferson, John Tyler, and Paul Carrington.

Many problems arise with this though. For example, Carrington was not actually a witness. He’d yet to take his seat. Jefferson and Tyler were both outside the chamber of the House of Burgesses. They claimed to “remember the cry of treason, the pause of Mr. Henry at the time of George III, and the presence of mind with which he closed the sentence and baffled the charge vociferated” (Source).

Despite none of these men having actually witnessed the speech, they were also all men of “untainted reputation;” they had no reason to lie about Patrick Henry, nor anything to gain from such lies. (Source). So, we do not have a real account of what was said. What we do know, though, is that after Henry retook his seat, another vote was taken. Five of the seven resolutions passed.

Until the following day, when the Congress reconsidered their options and decided to throw out the fifth, after all. Only four of his resolutions had passed. But these four resolutions spread quickly, and were even adapted by other colonies.

[Below: Patrick Henry addressing the Virginia Congress]

Up Next:

The Boston Massacre

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Too Many Acts: Four Acts That Led to the American Revolution

How many people want their entire paycheck to go to the government in the form of taxes? Hmm, not many, huh? Is it not the right of the person who goes to work every day and works hard to earn a paycheck to decide how to spend his money and which charities to fund? (I’m sure that it’s not a coincidence that that place we go to earn money is called “work” as in hard work.) Does the government have the right to dictate to us, the people who earn our money, how that money should be spent? Or does that person have the right to decide how to spend that hard earned money? Whether it be on an expensive health insurance program, or on a fancy boat, or maybe a vacation. Perhaps he is working hard to send his children to private school, all while putting away money for their college education. Well, the Colonists certainly thought that taxation without representation was unfair. It’s one of the very things that caused them to declare their own independence.

Sugar Act:

Image result for The Sugar Act

On April 5, 1764, Parliament passed the Sugar and Molasses Act. Also known as the Plantation Act or the Revenue Act, this act, essentially, attempted to prevent the colonies from “smuggling” sugar and molasses from the French and Dutch West Indies (Source). The colonies had been avoiding extraordinary taxes on goods from England by instead importing the goods from other countries.

So, England decided to fix this by reducing the tax yet at the same time “enforcing the collection of duties” (Source). For example, the tax on molasses from England went from 6 pence per gallon down to three. At the same time, they added tax to new goods such as coffee, wine, calico, and cambric.

These duties went to placing a larger British military presence in the colonies. This allowed them to seize any cargo that violated the new laws. Then, the violators’ punishment was decided not by the colonial courts, but instead by the British admiralty courts.

Essentially, the act had three overall goals: Curb illegal trade and establish their law while protecting their own trading. Lastly, they wanted Americans to pay for their own protection. Their finances had begun to run low thanks to the French Indian War.


The Currency Act:

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On September 1, 1764, Parliament passed the Currency Act. The intent of this bill was “to regulate the issue and legal tender status of paper money in the colonial economy” (Source). Britain had outlawed the Colonial minting of currency.

The little bit of gold and silver coins the colonies did have went to paying for imports, leaving very little for anything they actually needed. As a result, merchants and shopkeepers were forced to accept any form of payments the customers could manage.

Always wanting to work around British laws, Colonists issued Bills of Credit, which was not technically money. These credits were backed by taxes, land, and property. Over time, these not-actually-money bills developed very different purposes. “For instance, some bills were used to pay private debts to British merchants, others to pay public debt for government services, and others to pay taxes” (Source). To make it only more confusing, there was no defined value to the currency. Britain could see only one way to solve the problem, force the colonies to establish a “hard currency system based on the pound sterling” (Source).


The Stamp Act:

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On March 22, 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act. This act imposed taxes on every piece of printer paper. “Ship’s papers, legal documents, licenses, newspapers,” as well as playing cards, dice, pamphlets, cards, and almanacs (Source). All were taxed. All the money raised on paper taxes went to protecting the American frontier.

Unlike the previous acts, which seemed to simply want to regulate commerce through taxes and duties, this act was using taxes to raise money. Furthermore, they were raising money in the colonies without asking the Colonists’ approval; without bringing it to the colonial legislatures.

In response, the Colonists not only refused to use stamps, but also burned them and rioted. Then, the Colonists formed a Stamp Act Congress, in which representatives from nine colonies met to “frame resolutions of ‘rights and grievances’ and to petition the king and Parliament for repeal of the objectionable measures” (Source). One American newspaper even went so far as to suggest that the hated British stamps should take on the form of the skull and bones, as depicted in the featured image.

By 1766, Britain had repealed the Stamp Act, replacing it with the Declaratory Act, which gave them the authority to “direct taxation anywhere within the empire” (Source).


The Quartering Act:

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On March 24, 1765, Parliament passed the Quartering Act. This required the colonies to “provide food, drink, quarters, fuel, and transportation to British forces stationed in their towns and villages” (Source).

The Colonists resented being forced to take in British soldiers. They felt that they should have the right to offer housing to the soldiers. So, they decided to refuse following the act, particularly in New York.

As a result, Parliament passed the New York Restraining Act. This “prohibited the royal governor of New York from signing any further legislation until the assembly complied with the Quartering Act” (Source). The governor of New York managed to convince Parliament that they were compliying, when, in fact, they were actually housing the British soldiers on a Massachusetts island, where barracks already existed, but where “soldiers had no hope of keeping the peace in a city riled by the Townshend Revenue Acts” (Source). They complied to house the British in public places, but continued to refuse housing them in private homes.

This left the British with no choice but to pitch tents. It also resulted in intense tensions between the British and American armies, especially in Boston, where many of the soldiers were pitching their tents. Unfortunately, they stayed around until George Washington and the Continental Army drove them out in 1776.

[Below: The Stamp Act Congress]

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These four acts did a lot to push the Colonists to declare their independence. Parliament and the king were not listening to their needs, but imposing unjust laws. So, the Colonists took matters into their own hands. They would, over time, form a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We’d be smart to take a page from their notebooks (tax or no tax).

Up Next:

“If This Be Treason, Make the Most of It!”

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