American Founders' Month continues in Florida, and it coincides with Freedom Week. There may be no quote more famous in our nation's history than Patrick Henry's "...give me liberty or give me death!" It is perhaps an appropriate way to start off our celebration of Freedom Week as we wrap up American Founders' Month.
Patrick Henry, like many of his peers, was a man of many talents, beliefs, and contradictions. He was a brilliant orator, fiery and powerful, but few of his speeches survived him, as he rarely wrote anything down. Unlike his contemporaries, he did not write many letters, so we have few primary sources to consider him with. A passionate advocate for liberty, he was, like many of his elite contemporaries from the South, a slave holder. Like many of them (though not all!) he recognized the evils of slavery without necessarily choosing a path towards his own complicity. A believer in strong bonds across the states, he was embittered by what he saw as New England's reluctance to contribute fairly to the national project under the Articles of Confederation.
His passion for liberty led Henry initiallt to the Anti-Federalist camp; he did not trust those working in Philadelphia at the constitutional convention, and he did not trust the new Constitution.
This Constitution is said to have beautiful features; but when I come to examine these features, Sir, they appear to me horribly frightful: Among other deformities, it has an awful squinting; it squints towards monarchy: And does not this raise indignation in the breast of every American? Your President may easily become King: Your Senate is so imperfectly constructed that your dearest rights may be sacrificed by what may be a small minority; and a very small minority may continue forever unchangeably this Government, although horridly defective: Where are your checks in this Government? Your strong holds will be in the hands of your enemies: It is on a supposition that our American Governors shall be honest, that all the good qualities of this Government are founded: But its defective, and imperfect construction, puts it in their power to perpetrate the worst of mischiefs, should they be bad men
Ultimately, however, he sided with the Federalists, in part because of rivalry with his fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson. He is, without a doubt, a good person to begin this Freedom Week with. You can learn more about Patrick Henry's famous 'give me liberty' speech with this close reading plan here!
Grab the PowerPoint slide featured in this post: Patrick Henry AFM
Additional entries in the American Founders’ Month series: