Four American Patriots  by Alma Holman Burton

Taking Up Arms Against the King

When Henry reached home, the neighbors crowded around him, asking many questions about the city of Philadelphia and the people whom he had met there.

"Who was the greatest man there?" asked one.

"Always excepting yourself, Patrick," shouted another, laughing, "I'll warrant you were the greatest of all!"

Henry told them about the city that William Penn had built, and about the famous men who were at the congress.

There was Roger Sherman, of Connecticut, who "never said a foolish thing in his life." There was Samuel Adams, of Massachusetts, whose "head was wanted badly in England;" and his cousin John Adams, who "had forty towns in the Bay Colony at his back."

There was John Rutledge, of South Carolina, who was "by far the greatest orator of them all," with his brother Edward, who had learned fine manners at the court of the king, but had become a patriot while listening to the debates in Parliament on the tea tax.

There was Philip Livingston, of New York, whose letters to Edmund Burke had won that great English orator to the American cause; and there was John Jay, whose "pen was the finest in America."

"Of course, you know all about our own men," he said. "Everybody made much of Richard Henry Lee, for they had heard how he made a bonfire of the stamps; and Peyton Randolph was elected chairman of the convention. But for solid information and sound judgment," said Henry, "Colonel Washington was the greatest man in the Congress."

Now, the king gave no heed to the petition of Congress. He sent over a fleet of ships and an army to aid General Gage in making war on the colonies if they would not obey the law.

The second Virginia convention met in St. John's church, in Richmond, on the 2nd of March, 1775.


Patrick Henry moved in a convention that Virginia be put in a state of defence.

Many opposed doing this. They said it was the duty of every man to obey the king.

And so the Virginians were divided in opinion. Those who were loyal to the king were called Tories, and those who refused to obey his unjust laws were called Whigs.

Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Henry Lee, and many others were Whigs; but there were also many powerful men who were Tories. When the Tories opposed the motion to defend the colony, Patrick Henry made a wonderful speech.

"We must fight," he said. "An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us. They tell us, sir, that we are weak! But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week or the next year? Will it be when a British guard shall be stationed in every house?

"Sir, we are not weak. Three 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.

"Gentlemen, we may cry peace! peace! but there is no peace. The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms. Our brethren in Boston are already in the field. Why stand we here idle?

"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!"

The faces of all were pale. The Tories were quaking with fear at the thought of having taken part in such a meeting.

But Lee and Jefferson spoke in favor of arming the colony, and Washington nodded his head, though he said nothing.

In the end it was voted to take up arms against the king's troops.

Meanwhile, the battles of Concord and Lexington were fought, near Boston. About the same time Governor Dunmore seized the powder at Williamsburg and sent it on board a British ship.

The Whigs armed themselves. They rallied about Patrick Henry, and set out for Williamsburg to demand the powder.

Tories along the march begged Henry not to plunge the colony into a war with the governor. But he pushed on his way, and the Whigs joined the ranks, until over five hundred were in line.

Governor Dunmore fled from the city. Very soon after, however, he sent a promise to pay for the powder he had carried away.

Then Patrick Henry disbanded the army and started for Philadelphia to attend the second Continental Congress. His friends, fearing the governor might have him arrested, mounted their horses and rode with him to the Potomac River. As he was ferried across to the Maryland side, they gave cheer after cheer and wished him success on his journey.