Patrick Henry’s 1775 Speech a Warning to Modern America

When Patrick Henry gave his famous “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech in March 1775, he was attempting to arouse the passions of Colonials who still felt favorably disposed toward Britain despite the growing threat of military force against the Colonies.

Patrick Henry must have felt some of the same frustration that is felt by modern conservatives who face a political establishment that has frozen them out of the process and a public that has been lulled to sleep by media happy talk about an increasingly authoritarian regime.

The Department of Homeland Security is purchasing billions of rounds of hollow-point ammo that has been banned under international law for use in war. The sheer volume of ammunition would have fed the flames of the Iraq war for decades, even at the height of fighting. These sort of DHS purchases have been going on for more than a year, and now the DHS is adding used armored personnel carriers to its arsenal. Platitudes aside, the Administration has not been forthcoming with an explanation about what it’s up to.

Also in process is the plan to put thousands of unmanned military spy drones into the air over America. Already there are reports of drones being spotted over New York City, and the Navy recently filed an environmental report for construction of a drone base near Malibu, California. Add in scattered reports of unusual troop movements around the country. In Los Angeles, military choppers have been seen on numerous occasions in the past year flying at just above treetop level along the busy Highway 101 corridor. Over the past weekend, a  convoy of armored Humvees with top gun mounts was seen driving on the same stretch of highway.

Gun control efforts are making their way through congressional committees, urged on by a president who has already issued a list of executive orders designed to limit access to, and use of, guns, particularly so-called “assault rifles,” which could put a shooter on equal footing with either police or criminals.

In his speech, Patrick Henry warned his fellow colonists, “Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike 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.”

Patrick Henry was talking about a government that would not listen to large segments of its subject population, much as the current Administration chooses not to speak with, listen to or work with conservatives.

“Let us not,” he said,  “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.”

Patrick Henry saw clearly what was coming and he judged correctly that colonists would have to fight against their own government. It was simply common sense, he believed: “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.”

His conclusion, of course, is world-renowned, and it remains an instructive lesson for our time.