Patrick Henry "Lion of Liberty" addresses House of Burgesses in 1765 about the Stamp Act

Patrick Henry greatest American Statesman

Patrick Henry “Lion of Liberty” addresses House of Burgesses in 1765 about the Stamp Act

“It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great
nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on
religions, 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.” -Patrick Henry

Delivered before the Faculty and Students of Randolph-Macon College 
December 9th, 1901 
Hon. James Alston Cabell, of Richmond Virginia. 
PATRICK HENRY.- 
That generous and public-spirited gentleman, who is too 
modest to have his name made known, and too disinterested 
and unselfish to receive any public praise for his noble and 
patriotic act, has permitted me to say that this portrait of Patrick 
Henry, which he has given, and I have the honor of presenting, 
has been placed in your college halls in order that your young 
men. on the threshold of life, some of whom, doubtless, are to 
play a conspicuous part in the arena of life, and, may be for 
good or evil, influence the course and destiny of this land, may 
have continually before them the face of this great American as 
an example of pure and exalted manhood, of devotion to country, 
and consecration to duty. The habit of recalling examples will 
soon produce the habit of imitating them. We are told that 
the citizens of Rome placed the images of their ancestors in the 
vestibules of their houses, so that whenever they went in or out, 
those venerable statues met their eyes and recalled the glorious 
actions of the dead, to fire the living, to excite them to imitate 
and even to emulate their great forefathers. The success, says 
Bolingbroke, answered the design. The virtue of one generation 
was transmitted by the magic of example, into several ; and a 
spirit of heroism was maintained through many ages of that 
commonwealth. 
Unequal as I am to the duty assigned me, if what I have to say 
tonight shall help to lead the young,- men of this college to a 
higher appreciation of the simple grandeur, the rugged beauty, 
and the unaffected nobility of the character of Patrick Henry, and
some may be excited by the magic of his example, to imitate or 
even emulate the great patriot, I shall have accomplished a great 
object. 
All men have two ways of improvement — one arising from 
their own experience, and one from the experience of others. In 
following the course of great men remember while you may not 
rise to the full measure of their greatness, yet you must determine 
not to fall below their standard of duty and obligation. Mr. 
Henry's career may be studied as a guide for private life as well 
as public station. We have no need to throw the mantle of 
charity over personal defects which might otherwise mar the 
brilliancy of his fame. His private life was as pure as his public 
achievements were, brilliant and illustrious. 
Patrick Henry was born in this grand old county of Hanover, 
at Studley. His youth gave no presage of his future greatness. 
Indeed, the few advantages his parents were able to offer him 
were sadly neglected. At an early age his father set him up in 
a little mercantile business, and he promptly made a failure of 
it. A year after, when he was only 18 years of age, and out of 
employment, he married a girl as impecunious as himself. 
By the joint assistance of their parents, however, the young 
couple were settled on a small farm, where Henry proceeded to 
demonstrate as positively and as rapidly as possible, that he was 
no farmer, and, by the method of reduction, that his talents, if 
he had any, must lie in some other direction. For a second 
time he went into merchandise. This experiment was still more 
unfortunate than the first, and in a few years it left him a 
bankrupt. "Every atom of his property was now gone," is the 
description we have of his condition ; "his friends were unable to 
assist him any further; he had tried every means of support, of 
which he could suppose himself capable, and every one had 
failed ; ruin was behind him ; poverty, debt, want, and famine 
before ; and, as if his cup of misery were not already full enough, 
here were a suffering wife and children to make it overflow." 
The pressure of such overwhelming misfortune would have 
crushed the life and spirit out of any but the strongest character. 
It was under such trials that Henry showed what great 
native firmness of character he possessed. "He was not one of 
those," as Dr. Johnson had said of Swift, "who, having lost one 
part of life in idleness are tempted to throw away the remainder 
in despair." The manliness of his character not only kept his 
mind from being clouded by despondency, but even gave him 
a cheerfulness of spirit under the most severe reverses of fortune, 
and showed that he was fitted to endure the buffetings of the 
rudest storms. As a last effort, we are told, after he had failed 
at everything else, he determined to make a trial of the law. 
Nothing but failure, dire and certain failure, was predicted ; but 
having passed as a lawyer, Henry was a conspicuous success from 
the first, and he was ready when opportunity came to him. 
It came in the shape of what is known as the famous "Parsons 
Cause." You all know, or ought to know, about that celebrated 
controversy. It is a part of the history of Virginia, and was 
fought out here in this old county. The power and the intelligence 
of the Colony, as well as law and justice and right, were 
on the side of the Parsons. It seemed a desperate — a hopeless —  
measure for any one to undertake ; even the most learned and 
skillful advocate. The case had been virtually decided in favor 
of the Parsons, and at that time, it appeared to be only a ques- 
tion of arithmetic to determine how much was due them. The 
distinguished counsel for the defendants withdrew from the case, 
saying he could do nothing more, and the case was hopeless. 
In this situation they turned, with their desperate case, 
to the plucky young lawyer who never lost hope and never despaired. 
There were a combination of circumstances surrounding the case 
which appealed to the selfish passions of the people. 
Could these passions be fanned into a storm, all considerations of 
law and equity would be swept out of sight. Henry saw his 
opportunity. "The man and the hour had met." The description 
of that day's triumph reads as if it were from the pen of some 
poet. The young attorney, through the beginning of his speech, 
faltered and stammered, but by degrees his attitude became erect 
and lofty; the spirit of genius began to awake in all his features; 
his countenance shone with a nobleness and grandeur which it 
never before exhibited; his action became graceful, bold, and 
commanding, and the tones of his voice exercised a magical 
charm, which baffles the description of narrators. They can only 
say "that it struck upon the ear and upon the heart in a manner 
which language cannot tell." In short, "now was first witnessed 
that mysterious and almost supernatural transformation of 
appearance, which the fire of his own eloquence never failed to 
work in him." 
When the verdict came in. the old court-house at Hanover 
witnessed a sight forever memorable in its history. The excited 
multitude, in defiance of the Court and the resistance of the 
officers, seized their hero, bore him aloft out of the court-house, 
and around the court green with shouts of triumphant joy. 
Never was success at the bar more sudden or more complete, 
and he at once took a place at the head of his profession. But 
Mr. Henry was destined for greater work and more exalted ser- 
vice. King George and the British ^Ministry did not intend to let 
him expend his transcendent eloquence on law cases in Hanover 
and Louisa. The great political arena was to be the field of his 
glory, and there was the dazzling brilliance of his genius to be 
displayed. Henry entered the House of Burgesses about the 
time that the British Ministry sent them a copy of the Stamp Act, 
as the only reply to their petitions and remonstrances against 
such a high-handed violation of the ancient constitutional rights 
of the Colonies. The question of the hour was, what was to be 
done about it. It was now the law of the land, and was soon to 
go into effect. The time for remonstrance had passed. To submit 
to it quietly would be to reduce the colony to a state of 
slavery, but those who had guided the course of Virginia, when 
the}' considered her weak and defenseless condition, were unwilling 
to think of resistance. It was at such a time that Patrick 
Henry, a new member and an almost unknown man, introduced 
his ever-memorable resolutions, and dictated the policy of Virginia.
Mr. Jefferson says that by these resolutions Mr. Henry took 
the lead out of the hands of those who had hitherto guided the 
proceedings of the House, and after the debate, which he says 
was "bloody," there was no longer a question among' the body 
of the people as to Mr. Henry's being the first statesman and 
orator of Virginia. Indeed, from that time he became the idol 
of the people. 
Mr. Henry, who was more indifferent to the preservation of the 
records and credentials of his career than any of our public men, 
in the final survey of his career, regarded the introduction of 
these resolutions as the one most important thing he ever did. 
Along with his will was found a copy of these resolutions, sealed 
up, and directed to his executors. He seemed to care for the 
preservation of no other evidence of his public service. After de- 
scribing the circumstances of their preservation and adoption, 
and stating that they established the point of resistance to British 
taxation and brought on the war which established American 
independence, he added these memorable words, which cannot 
be too often recalled by every American citizen: Whether this 
will prove a blessing or a curse, will depend upon the use our 
people make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed 
on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If 
they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. 
Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation. Reader! whoever 
thou art, remember this, and in thy sphere practice virtue thy- 
self and encourage it in others." 
A Northern historian, Moses Coit Tyler, speaking of these 
resolutions and their consequences, says : "Meanwhile, on the 
wings of the wind, and on the eager tongues of men, had been 
borne past recall, far northward and far southward, the fiery 
unchastised words of nearly the entire series to kindle in all the 
colonies a great flame of dauntless purpose." And after setting 
forth the effects produced by them, continues : "All these facts, 
and many more that might be produced, seem to point to the 
Virginia resolutions of 1765 as having come at a crisis of the 
Revolution — and as having then uttered, with trumpet voice, the 
very word that was fitted to the hour and that gave to men's 
minds clearness of vision and to their hearts a settled purpose." 
On the 24th of May, 1774, the House of Burgesses received 
the alarming news of the passage of the Boston port bill. They 
designated the day on which it was to take effect — June 1st — as 
a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, devoutly implored the 
Divine interposition for averting the heavy calamity which 
threatened destruction to their civil rights and the evils of civil 
war, to give them one heart and one mind firmly to oppose, by 
all just and proper means every injury to American rights, etc. 
Lord Dunmore was so incensed at their action that he immediately 
dissolved the House. The members, however, met at the Raleigh 
Tavern, passed resolutions, and set on foot plans for the 
establishment of an annual Congress of all the colonies. During 
the conferences held at this period we are told "Patrick Henry 
was the leader." George Mason wrote of him at the time: "He 
is by far the most powerful speaker I ever heard. *** But 
his eloquence is the smallest part of his merit. He is, in my 
opinion, the first man upon this Continent, as well in abilities as 
public virtues." 
In the Continental Congress which assembled at Philadelphia 
on the 5th of September, 1774, Mr. Henry at once sprang to the 
front as a leader. "Even those who had heard him in all his 
glory in the House of Burgesses of Virginia, were astonished at 
the manner in which his talents seemed to swell and expand them- 
selves to fill the vaster theatre in which he was now placed, and 
as he had been before proclaimed the greatest orator in Virginia, 
he was now on every hand admitted to be the first orator in 
America." It was not as an orator alone that Mr. Henry made a 
reputation in that distinguished body. After more than seven 
weeks spent in the closest intellectual intimacy with fifty of the
ablest men in America, his fame spread throughout the colonies, 
and his distinguished associates were impressed not only with his 
eloquence, but also with his intelligence, integrity, and power. 
But the most brilliant act in his wonderful career was yet to 
come. 
When the Virginia delegates assembled in convention on 
March the 20th, 1775, in the Old Church in Richmond, the 
sentiments which still influenced many of the leading members 
were strongly loyal. They recited with great feeling the series of 
grievances under which the colonies had labored, and insisted 
with great firmness on their constitutional rights, but they were 
most explicit in pledging their faith and allegiance to King 
George III., and avowing their determination to support him 
with their lives and fortunes in the legal exercise of all his just 
rights and prerogatives. They sincerely wished for a return of 
friendly intercourse with Great Britain and were averse to any 
means of violence. It was not so with Patrick Henry. He had 
long since read the true character of the British Court, and saw 
that no alternative remained, but abject submission or heroic 
resistance. The convention, which was dominated by the delegates 
from the lower counties, opened very mildly, and bid fair 
to be a session of earnest remonstrance and humble supplication 
but the delegates from the upper country were fired with quite 
a different spirit, and they found a leader in Henry around which 
they could rally. Like a thunderbolt he hurled his ringing 
resolutions into the convention. He was, indeed, infused with the 
bold spirit of the patriotic representatives of the upper country 
The time for supplication and remonstrance had passed. A militia 
must be established, said the resolutions, for the protection and 
defense of the country, and to secure our inestimable rights and 
liberties from the further violations with which they have been 
threatened. The Colony must be immediately put into a state of 
defense and a committee appointed to prepare a plan for 
embodying, arming, and disciplining such a number of men, as 
would be sufficient for the purpose. 
The men who had been all powerful and had hitherto shaped 
the course of the colony were dumbfounded, the wealthy land- 
owners on the seaboard were filled with alarm and consternation, 
and even men of such well-known patriotism as Richard 
Bland, Benjamin Harrison, and Robert C. Nicholas violently 
opposed the resolutions. They insisted that filial respect demanded 
the exercise of patience. Urged the conciliatory temper 
that had lately been professed by the King and his Ministers, 
the endearing character of the ties that had hitherto connected 
Virginia with the Mother Country, the strength and lustre we 
derived from our connection with her, the utter hopelessness of 
a contest, and that it would be time enough to resort to measures 
of despair when hope had entirely vanished. 
Mr. Wirt says of Patrick Henry: "His was a spirit fitted to 
raise the whirlwind, as well as to ride in and direct it." If his 
resolutions had startled the convention by their daring and 
defiant tone, the wonderful speech with which he supported them 
was able to lift his hearers to the heights from which he viewed 
the situation and fire their souls for action. He rose with a 
majesty unusual to him in an exordium, and with all that self- 
possession by which he was so invariably distinguished. But 
with him it was no time for ceremony. The question before the 
House was one of awful moment to the country. It was nothing 
less than a question of freedom or slavery. He wished the people 
to know the whole truth — to know the worst and to provide for 
it. He pointed to the warlike preparations of Great Britain, 
which could be intended only to bind and rivet upon the colonies 
those chains which the British Ministry had been so long forging. 
Entreaty and humble supplication had been exhausted. It was 
vain to indulge in the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. 
Unless they meant basely to abandon the noble struggle in which 
they had been so long engaged, "We must fight!" he exclaimed 
with all the power of his impassioned eloquence. "I repeat it, 
sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts 
is all that is left us!" But I need not repeat here how he met the
arguments of the peace party, nor attempt to recite his flaming 
words, that rang like a trumpet call-to-arms swept the convention 
like a whirlwind, gaining in strength and power as its tones 
vibrated beyond the borders of Virginia, until they thrilled every 
heart in the remotest part of the Colonies. "Is life so dear, or 
peace so sweet," he ended, "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!"
He took his seat, said Wirt. No murmur of applause was 
heard. The effect was too deep. After the trance of a moment, 
several members started from their seats. The cry, "To arms!" 
seemed to quiver on every lip, and gleam from every eye! His 
supernatural voice still sounded in their ears, and shivered along 
their arteries. They heard in every pause the cry of liberty or 
death. They became impatient of speech — their souls were on 
fire for action. 
Henry was not the man to content himself with urging a resort 
to arms and then leave it to others to carry on the conflict, or to 
shrink from dangers to which he deemed it necessary to expose 
his fellow-countrymen. He at once threw himself, heart and 
soul, into the movement he had set on foot by his eloquence. 
"We find him assuming the character of a military leader," says 
Everett, "and discharging its duties with a spirit and efficiency 
which seemed to show that, if circumstances of a wholly accidental 
nature had not checked his progress, his energies would 
probably have taken this direction, and given him as high a 
rank among the warriors of his country as he has in fact obtained 
among her orators and statesmen." 
The first overt act of war in Virginia, as Jefferson testifies, 
was committed by Patrick Henry. The first armed resistance 
to a Royal Governor was made in Virginia under his direction 
and inspiration almost as early as that made by the "embattled 
farmers" at Lexington and Concord. In the first organization 
of the Revolutionary army in Virginia the chief command was 
given to him. Why he did not retain this command involves a 
discussion we cannot go into here. It is sufficient to say that 
no blame or discredit ever attached to him. Instead, however, of 
showing discontent and resentment at the treatment he received, 
he used all his influence with his troops to repress their contem- 
plated demonstrations in his favor and to make them, as he said 
to them himself, the glorious instruments of saving their country. 
He showed then, as at all times in his career, his exalted 
character and his unselfish devotion to his country. 
For any passing mortification he may have been occasioned, 
he soon received ample satisfaction from his grateful fellow- 
countrymen. As a signal-mark of public favor he was designated 
as the first Chief Executive of Virginia, an office which he three 
times filled. In fact, there was no office or post of honor that 
could be conferred by his people that was not at his disposal. As 
Governor, as a member of the Conventions, as a member of Congress, 
in every position in which he was placed, and at all times and 
under all circumstances, he was. as he, indeed, said he considered 
himself to be, in his speech before the Convention of 
1788, "the servant of the people of this Commonwealth; as a 
sentinel over their rights, liberty, and happiness." 
What he might have achieved as a soldier, had he continued 
in the service, we can never know; but as Mr. Grigsby said: 
"That he would not have made a better fighter than Jay, or 
Livingston, or the Adamses; that he might not have made as dashing 
a partisan as Tarleton or Simcoe. his friends might readily afford 
to concede; but that he evinced what neither Jay, nor Livingston, 
nor the Adamses did evince — a determined resolution to 
stake his reputation and his life on the issue of arms — and that 
he resigned his commission when the post of imminent danger 
was refused him, exhibited a lucid proof that, whatever may have 
been his ultimate fortune, he was not deficient in two grand 
elements of military success — personal enterprise and unques- 
tioned courage." 
When George Rogers Clark, "the Hannibal of the West." laid 
his plans before Mr. Henry, then Governor, his sagacious mind 
at once grasped the vast benefit it would be to the future of the 
country, if the campaign should prove successful, and the assistance 
he rendered Clark must always be remembered in connection 
with the conquest of the Northwestern Territory by the gallant 
young Virginian.
It was Patrick Henry, indeed, who lit the fires of the Revolution, 
and called armies up from the valleys and down from the 
mountains' heights to battle for the birthrights of man. Such 
was the spirit of the times, and such the very atmosphere itself, 
that no true man could live without being infused with an ardent 
love of liberty and a high conception of duty and responsibility. 
But with Henry the love of liberty was a passion. It was to him 
what "alone gives the flower of fleeting life its lustre and per- 
fume." His high spirit "could endure chains nowhere patiently; 
and chains at home where he was free by birthright, not at all." 
It is well with any land when her great men are sincere in 
their faith, devoted and unselfish in their love of country, and 
pure in their lives. It is said of Patrick Henry: "His morals 
were strict. As a husband, a father, a master, he had no superior. 
He was kind and hospitable to the stranger and most friendly 
and accommodating to his neighbors. In his dealings with the 
world, he was faithful to his promises, and punctual in his con- 
tracts to the utmost of his power." "Keep justice, keep truth,'' 
was his injunction to John Randolph. "Righteousness alone can 
exalt them as a nation," was his declared belief. "virtue, 
morality, and religion alone renders us invincible," he wrote to a 
friend. Well might Virginia point with pride to such a son 
and say, "Imitate my Henry." 
His last act was in response to a call from his great chief, and, 
as he believed, from his country. 
The one great passionate love of Richelieu was France. In a 
dramatic part of the play that bears his name, the old Cardinal 
is on the stage - dying. In a few moments death will bring rest 
and quiet to the tired, wearied, old man, whose life has been one 
long scene of strife and warfare, and peace at last is settling 
upon him. Alarming news suddenly arrives ; the helpless Prince 
rushes to the death-bed of the great man and begs him to live 
for the sake of France! At that name he arouses himself and 
struggles with death, as did Hercules over the body of Alcestis, 
and comes out the victor. In Mr. Henry's old age, long after 
he had retired from the active pursuits of life, and but one week 
after he had written Mr. Blair that he was too old and infirm ever 
again to undertake public concerns, he received an earnest appeal 
begging him to come forward as a candidate for the next General 
Assembly, where he would have to face a stupendous task. The 
appeal was from General Washington, who believed the country 
was in great danger. He at once declared himself a candidate 
for the Legislature, old and infirm as he was. He was elected, 
but death claimed him before he took his seat. 
"Thus lived, and thus died, the celebrated Patrick Henry, of 
Virginia — a man who justly deserves to be ranked among the 
highest ornaments and noblest benefactors of his country. Had 
his lot been cast in the republics of Greece or Rome, his name 
would have been enrolled by some immortal pen among the expellers 
of tyrants and the champions of liberty; the proudest 
monuments of national gratitude would have arisen in his honor, 
and handed down his memory to future generations."

4 thoughts on “Patrick Henry greatest American Statesman

  1. Pingback: Freedom or the chains of tyranny, that is the choice. | Captain James Davis

  2. Pingback: RISE OF CONSTITUTIONAL LIBERTY by Dr. Richard Salter Storrs July 4 1876 | Captain James Davis

  3. Pingback: Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry and Henry’s Virginia Resolutions of 1765 | Captain James Davis

  4. Pingback: Patrick Henry may well be proved a Prophet as well as a Statesman | Captain James Davis

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