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 questing
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 fulfill 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 offense, 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 those warlike 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 free--
if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges
for which we have been so long contending--if 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
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. The 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 inevitable--and let it come!
I repeat it, sir, let it come.
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. 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! 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!