Patrick Henry: “Liberty or Death” Speech

(1775)

Explanation and Analysis of the Document

When Patrick Henry began speaking on March 23, 1775, he understood that while his calls for militant action against the British Crown enjoyed considerable support, many of his fellow burgesses still questioned the wisdom of a direct confrontation with the king and Parliament. Quite aside from a sense of loyalty to the mother country, which many of the burgesses continued to espouse with diminishing enthusiasm, Virginia and the other colonies faced the world's greatest empire. Great Britain had vanquished France in the Seven Years' War (1756–1763), and the idea of a band of colonists emerging victorious from a war with a world power seemed doubtful to a considerable number of Virginians. How other colonies would react to a call to arms also remained a problem. Certainly Massachusetts could be counted on, but Pennsylvania, for example, continued to be dominated by a political elite that resisted demands for direct and immediate action...

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

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