The Choice of Liberty or Death in Patrick Henry's Political Career

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Its March 23, 1775 and the Second Virginia Convention is meeting in St. John’s Church. A man named Patrick Henry, an anti-federalist, is called to propose his resolutions for creating a militia, or an army in which Virginia will have a defense. His resolutions turn into an evoking speech, resulting in unwavering curiosity and call to action. Henry’s resolutions to obtain a militia were passed by the Second Virginia Convention. After the Convention, the battle of Lexington and Concord emerged, beginning the American Revolutionary war. Patrick Henry although having great involvement within the American revolution disagreed with the founders over their willingness to establish a strong central government, the ratification of the Constitution, and their inability to set limits on the power of the Government.

Patrick Henry’s political career began in April 1760, when he passed his bar exams and started practicing law. On May 20, 1765 He was elected into the House of Burgesses. Then, Henry helped make the Virginia Committee of Correspondence with the purpose to aid communication within the Colonies. On September 5, 1774 Patrick Henry attended the First Contiental Congress as a Delegate for Virginia. And as previously stated, Patrick Henry gave a very famous speech referred to as his “Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death” speech on March 23, 1775. His speech was aimed at influencing the people of Virginia to fight back against British tyranny. Some of the colonists similar to that of Patrick Henry, aimed to end the “Benign Neglect”, which is the ability for a group of people to ignore a situation that obviously needs changing. Henry sought to end establishments of things like that of the Stamp Act, which was a tax enforced by Britain to the colonists for every piece of paper they used.

One way Patrick Henry stepped in for change was that he greatly supported the ideas within the Articles of Confederation, and sought to strengthen their implementation and detail. He aimed at further explaining the functions of a national government with the intention of straying away from a strong governmental public. Henry was an anti-federalist, which is a person against the ratification of the constitution or a person that dislikes the idea of establishing a federal government. When Henry was asked as to why he did not support the ratification of the constitution Henry replied with “I Smelt a rat.” Patrick Henry openly stated his opinions and sought the need for personal liberties, things he found important in order to stay away from being a monarchy like that of Britain but without becoming a strong central government, which Henry undesired as well. Patrick Henry also widely supported setting limits on government power, influencing him to aid in ratifying the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Henry advanced his influence to define his opinions and untrust for the developing governmental society.

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In the Anti-Federalist papers, which were works written to demonstrate peoples concern for the implements within the Constitution. Patrick Henry wrote a piece for the Anti-Federalist papers that stated “Show me that age and country where the rights and liberties of the people were based on the sole chance of their rulers being good men without a consequent loss of liberty! I say that the loss of the dearest privilege has ever followed, with absolute certainty, every such mad attempt.”(Bill of Rights Institute) Patrick Henry furthermore expressed his dislike for the establishment of the Constitution that he did not attend the 1787 Constitutional Convention with reasons such as “he feared that the meeting was a plot by the powerful to construct a strong central government of which they would be the master.” (Bill of Rights Institute) James Madison, a founding father, knew Henry’s disdain and “the leader of the Virginia Federalists, to promise the addition of a bill of rights to the Constitution once the document was approved.” (Bill of Rights Institute) Virginia then became the tenth state to ratify the Constitution. Henry’s remarks show his thoughts of the creation of a strong central government. Henry’s methods were all to consolidate his fear of the past British tyranny, he did not want such oppressive rule to continue.

When Patrick Henry declined to attend the Constitutional Convention of 1787 because of his reserve over its ratification, George Washington sent him a copy of the Constitution, it is said that Henry replied with “I have to lament that I cannot bring my mind to accord with the proposed Constitution.(Encyclopedia of Virginia) In Patrick Henry’s Speech, “Give me Liberty or Give Me Death”, he stated “I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past.”(Colonial Williamsburg) His famous speech was heard by many in 1775, Patrick Henry’s views were known. He thought that further action needed to be taken in order to provide Virginia with a militia but altogether he wanted a way to provide the colonies with a defense against their past governmental society. Which is similar to other civilizations, all throughout history the main goal to obtain liberty was to not be controlled by a tyrant, this can be seen in Rome, Athens, and even Anglo-Saxon influenced London.

Henry’s opposition to the founders on certain issues all are very coherent or logical within the time period. One resonating solution to avoid past governmental failures to Patrick Henry was to set limits on governmental power. Perhaps one of Henry’s concerns with the Constitution were its enumerated powers, which state all that congress is allowed to do, stated in section eight article one. However in a speech on June 4, 1788 to the Virginia Convention, Henry Stated “States are the characteristics and the soul of a confederation. If the states be not the agents of this compact, it must be one great, consolidated, national government, of the people of all the states.”(Red Hill) Perhaps Henry struggled with section ten in article one of the Constitution which describes distributing equal liberties to all of society. Patrick Henry, in a speech on June 7, 1788 even said “If your American chief be a man of ambition and abilities, how easy is it for him to render himself absolute!” (Bill of Rights Institute) The prevention of a monarchy and tyranny became very important to Patrick Henry and even became his motivation for his political choices and influence to others, one way he thought to keep liberty was to put more governmental power into the hands of the states.

Others may disagree with Patrick Henry’s position on the limits of governmental power because of his respect for the founding fathers like that of George Washington. In a speech on June 3, 1788 to the Virginia Convention, Henry even states “I have the highest respect for those gentlemen who formed the Convention, and, were some of them not here, I would express some testimonial of esteem for them.”(Red Hill) Henry regarded George Washington as having great valor and valued his strides for change even with his difference of opinion on certain matters. However, this represents Patrick Henry’s thoughts on the need for affirmed governmental institution, he just disagrees with the founders on the execution and the amount of state involvement in governmental discussions.

Patrick Henry disliked the idea of a strong central government and the ratification of the Constitution but he aimed for setting limits on government power. Patrick Henry believed that a government platformed on distinction between the government and the governed could result in a tyrannical government. His resolution to prevent such fear was to reach the people through numerous speeches focusing on the need of establishing coherent and notable restrictions or limits to what the powers of the government can accomplish with an overall objective of obtaining the involvement of all people. Patrick Henry was unable to accept the few detailed rights that could be allowed for Congress or even the States to follow that were established within the Constitution. Instead Patrick Henry left the people with this thought “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”(Colonial Williamsburg)

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