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Patrick Henry's Famous..
"GIVE ME LIBERTY OR GIVE ME DEATH!!"
(War Inevitable!)
The Speech and the Inspiration behind it
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In March of 1775, attorney Patrick Henry, rode into the small town of Culpepper, Virginia. As he rode into the town square, he was completely shocked by what he witnessed. There, in the middle of the square, was a man tied to a whipping post, his back laid bare, with bones exposed. He had been scourged mercilessly, with whips laced with metal. When they stopped beating him, Patrick Henry could plainly see the bones of his rib cage. He turned to ask someone in the crowd, "What has the man done to deserve such a beating as this?" The reply given him was that the man being scourged was a minister. He was one of twelve preachers, locked in jail, because they refused to take the king's license to preach the gospel.

The governor was under orders from King George to compel all preachers to take the license. While being tried, without the benefit of a jury, the minister stated, "I will never submit to taking your license. I am controlled by the Holy Spirit, and authorized by God Almighty, and will not allow you to control me by a license, no matter what you may do to me." Three days later, he was scourged to death, and such was the fate of the other ministers, as well. This was the incident that sparked Patrick Henry to write the famous words, which later became the rallying cry of the American Revolution,

"What is it that the gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to purchase 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!"

THE WAR INEVITABLE SPEECH March 1775
Patrick Henry (1736-1799)

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as the abilities of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the house. But different men often see the same subject in different lights, and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen, if, entertaining as I do, opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I should speak forth my sentiments freely, and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The question before the house is one of awful moment to this country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Mister President, it is natural for 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. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those, who having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging 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? Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet.

Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike 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 almost 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. And what have we to oppose them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it was capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find that we have not already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves longer.
Sir, we have done every thing 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. 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, we may indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. 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! - I repeat, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us, sir, that we are weak - unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be next week or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? 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?
Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of those means the God of Nature hath placed in our power. 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 the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we are base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat, but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged. Their clanking may heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable - and let it come! I repeat, sir, let it come!

It is in vain, sir to extenuate 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 the 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!


To completely appreciate this most famous speech, I believe that it is necessary to also read the observations of John Roane who was present and heard the speech, and had the great pleasure of watching Patrick Henry give his great oration.

"You remember, sir, the conclusion of the speech, so often declaimed in various ways by schoolboys, '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 now what course others may take, bus as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!' He gave each of these words a meaning which is not conveyed by the reading or delivery of them in the ordinary way. When he said, 'Is live so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?' he stood in the attitude of a condemned galley slave, loaded with fetters, awaiting his doom. His form was bowed; his wrists were crossed; his manacles were almost visible as he stood like an embodiment of helplessness and agony. After a solemn pause, he raised his eyes and chained hands towards heaven, and prayed, in words and tones which thrilled every heart, 'Forbid it Almighty God!' He then turned towards the timid loyalists of the house, who were quaking with terror at the idea of the consequences of participating in proceedings which would be visited with the penalties of treason by the British crown; and he slowly bent his form yet nearer to earth, and said, 'I know not what course others may take,' and he accompanied the words with his hands still crossed, while he seemed to be weighted down with additional chains. The man appeared transformed into an oppressed, heart-broken, and hopeless felon. After remaining in this posture of humiliation long enough to impress the imagination with the condition of the colony under the iron heel of military despotism, he arose proudly, and exclaimed, 'but as for me,' -- and the words hissed through his clenched teeth, while his body was thrown back, and every muscle and tendon was strained against the fetters which bound him, and, with his countenance distorted by agony and rage, he looked for a moment like Lacoon in a death struggle with coiling serpents; then the loud clear, triumphant notes, 'give me liberty' electrified the assembly. It was not a prayer, but a stern demand, which would submit to no refusal or delay. The sound of his voice, as he spoke these memorable words, was like that of a Spartan paean on the Field of Plataea, and, as each syllable of the word 'liberty' echoed through the building, his fetters were shivered; his arms were hurled apart, and the links of his chains were scattered to the winds. When he spoke the word 'liberty' with an emphasis never given it before, his hands were open, and his arms elevated and extended; his countenance was radiant; he stood erect and defiant; while the sound of his voice and the sublimity of his attitude made him appear a magnificent incarnation of Freedom, and express all that can be acquired or enjoyed by nations and individuals invincible and free.

"After a momentary pause, only long enough to permit the echo of the word 'liberty' to cease, he let his left hand fall powerless to his side, and clenched his right hand firmly, as if holding a dagger with the point aimed at his breast. He stood like a Roman senator defying Caesar, while the unconquerable spirit of Cato of Utica flashed from every feature, and he closed the grand appeal with the solemn words, 'or give me death!' which sounded with the awful cadence of a hero's dirge, fearless of death, and victorious in death, and he suited the action to the word by a blow upon the left breast with the right hand, which seemed to drive the dagger to the patriot's heart."


We hope that the reading of this will give you some concept of the depth of meaning that liberty had to those who fought so valiantly for it, and passed it on to us. There are now, those among us who have the same unquenchable thirst for liberty and the dignity of a free people and who are just as fearful of the usurpations of liberty as those who have gone before. It is to these ends: life, liberty and the pursuit of justice that the common law courts have come back into existence. Not for the selfish avoidance of law, but to uphold the law and to dignify all men and for the preservation of liberty for everyone.
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"The strength and power of despotism consists wholly in the fear of resistance."
--Thomas Paine
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"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom, It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt, to the House of Commons, 18th November, 1783.
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