"Give me liberty or give me death!"
— Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775 —
St. John's Church symbolizes the foundations of our republic and the founding ideal of liberty. Here, Patrick Henry's masterful argument summoned Americans toward independence with the immortal words, "Give me liberty or give me death" during the Second Virginia Convention of March 1775. In recognition of its historic significance, St. John's Church was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961.
The colony of Virginia held five conventions to organize its protests against Great Britain. St. John's Church became famous as a memorial to American liberty when over 100 Virginia colonial leaders, including Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, and Peyton Randolph, met in the church as elected delegates to the Second Virginia Convention. Patrick Henry delivered his famous speech in support of liberty on March 23, 1775 as he defended his resolution to put the colony into a state of defense. His oration sparked the fire of revolution in the colony. Henry's timely resolutions passed by a narrow margin and he became a visionary the following month when shots were fired at Lexington and Concord. Henry's speech had national implications, for Virginia's support of independence prevented the American Revolution from becoming a regional conflict. Henry's impassioned plea, "Give me liberty or give me death," has endured as the most famous cry for freedom in the world.
(May 29, 1736 - June 6, 1799) was the leading Virginia statesman in defending the rights of Colonial America.
Following Henry's death, John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson singing his praises: "In the Congress of 1774 there was not one member, except Patrick Henry, who appeared to me sensible of the Precipice or rather the Pinnacle on which he stood, and had the candour and courage enough to acknowledge it."
Henry was the first elected governor of Virginia, a devoted father of 17 children, and the most famous orator of his day. Born in Hanover County, Henry made a name for himself as a young lawyer in the Parsons' Cause at Hanover Courthouse in 1763. His 1765 resolutions against the Stamp Act articulated the basic principles of the American Revolution. Henry is perhaps best known for his immortal words "Give me liberty or give me death," which he delivered during the Second Virginia Convention in a speech to fellow delegates George Washington and Thomas Jefferson at St. John's Church in 1775. His impassioned words helped move colonists toward American independence and they continue to inspire the cause of freedom around the world.
Known as the "Voice of the Revolution," Henry's political career included 26 years of service in the Virginia legislature and five terms as governor. He helped draft the Virginia Constitution of 1776 and its Declaration of Rights. A leading critic of the U.S. Constitution, Henry also strongly influenced the creation of the Bill of Rights. Following his death, Henry was buried at Red Hill Plantation, now the site of the Patrick Henry National Memorial.