On March 23, 1775 Patrick Henry delivered a speech that shifted the political tide in Virginia, leading the House of Burgesses to pass a resolution that troops from the colony would serve in the Revolutionary War. Not only did the speech capture the imaginations of those in attendance, but it has been celebrated widely through history for the declaration, “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!”
Sadly, the full text of the speech did not survive, but in 1815 William Wirt made an effort to reconstruct its contents through correspondence with the men who were present at the time. He published his results a year later in The Life and Character of Patrick Henry. One possible reconstruction suggests that the speech concluded as follows:
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!
The final line became a rallying cry for the war, and it is even reported that those in attendance took up the call and shouted it upon the conclusion of the speech. Of course, all wars have an opposing side, and the following document expresses outrage at Henry’s open and unlawful rebellion.
You can find more primary sources relating to iconic moments in American History and the Revolutionary War at Opening History.