“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” (1775)

Patrick Henry gave this legendary speech at St. John’s Church in Richmond, where the Virginia colonial legislature was meeting. Henry called on the legislature to take up arms in resistance against British tyranny. Henry spoke without notes, and no one immediately transcribed the speech. It was reconstructed by Henry’s biographer years later.

In response to the presence of England’s military in Massachusetts, Henry urged his countrymen to fight the British. He warned that repeated violations of their rights would surely mean more in the future. He said, “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience.” He proclaimed that they could not fail in their attempt: millions of people “armed in the holy cause of liberty” would be invincible. He insisted that attempts to reconcile with the British would make the colonists into slaves, figuratively speaking. He famously concluded, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”