Patrick Henry
September 11

“Give me liberty or give me death!”


Founding Father Patrick Henry helped define the cause of the American Revolution when he declared “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!”

Born on May 29, 1736 in Hanover County, Virginia, Henry was a former storekeeper, turned lawyer and political leader. He led colonial resistance to British oppression as early as 1763.

On May 30, 1765, he commanded the world stage at the Virginia House of Burgesses. Accusing King George III of acting tyrannically, Henry exclaimed, “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third . . .” He was then interpreted by cries of “Treason! Treason!” Henry closed with “George the Third may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.” In response, Virginia enacted strong measures of resistance to the Stamp Act.

Thomas Jefferson gave Henry credit for setting “the ball of the revolution” in motion. On March 23, 1775, Henry solidified the cause of independence before the House of Burgesses. He exclaimed:

If we wish to be free – if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending – if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have so long engaged… we must fight! It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter, Gentlemen may cry, Peace, peace – but there is no peace… Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? 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 for me, give me liberty, or give me death!

Henry also served as wartime Governor of Virginia.

Following the American Revolution Henry refused to attend the Constitutional Convention. As an Anti-Federalist, Henry became the new Constitution’s most impressive opponent.

Although the Constitution was ratified over his objections, his opposition to the original Constitution – along with many others – led to the quick ratification of the Bill of Rights.

He died on June 6, 1799.