PATRICK HENRY’S SPEECH.
“May it please your worships: I think I heard read by the prosecutor as I entered this house the paper I now hold in my hand. If I have rightly understood, the king's attorney of this colony has framed an indictment for the purpose of arraigning and punishing by imprisonment, three inoffensive persons before the bar of this court, for a crime of great magnitude—as disturbers of the peace. May it please the court, what did I hear read? Did I hear it distinctly, or was it a mistake of my own? Did I hear an expression, as if a crime, that these men, whom your worships are about to try for a misdemeanor, are charged with, what!”—and continuing in a low, solemn, heavy tone, “for preaching the gospel of the Son of God!” Pausing, amidst the most profound silence and breathless astonishment, he slowly waved the paper three times around his head, when lifting his hands and eyes to heaven, with peculiar and impressive energy he exclaimed, “Great God!” The exclamation—the action—the burst of feeling from the audience, were all overpowering. Mr. Henry resumed:
“May it please your worships—In a day like this, when truth is about to burst her fetters—when mankind are about to be aroused to claim their natural and in alienable rights—when the yoke of oppression that has reached the wilderness of America, and the unnatural alliance of ecclesiastical and civil power, are about to be dissevered—at such a period, when liberty—liberty of conscience, is about to awake from her slumberings and inquire into the reason of such charges as I find exhibited here to-day in this indictment!” Another fearful pause, while the speaker alternately cast his sharp, piercing eyes on the court and the prisoners, and resumed: “If I am not deceived, according to the contents of the paper I now hold in my hand, these men are accused of ‘preaching the gospel of the Son of God,’—Great God!”—Another long pause, while he again waved the indictment around his head—while a deeper impression was made on the auditory. Resuming his speech—“May it please your worships: There are periods in the history of man, when corruption and depravity have so long debased the human character, that man sinks under the weight of the oppressor's hand and becomes his servile—his abject slave; he licks the hand that smites him; he bows in passive obedience to the mandates of the despot, and in this state of servility he receives his fetters of perpetual bondage. But, may it please your worships, such a day has passed away! From that period, when our fathers left the land of their nativity for settlement in these American wilds—for Liberty—for civil and religious liberty— for liberty of conscience—to worship his Creator according to his conceptions of heaven's revealed will; from the moment he placed his foot on the American continent, and in the deeply imbedded forests sought an asylum from persecution and tyranny—from that moment, despotism was crushed ; her fetters of darkness were broken, and heaven decreed that man should be free—free to worship God according to the bible. Were it not for this, in vain have been the efforts and sacrifices of the colonists; in vain were all their sufferings and bloodshed to subjugate this new world, if we, their offspring, must still be oppressed and persecuted. But may it please your worships, permit me to in quire once more, for what are these men about to be tried? This paper says, “For preaching the gospel of the Son of God.' Great God! For preaching the gospel of the Saviour to Adam's fallen race.” And in tones of thunder, he exclaimed, “What Law Have They Violated?” While the third time, in a slow, dignified manner, he lifted his eyes to heaven, and waved the indictment around his head. The court and audience were now wrought up to the most intense pitch of excitement. The face of the prosecuting attorney was pallid and ghastly, and he appeared unconscious that his whole frame was agitated with alarm; while the judge, in a tremulous voice, put an end to the scene, now becoming excessively painful, by the authoritative declaration, “Sheriff, discharge those men.”
The descendants of Patrick Henry are now members of Baptist churches; and, it is a fact worth recording, that in those counties in Virginia, where Baptists were once persecuted—treated as the offscouring of the earth, and their preachers were imprisoned and painfully suffered—and were maltreated by ruthless violence, which, in modern times, and in reference to other objects, has assumed the name of “Lynch-law,”—in those counties, Baptists are not only numerous and influential, but they constitute almost the entire religious population of that district. Verily, what hath God wrought?
J. M. P.
Philadelphia, March 25, 1845.