Summary: A sermon preached on the Christian foundation of America.
GIVE ME LIBERTY
A sermon preached by Jerry Falwell
This is an encyclopedia survey of Patrick Henry because most Americans only know Patrick Henry by one phrase from a speech, not his total influence.
Henry, Patrick (1736-99) was born to a prosperous farming family in Hanover County, Virginia. He had little formal education, but grew up in a cultured environment and was widely read. A failure as a storekeeper and a farmer, he turned to the practice of law in 1760. In 1765 he was chosen a member of the Virginia legislature (the House of Burgesses) and became a fiery defender of colonial rights. In presenting the radical Virginia resolutions to the assembly as an answer to the Stamp Act, he ended his speech with the memorable words: “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I his Cromwell”—here he was interrupted by cries of “Treason!” He answered, “If this be treason, make the most of it.” Four of his resolutions passed the House, and all seven were given wide publicity from Boston to Charleston. For the next five years Patrick Henry dominated the public life of Virginia and was appointed a delegate to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
At the Second Virginia Convention in Virginia (March 1775) he made a motion that Virginia form a standing army and concluded with a stirring call to arms with his dramatic declaration: “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Although without military experience, he was made commander of the Virginia forces in August 1775. He was so hampered by political opponents that he resigned the following February. In the Third Virginia Convention (May 1776) he helped draft a new state constitution. Elected the first Governor of Virginia in June 1776, he was twice re-elected for one-year terms, the constitutional limit for continuous service. He gave full support to George Washington and the continental war effort.
Henry served two more terms as Governor (1784-86). He was among those responsible for the adoption of the first 10 amendments (the Bill of Rights) to the Constitution. In 1795 President Washington offered him the position of Secretary of State and then of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but he declined both offices. He died before the assembly convened.
GIVE ME LIBERTY
“And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none” (Ezekiel 22:30).
Whenever God has a great task, God raises up a man of equal greatness for that task. When this nation called America was being founded, there were strong voices calling for America to remain as colonies joined to Great Britain. But there were voices on the other side calling for independence from Britain. These voices called for revolution. The leading voice calling for revolution was Patrick Henry. He was God’s man to stand in the gap, rallying this nation to become the “United States,” separate from Great Britain.
Patrick Henry has been called the “trumpet” of the American Revolution, because it was his voice and his speech that rallied the state of Virginia—the largest of the thirteen colonies—into military preparedness for military action.
Let me set the stage for this magnificent speech. It was March 1775. Britain had levied a number of unjust taxes upon the colonies, and the colonies had begun to rebel against “oppressive taxation.” There had been the Boston Tea Party to rebel against the unjust tea tax. In response, the British government had posted troops throughout the colonies and sent war ships into America’s harbors. Britain was determined to force her rule on the American colonies.
There had been a Continental Congress to discuss the issues; the colonies didn’t know what to do. A few wanted to declare independence from Britain, a few wanted to negotiate settlement with Britain, but most of the people were indecisive. They hadn’t made up their mind.
In 1775, Patrick Henry was elected to the Virginia Convention. His wife Sarah was extremely ill with bouts of depression, called a nervous breakdown. That March she died, and it was a sorrowfully bereaved Patrick Henry who went to the Virginia Convention in Richmond in March 1775.
Richmond had approximately six hundred citizens; the largest building was the St. John’s Church in Henrico Parish, a square wooden framed building with a squat steeple. The building only held one hundred and twenty delegates, plus two dozen spectators.
For two days they discussed the work of the Continental Congress. Some wanted to negotiate; some wanted to fight England. It looked as if a stalemate would result. Nothing would be done.
Patrick Henry made a motion to immediately “draw up for arming and disciplining a well regulated militia.” Many in the room thought Patrick Henry’s motion “went too far.” They said, “Fortitude would be the best defense.” They didn’t want to fight. Patrick Henry rose up to defend his motion: [Excerpts from Patrick Henry speech, given in the Second Virginia Convention, at St. John’s Church in Richmond, VA, March_23,_1775]