The question before the house is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. (4-5)
Nice connection here, Henry. Check out how he relates his larger theme of freedom to his specific freedom to speak (ahem) freely about his thoughts.
They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. (28-29)
Henry's not wrong here. The end of the French and Indian War/Seven Years' War (see "Historical Context") left Britain in control of everything north of Florida, east of the Mississippi and south of the Arctic. There aren't any French or Spanish threats to be concerned about, so why all the peacekeeping forces, Britain?
Sir, we have done everything that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. (39-40)
When you're mad at your constitutional monarchy, it's most diplomatic to go after the "constitutional" part rather than the "monarchy" part. That way, you can always say your problem was never with one specific person (like the king) but with general groups like "Parliament" or "the ministry." This makes it less likely that you'll make specific enemies—you can always come back and say, "But we weren't talking about you."
If we wish to be free, if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending, if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! (44)
Well, says Henry, we've come this far and it would be kind of embarrassing to turn around now. Think about what's going on here. He says the colonies have been struggling for a long time, but they're just now thinking about turning this cold war hot. So what struggle is he talking about? It's those ten years since the Stamp Act, since Britain got the idea that the colonies should pay for stuff and the colonies said no dice.
There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! (60-62)
Again, these aren't literal chains. That clanking Henry hears? It's the sound of the smackdown Britain laid on Boston after the Boston Tea Party.
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!
Earlier in the speech, Henry said they didn't have a choice about fighting. Life and peace weren't going to be an option unless they fought for it. Now he gives them a choice…but we all know which choice he expects them to make.
Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with these war-like preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask, gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other. (19-28)
So Great Britain is sending a whole lotta military resources to North America, and there aren't any enemies there. (We'd be a little nervous, too.)
I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us! (45-46)
Simmer down, Henry. We all heard you the first twenty times.
Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. (54-57)
Wow, so Henry is pretty sure he is in the right here, and somehow being right is going to solve any teensy little problems of being outnumbered and outgunned. Just go with it, Henry. Confidence is key.
The war is inevitable and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come. (63-64)
When we read this, we think revolution…but that's not what Henry was thinking. Nobody was quite there yet with the idea of independence in 1775. Nope: Great Britain has a long history of civil war, and that's where Henry is going with this.
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? (66-70)
When he says, "already in the field," he means they have militias set up. Remember, the war won't actually start for another month.
Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. (8-9)
We get it, Henry. You've read The Odyssey. (For all y'all that haven't cracked it yet: sirens are mythical creatures who lure sailors onto some very jagged rocks with their beautiful singing voice.)
I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves, and the House? (14-15)
Well, there must have been something to give them hope. Otherwise the war would have started a long time ago.
Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. (41-43)
And yes, that does all sound really rough. Politics is hard.
Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? (52)
Does anybody else see Patrick Henry wrestling a <a href="https://www.shmoop.com/harry-potter-half-blood-prince/dementors.html" target="_blank">Dementor</a> here? Because that's what we see. We know one thing, there's no hope in <a href="https://www.shmoop.com/harry-potter-3-azkaban/" target="_blank">Azkaban</a>.