Internet InfoMedia on this day in history march 23 1775 patriot patrick henry demands give me liberty or give me death

Revolutionary firebrand Patrick Henry bellowed, “Give me liberty or give me death!” while proposing to fellow Virginia leaders that the colony raise troops to battle the British on this day in history, March 23, 1775. 

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” the rousing orator reportedly thundered before the Second Virginia Convention at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond.

“Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

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His demand that Virginia form citizen-soldier companies of cavalry and militia in the cause of liberty proved prescient. 

Just four weeks later, on April 19, open hostilities broke out between armed colonists and crown at the Battles of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, igniting the American Revolution.

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American political leader Patrick Henry (1736-1799) delivers his patriotic “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech before the Virginia Assembly, March 23, 1775. (Original artwork printed by Currier & Ives; MPI/Getty Images)

Henry’s fellow Virginian, George Washington, arrived in New England in July to lead its militiamen. 

It was a symbolic and physical union of the far-flung northern and southern colonies in common heroic cause against the age-old system of hereditary monarchy that had ruled the world for time immemorial. 

“I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” — Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775

Washington most likely heard Henry’s stirring call to arms. 

He was one of about 120 American patriots from Virginia, including Declaration of Independence signatories Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee and Benjamin Harrison, called to consider the course of the colony’s future at the convention. 

Shot heard 'round the world

The first shots of the American Revolution were fired in Lexington, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1775. Print shows line of Minutemen being fired upon by British troops. Engraving, circa 1903. Virginia orator Patrick Henry had called upon his colonists to raise militia only four weeks earlier, famously demanding, “Give me liberty or give me death!” (VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

They met in Richmond instead of Williamsburg, then the capital of Virginia, 50 miles away, to avoid the gaze of royal governor Lord Dunmore John Murray. 

“Henry pleaded with the delegates to recognize that the presence of [British] armies and navies was an act of hostility, not of reconciliation,” writes the website of Historic St. John’s Church, where he delivered the stirring oratory. 

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“He warned them that the time for action had arrived, that no matter how weak they perceived themselves to be, they would be even more vulnerable if disarmed and in the presence of the British army.”

St. John’s hosts a reenactment of Henry’s speech every March 23.

“Henry pleaded with the delegates to recognize that the presence of [British] armies and navies was an act of hostility.” — Historic Church of St. John’s

Henry died amid a battle with stomach cancer on June 6, 1799. 

“Every Virginia paper devoted long sections lamenting his loss and the impact he had on American and Virginian society,” writes the American Battlefield Trust. 

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“He may only be known for one speech, but that speech represents a lifetime of work in the pursuit of liberty.”

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