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And in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It was only in this way that they could hope to arrive at truth, and fulfil the great responsibility which they held to God and their country. Should he keep back his opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offence, he should consider himself as guilty of treason towards his country, and of an act of disloyalty towards the majesty of Heaven, which he revered above all earthly kings.
"Mr. President," said he, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth; and listen to the song of that syren, till she transforms us into beasts. Is this," he asked, "the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liber. ty? Were we disposed to be of the number of those, who having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For his part, whatever anguish of spirit it might cost, he was willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst; and to provide for it.
“He had,” he said, “but one lamp by which his feet were guided; and that was the lamp of experience. He knew of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, he wished to know what there had been in the conduct of the British ministry, for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen had been pleased to solace themselves and the house? Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and arinies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it?--Has Great Britain any enemy in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains, which the British ministry have been so long forging And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we any thing new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find, which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves longer. Sir, we have done every thing that could be done, to avert the storm that is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. 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 strug gle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained; we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must tight!! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!
"They tell us, sir," continued Mr. Henry, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power 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 figlit our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies 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. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat, but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged.Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable; and let it come!! I repeat it, sir, let it come!!!
"It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. 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! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? 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,” cried he, with both his arms extended aloft, his brows knit, every feature marked with the resolute purpose of his soul, and his voice swellel to its boldest note of exclamation, "give me liberty, or give me death !"
• He took his seat. No murmur of applause was heard. The effect was too deep. After the trance of a moment, several members started from their seats. The cry, "to arms," seemed to quiver on every lip, and gleam from every eye! Richard H. Lee arose and supported Mr. Henry, with his usual spirit and elegance. But his melody was lost amidst the agitations of that ocean, which the master spirit of the storm had lifted up on high. That supernatural voice still sounded in their cars, and shivered along their arteries. They heard in every pause the cry of liberty or death. They became impatient of speech; their souls were on fire for action."
The resolutions were adopted, and Patrick Henry, Richard H. Lee, Robert C. Nicholas, Benjamin Harrison, Lemuel Riddick, George Washington, Adam Stevens, Andrew Lewis, Wm. Christman, Erlmund Pendleton, Thomas Jefferson, and Isaac Zane, Esquires, were appointed a committee to prepare the plan called for by the resolutions.
In April, 1775, after lord Dunmore bad conveyed on board a ship, a part of the powder from the magazine of Williamsburg, Mr. Henry distinguished himself by assembling the independent companies of Hanover and King William counties, and directing them towards Williamsburg,
with the avowed design of obtaining payment for the powder, or of compelling its restitution. The object was effected, for the king's receiver general gave a bill for the value of the property, The governor immediately fortified his palace, and issued a proclamation, charging those who had procured the bill with rebellious practices. This only occasioned a number of county meetings, which applauded the conduct of Mr. Henry, and expressed a determination to protect him. In August, 1775, when a new choice of deputies to congress was made, he was not re-elected, for his ser vices were now demanded more exclusively in his own state. After the departure of lord Dunmore, he was chosen the first governor in June, 1776, and he held this office several succeeding years, bending all his exertions to promote the freedom and independence of his country.
In June, 1777, and again in 1778, he was unanimously re-elected governor: but he declined the honour. In 1780, we find him again in the assembly, and one of the most actire members of the house.
In 1788, he was a member of the convention of the state of Virginia, which was appointed to consider the consitution of the United States: and he exerted all the force of his masterly eloquence, day after day, to prevent its adoption. He contended that changes were dangerous to liberty; that the old confederation bad carried us through the war, and secured our independence, and needed only amendment; that the proposed was a consolidated government, in which the sovereignty of the states would be lost, and all pretensions to rights and privileges would be rendered insecure. He offered a resolution, containing a bill of rights and amendments, which, however, was not accepted.
6. The convention had been attended from its commencement by a vast concourse of citizens, of