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Mar
23

Patrick Henry’s Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

By
When:
March 23, 2018 @ 2:36 am – 3:36 am
2018-03-23T02:36:00-04:00
2018-03-23T03:36:00-04:00

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Written and compiled by Jim Moyer 3/23/2019

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William Wirt’s Skull.

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I came across this skull in a roundabout way.

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I was tracking Colonel George Washington’s journey from Winchester to close the North Carolina line in 1756 at Fort Mayo in old Halifax County which later birthed Patrick and Henry Counties, named after Patrick Henry.

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Patrick Henry?

William Wirt?

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Date: Oct. 19, 2005 Slug: st-skull2 assignment # 173658 Location: Congressional Cemetery Photographer: Gerald Martineau Summary: inspection of family grave to determine skull affiliation caption: Smithsonian Dr. Douglas Owsley holds the mystery skull that was housed in a tin box and previously in the posession of DC council member Jim Graham. StaffPhoto imported to Merlin on Wed Oct 19 17:52:07 2005

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In that skull, William Wirt’s skull, stolen in the 1970s and later recovered, was borne the idea that Patrick Henry said, “Give me Liberty or Give me Death.”

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According to JAR, the respected Journal of the American Revolution, there is no evidence Patrick Henry said that.  Nor is there evidence Patrick Henry did not say that. But, William Wirt wrote it, claims JAR.

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And maybe that idea came from Addison’s Cato, a favorite play in the British Empire and of our Founders, often quoted by George Washington.

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DEBUNKING

Debunking an inspiring story?  No triumph there.  The possibility of truth, though, might be more interesting than the myth.   Is there evidence  to dispute the contention by this JAR Journal American Revolution article?  

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Apparently William Wirt looked for evidence of any contemporary witness who may have recorded the speech right there.  Instead he found someone who remembered part of it.

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William Wirt’s Intent

William Wirt’s intent was to write a biography of Patrick Henry, but no one ever jotted down all his speeches. So after much frustration in trying to find a record — any record of Patrick Henry’s speeches, he wrote some of Patrick Henry’s speeches like he was quoting him.

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“In 1816 the editors of Port Folio magazine asked Wirt to publish a sample of his forthcoming book, and the author selected the alleged text of the speech Patrick Henry delivered in Richmond’s St John’s Church on March 23, 1775, more than four decades earlier.” See JAR article.

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George Washington was there that day. He wrote nothing of the speech to anyone.  Washington did say he was way too busy to write more.  I have found this to be true of many diaries including my own, that when a lot is going on, less is written to record it all.

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JAR contends Wirt wrote

Give Me Libery or Give Me Death:

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https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/07/patrick-henrys-liberty-or-death-granddaddy-of-revolution-mythologies/

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About Addison’s Cato

https://allthingsliberty.com/2016/11/joseph-addisons-cato-liberty-stage/

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William Wirt BIO

Wirt was huge in his time, big as any Founding Father.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wirt_(Attorney_General)

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Wirt’s 2 Direct Sources:

Judge St. George Tucker, and Edmund Randolph were two sources Wirt used for part of reconstructing Patrick Henry’s speeches.

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Judge St George Tucker’s one son, Henry St George Tucker created and ran Virginia’s largest private law school in 1824 on 37 South Cameron Street in Winchester.

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Source Page 22 to 23, By David M Corbin for the Winchester Frederick Co Historical Society Volume VI, 1991-1992

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Sources:

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The JAR story:

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https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/07/patrick-henrys-liberty-or-death-granddaddy-of-revolution-mythologies/

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Story on the stolen skull

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https://fartheralong.wordpress.com/2005/10/31/113103703842542201/

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Joseph Addison’s CATO quotes

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

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Act II Scene IV

Cato declares, “It is not now a time to talk of aught / But chains or conquest, liberty or death.”[5]

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Act IV Scene IV

Nathan Hale’s ubiquitous quote during his execution, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,” may have been inspired by Act IV, when Cato glorifies his son’s death, “-How beautiful is death when earned by virtue? / Who would not be that youth? What pity is it / That we can die but once to serve our country!”[6]

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In truth, Henry often spoke extemporaneously from notes and no complete text of the speech has survived.

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Instead, it was re-constructed decades later by a Henry biographer, who Ray Raphael concludes likely wrote the speech.[7]

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Similarly, few were present at Hale’s execution and his quote comes through the memoir of a classmate, who claimed to be repeating the story told him by John Montressor, the British chief engineer stationed nearby.[8]

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In either case, a certain class of Americans were already familiar with the ideas and sentiments attributed to Henry (liberty or death) and Hale (martyrdom for cause and country), thanks in no small part, to the play.

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https://allthingsliberty.com/2016/11/joseph-addisons-cato-liberty-stage/

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From the JAR article:
In 1816 the editors of Port Folio magazine asked Wirt to publish a sample of his forthcoming book, and the author selected the alleged text of the speech Patrick Henry delivered in Richmond’s Henrico Church on March 23, 1775, more than four decades earlier. The final work, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry, came out the following year. An instant bestseller, it was reprinted twenty-five times in the next half-century.[v]

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How accurate is Wirt’s rendition of Henry’s most famous speech?

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https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/07/patrick-henrys-liberty-or-death-granddaddy-of-revolution-mythologies/#_edn8

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St John’s Church where the famous speech was given

https://goo.gl/maps/uBxBZf7xKS42

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Washington quotes

from Addison’s Cato

heavily throughout his life:


 

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“George Washington was so taken with the character of Cato the younger in Joseph Addison’s 1713 play Cato that he made the Roman republican his role model.

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He went to see Cato numerous times from early manhood into maturity and even had it performed for his troops at Valley Forge despite a congressional resolution that plays were inimical to republican virtue.

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Washington included lines from the play in his private correspondence and even in his farewell address.” (Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot, Hoover Press, 1995, p.75.)

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Source:

https://www.constitution.org/addison/cato_play.htm

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In 1758

Colonel George Washington is on the Forbes Expediton while he was at ” Camp at Rays Town 25th Septr 1758″, writes  to Sarah Cary Fairfax:

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 I shoud th⟨ink⟩ my time more agreable spent believe me, in playing a part in Cato with the Company you mention, & myself doubly happy in being the Juba to such a Marcia as you must make.5

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From this Source:

https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/addison-cato-a-tragedy-and-selected-essays

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n 1775

he wrote to Benedict Arnold to commend his heroism in the ill-fated Quebec expedition: “It is not in the power of any man to command success; but you have done more—you have deserved it.” In Act 1, scene 2, Cato’s son says, “’Tis not in mortals to command success. But we’ll do more, Sempronius, we’ll deserve it.”

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in 1796

One of Cato’s most quoted sentiments was “‘When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,’ the post of honor is a private station.” Washington expressed that thought on numerous occasions, including the letter he wrote to Alexander Hamilton in 1796 opening the correspondence through which the two wrote the renowned Farewell Address.

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 in 1783,

when his officers encamped at Newburgh, New York, threatened to mutiny—as Cato’s troops had done in the play—Washington appeared before them and quite self-consciously shamed them into abandoning the enterprise essentially by rehashing Cato’s speech.

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