Our Independence: A Gift from a Founding Father
by Gary Aldrich - Volume 1 Issue 33 July 4, 2001
"They moved vigorously, their rifle barrels and tomahawk blades glinting in the morning sun, their voices charging the air with liberty songs and patriotic exhortations in the neighborhoods they passed." ~ H. Mayer, A Son Of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic.
Patrick Henry, one of America’s greatest Founding Fathers, has nearly been lost in the dust of our nation’s history. Perhaps it was Henry’s insistence to speak his mind that irritates our historians to the degree that schools teach so little about him. After all, he symbolized free speech, which often sows seeds of discontent with bureaucratic authority - a threat that surely strikes fear into the hearts of edu-crats everywhere.
Could it possibly be the fact that during his famous St. Johns Church speech, he cried out, "Give me liberty or give me death," and therein begged Washington, Jefferson, Randolph and other giants of the day to give him authority to form a "well regulated militia?"
Henry had enough foresight to know there was a need to fend off the British through the use of arms. The British had become increasing hostile to the freedoms and commercial interests of the American colonies. Without weapons and men, there would be no hope for a revolution, and Henry wanted a revolution that would establish certain basic freedoms.
This revolution meant freedom and liberty, and liberty was the "Crown Jewel." Without basic freedoms, men would be slaves to the state. Without the right to bear arms, men would always be looking over their shoulders anticipating the day that an oppressive central government could take their freedoms; everything away.
After his stirring speech - perhaps the most exciting speech in American history - Henry was made the chairman of the approved militia plan. But unlike most of today’s so-called leaders, Henry went on to implement his own plan in a most dangerous and dramatic way.
Only days after the "shot heard around the world" resounded in Concord, Massachusetts, the Virginia’s British governor, Lord Dunmore, ordered his troops to seize all arms and gunpowder kept in the battery in Williamsburg.
News of the seizure soon circulated among the Virginia colonists and was mixed with the news of the uprisings in Concord and Lexington. Even though many had assembled and insisted upon strong action, the reserved "leadership" called for meetings instead.
Nevertheless, upon hearing of Dunmore’s seizure of the colonist’s arms, a prudent Henry rushed to one of the assemblies, and spoke about why the governor’s actions should not go unanswered.
So persuasive was Henry, the men insisted he be made Commander of the Militia on the spot. They bestowed upon him the uniform and weapons of a patriot: A tan hunting shirt, a rifle and musket-ball, and a single Indian tomahawk.
With the hundred or more militiamen now having the leadership of Henry they marched smartly on Williamsburg, and right into our history books. Governor Dunmore, perhaps a better reader of tea leaves than a warrior for British interests, quickly caved in to Henry’s demands and made restitution for the stolen arms.
Henry, Virginia’s first militia leader, was a passionate man who held the ideals and realities of the young country in mind. His wisdom and vision allowed him to realize that the right to bear arms would allow the colonists to break free from the clutches of the controlling British monarch.
Years later, he would break from Washington and Jefferson when he insisted that our new Constitution include the right of free speech coupled with the right to bear arms. Henry knew that without these two basic "tools," the nation had little chance of fending off a strong central government’s greedy advances.
The president and staff of The Patrick Henry Center believe Patrick Henry was absolutely right - and now join a grateful nation in honoring the courage of our Founding Fathers, especially one, Patrick Henry.
Patrick Henry risked everything on a single idea, and because of his incredible vision and courage, our nation basks in freedom, liberty, and prosperity.