Henry’s quote comes from a speech he gave at the 1788 Virginia convention, which was called to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Henry’s insights into the abusive nature of a strong Federalist government is prescient and McMaken drives the point home.
“If we admit this consolidated government, it will be because we like a great splendid one. Some way or other we must be a great and mighty empire; we must have an army, a navy, and a number of things: When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different: Liberty, Sir, was then the primary object…But now, Sir, the American spirit, assisted by the ropes and chains of consolidation, is about to convert this country to a powerful and mighty empire.”
And quite an empire it has become. Today, as Americans, half our incomes are taxed away to that consolidated government; we send our sons to die toppling dictators armed and financed by those same taxes; we bleat like sheep for protection from each other and every foreign bogeyman near and far, and we call it liberty!
And for most Americans today, Patrick Henry is no doubt seen as a hopeless romantic, an impractical partisan of an imperfect ideology. He should have compromised and joined the Convention, we are told. His vision for America is in the dustbin of history. A fine man for a revolution perhaps, but of little use for our civilized government of today. Such are the rationalizations we now must resort to.
Patrick Henry may have failed to prevent the destruction of the free states of 18th century America, but he speaks to us across the centuries. Henry provides us with an eloquent example of those men of principle who put liberty first and were not afraid to fight for it. Today, as we beg for scraps at government’s table, perhaps we could learn a little something about courage and liberty from Mr. Henry.