Respectfully Quoted: A Dictionary of Quotations. 1989.
Patrick Henry (173699)
There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave . It is vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, peace, peacebut 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!
PATRICK HENRY, speech to the Virginia Convention, Richmond, Virginia, March 23, 1775.William Wirt, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry, 9th ed., pp. 14142 (1836, reprinted 1970). The Biblical allusion is from Jeremiah 6:14.
While there is no doubt as to the general effect of Henrys speech, questions as to its actual wording are not so easily disposed of. Not only is there no manuscript copy of the oration, there is no stenographic report . It was not until some forty years later that William Wirt first reprinted a reconstruction of Henrys oration. In the absence of contemporary written information there was much criticism of Wirts text. Wirt collected much of the information for his biography of Patrick Henry when many of Henrys auditors at St. Johns [church] were still in their clear-minded fifties or sixties. Wirt collected information from intelligent and reliable auditors, including John Tyler, Judge St. George Tucker, and Edmund Randolph. Wirts text was based on a few very helpful sources plus many bits of information. He had ample proof for certain burning phrases a remarkable resemblance to Henrys other speeches during that period, the fact that the speech conforms to others in oratorical style and technique, even in the use of Biblical quotations or analogies. Of course, Wirt may have used fragments from earlier speeches for the reconstruction. Yet the information on the text as a whole is more precise than for many other great speeches in history.Robert Douthat Meade, Patrick Henry, Practical Revolutionary, vol. 2, pp. 3840 (1969).
I can find no evidence that Patrick Henrys Give me liberty, or give me death went ringing round the country in 1775, when he thus burst forth to the Virginia delegates, or in fact that it was quoted at all until after William Wirts official life in 1817.Carroll A. Wilson, Familiar Small College Quotations, II: Mark Hopkins and the Log, The Colophon, spring 1938, p. 204.