No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as
abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House.
But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and,
therefore, I hope that it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen,
if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs,
I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve.
This is no time for ceremony. The question before the House is one
of awful moment to this country. For my own part I consider it as nothing
less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude
of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this
way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility
which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at
such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as
guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty towards
the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.
Mr. President, 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 siren, till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the
part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty?
Are 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
For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing
to know the whole truth -- to know the worst and to provide for it. I have
but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience.
I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging
by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British
ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen
have 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 these warlike preparations which
cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies 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 motives 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 anything new to offer on 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 everything that could be done to avert the storm
which 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 struggle 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 fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is
They tell us, sir, 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 the 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 fight 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,
give me liberty, or give me death!
Patrick Henry - March 23, 1775