Last updated on April 29, 2020
During this COVID-19 lockdown, as governments usurp more power over our lives and strangle our economy, let’s remember the words that helped ignite the American Revolution. We need them again.
I had the opportunity to speak before a group of police officers, demonstrating the power of those words. Here’s how it happened.
It was a Saturday morning public speaking class at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. Most of the class were police officers, both local and state. They were taking this course as part of their educational requirements for promotion. A friendly group… yet I had no doubt that they would handcuff me and shove me into their police cruisers if I were arrested. Most were big, strong, and formidable.
The assignment this Saturday morning was to recite a small portion from a famous speech. Most of the cops were not particularly gifted in their ability to do dramatic readings. Many tended to speak in monotones, as if giving a police report.
I had chosen a speech by Patrick Henry. My turn came. I got up, walked to the lectern and glanced at my speech. I had triple spaced it and marked it up according to its high and low points for voice inflection and volume. I was ready. I loved this speech (and still do).
I began reading, making sure that I looked out at my audience as if I were talking directly to them.
“They tell us, sir, that we are weak—unable to cope with so formidable an adversary.”
Heads popped up. The tone of my voice and Patrick Henry’s words had their attention.
“But when shall we be stronger? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and a British guard shall be stationed in every house?”
This normally boisterous group was silent and still. There was tension in the room.
Patrick Henry’s words seemed to mesmerize them. I raised my voice and paused at certain key moments of the speech.
“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!”
My voice was rising.
“Our chains are forged! Their clanking can be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable… and let it come!”
I suddenly lowered my voice to a loud stage whisper. “I repeat it, sir, let it come!”
I had their rapt attention. They didn’t move except for a widening of their eyes. I paused to let the words sink in.
“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!”
I looked at the faces of these tough cops. They looked like deer caught in the headlights.
“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 had the feeling that my audience was about to rise. They seemed tense but remained still. It was time to speak nineteen powerful words from American history.
“I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
I said these last words making eye contact with one of the biggest and toughest cops.
There was a pregnant moment of silence. Then everyone burst into applause.
Later, as the class was breaking up for the morning, the big and tough looking cop told me that my reading of Patrick Henry’s speech had given him goosebumps. Some other cops standing nearby told me that it had the same effect on them.
It’s good to know that the power of well-chosen words, spoken with passion, can move people. Patrick Henry knew it… and delivered a burning fuse that ignited the American Revolution.
On that Saturday morning in Boston those cops and I felt just a momentary tremor of its power.
Today, it’s time for Americans to take those words seriously and tell paternalistic government “get the hell out of our way!”