Early in 1775, the budding American Revolution was looking like it would wither and die before it even got started. Revolting against the British government was a rather big step, and a lot of people were not comfortable with taking it. Many didn’t dislike everything about Britain, simply the way the country was handling the American Colonies. It was in this state of disarray and division that Patrick Henry gave one of the most famous speeches in American History.
The Second Virginia Convention decided to meet at a church to talk the matter over and vote on their course of action. Many of those present were hopeful that the British Parliament would change its mind on its colonial policies. Others were hopeful that a compromise could be worked out. Then Patrick Henry, a lawyer and politician, stood up to speak.
Henry had a gift for public speaking, and he used it well. He stood before everyone and spoke of how he respected the opinions of the optimists and the compromisers, but he declared that they had it wrong.
He pointed out that the colonies had tried to compromise time and again, but the British simply ignored them. He spoke of the need to form neighborhood militias that could be ready to fight the British on a moment’s notice. And he closed with the immortal words, “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!”
His speech galvanized his audience. The vote was for revolution.