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Eloquent Sons of the South

PATRICK HENRY

SPEECH DELIVERED MARCH 23, 1775, IN THE CONVENTION OF DELEGATES OF VIRGINIA

On the following resolutions, introduced by himself:

“Resolved, That a well-regulated militia, composed of fo. and yeomen, is the natural strength and only security of a free government; that such a militia in this colony would forever render it unnecessary for the mother country to keep among us, for the purpose of our defence, any standi army of mercenary soldiers, always, subversive o the quiet, and dangerous to the liberties of the }.o. and would obviate the pretext of taxing us or their support.

“That the establishment of such a militia is, at this time, peculiarly necessary, by the state of our laws for the protection and defence of the country, some of which are already expired, and others will shortly be so; and that the known remissness of government in calling us together in legislative capacity renders it too insecure, in this time of danger and distress, to rely, that opportunity will be given of renewing them, in general assembly, or making any provision to secure our inestimable rights and liberties from those further violations with which they are threatened.

“Resolved, therefore, That this colony be immediately put into a state of defence, and that

be a committee to prepare a plan for imbodying, arming and disciplining such a number of men as may be sufficient for that purpose.”

MR. PRESIDENT: No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the house. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen, if, entertaining, as I do, opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The question before the house is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfil the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offence, I should consider myself as guilty of treason toward my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings. Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren, till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those, who, having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it. I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes

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