Patrick Henry: Contribution to American Literature

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      PATRICK HENRY (1736-1799), a young Virginia lawyer, stood before the First Continental Congress, in 1774, saying:—

      "Where are your landmarks, your boundaries of Colonies? The distinctions between Virginians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American."

      These words had electrical effect on the minds of his listeners, and helped to weld the colonies together. In 1775 we can hear him again speaking before a Virginian Convention of Delegates:—

Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry

"Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the   song of that siren, till she transforms us into beasts….

"I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House? ...

"Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is 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."

      It is hardly too much to say that these words have communicated to the entire American nation an intenser desire for liberty, that their effect has not yet passed away, and that they may during the coming centuries serve to awaken Americans in many a crisis.

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