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Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!
by Rose Weiner

Treason! Treason! shouted many of the delegates in the Virginia House of Burgesses as Patrick Henry made his speech against the British Stamp Act, which levied a tax on every piece of paper in the houses of American colonists to support the British troops on the American frontier.

Imagine a garrison of soldiers coming to your house and searching through it to make sure every piece of paper was marked with a stamp with King George’s crown on it to show you paid the tax. The Colonists were furious, and they were becoming suspicious that the British Government was actually trying to make them their slaves. Up until this time, the American colonies had been enjoying self-government with very little interference from Great Britain.

It is an historic fact that Americans believed that their situation in North America was a fulfillment of Revelation 12. The devil was working through the Roman church and the European kings and had been stirring up a great persecution in Europe and England. (a) Under the Stamp Act, anyone who used or purchased anything printed on paper had to buy a revenue stamp for it. (b) The Stamp Act protests took many forms, including this mock stamp which reads, “An Emblem of the Effects of the STAMP. O! the fatal STAMP.” They were against the Protestant Reformation and those translating the Bible out of Latin into the language of the people. Americans believed that in accordance with St. John’s Revelation, the wings of a great eagle had been given to them. Through the leading of God’s Spirit, God had brought them to the North American wilderness, their spiritual Promised Land, so they could be nourished and grow away from the face of the serpent. The American colonies had experienced great prosperity and spiritual growth, hidden away from Europe and the encroachment of the state church and King. Now that security was being threatened.

Patrick Henry was well known for his sharp wit for debate. He had grown up going with his mother to all the camp meetings of the Great Spiritual Awakening that had been going on in the Colonies and had heard the great revivalist George Whitfield speak on many occasions. These dynamic messages helped to form Patrick Henry’s sense of speaking and oratory as well as gave him an understanding of the just demands and blessings of a righteous and loving God. You could make the argument that something of the mantle of George Whitfield had been imparted to him.

Henry could combine political oration with the style of a preacher and could out of deep conviction sound the moral thunder that was necessary to move an audience and get them to make a decision for truth. His speaking mesmerized his listeners. He could communicate powerful ideas in an extremely accessible manner. The delegates were in great anticipation of hearing Patrick Henry speak. The air literally bristled with excitement when he arrived. Henry accused the British Parliament of acting illegally and setting aside the law that did not allow British citizens to be taxed without representation, and as a result, a fiery debate ensued.

A Violation of the British Bill of Rights

According to the British Bill of Rights, no Englishman could be taxed without the consent of their legislative representatives. This “right” went back over 500 years to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, when the British noblemen wrested power from King John for taxing them against their will and for killing their sons or throwing them into prison because they refused to give up their cattle to the King’s men, who had come to take them at a whim.

Interestingly, when Israel had demanded a king so they could be like every other nation, this is the very thing that God warned them would happen if they insisted on this path. The prophet Samuel asked them, “Do you think the Lord is not king enough? Has He ever broken His promise to be your Protector? He has repeatedly demonstrated His power for your sakes.” Then the Lord warned them through Samuel, “A king will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. he will draft your sons to plant his fields and make war for his selfish ambitions, he will make your daughters menial laborers in his kitchens for his parties, and he will tax everything you own to support himself and his friends and will demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use.” ( Ezk. 33:1-7)

From that day in 1215, the British tried to curb the power of the king. A Parliament was formed in Britain to make laws to which both king and people must submit. It was the beginning of civil freedom, and King George III, King of Great Britain 1760-1820Patrick Henry for one was not about to let this ancient law and hard won “right” slip.

According to the Magna Carta, the British government was not allowed to levy taxes without the consent of the people’s representatives. The Colonists representatives were in America. They had no representatives in the British Parliament, and Britain had not submitted the matter to the Colonial legislators in America for approval. Patrick Henry, for one, believed that King George and the British Parliament had gone too far and were breaking the law.

When it was his turn to take the floor again, Henry turned his criticism to King George III. With fiery eyes and the passion of a well seasoned orator, Henry surmised, “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third — ” As the delegates readily recognized Henry’s reference to assassinated leaders, some of them were appalled and perhaps a little frightened. These delegates rose from their seats, interrupted his speech, and cried out, “Treason! Treason!” Henry paused briefly, and quietly looked at the men who had made the accusations until they fell back into silence. Then calmly he finished his sentence: “ . . . may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.”

A Call to Arms

Although Henry later apologized for his brashness, his fiery words and even resolutions that he had written but hadn’t proposed yet to the House of Burgesses began appearing in the newspapers and stirred up the colonists to resist this encroachment on their liberty by the King. People calling themselves the Sons of Liberty rose up and started tearing down the stamp collecting offices, expelling the stamp collectors, forcing them to resign and holding bonfires from the wood of the torn down stamp collection buildings in front of the stamp collectors’ houses. The Colonists boycotted British goods so, because of the British merchants protest and because it was easier not to enforce the act, the British cancelled the tax. But other taxes would take their place without the consent of their representatives. The tax on tea was one of the last straws.

Britain dissolved the Virginia House of Burgesses because of the “rebellious” spirit in the colonies. The Colonists formed a Continental Congress and sent the King and Parliament a list of their grievances, but they refused to respond. The Colonists began to notice build-up of British soldiers. No longer being able to convene, Virginia held a convention at St. John’s Church in Richmond to discuss the situation. Patrick Henry simply could not let this go without sounding the alarm. It was here that Henry gave his famous “Call to Arms” speech. Henry’s last closing remark would be, “Give me liberty or give me death.” This statement continues to echo around the world to freedom loving people everywhere. This speech would stand out in history as the most important speech ever delivered in our nation and the most powerful. His speech was extemporaneous and not written down.

The Secretary of the convention was supposed to write down everything spoken in the sessions, but he was so captivated by Henry’s words he could not write down a thing. However, the speech was so emblazoned on the hearts of the listeners that many of the legislators could write down the speech word for word by memory. This is why we know what was spoken today. This is also testimony of the power of the Holy Spirit to engrave on the heart what He wants people to remember.

Henry’s goal was to persuade the Colonial legislators to raise up militias to defend the colonies against British military action which might be taken against them because of their opposition to unlawful taxes. Henry reminded the delegates that they had made every effort to petition Parliament and the King for a hearing of grievances, but they had continued to refuse. Henry also reminded them of the long case for self-governing religious freedom that their Forebears had escaped Europe and come to America to secure; “If we wish to be free — if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending —if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained — we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!”

That phrase would later appear in the Declaration of Independence which would state: “We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States.” Our Founders trust in God was the secret of their power to defeat the most powerful military force on earth at that time.

The continual arrival of British troops on American soil when there were no British enemies near them Patrick saw as a red flag: “I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission?”

Why Henry Believed that He Could Not Remain Silent

Henry surmised: “Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.” This statement is the secret of Patrick Henry’s powerful oratory. He did not want to be guilty of “tacit consent,” which means consent by silence and by not interposing an objection.

Well-versed in Scripture, Henry obviously took God’s admonition to Ezekiel the prophet to heart. Henry had a prophetic sense oof mission, which should be the conscious intent of all of God’s people everywhere. If we belong to Christ, we are a member of a royal priesthood and should press the claims of Jesus Christ and His Lordship wherever we go. God first put the choice to Ezekiel saying: “ If I take a watchman and put him among the people and when the watchman sees the enemy coming, he sounds the alarm to warn the people. Then if The Divine Right of Kings – the “Bloodline”
Rulers. King Louis IVX of France XVI 1754 -1793
those who hear the alarm refuse to take action, it is their own fault if they die.  They heard the alarm but ignored it, so the responsibility is theirs. If they had listened to the warning, they could have saved their lives. But if the watchman sees the enemy coming and doesn’t sound the alarm to warn the people, he is responsible for their captivity. They will die in their sins, but I will hold the watchman responsible for their deaths.’ Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me.” (Ezk. 33:3-7)

We could say that Henry blew a very loud trumpet and it is still being blown today as His words, as it is with prophetic things, have a sense of eternal destiny about them and continue to travel down the centuries. Prophetic words hold meaning in the past, in the present, and will continue to hold meaning in the future. Henry reminds the Colonists of the powerful Author of their nation, which still remains an admonition to all freedom loving Americans today : “Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. 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.”

“There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! . . 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!”

Overthrowing the Divine Right of Kings

It is the Protestant Reformation and revivals of Christianity that birthed our nation. Free access to the Bible informed the conscious of our Founders of the fact that God was never in favor of the idea of a king, no matter how nice the king might seem, because there could always be a wicked king to take his place tomorrow. No, God had never intended for people to be ruled by a king, an oligarch, or a dictator. According to the Bible, it was God’s will for each individual person to govern himself according to the will and the law of God.

The idea of self-government became what our Founders called a “self-evident” truth – “that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It was not ever God’s will that one family or one person, because of a “blood line,” had the right to rule another. He allowed this in Israel because of their hardness of heart, but it became an albatross around their neck.

Benjamin Franklin wanted to call this truth “self-evident,” Thomas Jefferson preferred the term “Divine Truth.” Since every nation up until that time had a king, this truth only became self evident to our Founders because they were informed by the Bible and sought to make its Truth their guide. It was the American opinion, informed by the clear teaching of God’s Word, that they would have no king but Jesus. That phrase, “No king but Jesus” became the battlecry of the Revolution.

Our Founders were able to look down the corridors of time along with Jesus and see every yoke broken and every captive set free. They began that process by overturning the Doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings and established a nation of self-governing people with the law of God as their standard and the Bible as the foundation of their liberty. Other freedoms would follow, but our Founders gave us a government which created the freest people who had ever existed on the face of the earth. They created an atmosphere of liberty that gave eagle wings to the human spirit.

“The Bible is worth more than all the other books which have ever been printed.” – Patrick Henry

Hear Patrick Henry’s Liberty or Death Speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbghWFMLyiA

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