Is your life more valuable than liberty?

Painting of Patrick Henry speaking

236 years ago today, Patrick Henry delivered his famous “Liberty or Death” speech at the second Virginia Convention.

The interesting thing about this speech – his most famous one – is that it was totally unplanned. He had no notes, no rehearsed phrases or planned anecdotes. Nothing but a heart and mind on fire for liberty.

I can’t help but wonder how many Americans today could say “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Our society is consumed with worrying about what will happen to Social Security, getting free healthcare, and preserving safety at airports at all costs.

We’ve become addicted to our own comfort, safety, ease, and convenience, and have forgotten that there are some things worth fighting and enduring hardship for.  If Patrick Henry were alive to ask us today, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet as to be purchase at the price of chains and slavery?” I am afraid the answer for many would be “Yes.”

Worse, we define freedom differently than Henry would have. R.J. Rushdoony pinpointed the problem: “A society which makes freedom its primary goal will lose it, because it has made, not responsibility, but freedom from responsibility, its purpose.” That is what liberty has come to mean for America.

St. John's Church
St. John’s Church, location of the 2nd Virginia Convention

So on the anniversary of this speech, it is even more fitting to remember as well Henry’s last message to posterity:

“Whether this [independence] will prove a blessing or a curse, will depend upon the use our people make of the blessings, which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable.

Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation. Reader! Whoever thou art, remember this, and in thy sphere practice virtue thyself, and encourage it in others.”