If this was a test, and I was to ask you who the greatest American was, how would you answer? Would you say it was a certain sports figure, a cultural icon, or maybe a former president? What if I was to restrict your answer to only those who had somehow participated in politics or history, how would that affect your answer?
Would you say it had to be George Washington-The Father of our Country? Would you say it had to be James Madison-The Father of our Constitution? Would you say it was Abe Lincoln for keeping the Union intact? What about Franklin Roosevelt for leading our country through both the Great Depression and World War II? Would you say it was a former president such as Obama, Reagan, or Kennedy? Maybe you’d wax a bit more philosophical and say that it was Thomas Jefferson, who authored the Declaration of Independence.
I think the question itself is somewhat subjective; being dependent upon how you personally define greatness. However, if you answered Thomas Jefferson, your answer is closer to the line of thinking I hoped to inspire by asking the question in the first place; for Thomas Jefferson not only was a very intelligent man, he laid forth certain principles that this country was supposed to stand for. Yet, as much as I admire and respect Jefferson, he is not at the top of my list of great people this country has produced; although he’s certainly in the top 5.
Have you ever watched the film Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe? If so, do you remember the scene when Maximus is called in to the tent of Marcus Aurelius and Caesar tells him, “There was a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile.”
That scene always hits me in that our country too, during the Revolutionary War era, was based upon a dream as well; the dream of independence and individual liberty for all the inhabitants of this country. I think that, in that scene, Marcus Aurelius was mourning the fact that Rome had strayed away from that dream; which is why he wanted to entrust Maximus with the power to put Rome back on the pathway towards living up to that dream.
However, it is the final words of that statement that I want you to focus on, “You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile.” You see, the man I consider to be the greatest American to have ever lived did not whisper the dream that would become America, he THUNDERED IT!
The man I consider to be the greatest this country has ever produced said things like, “If this be treason…then make the most of it” and “Give me liberty or give me death.” This man is none other than Patrick Henry; otherwise known as the Voice of Thunder. What sets Patrick Henry above all the others who sought American Independence was his raw passion; his undying defense of the public liberty.
Henry did not care who he offended in his defense of the public liberty, as he even said as much in his epic speech of March 23, 1775, “Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.”
Liberty was of such great importance to Henry that he was willing to sacrifice all else to secure it, and on numerous occasions he said as much. For instance, what more needs to be said in defense of that than the fact that he said he would choose either liberty or death? However, if that isn’t enough to convince you of his passion and love of liberty, there is also this, “Liberty, the greatest of all earthly blessings-give us that precious jewel, and you may take every thing else.” (Speech to the Virginia Ratifying Assembly, June 5, 1788)
Patrick Henry is/was what we today might say the real deal; he talked the talk and he walked the walk. Henry did not sit behind a computer like I do and write political rants decrying the acts of my government; he did not just give speeches to crowds decrying the abuse of power by King George III; he risked his life standing up for what he believed in.
Few people know much about Patrick Henry other than those 7 words, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Do people know that he personally led a militia unit against the Royal Governor of Virginia who had ordered the removal of the Colony’s gunpowder the day after Lexington and Concord? Do people know that the Royal Governor, Lord Dunmore, feared so greatly for his own life that he fled the Colony? Do people know that during the Revolution, as Governor of Virginia, Patrick Henry would personally deliver supplies to the Continental Army; a crime that could have ended in him being executed for treason?
No, people don’t know these things, because the history they have been taught is incomplete at best; while an outright lie is closer to the truth. You see, there are two things about Patrick Henry that elevate him far above his contemporaries in my opinion; his staunch devotion to liberty and his steadfast love of the truth; two things which are sorely lacking in the people occupying this country today.
How many people today would get fighting mad if you told them that they were enemies to the public liberty; yet when you presented evidence that shows that the candidates they voted for are guilty of enacting laws that did just that; restricted the liberty of the people of this country.
How many people can even explain, in the simplest of terms, what liberty is? Yet they will tell you that they love it, and if you say that their actions prove otherwise, they become angry. You see, when one shines a light upon the hypocrisy of people, they tend to get angry; even when the truth proves that they are, in fact, hypocritical.
Don’t get me wrong, I used to be like that; getting mad when people told me I was un-American or unpatriotic because of my political stance. Then I learned the truth, and the truth set me free. Now I don’t care what others thing; my sole concern is for the truth; and I don’t care who I offend when I speak it. It would seem that Jack Nicholson was right when he said in the film A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth!”
Far too many people today put all their trust, faith and hope in a system that cares nothing about defending their liberty; all it cares about is increasing its own power and control over them, their property, and their liberty. No matter how long a list of crimes against the liberty of the people one presents, one cannot shake their trust and hope that the SYSTEM can be fixed; that they can vote the RIGHT people into office and all will be well in America again.
Henry spoke, quite eloquently I might add, about the illusion of hope, saying, “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. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.”
I lost a longtime friend over this awhile back, but it seems to me as if government has become people’s new god; replacing the God of Heaven; and the worship of this new god has become their new religion. Anyone who, therefore, threatens their beliefs may as well be speaking blasphemy regardless of how much evidence they bring to the table.
You can say that those holding power in government are doing a lousy job, or that they suck; but if you even hint at the idea that the system itself sucks, that it needs to be abolished, then you have crossed the line and you are a bad American. Gee, I wonder what those who said the same thing about their government in 1776 would have to say about that.
When it came to liberty Patrick Henry did not put his trust in systems, or in hope, he felt that liberty must be fought for if it was to be won, “There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free– if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending–if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained–we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!”
That is why we have the 2nd Amendment by the way, to provide us with the means of resisting the authority of those who would deny us our liberty. That is also why I shake my head in disbelief every time someone who says they love liberty turns around and tells me that they support common sense gun control legislation. It’s an absolute oxymoron to say that you love liberty, and then say you support measures that would restrict it. But that is but one shining example of the depth of the ignorance of most American’s today.
Let me ask one final question, and then I’ll wrap this all up. If we can all agree that liberty was of the utmost concern for Patrick Henry, why would he so fervently oppose the system of government outlined by the Constitution; if, in fact, that system was designed to secure our liberty; as it states in the Preamble to the Constitution, “We the People of the United States, in Order to … secure the Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…” Why, if that was the intended purpose of the government outlined by the Constitution, would Patrick Henry so fervently oppose it?
Henry was not alone in his opposition to the newly proposed constitution; other prominent men also opposed it as well. Luther Martin, John Lansing and Robert Yates were all delegates to the convention that produced it, and they all opposed it in the strongest of terms. Other, lesser known men, also opposed it; Samuel Bryan, Melancton Smith, Richard Henry Lee, Mercy Otis Warren were also among the prominent men of the time who voiced their opposition to this new system of government.
All of them felt that the system of government outlined by the constitution posed a threat to the public liberty. Yet, since this essay is about Patrick Henry, I will provide only those comments that he said in opposition to it.
One of the most powerful statements in regards to the purpose of government is found in Henry’s speech of June 5, 1788, “You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your Government.” How many people today vote for candidates because of the promises they make to improve the economy; to create jobs? What, if I might ask, does the creation of jobs have to do with the securing of your liberty?
Henry also said, “Perhaps an invincible attachment to the dearest rights of man, may, in these refined, enlightened days, be deemed old fashioned: If so, I am contented to be so: I say, the time has been when every pore of my heart beat for American liberty, and which, I believe, had a counterpart in the breast of every true American.”
Oh how I feel the anguish in his words, for I too mourn for the total lack of concern for the preservation of liberty, which people are far too willing to sacrifice for the promise of comfort and security. To throw in a Thomas Jefferson quote, “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”
Patrick Henry’s passion and oratory skills were such that he captivated those who saw and heard him speak. It is said of him that he was the only man James Madison feared; for if anyone had the words, the passion, and the supporters to upset his plans to install this new system of government, it was Patrick Henry.
Patrick Henry’s oratory skill and passion were such that a Baptist Minister who witnessed his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech would later say, “Every eye yet gazed entranced on Henry … Men were beside themselves.” John Carrington, who could only hear the speech through an open window, told his wife that he wished to be buried at the spot he now stood; a request that was honored upon his passing.
Who among our elected representatives today could stand up and deliver a passionate and coherent 7 hour speech without the use of notes or a teleprompter? Yet Henry could. Who among those you elect today has the same degree of love and devotion to the public liberty? I can’t think of a single person serving in our government today who has that passion and willingness to defend YOUR liberty; not a single one of them.
What saddens me more than anything else is the complete lack of concern displayed by most people over the loss of their liberty; most don’t even know it has been stolen from them. Liberty is an individual blessing, and it is up to each individual to stand up for it when it is attacked; now bow down and lick the boots of the very people who seek to take it from them; which is how I see politics in America today.
People hope that their government will do a good job, hope that it protects their rights and liberty; but when it doesn’t they just shake their heads and say, “Well, we just gotta vote harder next time.” Never will they admit that the system has become poisoned, or that it was designed to destroy the public liberty and sovereignty of the States; to even think about that causes such mental stress, (cognitive dissonance), that the people run from that idea in fear.
So they go on voting, hoping that things will get better, without ever thinking that the ONLY way things will get better is to abolish the system that is making things so bad. Hope; what a foolish thing it is sometimes. My dad used to tell me, “Hope in one hand and shit in the other. See which one fills up first.”
America was built upon a dream a long time ago; the dream that every man could enjoy liberty; be free to live their lives without the interference or assistance of government; to succeed or fail based upon their own skill, drive and ambition; that they were free to do and say as they pleased so long as they did not violate the equal rights of others.
What has become of that dream? I’ll tell you what’s become of it, we idolize politicians and follow them like the rats followed the Pied Piper to the river, where they drowned. We vote for and support men, men like Obama, Trump, Reagan, and all the others who came before them, rather than follow those who stood for the principles this country was founded upon.
We also care nothing for the truth; choosing to believe the lies we were taught in school and hear on the network news. Our concern is not for expanding our knowledge or the defense of our sacred rights and liberty, it is for sports, reality TV, National Talent Contests, or what the celebrities are doing.
We, as a people, and this goes back to when the Constitution was adopted, have forsaken liberty for the promise of a government that can fix all the country’s problems; keep us safe, keep us secure; provide for all our needs.
Liberty is circling the drain in America, and the people are the ones who have pulled the plug on the sink; flushed the toilet which has allowed it to happen. As Judge Learned Hand said in 1944, “I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it.”
Liberty has all but died in America, with only a few disciples of the principles espoused by men like Henry and Jefferson left among a thriving population of statists who look to their god government for all their wants and needs.
It is to these faithful defenders of liberty that I offer the following toast, “To us and those like us, so damned few left!” May we honor the legacy of men like Jefferson and Patrick Henry, and to hell with all those who won’t; I only hope I can live up to their example.