I left two thirds of my books in the United Kingdom when I moved to the USA to take up my present job here in the metro DC area, but one of the books I decided to bring with me was a volume of 308 pages entitled, Great American Speeches, edited by Gregory R Suriano. From time to time I take this book out and just read a few chapters for inspiration and to remind myself of how grand the English language can be.
One of my favorite speeches in the book is Patrick Henry’s ‘Liberty or Death speech’ which was delivered at the Virginia Convention in Richmond on March 23, 1775. It is the speech of not just a wise man but also a brave man. The British at the time seemed to be endeavoring to establish cordial relations with the Americans but insidiously were preparing for war by strengthening their navy and army in and around the ‘United Colonies.’ Henry warned fellow leaders not to be deceived by the ‘enemy’s kiss.’ His speech, punctuated with powerful sound-bites, is redolent of Old Testament leaders such as Moses and Joshua. Here are a few sentences from one paragraph:
“Three millions of people armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that 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 friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone, but to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election …. 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, sir, let it come.”
Patrick Henry ended this speech with what has become one of the most famous sentences in the English language – “ I know not what course others may take , but as for me: Give me liberty or give me death.”
Today, July 4, throughout the length and breadth of this country, independence from Britain is being celebrated. This is one of those times when all Americans seem to breathe collectively and remember what a great country this is. We are celebrating with parades, parties, barbecues and fireworks. It’s a happy time for all Americans, but what we are really celebrating is the result of the courageous actions of men such as Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jnr. We owe our freedom to such men who were willing to lay down their lives, and many of them did, for their country and their fellow Americans.
Nearly two hundred and forty years after the Declaration of Independence America still needs citizens who are prepared to stand for their convictions, citizens who will face challenges and setbacks with self-determination and the confidence, as Patrick Henry did, that comes from knowing God. This is essentially a call to Christians to be Christians and not be carried along by the tide of popular opinion. Henry’s rallying speech was made in the face of great opposition. His opponents urged caution and patience “until the British government replied to Congress’ latest petition for reconciliation,” but he refused to support that way of thinking.
America’s biggest enemy today is not Britain. It is not even terrorism or terrorist countries. The biggest enemy is within. It is certain ideas and attitudes, which, if allowed to flourish, could rob this great country of its spiritual moorings and biblically-based hope and confidence that fueled the actions of the founding fathers and subsequent great leaders. It is time for all good men and women to stand up for their convictions.
Happy Independence Day!