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Sample PDF Activity
Patrick Henry Demands Liberty or Death
Americans were outraged when they learned Parliament had passed the Intolerable Acts. It was unreasonable that a whole colony be punished for the actions of a few men. If England could do this to Massachusetts, what would prevent the same thing happening to any other colony that offended the king? Protest was heard now in other parts of British America, but the most eloquent was by Virginia’s Patrick Henry.
The son of a tobacco farmer, Patrick Henry hated farm work as a boy, so his father gave him a store to run—it lost money. He got married at an early age, and his parents gave the new couple a farm, but the house burned. He tried running a store again, but once more he failed. He had made some progress, though; he had learned to enjoy reading and decided to become a lawyer. He barely made it past the bar examination, but he was popular and soon had a thriving law practice. In 1763, he took a case involving a minister’s pay and turned it into an attack on the king. His opposition called this treason, but the audience was in his hands.
In 1765, he was elected to Virginia’s House of Burgesses. This was the year of the Stamp Act, and no one doubted his opinion on that subject. He pushed five resolutions through the House protesting this violation of the English constitution. When that issue passed, he turned away from public issues to his law practice for a time. In 1774 when word reached Virginia of the Intolerable Acts, Henry could not sit idly by while freedom was in danger. He was pleased to be chosen as a member of the First Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia.
Most delegates were not as outspoken against England as were Sam Adams and Patrick Henry. Adams had been advised not to mention the word “independence,” for fear it would only scare off Southern delegates, so he sat quietly and let Patrick Henry do the speaking. Henry proclaimed, “The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American.” A resolution was passed declaring the Coercive Acts unconstitutional, but there was no demand for independence.
When General Thomas Gage arrived in Boston with an army, Governor Dunmore of Virginia feared the worst from men like Henry and barred the doors to the House of Burgesses. The legislators met in Richmond, and Henry gave his most famous speech. He said the time for patience was over, that every effort to persuade the king had failed, and closed with, “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!”
RESULTS: Henry’s words had a force to them that still affects people who feel their liberty is endangered. The memory of those words was to become useful in 1776, when debate began on whether or not to declare independence.
Patrick Henry Demands Liberty or Death: Reinforcement
Directions: Complete the following activities, essays, and challenges on your own paper. ACTIVITIES:
- What makes a good orator? Have students listen to a recording of a famous speaker like Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, or John F. Kennedy.
- Considering the mood of the times, discuss Governor Dunmore’s handling of the situation and whether he
could have gotten better results with a different approach.
- Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death!” Why would a person prefer to die if he could not
be free? Would you feel the same way?
- After reading about Sam Adams and Patrick Henry, discuss how they were alike and how they were different.
- Moses Tyler wrote that Patrick Henry saw virtue, morality, and religion as the armor that made America
invincible (undefeatable). What do you see as America’s strengths ?
- What was Patrick Henry’s first job, and how did he like it?
- Why were people in Virginia upset over a problem in New England?
- Why was Sam Adams so quiet during the First Continental Congress?
- When was the earliest time mentioned in this reading that Henry spoke out against the British government?
- How much preparation did a person have to go through to become a lawyer in those days?
- What was the lower House of the Virginia legislature called?
- What was Governor Dunmore worried about, and what did he do?
- What was the big “I” word that delegates didn’t want to use in 1774?
- What did Patrick Henry mean by: “I am not a Virginian, but an American”?
- “Give me liberty or give me death!” is a very famous statement. What other statements of that type can you recall?
NATIONAL STANDARDS CORRELATIONS:
NCSS Xf: (Civic Ideals & Practices) Identify and explain the roles of formal and informal political actors in influencing and shaping public policy and decision making.
NSH Era 3, Standard 1: The causes of the American Revolution, the ideas and interests involved in forging the revolutionary movement, and the reasons for the American victory
http://www.americaslibrary.gov/cgi-bin/page.cgi/jb/colonial/henry_1 “Patrick Henry was Born May 29, 1736,” The Library of Congress
http://www.law.ou.edu/hist/henry/html “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,” The University of Oklahoma Law Center
http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=H000511 “Henry, Patrick, (1736–1799),” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress