Metals action the past two weeks has baffled me. In some way, it feels like a calm before a storm. The news stories seem to have changed their tone. World events are becoming more surreal. Illogical markets and economic indictors surround us. I glance from screen to screen on my computer at the office, looking at charts, reading news and blogs, and trying to get some work done. Perhaps it is all in my imagination.
As I prepared a lecture this past week in colonial American propaganda and social movements, I read for the first time Patrick Henry's famous speech. It moved me.
Though we all heard Patrick Henry’s famous declaration in grammar school, “give me liberty or give me death,” few fully understood the extended and brutal situation which gave rise to his passion. Great Britain had been attempting to recover costs of the “Seven Years War” (1756-63) with France, and had transformed the colonies into a revenue source. “Civil and religious liberties” were under attack through taxation laws and he promotion of England’s state church—the Anglicans—into a more powerful role in America.
A truth we teach in the field of rhetoric is that a speech (also songs, movies, or books) responds to a problem in society and retains its power as long as the situation which called it forth still exists. We call this an “exigence.” I suppose there was a time when people read Henry’s speech, after the war was over, after the exigence had been satisfied, and these people appreciated Henry for his passion and efforts. But the speech’s work was done, it had no more grounds by which to move people. It was just another lesson in history. But today a growing situation has reinvigorated Henry’s speech. And it forces those of us in the US to examine ourselves as a similar exigence arises.
I have included Henry’s speech in its entirety. It was not published at the time. Some scholars think it was written by a colleague, but delivered by Henry. They may not believe that person could compose such a speech on the spot, as Henry was known to do.
The speech is well constructed, according to Cicero’s classic formula, such as an orator of Henry’s stature would have done. The introduction is polite and deferential to those he disagreed with. He withholds his thesis until he has made his case, yet reveals that he disagrees with the mainstream opinion. There is no need for a “narrative section” that fills in current events for his audience, so he skips this part. His “proof” makes a strong case built on solid reasons and well-known evidence. He then “refutes” the best reasons of the opposition to his thesis. Finally, his request for action is subtly implied in his own declaration for action. People do not like to be told what to do; but hey like to hear what you are going to do and then choose to follow.
Visualize and hear it as you read.
St. John's Church, Richmond, Virginia
March 23, 1775.
MR. PRESIDENT: 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 question 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 these war-like 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 contending²if 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 left us!
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. 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. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election [choice]. 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!
The results of his speech were felt immediately in that Virginia assembly, then more widely as news of the speech and its final lines were republished in other colonies. Perhaps we may feel its power again today as a strikingly similar exigence arises.
The forms of argument that help us to discern truth transcend the specific circumstances that inspired them. The stage can be reset, the players changed to modern ones, and the core of the argument made by Henry regains its salience and power. If one does not oppose an oppressor, you will be oppressed!
I know not what course of action that modern people ought to take these days. In Henry’s day, the choices were clear—either support the war effort for independence to the bitter end, or sign your soul over to a government that fully intended to tax the hell out of you. Today, the options are not that straight forward … yet. The options we have are many: going Galt, support the Tea party, be an active Libertarian, Occupy Wall Street, buy silver till they crash? As I complained in a previous post, I don’t see a clear course of action that has a high chance of success.
But we will be stronger as more people wake up. And the means of coalescing folks into a formidable social group have changed. The internet is a key. Sites where “the awakened” find one another. And social media tools will provide the communication logistics to teach and motivate the awakened to take coordinated action that might bring about positive social and economic change.
Accumulating and holding metals may yet be the most effective course we can all take! Gold and silver are cheaper today than mines can dig the stuff out of the ground and process it into coins and bars. At these prices, I see no long term risk whatsoever. As Rickards has tried to teach us, the real struggle is being fought with control of currency. Awakening to reality and truth is an integral part of this process.
An exigence is growing that increasingly demands action of those who wish to remain in control of their futures.
So for the moment, I choose to act by putting my “labor and profit” into a form of currency that I control, saving it for that day when choices for other action will be clear. I choose to try to awaken my neighbors and relatives that “something is wrong,” that planning for a tough future is wiser than expecting a better one.
That little silver key is in everyone's hands