“Give me liberty or give me death!” The rallying cry for the American Revolution came from Patrick Henry. This patriot, a founder of our country, was a Christian. Together with many of his contemporaries, he believed that virtue flowing from belief in God was vital for the success of our new country. Let me share some of his story that give his words and thoughts some texture.
In 1763, he was a young attorney. His father was a judge and his uncle an Anglican priest. The government-sponsored church clerics sued the taxpayers for insufficient payments. Defending the taxpayers, Henry first flashed his renowned oratory skills with this: “Such is the avarice, such the insatiate thirst for gold of these ecclesiastical harpies, that they would snatch the last hoe cake from the widow and the orphan.” I wonder what the reverend uncle thought about that broadside. We know what judge dad thought: he ruled against his son.
In another case Henry defended John Weatherford, a Baptist who had been imprisoned for preaching without a license, and paid the preacher’s fine. His popular defense of the common folk propelled him into politics.
While serving in the colonial Virginia legislature and in the continental congress, Henry spoke against the tyrannies of King George III. He was among the first to call for independence, once with a prescient warning. “Whether this 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. Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation.”
In his final years, Henry voiced his fears that the French Revolution would tear down “the great pillars of all government and of social life” which he listed as “virtue, morality, and religion.” He had become more vocal as a Christian statesman, and was disturbed that some considered him a Deist, which he said was “another name for vice and depravity.”
On his deathbed in 1799, he appealed once again to his friend and physician, Dr. George Cabell. “I wish you to observe how real and beneficial the religion of Christ is to a man about to die.” He told the doctor his religion had never failed him, prayed for his family, country, and his soul, and then passed into eternity.
In his will, Henry wrote, “This is all the inheritance I give to my dear family. The religion of Christ will give them one which will make them rich indeed.” In death as in life, Patrick Henry understood liberty, giving final testament to Scripture, It was for freedom that Christ set us free (Gal. 5:1).