Patrick Henry: “Liberty or Empire?” Speech

(1788)

Patrick Henry rose to prominence in Virginia during a period when conflicts between the colony (and its sister colonies) and Great Britain were growing increasingly heated. Almost always championing the cause of the common man, Henry insisted both that government owed a duty to its citizens and that excessive government threatened individual liberty. With his unparalleled oratorical skills, Henry became a key defender of religious liberty, freedom of speech, and government responsiveness to citizen interests and violently opposed anything that he saw as government tyranny; as such, many contemporaries credit Henry as being among the key instigators of revolution. After the war, he led opposition to consolidation of power in a national government and refused various proffered offices under the U.S. government. In 1799 Henry was called out of retirement by George Washington in the face of a threat of disunion brought on by the opposition of Thomas Jefferson’s supporters to...

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Patrick Henry (Library of Congress)

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