On March 23, 1775, 244 years ago, Patrick Henry delivered one of the most famous speeches in American history. While some of his words are still familiar today, many Americans are unaware of the turbulent times preceding his celebrated address.
In the 1760s, Parliament passed numerous laws directly violating the rights of the colonists, including the Sugar Act (1764), the Stamp Act (1765), and many others. Patrick Henry, a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, was one of many who objected. When the Stamp Act was repealed in 1766, the joy was so widespread that a Boston minister preached a notable sermon celebrating the event!
But the repeal of the Stamp Act was only a temporary reprieve. In 1767 came the hated Townshend Revenue Acts, which led to additional boycotts and protests. When the British sent troops to America to enforce these acts, it led to the shooting down of five Americans in what became known as the Boston Massacre. The Townshend Acts were finally repealed, but in 1774 they were replaced by even worse laws known as the Intolerable Acts.
The British became more hard-fisted, and following the Boston Tea Party, they closed almost all commercial shipments, effectively ended self-government in Massachusetts, and required the people to house British troops in private homes. It was against the backdrop of this turmoil that Patrick Henry rose to speak.
Some had argued that the American Colonies were too weak to do anything against the British (one of the world’s greatest powers at that time), but in his March 23, 1775 speech, Henry replied: “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 destines 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. . . .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! . . . . 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!”
Significantly, Henry’s speech was heavily punctuated with quotations from numerous Bible verses. (See the commentary surrounding Matthew 12 in the Founders’ Bible for more about this, also showing how Bible verses appeared throughout numerous famous speeches by our Founding Fathers.) Not long after his speech came the Battles of Lexington and Concord, beginning the American War for Independence. Today, March 23, marks the anniversary of one of the most famous speeches heralding American independence!