Since Feb 22, 2007
This is no time for ceremony. The question before the House is one of awful moment to
this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or
slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the
debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great
responsibility which we hold to God and our country. 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.
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 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. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately
received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be
betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition
comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land.
Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown
ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love?
Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the
last arguments to which kings resort. I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial
array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other
possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call
for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant
for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us
those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging.
And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying
that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We
have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain.
Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which
have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves.
Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming
on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have
prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the
tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our
remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have
been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the
In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation.
There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be freeif we mean to preserve
inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contendingif 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 obtainedwe 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!
They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But
when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when
we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house?
Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of
effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of
hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we
make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power.
The millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that
which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.
Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over
the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The
battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides,
sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire
from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are
forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitableand
let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peacebut 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
Speech to the Second Virginia Convention
St. Johns Church, Richmond
March 23, 1775