Study Guide

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death Compare and Contrast

By Patrick Henry

  • Resolutions of the Provincial Congress of Virginia: March 23rd, 1775

    Check out the date on this text. It's the same day Patrick Henry gave the "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!" speech. These resolutions are actually what Henry was shooting for with the speech…and are the direct result of it.

    The resolutions make four major statements:

    1. Any "free government" needs a well-regulated militia to support it.
    2. If Virginia had an awesome militia, Great Britain wouldn't need to send soldiers, which means they wouldn't need to tax Virginia to pay said soldiers, so everybody wins.
    3. Now's a good time to establish a militia because, guys, the old laws about our defense are about to expire, and getting a legislature together to take care of this issue again is iffy, so we better do it now.
    4. Also, we need to defend ourselves, so we're going to appoint twelve "Esquires" (old timey word for dudes we respect) to look into that and figure out how many guys we need and what supplies they need.
  • The Charlotte Town Resolves: May 31, 1775

    Virginia wasn't the only colony ready to take matters into its own hands. The Charlotte Town Resolves, issued on May 31st, 1775 in what is now Charlotte, North Carolina, provided a set of temporary laws for Mecklenburgh (Mecklenburg, today) County and the City of Charlotte, meant to be used until the colonies could get their legislative act together and pass some more formal ones.

    Basically, because George III had declared the colonies to be in a state of rebellion, the Charlotte Town Resolves say that George III has no power there, and neither do any of his agents. Instead, the county has established a militia, which will also run the courts while also collecting lots of powder, lead, and flints.

    Basically: everything needed to wage a war in the 18th century.

  • Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms: July 6, 1775

    Full name: A Declaration by the Representatives of the United Colonies of North-America, Now Met in Congress at Philadelphia, Setting Forth the Causes and Necessity of Their Taking Up Arms.

    Written almost exactly a year before the Declaration of Independence, this document, another fine Thomas Jefferson product (produced with the assistance of John Dickinson), lays out the reasons why colonists have taken up arms.

    The first two-thirds of the document remind readers of Great Britain's history with the American colonies over the past two decades. We're talking about the Seven Years' War, the imposition of the taxes to pay for it, the Stamp Act, the Coercive Acts, The Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, and the stationing of loads of British troops in Boston, leading finally to the Battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775. (Head over to the "Timeline" and "Historical Context" for more on those events).

    That's right. Great Britain and the American colonies had been in a shooting war for almost three months, but war hadn't been officially declared, so the First Continental Congress felt like they should maybe say why the battles were happening.

    And why were the battles happening? Basically, the colonists felt like they didn't have a choice. They'd just been pushed and pushed and pushed. More and more rights had been lost. They were going to fight for them, despite the fact that war is the worst.

    "But wait," says Jefferson in the final three paragraphs. "We don't want independence, really. We hope we can resolve this conflict and be friends again. This is a civil war, not a revolution. Don't get any ideas, 'mkay?"

  • Petition to the King: July 8, 1775

    This piece is widely known as the Olive Branch Petition (an olive branch is a symbol of peace), but we like to call it the "Sorry, Mommy, Please Don't Be Mad" Letter.

    Written by John Dickinson of Pennsylvania and signed by delegates of the Second Continental Congress, including Patrick Henry, who, please recall, was all for taking up arms when he gave the "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!" speech almost four months earlier, the Olive Branch Petition is addressed directly to George III.

    It takes a more gentle, respectful tone than the "Necessity of Taking Up Arms" resolution did just two days earlier. Basically, it goes straight to the top, flattering George III and telling him they know it's not his fault. It's that nasty old Parliament and those nasty old ministers who have been really mean, and if George III could just step in and stop them from being mean, everything could go back to normal.

    Coming so soon after the "Necessity of Taking Up Arms," the Olive Branch Petition demonstrates how very conflicted most of the delegates, including Patrick Henry, were. It's a big deal to fight against your own country (most people still felt very much a part of Great Britain) and they really didn't want to do it…even though they'd kind of already been doing it for three months.

    So, please, King George, step in and make things right.

  • By the King, A Proclamation, For Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition: August 23, 1775

    This is George III's response to the Olive Branch Petition. It's very short…and it says, essentially, "No dice. You guys are in a state of total and open rebellion and all officers of the Crown (civil and military) and everybody else has an obligation to try to stop you and bring you to justice by whatever means necessary."

    It ends with a classic, "God Save the King," *mic drop.*

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