Shivers down my spine (Updated)

I thought I’d follow up on Patrick Henry’s speech that I posted yesterday with the reason why I felt compelled to post it. First, huge kudos to Sheila. Had it not been for her post on that historic speech it might have been doomed to remain locked somewhere in the crevices of my memory. (Incidentally, if you’re not reading Sheila regularly, you are missing out on some of the blogosphere’s best writing.)

When I was in the sixth grade I was assigned to write a paper on Patrick Henry and subsequently portray him in a class history play. I remember the teacher working with us on our speeches and obviously, Henry’s entire speech was way too long for a ten year old kid to memorize, so I was only required to orate the last paragraph.

It’s funny, though, because as I sat here reading that speech yesterday, thirty years later, I could still recite it almost perfectly by heart despite the fact that I hadnt thought of it in who knows how many years. This just goes to prove the absolute power of the word. And how righteous men, men of honor, with dignity and intellect can use the power of the word for the most noblest and just of causes.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace– but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! 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!

Give me liberty or give me death. Seven simple words that helped shape a nation.

Yet what really sends chills down my spine isnt just the speech itself. It is that precise moment in time, with the colonies on the brink of outright war with England, with men of some of the colonies already at arms against the tyranny of the King, and death by hanging for treason looming over their shoulders, that Patrick Henry used his intelligence and oratory skills to rouse his peers for a just cause.

Nothing depicts this better than a quote from Paul Johnson’s History of the American People that Sheila quotes in the comments section of her post:

Then Henry got to his knees, in the posture of a manacled slave, intoning in a low but rising voice: ‘Is life so dear, our peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!’ He then bent to the earth with his hands still crossed, for a few seconds, and suddenly sprang to his feet, shouting, ‘Give me liberty!’ and flung wide his arms, paused, lowered his arms, clenched his right hand as if holding a dagger at his breast, and said in sepulchral tones: ‘Or give me death!’ He then beat his breast, with his hand holding the imaginary dagger.

There was silence, broken by a man listening at the open window, who shouted: “Let me be buried on this spot!’

Think about that for a moment. A room full of statesmen who have just heard perhaps one of the best orations of a speech stating what could at the time have been considered treason, sitting there awed and in complete silence, mulling over and trying to come to terms with the brilliance of what they have just heard, when all of a sudden, some guy, a regular Joe perhaps, having heard Henry through a window, was inspired to the point where he felt compelled to yell: Let me be buried on this spot!

Chills all the way up and down my spine.

Update: Sheila responds in the comments:

…I so agree: chills all around.

And the dude who yelled “let me buried on this spot” is, actually, buried on that spot, believe it or not. Truth is sometimes better than fiction. His name was Edward Carrington and he had a really interesting career himself (Lieutenant Colonel in the army, delegate at Constitutional Congress, jury member for treason-trial of Aaron Burr, etc.)

And the fact that you can actually visit that church – and he is buried in that very spot …

I mean, come on!!! so perfect.

Absolutely.

5 thoughts on “Shivers down my spine (Updated)”

  1. Val,

    Of course what makes the speech so powerful for us today is that it’s just as applicable. We have Communists and Islamofascists wanting to make all the people of the world into their slaves, yet we have people that prefer peace even though the war has already begun. Let me tell all of you something, be fearful of the day they come for your guns.

  2. If I may be allowed to indulge in sharing a short speech by another great American:

    Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

    Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

    But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

  3. Beautiful post, Val!! So glad my post was the jumping-off spot. I so agree: chills all around.

    And the dude who yelled “let me buried on this spot” is, actually, buried on that spot, believe it or not. Truth is sometimes better than fiction. His name was Edward Carrington and he had a really interesting career himself (Lieutenant Colonel in the army, delegate at Constitutional Congress, jury member for treason-trial of Aaron Burr, etc.)

    And the fact that you can actually visit that church – and he is buried in that very spot …

    I mean, come on!!! so perfect.

  4. …and then there’s “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country”. That one always gets me, knowing that Nathan Hale lived such a short life.

  5. Like the men of old, we’ve got everything …. islamofascists, crazy arabs with nukes, a fifth column, a nasty media, tons of enemies all around. Only one thing missing, in my humble opinion: real patriots.

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