Back to the Christian History Society of America
Tell a Friend about the CHSA!    

  Important Links

•  Christian History Institute

•  Christian Heritage Center



One Nation Under God

Patrick Henry: A Son of Thunder, God's Apostle of Liberty, and Prophet of Freedom
        from Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry (1817)

Overshadowed by Jefferson’s ambitions, God’s anointing on Patrick’s oratory and accomplishments are evident to any spiritual eye.

Born 1736 – Died 1799

Patrick’s Mother Sarah “Brought him up in the way he should go.”

Sarah was not a conformist. Her faith was glowing, independent, even militant. Therefore, when George Whitefield visited Hanover in 1745 during one of his seven itineraries in America, she received him enthusiastically. In this respect, Sarah followed in the footsteps of her father, for at this time Isaac Winston (“Bald Ike”), a distinguished planter, was hailed before the General Court and fined for holding unlicensed religious meetings in his home. It was against the law to worship in any but the Established Church, except under rigid controls which Dissenters refused to submit to. It was a fast way to land in jail.

Whitefield was a freethinker by the standards of his day. When only eighteen, he met the Wesleys at Pembroke College, Oxford, and through them became associated with the Methodist movement. It faced fierce opposition in England. John Wesley himself, an ordained priest of the Church of England, was badgered and hounded, and stoned at one crossroads after another because he dared to preach outdoors and in homes where there was no officially consecrated altar.

Whitefield’s powerful, exciting sermons were carried to throngs of thousands who could hear his booming voice in the open air. After his first sermon at Gloucester, where he was ordained, it was reported to the Bishop that his preaching was driving parishioners mad. This won him the admiration of the Bishop of Gloucester, Dr. Benson, who conferred priest’s orders on him, despite vehement objections from the clergy. Whitefield drew such crowds in London that the churches could not accommodate them.

His amalgam of hellfire, brimstone, and everlasting damnation had listeners shaking in their shoes, but he got deafening ovations, holding large assemblies spellbound. He summoned them “to the Light,” and his followers styled themselves “New Lights,” or “Come-outers.” His hardline doctrine and flamboyant forensics threatened to divide the church, and shook it to its roots.

Whitefield’s visit, the “reading houses” of doubtful legality, and frequent illegal prayer meetings of Baptists and other Dissenters were part of a wave of religious enthusiasm that swept Hanover and nearby counties. It was too strong to be suppressed. By 1747, it was a fullblown movement.

That was when the Reverend Samuel Davies came to Hanover as a NonConformist preacher. He was a Pennsylvanian, only twenty-two, schooled in Presbyterianism, which was anathema to the Episcopalians, who were governed in religious matters by an English primate. There were also overtones of treason in a Dissenting faith, since the monarch was the head of the church as well as the state. Those who adopted divergent doctrines and practices were considered by many Tories to be enemies of the crown, and personal opponents of His Majesty George 11. Attorney General Peyton Randolph sharply objected to issuing any licenses to such ragamuffins, and most particularly Samuel Davies, but he did not have his way. Davies obtained his credentials. In no time at all he took Hanover County by storm, where he established seven vigorous congregations.

From Davies, young Patrick grasped the force and devastating effect of well-directed forensics. The skills of speaking – measured enunciation, carefully structured thinking, the harmony of words, the rhythm of language, the subtle persuasion of spontaneous gesticulation – all were evidenced in Davies’s sermons. Patrick looked upon him as the greatest orator he ever heard. In addition, he caught from him the inspiration of the free and patriotic spirit flashing in the tapestry of fire he wove with every message.

Since Patrick heard him regularly for eleven years, Davies was a major influence in Patrick’s formative period. As he thundered on civil liberties that shocked the Tories in Hanover, Davies urged his hearers to stake their claim for rights they were denied. The Morris Reading house near Studley, and the Fork Church, were gathering places for the County’s Dissenters. Led by Davies, and strongly supported by Sarah Henry, the group made steady inroads on the following of the Established Church.

Dissenters had no rights. Those who refused to attend services of the Anglican Church or pay taxes to maintain it could be, and were, fined and jailed. Scotch-Irish settlers in Eastern Virginia were required by law to register their meeting-houses. Only a few were permitted. Nevertheless, scores defected from the Establishment in each community. By the time of Revolution, two-thirds of the colonists in Virginia had broken away, and joined the Presbyterians, Quakers, and Baptists. Yet, until 1781, even marriages were not considered legal unless they were performed by priests of the Anglican faith. It was a dangerous, difficult undertaking to run counter to law and tradition to enjoy freedom of worship. Still, Sarah’s devotion to principles of personal conscience, and her free-thinking individualism, drove her to find expression for her ideals. She was undeterred by temporal authority in spiritual affairs. A strong attraction for independence in religion drew her to associate with the dissenters, and in Davies she found a perfect counterpart for all she cherished in a church.

From: Eva C. Hartless

Biography of Sarah Winston Syme Henry


May 1765 – Patrick Henry throws down the first Revolutionary Gauntlet. – Opposition to the Stamp Act

I will not withhold the reader a note of this transaction from the pen of Mr. Henry himself. It is a curiosity, and highly worthy of preservation. After his death, there was found among his papers one sealed, and thus endorsed: “Inclosed are the resolutions of the Virginia assembly in 1765, concerning the stamp act. Let my executors open this paper.” Within was found the following copy of the resolutions, in Mr. Henry’s hand-writing.

Resolved, That the first adventurers and settlers of this, his majesty’s colony and dominion, brought with them, and transmitted to their posterity, and all other his majesty’s subjects, since inhabiting in this, his majesty’s said colony, all the privileges, franchises, and immunities, that have at any time been held, enjoyed, and possessed, by the people of Great Britain.

Resolved, That by two royal charters, granted by king James the first, the colonists, aforesaid, are declared entitled to all the privileges, liberties, and immunities, of denizens and natural born subjects, to all intents and purposes, as if they had been abiding and born within the realm of England.

“Resolved, That the taxation of the people by themselves, or by persons chosen by themselves to represent them, who can only know what taxes the people are able to bear, and the easiest mode of raising them, and are equally affected by such taxes themselves, is the distinguishing characteristic of British freedom, and without which the ancient constitution cannot subsist.

“Resolved, That his majesty’s liege people of this most ancient colony, have uninterruptedly enjoyed the right of, being thus governed by their own assembly in the article of their taxes and internal police, and that the same hath never been forfeited, or any other way given up, but hath been constantly recognized by the king and people of Great Britain.

“Resolved, therefore, That the general assembly of this colony have the sole right and power to lay taxes and impositions upon the inhabitants of this colony; and that every attempt to vest such power in any person or persons whatsoever, other than the general assembly aforesaid, has a manifest tendency to destroy British as well as American freedom.”

On the back of the paper containing those resolutions, is the following endorsement, which is also in the handwriting of Mr. Henry himself. “The within resolutions passed the house of burgesses in May, 1765. They formed the first opposition to the stamp act, and the scheme of taxing America by the British parliament. All the colonies, either through fear, or want of opportunity to form an opposition, or from influence of some kind or other, had remained silent. I had been for the first time elected a burgess, a few days before, was young, inexperienced, unacquainted with the forms of the house, and the members that composed it. Finding the men of weight averse to opposition, and the commencement of the tax at hand, and that no person was likely to step forth, I determined to venture, and alone, unadvised, and unassisted, on a blank leaf of an old law book* wrote the within. Upon offering them to the house, violent debates ensued. Many threats were uttered, and much abuse cast on me, by the party for submission. After a long and warm contest, the resolutions passed by a very small majority, perhaps of one or two only. The alarm spread throughout America with astonishing quickness, and the ministerial party were overwhelmed. The great point of resistance to British taxation was universally established in the colonies. This brought on the war, which finally separated the two countries, and gave independence to ours. Whether this will prove a blessing or a curse, will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. – Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation.

“Reader! whoever thou art, remember this; and in thy sphere, practise virtue thyself, and encourage it in others. – P. Henry.”

Patrick Henry Rivets a Backbone to the Cause of the Colonies

The elements of his character were most happily mingled for the great struggle which was now coming on. His views were not less steady than they were bold. His vision pierced deeply into futurity; and long before a whisper of independence had been heard in this land, he had looked through the whole of the approaching contest, and saw, with the eye and the rapture of a prophet, his country seated aloft among the nations of the earth. A striking proof of this prescience, is given in an anecdote communicated to me by Mr. Pope. These are his words: “I am informed by col. John Overton, that before one drop of blood was shed in our contest with Great Britain, he was at col. Samuel Overton’s, in company with Mr. Henry, col. Morris, John Hawkins, and col. Samuel Overton, when the last mentioned gentleman asked Mr. Henry, ‘whither he supposed Great Britain would drive her colonies to extremities? And if she should, what he thought would be the issue of the war?’ When Mr. Henry, after looking round to see who were present, expressed himself confidentially to the company in the following manner. ‘She will drive us to extremities – no accommodation will take place – hostilities will soon commence – and a desperate and bloody touch it will be.’ ‘But,’ said col. Samuel Overton, ‘do you think, Mr. Henry, that an infant nation as we are, without discipline, arms, ammunition, ships of war, or money to procure them – do you think it possible, thus circumstanced, to oppose successfully the fleets and armies of Great Britain?’ ‘I will be candid with you,’ replied Mr. Henry. ‘I doubt whether we shall be able, alone, to cope with so powerful a nation. But,’ continued he, (rising from his chair with great animation,) ‘where is France? Where is Spain? Where is Holland? the natural enemies of Great Britain – Where will they be, all this while? Do you suppose they will stand by, idle and indifferent spectators of the contest? Will Louis the XVI. be asleep all this time? Believe me, no! When Louis the XVI. shall be satisfied by our serious opposition, and our Declaration of Independence, that all prospect of reconciliation is gone, then, and not till then, will he furnish us with arms, ammunition, and clothing; and not with these only, but he will send his fleets and armies to fight our battles for us; he will form with us a treaty offensive and defensive, against our unnatural mother. Spain and Holland will join the confederation! Our independence will be established! and we shall never forget the voice and prophetic manner with which these predictions were uttered, and which have been since so literally verified. Col. Overton says, at the word independence, the company appeared to be startled; for they had never heard anything of the kind before even suggested.”

It was anticipated, that the establishment of corresponding committees would lead eventually to a congress of the colonies, and that measure was brought about by the following circumstances.

The people of Boston having thrown into the sea a vessel load of tea, which was attempted to be forced upon them, were punished by an act of parliament, which shut up their port from and after the first day of June, 1774. The house of burgesses of Virginia being in session when this act arrived, passed an order, which stands upon their journal in the following terms:

“This house being deeply impressed with apprehension of the great dangers to be derived to British America, from the hostile invasion of the city of Boston, in our sister colony of Massachusetts Bay, whose commerce and harbour are, on the 1st day of June next, to be stopped by an armed force, deem it highly necessary that the said 1st day of June next, be set apart by the members of this house, as a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, devoutly to implore the divine interposition for averting the heavy calamity which threatens destruction to our civil rights, and the evils of civil war; to give us one heart and one mind, firmly to oppose, by all just and proper means, every injury to American rights; and that the minds of his majesty and his parliament, may be inspired from above with wisdom, moderation, and justice, to remove from the loyal people of America all cause of danger, from a continued pursuit of measures pregnant with their ruin.

“Ordered, therefore, That the members of this house do attend in their places, at the hour of ten in the forenoon, on the said 1st day of June next, in order to proceed with the speaker and the mace to the church in this city, for the purposes aforesaid; and that the reverend Mr. Price be appointed to read prayers, and to preach a sermon suitable to the occasion.”

In consequence of this order, governor Dunmore, on the following day, dissolved the house, with this speech:

“Mr. Speaker and gentlemen of the house of burgesses: I have in my hand a paper published by order of your house, conceived in such terms as reflect highly upon his majesty and the parliament of Great Britain, which makes it necessary to dissolve you, and you are dissolved accordingly.”

March 1775 Patrick Henry Rails, “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.”

It was not for a soul like Henry’s to hesitate between these courses. He had offered upon the altar of liberty no divided heart. The gulf of war which yawned before him, was indeed fiery and fearful; but he saw that the awful plunge was inevitable. The body of the convention however, hesitated. They cast around “a longing lingering look” on those flowery fields, on which peace, and ease, and joy, were still sporting; and it required all the energies of a Mentor like Henry, to push them from the precipice, and conduct them over the stormy sea of the revolution, to liberty and glory.

The convention being formed and organized for business, proceeded, in the first place, to express their unqualified approbation of the measures of congress, and to declare, that they considered “this whole continent as under the highest obligations to that respectable body, for the wisdom of their counsels, and their unremitted endeavours to maintain and preserve inviolate the just rights and liberties of his majesty’s dutiful and loyal subjects in America.”

These proceedings were not adapted to the taste of Mr. Henry; on the contrary, they were “gall and wormwood” to him. The house required to be wrought up to a bolder tone. He rose, therefore, and moved the following manly resolutions:

“Resolved, That a well regulated militia, composed of gentlemen and yeomen, is the natural strength and only security of a free government; that such a militia in this colony, would for ever render it unnecessary for the mother country to keep among us for the purpose of our defence, any standing army of mercenary soldiers, always subversive of the quiet, and dangerous to the liberties of the people, and would obviate the pretext of taxing us for 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 embodying, arming, and disciplining such a number of men, as may be sufficient for that purpose.”

The alarm which such a proposition must have given to those who had contemplated no resistance of a character more serious than petition, non-importation, and passive fortitude, and who still hung with suppliant tenderness on the skirts of Britain, will be readily conceived by the reflecting reader. The shock was painful. It was almost general. The resolutions were opposed as not only rash in policy, but as harsh and well nigh impious in point of feeling. Some of the warmest patriots of the convention opposed them. Richard Bland, Benjamin Harrison, and Edmund Pendleton, who had so lately drunk of the fountain of patriotism in the continental congress, and Robert C. Nicholas, one of the best as well as ablest men and patriots in the state, resisted them with all their influence and abilities.

They urged the late gracious reception of the congressional petition by the throne. They insisted that national comity, and much more filial respect, demanded the exercise of a more dignified patience. That the sympathies of the parent country were now on our side. That the friends of American liberty in parliament, were still with us, and had, as yet, had no cause to blush for our indiscretion. That the manufacturing interests of Great Britain, already smarting under the effects of our non-importation, co-operated powerfully towards our relief. That the sovereign himself had relented, and showed that he looked upon our sufferings with an eye of pity. “Was this a moment,” they asked, “to disgust our friends, to extinguish all the conspiring sympathies which were working in our favour, to turn their friendship into hatred, their pity into revenge? And what was there, they asked, in the situation of the colony, to tempt us to this? Were we a great military people? Were we ready for war? Where were our store – where were our arms – where our soldiers – where our generals – where our money, the sinews of war? They were no where to be found. In truth, we were poor – we were naked – we were defenceless. And yet we talk of assuming the front of war! of assuming it too, against a nation, one of the most formidable in the world! A nation ready and armed at all points! Her navies riding triumphant in every sea; her armies never marching but to certain victory! What was to be the issue of the struggle we were called upon to court? What could be the issue, in the comparative circumstances of the two countries, but to yield up this country an easy prey to Great Britain, and to convert the illegitimate right which the British parliament now claimed, into a firm and indubitable right, by conquest The measure might be brave; but it was the bravery of madmen. It had no pretension to the character of prudence; and as little to the grace of genuine courage. It would be time enough to resort to measures of despair, when every well founded hope had entirely vanished.”

To this strong view of the subject, supported as it was, by the stubborn fact of the well known helpless condition of the colony, the opponents of those resolutions superadded every topic of persuasion, which belonged to the cause.

“The strength and lustre which we derived from our connexion with Great Britain – the domestic comforts which we had drawn from the save source, and whose value we were now able to estimate by their loss – that ray of reconciliation which was dawning upon us from the east, and which promised so fair and happy a day: - with this they contrasted the clouds and storms which the measure now proposed, was so well calculated to raise – and in which, we should not have even the poor consolation of being pitied by the world, since we should have so needlessly and rashly, drawn them upon ourselves.”

These arguments and topics of persuasion, were so well justified by the appearance of things, and were moreover so entirely in unison with that love of ease and quiet which is natural to man, and that disposition to hope for happier times, even under the most forbidding circumstances, that an ordinary man, in Mr. Henry’s situation, would have been glad to compound with the displeasure of the house, by being permitted to withdraw his resolutions in silence.

Not so, Mr. Henry. His was a spirit fitted to raise the whirlwind, as well as to ride in it. His was that comprehensive view, that unerring prescience, that perfect command over the actions of men, which qualified him not merely to guide, but almost to create the destinies of nations.

He rose at this time with a majesty unusual to him in an exordium, and with all that self-possession by which he was so invariable distinguished. “No man,” he said, “thought more highly than he did, of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who had just addressed the house. But different men often saw the same subject in different lights; and therefore, he hoped it would not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen, if, entertaining as he did, opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, he should speak forth his sentiments freely, and without reserve. This,” he said, “was no time for ceremony. The question before the house was one of awful moment to this country. For his own part, he considered 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 was only in this way that they could hope to arrive at truth, and fulfil the great responsibility which they held to God and their country. Should he keep back his opinions, at such a time, through fear of giving offence, he should consider himself as guilty of treason towards his country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of Heaven, which he revered above all earthly kings.”

“Mr. President,” said he, “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 syren, till she transforms us into beasts. Is it,” he asked, “the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Were 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 his part, whatever anguish of spirit it might cost, he was willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.”

“He had,” he said, “but one lamp by which his feet were guided: and that was the lamp of experience. He knew of no way of judging of the future, but by the past. And judging by the past , he wised to know what there had been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen had been pleased to solace themselves and the house? Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition, comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land? Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation – the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir: she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains, which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we any thing new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find, which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sire, deceive ourselves longer. Sir, we have done every thing that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned -–we have remonstrated – we have supplicated – we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. 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 e 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!”*

“They tell us, sir,” continued Mr. Henry, “that we are weak – unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed; and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us, hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. 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. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat, but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged. Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable – and let it come!! I repeat it, sir, let it come!!!

“It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace – but 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,” cried he, with both his arms extended aloft, his brows knit, every feature marked with the resolute purpose of his soul, and his voice swelled to its boldest note of exclamation – “give me liberty, or give me death!”

He took his seat. No murmur of applause was heard. The effect was too deep. After the trance of a moment, several members started from their seats. The cry, “to arms,” seemed to quiver on every lip, and gleam from every eye! Richard H. Lee arose and supported Mr. Henry, with his usual spirit and elegance. But his melody was lost amidst the agitations of that ocean, which the master spirit of the storm had lifted up on high. That supernatural voice still sounded in their ears, and shivered along their arteries. They heard, in every pause, the cry of liberty or death. They became impatient of speech – their souls were on fire for action.*

The resolutions were adopted; and Patrick Henry, Richard H. Lee, Robert C. Nicholas, Benjamin Harrison, Lemuel Riddick, George Washington, Adam Stevens, Andrew Lewis, William Christian, Edmund Pendleton, Thomas Jefferson, and Isaac Zane, esquires, were appointed a committee to prepare the plan called for by the last resolution.

Patrick Henry Assails English Governor for Removing Williamsburg Munitions.

To make of this circumstance all the advantage which he contemplated, as soon as the intelligence reached him from Williamsburg, he sent express riders to the members of the Independent Company of Hanover, who were dispersed and resided in different parts of the country, requesting them to meet him in arms, at New Castle, on the second of May, on business of the highest importance to American liberty. In order to give greater dignity and authority to the decisions of that meeting, he convoked to the same place, the county committee. When assembled, he addressed them with all the powers of his eloquence: laid open the plan on which the British ministry had fallen to reduce the colonies to subjection, by robbing them of all the means of defending their rights: spread before their eyes in colours of vivid description, the fields of Lexington and Concord, still floating with the blood of their countrymen, gloriously shed in the general cause; showed them that the recent plunder of the magazine in Williamsburg, was nothing more than a part of the general system of subjugation; that the moment was now come in which they were called upon to decide, whether they chose to live free, and hand down the noble inheritance to their children, or to become hewers of wood, and drawers of water to those lordlings, who were themselves the tools of a corrupt and tyrannical ministry – he painted the country in a state of subjugation, and drew such pictures of wretched debasement and abject vassalage, as filled their souls with horror and indignation – on the other hand, he carried them by the powers of his eloquence, to an eminence like Mount Pisgah; showed them the land of promise, which was to be won by their valour, under the support and guidance of heaven; and sketched a vision of America, enjoying the smiles liberty and peace the rich productions of her agriculture waving on every field, her commerce whitening every sea, in tints so bright, so strong, so glowing, as set the souls of his hearers on fire. He had no doubt, he said, that that God, who in former ages had hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he might show forth his power and glory in the redemption of his chosen people, had, for similar purposes, permitted the flagrant outrages which had occurred in Williamsburg, and throughout the continent. It was for them now to determine, whether they would accept the high boon now held out to them by heaven – that if they would, though it might lead them through a sea of blood, they were to remember that the same God whose power divided the Red Sea for the deliverance of Israel, still reigned in all his glory, unchanged and unchangeable – was still the enemy of the oppressor, and the friend of the oppressed – that he would cover them from their enemies by a pillar of cloud by day, and guide their feet through the night by a pillar of fire – that for his own part, he was anxious that his native county should distinguish itself in this grand career of liberty and glory, and snatch the noble prize which was now offered to their grasp – that no time was to be lost – that their enemies in this colony were now few and weak; that it would be easy for them, by a rapid and vigorous movement, to compel the restoration of the powder which had been carried off, or to make a reprisal on the king’s revenues in the hands of the receiver general, which would fairly balance the account. That the Hanover volunteers would thus have an opportunity of striking the first blow in this colony, in the great cause of American liberty, and would cover themselves with neverfading laurels.

Virginia’s “Declaration of Independence”

“The administration of justice, and almost all the powers of government, have now been suspended for near two years. It will become us to reflect whether we can longer sustain the great struggle we are making, in this situation.” Having then directed their attention to certain specific subjects which required attention, he concluded his short, but impressive address, by exhorting the members to calmness, unanimity, and diligence.

On the fifteenth of May, Mr. Cary reported from the committee of the whole house on the state of the colony, the following preamble and resolutions, which were unanimously adopted:

“Forasmuch as all the endeavours of the United Colonies, by the most decent representations and petitions to the king and parliament of Great Britain, to restore peace and security to America under the British government, and a re-union with that people upon just and liberal terms, instead of a redress of grievances, have produced, from an imperious and vindictive administration, increased insult, oppression, and a vigorous attempt to effect our total destruction. By a late act, all these colonies are declared to be in rebellion, and out of the protection of the British crown; our properties subjected to confiscation; our people, when captivated, compelled to join in the murder and plunder of their relations and countrymen; and all former rapine and oppression of Americans declared legal and just. Fleets and armies are raised, and the aid of foreign troops engaged to assist these destructive purposes. The king'’ representative in this colony hath not only withheld all the powers of government, from operating for our safety, but, having retired on board an armed ship, is carrying on a piratical and savage war against us, tempting our slaves, by every artifice, to resort to him, and training and employing them against their masters. In this state of extreme danger, we have no alternative left, but an abject submission to the will of those overbearing tyrants, or a total separation from the crown and government of Great Britain: uniting and exerting the strength of all America for defence, and forming alliances with foreign powers for commerce and aid in war. Wherefore, appealing to the Searcher of hearts for the sincerity of former declarations, expressing our desire to preserve the connexion with that nation, and that we are driven from that inclination by their wicked councils, and the eternal laws of selfpreservation,

“Resolved, unanimously, That the delegate appointed to represent this colony in general congress, be instructed to propose to that respectable body, TO DECLARE THE UNITED COLONIES FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the crown or parliament of Great Britain; and that they give the assent of this colony to such declaration, and to whatever measures may be thought proper and necessary by the congress for forming foreign alliances, and A CONFEDERATION OF THE COLONIES, at such time, and in the manner, as to them shall seem best. Provided, that the power of forming government for, and regulations of, the internal concerns of each colony, be left to the respective colonial legislatures.

“Resolved, unanimously, That a committee be appointed to prepare A DECLARATION OF RIGHTS, and such a plan of government as will be most likely to maintain peace and order in this colony, and secure substantial and equal liberty to the people.”

This measure was followed by the most lively demonstrations of joy. The spirit of the times is interestingly manifested by the following paragraph from Purdie’s paper of the 17th of May, which immediately succeeds the annunciation of the resolutions.

“In consequence of the above resolutions, universally regarded as the only door which will lead to safety and prosperity, some gentlemen made a handsome collection for the purpose of treating the soldiery, who next day were paraded in Waller’s grove, before brigadier-general Lewis, attended by the gentlemen of the committee of safety, the members of the general convention, the inhabitants of this city, &c. &c. The resolutions being read aloud to the army, the following toasts were given, each of them accompanied by a discharge of the artillery and small arms, and the acclamations of all present:-

“1. The American Independent States.

“2. The grand Congress of the United States, and their respective legislatures.

“3. General Washington, and victory to the American arms.

“The Union Flag of the American states waved upon the capitol during the whole of this ceremony; which being ended, the soldiers partook of the refreshments prepared for them by the affection of their countrymen, and the evening concluded with illuminations, and other demonstrations of joy; every one seeming pleased that the domination of Great Britain was now at an end, so wickedly and tyrannically exercised for these twelve or thirteen years past, notwithstanding our repeated prayers and remonstrances for redress.”

The committee appointed to prepare the declaration and plan of government, called for by the last resolution, were the following: Mr. Archibald Cary, Mr. Meriwether Smith, Mr. Mercer, Mr. Henry Lee, Mr. Treasurer, Mr. Henry, Mr. Dandridge, Mr. Gilmer, Mr. Bland, Mr. Digges, Mr. Carrington, Mr. Thomas Ludwell Lee, Mr. Cabell, Mr. Jones, Mr. Blair, Mr. Fleming, Mr. Tazewell, Mr. Richard Cary, Mr. Bullitt, Mr. Watts, Mr. Banister, Mr. Page, Mr. Starke, Mr. David Mason, Mr. Adams, Mr. Read, and Mr. Thomas Lewis; to whom were afterwards successively added, Mr. Madison, Mr. Rutherford, Mr. Watkins, Mr. George Mason, Mr. Harvie, Mr. Curle, and Mr. Holt.

On Wednesday, the 12th of June following, that declaration of rights which stands prefixed to our statutes, was reported and adopted without a dissenting voice; as was also, on Saturday the 29th of the same month, the present plan of our government.

Patrick Henry Insists on Forgiveness after the War in his last Patriotic Prophecy

This was no time for the patriot to quit his post. It demanded all his vigilance to guard the infant republic against the machinations of its enemies, both abroad and at home; it required all his care and all his skill to heal the numerous disorders which had flowed from the war; to nurse the new-born nation into health and strength; to develop its resources, moral and physical; and thus to give security and permanence to its liberties.

With the view of contributing his aid to those great objects, Mr. Henry still continued to represent the county of his residence, in the legislature of the state, and controuled the proceedings of that body, with a weight of personal authority, and a power of eloquence, which it was extremely difficult, and indeed, almost impossible to resist. A striking evidence of this power was given, immediately on the close of the revolution, in his advocating the return of the British refugees. The measure was most vehemently opposed. There was no class of human beings against whom such violent and deep-rooted prejudices existed. The name of “British tory,” was of itself, enough, at that period, to throw almost any company in Virginia into flames, and was pretty generally a signal for a coat of tar and feathers; a signal which was not very often disobeyed. Mr. Henry’s proposition in favour of a class of people so odious, could not fail to excite the strongest surprise; and was, at first, received with a repugnance apparently insuperable. The late judge Tyler, then the speaker of the house, opposed it in the committee of the whole, with great warmth; and in the course of the discussion, turning from the chairman to Mr. Henry, he asked him, “how he, above all other men, could think of inviting into his family, an enemy, from whose insults and injuries he had suffered so severely?” To this Mr. Henry answered, “that the personal feelings of a politician, ought not to be permitted to enter those walls. The question (he said) was a national one, and in deciding it, if they acted wisely, nothing would be regarded but the interest of the nation. On the altar of his country’s good, he was willing to sacrifice all personal resentments, all private wrongs – and he flattered himself, that he was not the only man in the house, who was capable of making such a sacrifice. We have, sir, (said he) an extensive country, without population – what can be a more obvious policy than that this country ought to be peopled? – people, sir, form the strength and constitute the wealth of a nation. I want to see our vast forests filled up, by some process a little more speedy than the ordinary course of nature. I wish to see these states rapidly ascending to that rank which their natural advantages authorize them to hold among the nations of the earth. Cast your eyes, sir, over this extensive country – observe the salubrity of your climate; the variety and fertility of your soil – and see that soil intersected in every quarter, by bold navigable streams, flowing to the east and to the west, as if the finger of Heaven were marking out the course of your settlements, inviting you to enterprise, and pointing the way to wealth. Sir, you are destined, at some time or other, to become a great agricultural and commercial people; the only question is, whether you choose to reach this point, by slow gradations, and at some distant period – lingering on, through a long and sickly minority – subjected, meanwhile, to the machinations, insults and oppressions of enemies foreign and domestic, without sufficient strength to resist and chastise them – or whether you choose rather to rush, at once, as it were, to the full enjoyment of those high destinies, and be able to cope, single-handed, with the proudest oppressor of the old world. If you prefer the latter course, as I trust you do, encourage emigration – encourage the husbandmen, the mechanics, the merchants of the old world to come and settle in this land of promise – make it the home of the skilful, the industrious, the fortunate and happy, as well as the asylum of the distressed – fill up the measure of your population as speedily as you can, by the means which Heaven hath placed in your power -–and I venture to prophecy there are those now living, who will see this favoured land amongst the most powerful on earth – able, sir, to take care of herself, without resorting to that policy which is always so dangerous, though sometimes unavoidable, of calling in foreign aid. Yes, sir – they will see her great in arts and in arms – her golden harvests waving over fields of immeasurable extent – her commerce penetrating the most distant seas, and her cannon silencing the vain boasts of those, who now proudly affect to rule the waves. But, sir, you must have men – you cannot get along without them – those heavy forests of valuable timber, under which your lands are groaning, must be cleared away – those vast riches which cover the face of your soil, as well as those which lie hid in its bosom, are to be developed and gathered only by the skill and enterprise of men – your timber sir, must be worked up into ships to transport the productions of the soil, from which it has been cleared – then, you must have commercial men and commercial capital, to take off your productions and find the best markets for them abroad – your great want sir, is the want of men; and these you must have, and will have speedily, if you are wise. Do you ask how you are to get them? – Open your doors, sir, and they will come in – the population of the old world is full to overflowing – that population is ground too, by the oppressions of the governments under which they live. Sir, they are already standing on tiptoe upon their native shores, and looking to your coasts, with a wishful and longing eye – they see here, a land blessed with natural and political advantages, which are not equalled by those of any other country upon earth – a land on which a gracious Providence hath emptied the horn of abundance – a land over which Peace hath now stretched forth her white wings, and where Content and Plenty lie down at every door ! Sir, they see something still more attractive than all this – they see a land in which Liberty hath taken up her abode – that Liberty, whom they had considered as a fabled goddess, existing only in the fancies of poets – they see her here, a real divinity – her altars rising on every hand, throughout these happy states – her glories chaunted by three millions of tongues – and the whole region smiling under her blessed influence. Sir, let but this our celestial goddess, Liberty, stretch forth her fair hand towards the people of the old world – tell them to come, and bid them welcome – and you will see them pouring in from the north – from the south – from the east, and from the west – your wildernesses will be cleared and settled – your deserts will smile – your ranks will be filled – and you will soon be in a condition to defy the powers of any adversary.

“But gentlemen object to any accession from Great Britain – and particularly to the return of the British refugees. Sir, I feel no objection to the return of those deluded people – they have to be sure, mistaken their own interests most wofully, and most wofully have they suffered the punishment due to their offences. But the relations which we bear to them and to their native country, are now changed – their king hath acknowledged our independence – the quarrel is over – peace hath returned, and found us a free people. Let us have the magnanimity, sir, to lay aside our antipathies and prejudices, and consider the subject in a political light – those are an enterprising monied people – they will be serviceable in taking off the surplus produce of our lands, and supplying us with necessaries, during the infant state of our manufactures. Even if they be inimical to us in point of feeling and principle, I can see no objection, in a political view, in making them tributary to our advantage. And as I have no prejudices to prevent my making this use of them, so sir, I have no fear of any mischief that they can do us. Afraid of them! – what, sir, (said he, rising to one of his loftiest attitudes, and assuming a look of the most indignant and sovereign contempt,) shall we, who have laid the proud British lion at our feet, now be afraid of his whelps?”

Patrick Henry rallies to the support of Christian Teaching

The other measure, the general assessment, proceeded from a number of petitions from different counties of the commonwealth, which prayed, that as all persons enjoyed the benefits of religion, all might be required to contribute to the expense of supporting some form of worship or other. The committee to whom these petitions were referred, reported a bill whose preamble sets forth the grounds of the proceeding, and furnishes a conclusive refutation of the charge of partiality to any particular form of religion. The bill is entitled, “A bill, establishing a provision for teachers of the Christian religion;” and its preamble is in the following words:-“Whereas, the general diffusion of Christian knowledge hath a natural tendency to correct the morals of men, restrain their vices, and preserve the peace of society; which cannot be effected without a competent provision for learned teachers, who may be thereby, enabled to devote their time and attention to the duty of instructing such citizens as, from their circumstances and want of education, cannot otherwise attain such knowledge; and it is judged such provision may be made by the legislature, without counteracting the liberal principle heretofore adopted and intended to be preserved, by abolishing all distinctions of pre-eminence amongst the different societies or communities of Christians.” The provisions of the bill are in the strictest conformity with the principles announced in the close of the preamble; the persons subject to taxes are required, at the time of giving in a list of their titheables, to declare to what particular religious society they choose to appropriate the sums assessed upon them, respectively; and, in the event of their failing or declining to specify any appropriation, the sums thus circumstanced, are directed to be paid to the treasurer, and applied by the general assembly, to the encouragement of seminaries of learning, in the counties where such sums shall arise. If there be any evidence of a leaning towards any particular religious sect in this bill, or any indication of a desire for an established church, the author of these sketches has not been able to discover them.

Mr. Henry was a sincere believer in the Christian religion, and had a strong desire for the successful propagation of the gospel, but there was no tincture of bigotry or intolerance in his sentiments; nor have I been able to learn, that he had a punctilious preference for any particular form of worship. His faith regarded the vital spirit of the gospel; and busied itself not at all, with external ceremonies or controverted tenets.

Both these bills “for incorporating the protestant episcopal church,” and “establishing a provision for teachers of the Christian religion,” were reported after Mr. Henry had ceased to be a member of the house; but the resolutions on which they were founded, were adopted while he continued a member, and had his warmest support. The first bill passed into a law; the last was rejected by a small majority, on the third reading.

The same session afforded Mr. Henry a double opportunity of gratifying, in the most exquisite manner, that naturally bland and courteous spirit, which so eminently distinguished his character. General Washington and the marquis la Fayette, both of them objects of the warmest love and gratitude to this country, visited Richmond in November. They arrived on different days. The general entered the city on the 15th, and the journal of the next morning exhibits the following order: “The house being informed of the arrival of general Washington in this city, Resolved, nemine contradicente, that as a mark of their reverence for his character and affection for his person, a committee of five members be appointed to wait upon him, with the respectful regard of this house, to express to him the satisfaction they feel in the opportunity afforded by his presence, of offering this tribute to his merits; and to assure him, that as they not only retain the most lasting impressions of the transcendent services rendered in his late public character, but have, since his return to private life, experienced proofs, that no change of situation can turn his thoughts from the welfare of his country, so his happiness can never cease to be an object of their most devout wishes and fervent supplications.”

“And a committee was appointed of Mr. Henry, Mr. Jones, (of King George,) Mr. Madison, Mr. Carter H. Harrison, and Mr. Carrington.”

To this spontaneous and unanimous burst of feeling, general Washington returned an answer marked with his characteristic modesty, and full of the most touching sensibility. It is worthy of insertion, as showing in a soft and winning light, a character, with which we are apt to associate only the images of a dignity and reserve, approaching to sternness. “Gentlemen,” said he, “my sensibility is deeply by this distinguished mark of the affectionate regard of your honourable house. I lament, on this occasion, the want of those powers which would enable me to do justice to my feelings, and shall rely upon your indulgent report, to supply the defect; at the same time, I pray you to present for me, the strongest assurances of unalterable affection and gratitud


All correspondence (including reports on dead links, typos, or HTML errors) should be sent to

Copyright © 2005,