Patrick Henry Spins In His Grave


"I am a strong supporter of the first amendment and fourth amendment and civil liberties, but you have no civil liberties if you are dead," intoned Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan) last week on NPR.

That's a far cry from Patrick Henry's ringing choice: "Give me liberty or give me death."

Article Vi of United States Constitution requires: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution."

The Senatorial oath as prescribed law reads: "I (name) do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God."

That means all sections of the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson was wrong when he declared that "the Constitutional Bill of Rights" is not "a suicide pact." Defending the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution may mean that we must risk death from such things as terrorist attacks on American soil.

Shame on Sen. Roberts for choosing to sacrifice civil liberties for false security.

NEXT: Know Your Islamofascists

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  1. Hear Hear!

  2. Excellent post. The Founding Fathers would kick our a$$es for being such wussies today. We need a modern day Thomas Paine, badly.

  3. “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” — Benjamin Franklin

    To whoever disagrees: freep is that way ——>

  4. Jake (and SPD),

    Thomas Paine was a liberal, and a leveler (as most of the founders were), libertarians would have hated him.

    That’s why I am so surprised that Libertarians finally are waking up to the fact that “give me liberty or give me death” does not exclusively refer to our bank accounts and corporations. Traditionaly on these pages, the only right worth fighting for, are the property rights of government/corporation hybrids.

    Give me liberty or Give me death refers to all liberties, not Just Property.

    Hell, even the liberals got on this boat sooner than the libertarians. (I’m talking about grass roots liberals, not rank and file democratic party members).

    Democrats=Centralized power of the elite

    Republicans=Centralized power of the elite

    Libertarians=What the Republicans said but not what the Democrats said (Mr. Bailey himself admits to using this dialetic to interpet science arguments)

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I realize that I can’t be a libertarian, because I don’t believe that we can do away with government, if we do, there will be a power vacaum that will be filled by someone, so instead of no government I believe in limited government under the control of the people, unlike libertarians who would prefer to be ruled by whoever takes power after the government is disassembled and no longer answerable to the people.

    I am a leveler, like Paine, I believe that my government has but two purposes, protect my liberties, and do the peoples bidding within the framework of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”, which is decidedly different from the Libertarian perspective of letting Might decide Right.

    I believe in the free market, and I believe that all evidence points to the fact that a capitalist market, or a corporate market (where corporations are essentially gov/private hybrids with special legal powers) are the opposite of a “free market”.

    In other words, Libertarians and Republicans do not so much believe in “limited” government as I do but in unlimited by law governing of the power elite. At least Democrats admit (and of course they are wrong) that they believe in a “mother” government that takes care of us all. I despise them, but not as much as I despise Republicans and Libertarians and their love of unrestricted power.

    And the fact that a few Libertarians have discovered that Liberal and Libertarian have the same bass root “Liber”=freedom is not enough to persuade me that they are not the true “cheese eating surrender monkeys”.

    I can’t be a libertrian because I believe in limited government and limits on power.

  5. Johnny,

    That sure was a lot of words spent on saying ‘I have no idea what libertarianism is.’

  6. I made this point in Liberty vs. Safety. Best durn portrait I could find of Patrick Henry in that post, too.

  7. Johnny,

    I’m under the impression that a lot of people here share many of your beliefs. You’ll find a lot more common ground if you don’t insist on telling other people what they think.

  8. Johnny,

    I’m under the impression that a lot of people here share many of your beliefs. You’ll find a lot more common ground if you don’t insist on telling other people what they think.

  9. Johnny,
    Wow, I mean just wow. Where in the hell did you get that conclusion?

    Libertarianism is the philosophy of smaller government, just enough to protect the rights of the individual. Some libertarians call for anarchy(total lack of government) but most libertarians feel that goes too far. Where in the middle of little and none should we be is a big debate though.

    As for free-markets vs. capitalistic-markets, if you do an archive search of this site you will find that the overwhelming chorus of both the Reason authors and of the peanut gallery commentators is that of “Get the Government out of Business”. This means ending business subsidies, tax breaks and government sponsored monopolies. Some libertarians even call for the dissolution of the corporate identity and intellectual property rights though both of these are contested issues.

    Sounds to me like you may be a spot on libertarian and just haven’t gotten good information.

  10. Patrick Henry never said “Give me liberty or give me death.”

  11. Ashish:

    It is in vain, sir, to extentuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace–but 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 death!

  12. Johnny,

    Most of the posters here don’t support the vast majority of Republican policy. Most libertarians are the same. So where did you get the idea that libertarians support “centralized power of the elite?”

  13. What means “we,” white man?

  14. We don’t know whether he said it or not:

    Problematically, the text of this speech did not appear in print until 1817 , in the biography Life and Character of Patrick Henry by William Wirt. Although Wirt assembled his book from recollections by persons close to the events, some historians have since speculated that the speech, or at least the form with which we are familiar, was essentially written by Wirt decades after the fact. (Ray Raphael, Founding Myths)

    Oral history can still be history, and it doesn’t mean he DIDN’T say it.

  15. Fair enough, but I would add that the burden of proof in such matters is on people who affirm that X said Y since they are making the positive claim.

  16. In the Sunday Letters column of my local rag, a local Bushbot maintained he supports the war on terror, “no matter what the cost.”

    In the immortal words of Popeye the Sailor, “What th-?”

  17. Re: Authenticity

    Yeah I’m familiar with Raphael’s work having read “A People’s History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence” Just cause Raphael says Patrick Henry didn’t say it doesn’t mean he didn’t say it. Raphael is a Howard Zinn flunky, and both of them have an obvious agenda. I have not read “Founding Myths” but Raphael’s work on the revolution had some pretty weak citations. I can only assume that his scholarship has not improved.

    “Respectfully Quoted” lists some commentary on the possible authenticity of the quote in question:

    My copy of Mencken’s “A New Dictionary of Quotations” references similarity to Joseph Adddison’s “Liberty or Death.” from Act II of the play “Cato” written in 1713 a work which chronologically anyway Henry might have been familiar with.

    As Emma Jane has stated above, oral history is history. My wife is an historian and mentioned just last week that, in Medieval history at least, oral history is considered accurate (unless counter-indicated by other evidence) for about 100 years. While it’s possible that Wirt simply fabricated the quote, it is not at all certain, and in my analysis anyway, unlikely.

    Please, let me assure you I’ve played the role of quote debunker before (it’s not fun, and very frustrating). Shortly After September 11th, someone manufactured a Caesar quote about “beating the drums of war”. Being as I’m very familiar with Caesar I spent a good deal of time hopping all over the internet trying to extinguish the quote, in the end to no avail. The popular quote sites which seem to spring up like weeds do absolutely *no* verification of their work. Bartleby is quick and easy, unless I feel like rummaging through tons of old books trying to verify the Alexander Fraser Tytler quote ( which I ultimately concluded was fabricated, just as “Respectfully Quoted” did, though they use the nicer word “unverified”.

  18. If Henry hadn’t seen or read Addison’s Cato, I’d be very surprised. It was a favorite play of 18th century America. Genl. Washington had it put on at Valley Forge.

    John Miller wrote a nice little piece about the play a while back in National Review.


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