Patrick Henry: America’s Greatest Orator
May 26, 2010 by Chip Wood
America’s greatest orator was born on May 29, 1736. I’m referring to Patrick Henry, whose “give me liberty or give me death” speech to the Virginia House of Burgess marked an important turning point in our battle for independence.
Here’s how Paul Johnson, one of America’s greatest historians, describes the moment in his book, A History of the American People. Patrick began his remarks by asking,
“Our brethren are already in the field. Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have?” Then Henry got down on his knees, in the posture of a manacled slave, intoning in a low but rising voice: “Is life so dear or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!”
He then bent to the earth for a few seconds with his hands still crossed, then suddenly sprang to his feet shouting, “Give me liberty!” and flung wide his arms, paused, lowered his arms, clenched his right hand as if holding a dagger at his breast, and said in sepulchral tones: “Or give me death!” He then beat his breast with his hand holding the imaginary dagger. There was silence, broken by a man listening at the open window, who shouted: “Let me be buried on this spot!” Henry had made his point.