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Patrick Henry Essay Contest

"Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death!"

Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

To avoid interference from Lieutenant-Governor Dunmore and his Royal Marines, the Second Virginia Convention met March 20, 1775 inland at Richmond--in what is now called St. John's Church--instead of the Capitol in Williamsburg. Delegate Patrick Henry presented resolutions to raise a militia, and to put Virginia in a posture of defense. Henry's opponents urged caution and patience until the crown replied to Congress' latest petition for reconciliation.

On the 23rd, Henry presented a proposal to organize a volunteer company of cavalry or infantry in every Virginia county. By custom, Henry addressed himself to the Convention's president, Peyton Randolph of Williamsburg. Henry's words were not transcribed, but no one who heard them forgot their eloquence, or Henry's closing words: "Give me liberty, or give me death!"

Henry's first biographer, William Wirt of Maryland, was three-years-old in 1775. An assistant federal prosecutor in Aaron Burr's trial for treason at Richmond in 1807, and later attorney general of the United States, Wirt began to collect materials for the biography in 1808, nine years after Henry's death. From the recollections of men like Thomas Jefferson, Wirt reconstructed an account of Henry's life, including the remarks presented below.


St. John's Church, Richmond, Virginia
March 23, 1775.

MR. PRESIDENT: No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as 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 shall 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. 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. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfil the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offence, 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.

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. 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 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? 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 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. 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 to 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 is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. 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. 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. If we wish to be free² if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending²if 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 it, 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 the 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 which 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 to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were 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 be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable²and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace²but 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!


Source: Wirt, William. Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry . (Philadelphia) 1836, as reproduced in The World's Great Speeches, Lewis Copeland and Lawrence W. Lamm, eds., (New York) 1973.

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Student Essay & Video Contest

Students, tell us your story or share your perspective!

The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) envisions widespread, inclusive, and equitable environments in engineering, academia, and industry that embrace individual differences and leverage diversity for a better engineered tomorrow. The 2017-2018 year celebrates ASEE's 125 years at the heart of engineering education. The ASEE Diversity Committee honors this celebration with a focus on diverse teams in engineering and engineering education, because teamwork is at the heart of engineering.

Students from a broad range of backgrounds and among various grade levels (P12, undergraduate, and graduate) are invited to share their perspective on diversity in engineering teams by submitting an entry into the essay and/or video contests. Each entry should clearly answer the prompt provided below and follow all contest rules.

Prompt & Requirements

Essay:

  • Prompt - Teamwork is an essential component of engineering, and diversity impacts the process and products of engineering teams. When people work together across differences in personal backgrounds, cultures, engineering disciplines, race, gender, age, and other characteristics, we can face new challenges and achieve better outcomes. Describe a time in your life when you worked on a diverse team in the context of engineering or engineering education. Discuss what you learned personally from the experience, what your team accomplished, and how diversity impacted your team.
  • 300 to 500 words
  • By submitting a written essay, contestants are agreeing for it to be reviewed by editors and to slight editorial changes, mainly for clarity, made by the ASEE Prism staff. These edits will be provided to the submitter prior to publication. Publication can be anonymous, but contact information is required for authentication and approval of edits.

Video:

  • Prompt - Teamwork is an essential component of engineering, and diversity impacts the process and products of engineering teams. When people work together across differences in personal backgrounds, cultures, engineering disciplines, race, gender, age, and other characteristics, we can face new challenges and achieve better outcomes. Create a video that describes a time in your life when you worked on a diverse team in the context of engineering or engineering education. Discuss what you learned personally from the experience, what your team accomplished, and how diversity impacted your team. This video should not be an advertisement for your organization.
  • 3-5 minutes
  • By submitting a video, contestants are agreeing for ASEE and its committees to use the video in any means they deem positive.

Eligibility Requirements & Contest Rules

  • Open to Preschool to 12th grade students and students enrolled in a college of engineering or engineering technology (or similarly named program) at the undergraduate or graduate levels
  • All videos and essays must be submitted by the submission deadline
  • All submissions must be original and not previously published elsewhere
  • By submitting an entry to the contest, each entrant gives ASEE all rights, including copyright, to the entry and express permission to edit and publish the entry in all media without limitation and without any other notice.
  • By submitting a written essay, contestants are agreeing for it to be reviewed by editors and to slight editorial changes, mainly for clarity, made by the ASEE Prism staff. Publication can be anonymous, but contact information is required for authentication and approval of edits.
  • By submitting a video, contestants are agreeing for ASEE and its committees to use the video in any means they deem positive

Prizes

Winners are selected by a group of reviewers from the ASEE Diversity Committee. Up to 3 awards will be given as prizes for the top submissions from all categories.
  • 1st Place: $275
  • 2nd Place: $150
  • 3rd Place: $70

Submission

Timeline:

November 20: Contest submission open
March 15: Submission deadline - EXTENDED
March 30: Submission review deadline
April 6: Winner notification deadline

Essay:

  • 300 to 500 words maximum
  • By submitting a written essay, contestants are agreeing for it to be reviewed by editors and to slight editorial changes, mainly for clarity, made by the ASEE Prism staff. These edits will be provided to the submitter prior to publication. Publication can be anonymous, but contact information is required for authentication and approval of edits.

Video:

  • 3-5 minutes maximum
  • By submitting a video, contestants are agreeing for ASEE and its committees to use the video in any means they deem positive.

Please click the button below to complete the essay and video submission form.


Click on the names of our winners to listen to, watch, or read their entries.

2016-2017 Winners

  • First Place - Sophie Paul (P12, Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School) with her video, "Breaking Barriers"
  • Second Place - Maya Rozenshteyn (P12, Patrick Henry High School) with her essay, "A Club of Their Own"
  • Third Place - Katherine Kiang (Undergraduate, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign) with her essay, "Sugar, Flour, And Everything Nice "
  • 2015-2016 Winners


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