Patrick Henry: “Liberty or Death” Speech

(1775)

Audience

Henry's immediate audience was his fellow burgesses. He had been preparing for more than two years to give his “Liberty or Death” Speech, which was based on his experiences forming a local voluntary militia and meeting with other colonists, especially in Massachusetts, who also saw that British measures to stifle dissent would soon quash their ability to assert or defend their rights.

Henry was not speaking merely as a legislator—or even to those in other colonies—but to history itself. His earlier speeches had invoked the fate of other tyrants who had impeded the course of...

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A drawing depicting Patrick Henry delivering his famous speech (Library of Congress)

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