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Patrick Henry: Enemy of the State

by Ryan McMaken

Little is said today of Patrick Henry. He still makes it into a book on American history here and there primarily because he was without a doubt one of the greatest (if not the greatest) orator of his generation, and when the American revolution became imminent in the 1770’s he was among those who had the greatest grasp of when the conflict would come and what it would bring.

The episode in his life that apparently warrants mention by mainstream historians is his speech to the House of Burgesses – which was meeting illegally without the consent of the Crown’s governor. It was late March 1775 – before the farmers of Lexington and Concord had had the opportunity to humiliate the most powerful army on Earth – and Henry knew that a clash of arms was near. In an effort to win support for a bill that would raise an army for Virginia and illegally appoint officers without the consent of the Crown, Henry clamored for the Virginia militia to take arms against the British:

“The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms…Let it come. I repeat, Sir, Let it come…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!”

Today, these comments are treated as hyperbole, a mere gentleman’s exercise in arousing legislators to action. With Henry, nothing could be further from the truth. For as Murray Rothbard has pointed out numerous times, the court historians of our age would have us believe that the American revolution was no revolution at all, but merely an unfortunate disagreement among refined compatriots. But for Patrick Henry – and he was certainly not alone in such sentiments – British rule was nothing short of barbaric tyranny, a despotism to be ripped from American soil no matter what the price in blood.

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