March 22, 2019
"We the people." "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." In the course of human events, words have been powerful and pivotal. The American Revolution was no exception. News of taxes, skirmishes, and other events influenced the colonists, but certain speeches stood out. Whether they were quoted accurately or paraphrased for dramatic impact, there is no question that certain fighting words helped the American cause. Here are just a few.
1765 – Patrick Henry’s Provocation
Patrick Henry attacked Parliament’s authority to tax the colonists in a speech delivered to the House of Burgesses. Henry noted that "Caesar had his Brutus – Charles the First, his Cromwell – and George the Third …" but was interrupted by legislators yelling out "Treason!" Unflappable, Henry concluded "… may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it." By suggesting that George III risked Julius Caesar’s fate, Henry’s words defending American liberty were widely reported in newspapers.
1775 – Patrick Henry’s Defiance
Convinced that war with Great Britain was inevitable, Henry defended strong resolutions for equipping the Virginia militia to fight against the British. This time, Henry’s fiery speech included these famous words: "I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
1776 – Benjamin Franklin’s Prescient Wit
The signing of the Declaration of Independence was one of the most important moments in American history. For the signers, however, one stroke of their pen put their lives at immediate risk. Unified by cause and consequence, Benjamin Franklin pronounced, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."
1776 – Nathan Hale’s Patriotic Last Words
Gen. George Washington was desperate to learn the location of the imminent British invasion of Manhattan. He needed a spy behind enemy lines and a 21-year-old soldier named Nathan Hale was the only volunteer. Hale was captured, interrogated, and sentenced to hang. From the galley, Hale is said to have stated, "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."
1779 – John Paul Jones’s Tenacity
The U.S. battleship Bonhomme Richard was getting the worst of its battle with the British vessel HMS Serapis off the English coast. When Serapis’s captain called out for the American surrender, Jones reportedly yelled back, "I have not yet begun to fight!"
Did You Know …
Nathan Hale’s actual words were reported to be: "I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged that my only regret is that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service."
John Paul Jones’s famous phrase was likely ascribed to him decades later by his first officer and history. Jones is recorded by a contemporary Scottish newspaper to have said, "I may sink, but I’ll be damned if I strike." To "strike the colors" meant to take down the ship’s flag to signify surrender. In the end, the British surrendered after a grenade exploded below Serapis’s decks.