“I Know Not What Course Others May Take!”

Delegate Patrick Henry (1736 –1799) rose to speak his mind to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia. He proposed that his fellow delegates act to organize volunteer companies of cavalry and infantry in Virginia to prepare for the military conflict he knew was coming.

The British army was building up its troops on the continent and Mr. Henry asked his audience, “Has Great Britain any enemy in this quarter of the world to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies?” He answered his own question; “They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other.” He reminded the Convention of their repeated supplications and petitions to the English throne, all of which had been slighted, rebuffed, and answered with military threats. Henry declared, “There is no longer any room for hope.”

It is often said that discretion is the better part of valor. Granted. Still, the details of discretion are debatable. Henry was fed up with debates and petitions. Caution certainly has its place, but for Henry, freedom was on the line and it was time for courage.

Henry respectfully acknowledged that “different men often see the same subject in different lights.” He had felt the pressure to hold back his opinion for “fear of giving offence.” Rising to reject that fear, he said, “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.”

Heating up for his conclusion, he cried out, “The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.” He continued, “Our chains are forged… Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle?”

Then came the finale: “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!”

Mr. Henry delivered his grave-over-slave address with all the dramatic choreography that our imagination can muster. When he sat down, the convention sat in silence for several minutes. His message moved his audience powerfully, but of course, debate did continue. And war did ensure.

Henry’s conviction lived on. In 1790, John Philpot Curran said, “It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.” A generation later, in 1834, Daniel Webster, another great American orator, said, “God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it.” More recently, President Ronald Reagan declared, “The future doesn’t belong to the faint-hearted. It belongs to the brave.”
give me liberty
Today, Patrick Henry’s resolve seems lost on a comfortable culture that hardly remembers him. We have a huge media complex geared to dilute and discredit his kind of rhetoric. We have a marketing industry to shape our interests and an entertainment industry to dismantle critical thinking. We have an educational establishment to willfully ignore the Henry’s of history. We have powerful political machines to get us to hate some groups, love others, and vote according to passions they instill in us. We rely on the power of money rather than the courage of conviction to solve our problems, creating a national debt so irredeemable that we just keep adding to it! We have seen the definition of marriage decomposed to the point where it is so genderless that motherhood and fatherhood are disposable. We have devalued human life to the point where an abortion giant like Planned Parenthood can destroy babies at tax-payer expense, sell body parts for profit, and destroy those who tell the truth about what they do.

In short, we are choosing slow death over liberty.

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