Patrick Henry, Real-American Patriotism and
The Holy Cause of Liberty
by G. Jason Thompson[i]
June 17, 2012
After doing research for a speech I recently gave to a local Tea Party about Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” (a.k.a. The War Inevitable) speech[ii], I realized how much more there was, not only to Henry’s profound words, but what it means to be a real-American patriot.
Patrick Henry was in every sense of the phrase, a real-American patriot. He was a man who not only had to deal with the impending war and the struggles with the overbearing, tyrannical government of Great Britain, but also had his own personal problems at home. His beloved first wife, Sarah Shelton, had what scholars would now define as a mental illness, which eventually took her life. Henry was a caring man, for his country and his family. Refusing to have her put in a cell-type room and treated like an animal, as the mental institutions did at the time, he instead isolated her in their mansion[iii] where she could be properly cared-for – clothed, bathed and fed, often by Patrick, himself, when he was not away on business. At the time, Sarah was thought to have a demon (demon-possessed) and was refused a proper Christian burial. Patrick buried her himself next to their home. The year she died was the spring of 1775, the same year Patrick Henry gave his famous speech – the same year Henry observed a preacher being whipped in downtown Culpepper, Virginia for not having his preacher’s license.[iv]
There was a lot going on in Patrick Henry’s life, which no doubt moved him and strengthened his convictions. In early years, Henry’s father wanted young Patrick raised in the Anglican Church. However, his mother would take him to hear the great orator, Presbyterian Minister Samuel Davies, who was said to have a profound influence on Henry and his oratory skills.
Most of us hear the very last words of Henry’s speech — the speech that was said to have silenced the room of his Virginian brethren, until their whispers turned into shouts, “to war!”[v] However, the words and phrases throughout his speech, which led to the last paragraph of not the last phrase, are what are paramount and give real meaning to “Give me liberty or give me death.”
Patrick Henry spoke about the “holy cause of liberty.” When is the last time (if ever) you have heard your pastor or rabbi say that? This “holy” cause of liberty is the key to understanding The War Inevitable speech and what it means to be a real-American patriot. Henry and most our other Founding Fathers, contrary to historical revisionists, were not deists, but true believers. They knew the whole bible and many were taught to read by first reading the bible. They regularly attended church, where their pastors spoke about current political events without being in fear of losing their 501(c)(3) status[vi]. Many pastors even took up arms and joined the American Revolution. Our Founders openly spoke about their faith, not just when it was politically expedient with a “God bless America.” Their faith in a God who “presides over the destinies of nations,” as Henry stated, was solid. It was understood by all that God helps worthy causes and comes to the aid of his those who ask for it.
Towards the end of The War Inevitable speech, but right before the last paragraph that is most often quoted, is a sentence that has a lot of power and meaning to those who worshiped a Judeo-Christian God:
There is a just God who presides of over the destinies of Nations, and who will raise up friends to fight ourbattles for us.
There are two different ways of interpreting this sentence, but both call for divine intervention. The first, and simplest way, is that Henry was speaking is God changes the hearts men of other nations (or even within the Thirteen Colonies) to aid in the American cause.[vii] The other interpretation may perhaps be that it was no earthly army whom Patrick Henry was speaking as being “friends” of God. Moreover, he very well may have been speaking about a spiritual army of God, something not unfamiliar to the hearts and minds of the Founders, who knew of the wars in the Holy Scriptures and when God intervened. After all, if Henry did in fact use the words “for us” versus “with us,” it seems to give the sentence a different meaning.[viii]
Probably the best example is found in 2 Kings 6:13:
Therefore he sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city. And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, and said, “LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.[ix]
In this passage, Elisha’s servant is afraid as they are surrounded and outnumbered, until Elisha prays that his servant’s spiritual eyes are opened for him to see the spiritual army of God, ready to fight for them. One cannot help but wonder what kind of ridicule a modern-day politician would receive from the media, other politicos and society as a whole if that politician would say such things – but to the delegates of the Second Virginia Convention and the Founders as a whole, it was understood. These real-American patriots believed in a holy cause of liberty, not just liberty in a vacuum. They did not believe their rights existed because they surrendered everything to the King or some other Hobbesian-earthly-sovereign authority for protection or because they entered into a social contract. They knew their rights were self-evident, endowed by their Creator.[x]
It is easy to see from their writings that our Founders were God-fearing men, who placed their faith and obedience to God above all. Even the ones who may not have been as open with their faith or less God-fearing understood and were well versed in the bible. The War Inevitable Speech was not only highly rational in that their petitions to Parliament were pointless and war was at their doorsteps, but it appealed to Heaven and the faith of our Founders, especially those in Virginia.
Patrick Henry feared God. In the beginning of his speech he addressed the convention that it was treasonous to his own country and “an act of disloyalty to the Majesty of Heaven which I revere above all earthly kings.” To withhold his opinions and not warn his fellow countrymen, Henry believed he would be committing treason to them and would also be dishonoring God. Henry’s beliefs in treason to country and to God also have biblical roots:
Again the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman: If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul. But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.[xi]
Those patriots already agreeing with Henry that Virginia should take-up arms and prepare militias for the imminent war needed no persuasion from the fiery speech. To them, it provided clarity for their convictions. However, to the obstinate-reluctant-loyalist-leaning colonists in St. John’s Church,[xii] the War Inevitable Speech shamed them into agreeing to take defensive measures against the British. This shame was a result of their deep convictions in God and country. It was a product of their Judeo-Christian worldview. They knew that taking a morally correct stand for the holy cause of liberty greatly outweighed whatever financial, political or criminal ramifications could result in defiance to the British crown, including their own lives.
Wanting lower taxes and less government is laudable, but not when it is in a god-less-vacuum of irreligious-libertine thought. Our rights come from somewhere. The Founders knew this, but many of us have forgotten. Even more, it is baseless to argue about the evils of an intrusive government that enslaves us with over-taxation and regulations if we do not have a fundamental grasp of the holy cause of liberty.
A real-American patriot, who necessarily has a Judeo-Christian worldview, is accountable to God for not warning his fellow countrymen of impending or imminent danger. In the last three years, our own federal government has ordered over 750 million rounds of .40 caliber hollow point bullets to be used by the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration Customs and Enforcement.[xiii] Drone planes are now flying over domestic areas throughout the United States. Our liberties and rights to privacy are also being stripped away daily with new executive orders and legislation like the National Defense Authorization Act, Stop Online Privacy Act and others. Federal, state and local governments are continually inventing new ways to create new taxes to confiscate or wealth and enslave us to a Hobbesian Leviathan. What enemy does our government have (just as Patrick Henry asked) in this quarter of the world for the accumulation of all these armaments and for whom are they meant? Most of our elected officials (Democrat or Republican) have said nothing. They are certainly not sounding the alarm. “Where are our statesmen? Where are our watchmen? Where are our real-American patriots?
[i] G. Jason Thompson is a partner at Emert | Thompson, LLLP.
[ii] The War Inevitable Speech: March 23, 1775, St. John’s Church, Richmond, Virginia. The speech was given by Patrick Henry (Delegate from Hanover County, VA) to the Second Virginia Convention.
[iii] She was kept away from others as she was said to have suicidal tendencies as well as violent tendencies towards others. Thomas S. Kidd (2011). Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots. Basic Books. p. 239-240.
[iv] “Some observers thought Patrick Henry the patriot spoke like a gospel preacher.” Thomas S. Kidd (2011). Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots. Basic Books. p. 102, citing Thomas S. Kid (2007). The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christian Roots in Colonial America. Yale University. p. 290.
[v] The War Inevitable Speech: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/patrick.asp.
[vi] The Internal Revenue Service did not even exist at this time, but one could argue the King and Parliament were acting in the same role.
[vii] See Ephesians 6:12 (KJV): For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
[viii] Historians state there was no written text to this speech until William Wirt published Life and Character of Patrick Henry in 1816. Wirt put the oral translation to writing from United States District Judge (VA) St. George Tucker, who was present during the speech. See Moses S. Coit Tyler (1887). Patrick Henry. Houghton Miflin Company. p. 142-146.
[ix] 2 Kings 6:13 KJV.
[x] See the Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies, July 4, 1776.
[xi] Ezekiel 33:1-6 KJV.
[xii] See Historic St. John’s Church: http://www.historicstjohnschurch.org/hist_main.php.