Although Patrick Henry probably never said "Give me liberty or give me death," the effect was the same: Virginia leaders (including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson—look for the redhead behind Henry) provided troops vital to the formation of the Continental Army . . . and the success of the American Revolution.

Illustration by Louis S. Glanzman, National Geographic

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  • On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry urged fellow Virginians to support the Revolutionary War, saying “give me liberty or give me death!” 
    Actually, it is unlikely that Henry uttered those precise words. The phrase was first attributed to him in 1816, more than 40 years after the revolution. Regardless, Henry’s speech encouraged Virginia legislators to provide troops to the Revolutionary War effort, helping to create the Continental Army less than three months later. After the revolution, Henry became the first governor of the state of Virginia.
    Like many other leaders of the American Revolution—including fellow Virginians George Washington and Thomas Jefferson—Henry was a wealthy slaveowner, making the conclusion of his famous speech notable: “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!”
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    attribute Verb

    to think to be caused by.

    encourage Verb

    to inspire or support a person or idea.

    forbid Verb

    to disallow or prohibit.

    legislator Noun

    person who is part of an organization that makes laws.

    liberty Noun


    notable Adjective

    important or impressive.

    precise Adjective


    purchase Verb

    to buy.

    revolution Noun

    overthrow or total change of government.

    Revolutionary War Noun

    (1775-1783) conflict between Great Britain and the colonies that became the United States. Also called the American War of Independence.

    slavery Noun

    process and condition of owning another human being or being owned by another human being.

    troop Noun

    a soldier.

    urge Verb

    to strongly encourage.

    utter Verb

    to say.

    wealthy Adjective

    very rich.