Patrick Henry: “Liberty or Death” Speech

(1775)

Impact

Henry's speech had a profound and stirring impact on everyone who heard it. For years, men would recollect his words and their reactions. To say that it was the most powerful speech ever delivered in Virginia's House of Burgesses is an understatement. The speech's historic significance was recognized immediately. One burgess supposedly said that he wanted to be buried on the spot.

One account described a hushed assembly hanging on Henry's every word. Even Henry's opponents admitted how moved they were by his words. Edmund Randolph, for example, attributed a religious intensity to Henry's address, declaring, “The British King was lying prostrate from the thunder of heaven” (Beeman, p. 66). Thus Henry's words became not merely his own but virtually a kind of divine judgment on the actions of the British Crown. Henry himself, in that moment, seemed a prophet, speaking as “man was never known to speak before,” Randolph claimed (Beeman, p. 66). Henry had made a contribution...

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

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