Where was Patrick Henry on July 4th, 1776? Why is his signature not on the Declaration of Independence? Was he not the one who spoke these immortal wordsâ€¦
â€œIs 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!â€
Were these words mere rhetoric, or were they from the heart?
On March 23, 1775 when Patrick Henry made this declaration at St. Johnâ€™s Church in Richmond, the delegates to the Second Virginia Convention were considering his resolution â€œThat this colony be immediately put into a state of defenseâ€¦.â€ His words were effectual, the resolution was adopted, and on July 17, 1775, they elected Patrick Henry as the first Commander-in-Chief of all Virginia forces.
Then the following spring Henry was again elected to the highest office â€“ this time as the first governor of the independent Commonwealth of Virginia, sworn in on July 5, 1776.
Under Patrick Henryâ€™s leadership, Virginia had declared its independence in early May 1776, and sent instructions to her delegates in Philadelphia to introduce a resolution for a national declaration. So, on June 6, 1776, Richard Henry Lee introduced to the Continental Congress a resolution for independence. On July 4th, 1776, Patrick Henry was preparing to serve as Virginiaâ€™s first governor.
Rightfully called the Orator of the Revolution, Patrick Henry contributed more than words. The New York Times stated in its November 23, 1891 issue, â€œThere is no name, except Washingtonâ€™s, that is more familiar to Americans in connection with the Revolution than Patrick Henryâ€™s.â€
He was the first of the Founders to fight for religious freedom, beginning with his arguments in the Parsons Cause Case in 1763.
He was foremost in providing relief for the cold and hungry soldiers at Valley Forge. His relentless letters to Congress and others brought about changes in the quartermasterâ€™s department and a remedy for the supply problem.
He exposed the infamous Conway Cabal, forwarding to Washington an anonymous letter seeking Henryâ€™s support for Washingtonâ€™s removal.
In January 1778, Henry commissioned George Rogers Clark to secure the Northwest Territory to the United States.
He stood guard over navigational rights on the Mississippi River for the American frontiersmen.
He opened diplomatic relations with France and Spain and procured arms and munitions for the war.
But, perhaps the greatest of his accomplishments is the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Americans everywhere should commemorate the life and contributions of this worthy Patriot, Statesman, and Christian â€“ Patrick Henry, on this 275th anniversary of his birth, May 29, 1736. In his own words as recorded at Carpenterâ€™s Hall in Philadelphia, â€œI am not a Virginian, but an American!â€
Let us remember his words found on the back of his original handwritten copy of the Stamp Act Resolves:
â€œWhether this will prove a blessing or a curse, will depend upon the use our people make of the blessing which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation. Reader!, whosoever thou art, remember this: and in thy sphere practice virtue thyself, and encourage it in others.â€
– Patrick Henry
Carris Kocher is the Chariman of the Bill of Rights Bicentennial Committee, and resides in Pennsylvania.