Patrick Henry's Opening Speech:
"A Wrong Step Now
and the Republic Will Be Lost Forever"
on June 4, 1788
before the Virginia Ratifying Convention held
June 2-27, 1788
Contemporary introductory comments:
. . .Patrick Henry was one of many "founding fathers" who objected to the Constitution on various grounds. He feared the centralized power of the new "consolidated" government and claimed that it "squints toward monarchy." His speeches lasted for hours, and is part of the reason why the vote in Virginia for ratification was so close, 89-79. Thus if Henry's wish had prevailed--and a change of only 5 votes would have done it--the largest and most powerful state in the Union would not have ratified the Constitution; we can but imagine what the results might then have then been for the future of the nation. Among Henry's objections were the absence of a Bill of Rights and the great power granted to the federal government and the President. (see footnote 1 below).
Additional introductory comments by William B. Fox, America First Books editor, last updated 25 Jan 2007:
. . .There are some additional insights that can help the reader better appreciate Patrick Henry's position that come from articles posted at lewrockwell.com and lectures archived at mises.org. The following is what I remember from listening to most of these lectures. (For complete accuracy, I encourage a serious scholar to go straight to each source that I mention rather than rely purely on my memory).
. . .According to lectures by Dr. Ralph Raico archived at mises.org, Patrick Henry felt that the Constitution was "too appealing to the military mind." He predicted that if ratified, Northern troops would invade Virginia in about sixty years. He was off by less than two decades.
. . .Dr. Raico also made the important point that following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the emergence of a highly fragmented Europe in the Middle Ages (for example France and Germany were each divided into many dozens of sovereign or semi-sovereign provinces) advanced the cause of human liberty, because it gave citizens more exit options. A provincial ruler is less likely to raise taxes and show other forms of tyranny if his most productive subjects find it relatively easy to move over to the next province, similarly, if Americans can easily move to a nearby state with very different governmental policies, this creates more competitive pressure in favor of individual liberty than if the next available exit option is to move to Canada, a Caribbean Island, or somewhere in Europe.
. . .According to lectures by Dr. Thomas Woods, also archived at mises.org, during America's 140 years of colonial history, the thirteen colonies resisted on three separate occasions efforts to permanently unite them into a union. Interestingly enough, they seemed to be pretty happy and prosperous while disunited and functioning like de facto sovereign countries.
. . . Of course the colonies were in fact united at the highest level under the British crown. However, up until Britain decided to put the tax screws to them for the cost of financing the French and Indian War (ultimately triggering the American Revolution), the colonies tended to be "out of sight, out of mind" across the Atlantic from the King and Parliament and tended to function like separate countries.
. . .This raises an important question. If the colonies were reasonably happy in a disunited state, what is the big deal about how the states would later find it "necessary" to remain perpetually united in "a more perfect union"?
. . . Perhaps instead of actually being happier in a "more perfect union" we are really being brainwashed by a monopolistic government allied with and/or controlled by Zionist-dominated national media to think that we should be happy. After all, the state of Israel could never survive without the blank-check support of our "American" neo-Jacobin welfare-warfare global superstate that wages perpetual war for perpetual peace. Another name for this out-of-control beast that taxes the average American roughly ten times more than the average American at the beginning of the American Revolution is the military-industrial-Congressional complex. (I recollect that Eisenhower decided to drop the original "Congressional" part once he gave his famous warning speech in 1961). This imperium is fueled by a spendthrift pork barrel Congress, a Zionist-dominated fiat money-driven central bank, and also by runaway debt that enchains future generations. (My apologies to certain neophyte readers - I am talking in some mouthfuls here. Please trust me that I can back up each of these terms elsewhere in this web site. The main point I wish to make here is that the Federal government has become a runaway monster, just as Patrick Henry predicted).
. . .Our Orwellian leaders instruct us to be thankful that we no longer have competing exit options (also known as "States' Rights") that help preserve liberty --exit options that would, of course, undermine their monopoly power. .Get it? Slave masters always know that it is best that their slaves stay within their slave pens, and today the states (and their people) are the slaves of the Federal supremacist government which always knows what is best for them.
. .. Incidentally, these are the views of Bill Fox, not Dr. Woods. You can find his more subdued but still not PC views in his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History.
. . .William Everdell in his book The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicans observed that the colonial governments tended to be pretty good and served their citizens well for their era. They already had their own constitutions and long histories of successful self-government and really did not learn anything new from the U.S. Constitution.
. . . In his ebook Conspiracy in Philadelphia, Gary North argues that the U.S. Constitution was really intended to benefit New York City banking interests who wanted to consolidate Revolutionary war debts previously owed by state governments under a central government. Admittedly, many states were dilatory in paying off their war debts. However, such consolidation was not necessarily in the best long term political interest of each of the states. Furthermore, the Federalists fraudulently pulled a bait and switch when they convened the Philadelphia convention ostensibly to amend the Articles of Confederation, and instead met in secret to create an entirely new document called the U.S. Constitution.
. . . Dr. Thomas DiLorenzo (author of The Real Lincoln and Lincoln Unmasked) has described in his lectures how the Hamiltonian branch of the Federalists sought to institute an American version of the British mercantilist system. This sinister agenda included a central bank, high protective tariffs, and pork barrel public works programs that soaked consumers and tax payers. Dr. Lorenzo has also observed that in its peace treaty that ended the American War of Independence, the British Government recognized each colony as if it were a separate country. Each colony had retained a high measure of individual state sovereignty while defeating one of the greatest empires in history, so why in a time of peace the urgency to create some kind of indivisible, more perfect union?
. . .Dr. Murray Rothbard's lectures, also archived at mises.org, claim that the Federalists pulled dirty tricks by using their control of the Post Office to hold up the mail of anti-Federalists to frustrate their ability to organize significant opposition in time before the Constitutional Convention. Dr. Rothbard claimed that the majority of Americans during the 1780's sided with the anti-Federalists and believed that a Federal government must be kept weaker than the state governments. Furthermore, the Federalists falsely blamed the recession of the mid 1780's on defects in the Articles of Confederation, when in actuality they were a natural result of an economic hangover from hyperinflation and economic imbalances caused by the Revolutionary War effort that would have occurred under any regime. In addition, Dr. Rothbard observed (as does Patrick Henry in the speech below) that the Articles of Confederation had survived the terrible stresses of the American War of Independence, so what was so awful by comparison that was taking place in peacetime that necessitated such a dramatic overhaul of the central government?
. . .In his Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, Thomas Jefferson observed that the ability of the states to keep a check on Federal power is the most effective defense of individual liberty. When the states weaken, power gravitates to the center, where it is ultimately abused. The anti-Federalists hence believed that the federal government must always be kept weaker than the state governments. Furthermore, as Patrick Henry pointed out, each of the states has more concentrated bargaining power to deter federal tyranny compared to when atomized individuals try to build coalitions. Hence, the phrase "We the States" held more appeal to him than "We, the People."
. . .Please read online "The Anti-Federalists Were Right" by Lawrence M. Vance. Please recollect the dramatization of pain and sorrow in Gone With the Wind and watch Aaron Russo's documentary "America - From Freedom to Fascism" (not necessarily the whole truth, but still a good start) and ask yourself if perhaps Patrick Henry was on to something. For more anti-Federalist wisdom, please see also the Anti-Federalist Papers archived online by such sources as the Constitution Party of Texas web site.
. . .Please be aware that America had ten Presidents of the United States in Congress Assembled under the Articles of Confederation, each serving varied terms, often for as long as about a year. Then came George Washington who served a four year term under the new U.S. Constitution, and the aforementioned Presidents disappeared down memory holes. Since George Washington lent his prestige to the Federalists, if you begin to sound too much like an anti-Federalist, someone just might come along and express total outrage that one would dare question the George Washington cult of personality thing.
Patrick Henry's Speech
Mr. Chairman — The public mind, as well as my own, is extremely uneasy at the proposed change of Government. Give me leave to form one of the number of those who wish to be thoroughly acquainted with the reasons of this perilous and uneasy situation--and why we are brought hither to decide on this great national question. I consider myself as the servant of the people of this Commonwealth, as a centinel over their rights, liberty, and happiness. I represent their feelings when I say, that they are exceedingly uneasy, being brought from that state of full security, which they enjoyed, to the present delusive appearance of things. A year ago the minds of our citizens were at perfect repose. Before the meeting of the late Federal Convention at Philadelphia, a general peace, and an universal tranquillity prevailed in this country;--but since that period they are exceedingly uneasy and disquieted. When I wished for an appointment to this Convention, my mind was extremely agitated for the situation of public affairs. I conceive the republic to be in extreme danger. If our situation be thus uneasy, whence has arisen this fearful jeopardy? It arises from this fatal system--it arises from a proposal to change our government:--A proposal that goes to the utter annihilation of the most solemn engagements of the States. A proposal of establishing 9 States into a confederacy, to the eventual exclusion of 4 States. It goes to the annihilation of those solemn treaties we have formed with foreign nations. The present circumstances of France--the good offices rendered us by that kingdom, require our most faithful and most punctual adherence to our treaty with her.
We are in alliance with the Spaniards, the Dutch, the Prussians: Those treaties bound us as thirteen States, confederated together--Yet, here is a proposal to sever that confederacy. Is it possible that we shall abandon all our treaties and national engagements?--And for what? I expected to have heard the reasons of an event so unexpected to my mind, and many others. Was our civil polity, or public justice, endangered or sapped? Was the real existence of the country threatened-or was this preceded by a mournful progression of events? This proposal of altering our Federal Government is of a most alarming nature: Make the best of this new Government--say it is composed by any thing but inspiration--you ought to be extremely cautious, watchful, jealous of your liberty; for instead of securing your rights you may lose them forever. If a wrong step be now made, the republic may be lost forever. If this new Government will not come up to the expectation of the people, and they should be disappointed--their liberty will be lost, and tyranny must and will arise. I repeat it again, and I beg Gentlemen to consider, that a wrong step made now will plunge us into misery, and our Republic will be lost. It will be necessary for this Convention to have a faithful historical detail of the facts, that preceded the session of the Federal Convention, and the reasons that actuated its members in proposing an entire alteration of Government--and to demonstrate the dangers that awaited us: If they were of such awful magnitude, as to warrant a proposal so extremely perilous as this, I must assert, that this Convention has an absolute right to a thorough discovery of every circumstance relative to this great event. And here I would make this enquiry of those worthy characters who composed a part of the late Federal Convention. I am sure they were fully impressed with the necessity of forming a great consolidated Government, instead of a confederation. That this is a consolidated Government is demonstrably clear, and the danger of such a Government, is, to my mind, very striking. I have the highest veneration for those Gentlemen,--but , Sir, give me leave to demand, what right had they to say, We, the People. My political curiosity, exclusive of my anxious solicitude for the public welfare, leads me to ask, who authorised them to speak the language of, We, the People, instead of We, the States? States are the characteristics, and the soul of a confederation. If the States be not the agents of this compact, it must be one great consolidated National Government of the people of all the States. I have the highest respect for those Gentlemen who formed the Convention, and were some of them not here, I would express some testimonial of my esteem for them. America had on a former occasion put the utmost confidence in them: A confidence which was well placed: And I am sure, Sir, I would give up any thing to them; I would chearfully confide in them as my Representatives. But, Sir, on this great occasion, I would demand the cause of their conduct.--Even from that illustrious man, who saved us by his valor, I would have a reason for his conduct--that liberty which he has given us by his valor, tells me to ask this reason,--and sure I am, were he here, he would give us that reason: But there are other Gentlemen here, who can give us this information. The people gave them no power to use their name. That they exceeded their power is perfectly clear. It is not mere curiosity that actuates me--I wish to hear the real actual existing danger, which should lead us to take those steps so dangerous in my conception. Disorders have arisen in other parts of America, but here, Sir, no dangers, no insurrection or tumult, has happened--every thing has been calm and tranquil. But notwithstanding this, we are wandering on the great ocean of human affairs. I see no landmark to guide us. We are running we know not whither. Difference in opinion has gone to a degree of inflammatory resentment in different parts of the country--which has been occasioned by this perilous innovation. The Federal Convention ought to have amended the old system--for this purpose they were solely delegated: The object of their mission extended to no other consideration. You must therefore forgive the solicitation of one unworthy member, to know what danger could have arisen under the present confederation, and what are the causes of this proposal to change our Government.
... I rose yesterday to ask a question which arose in my own mind. When I asked that question, I thought the meaning of my interrogation was obvious: the fate of this question and of America may depend on this. Have they said, We, the States? Have they made a proposal of a compact between states? If they had, this would be a confederation. It is otherwise most clearly a consolidated government. The question turns, sir, on that poor little thing--the expression, We, the people, instead of the states, of America. I need not take much pains to show, that the principles of this system are extremely pernicious, impolitic, and dangerous. Is this a monarchy like England, compact between prince and people, with checks on the former to secure the latter? Is this a confederacy like Holland--an association a number of independent states, each of which retains its individual sovereignty? It is not a democracy, wherein the people retain all their rights securely. Had these principles been adhered to, we should not have been brought to this alarming transition, from a confederacy to a consolidated government. We have no detail of these great considerations, which in my opinion, ought to have abounded before we should recur to a government of this kind. Here is a revolution as radical as that which separated us from Great Britain. It is radical in this transition, our rights and privileges are endangered, and the sovereignty of the states will be relinquished: and cannot we plainly see, that this is actually the case? The rights of conscience, trial by jury, liberty of the press, all your immunities and franchises, all pretensions to human rights and privileges, are rendered insecure, if not lost by this change so loudly talked of by some, and inconsiderately by others. Is this tame relinquishment of rights worthy of freemen? Is it worthy of that manly fortitude that ought to characterize republicans? It is said eight states have adopted this plan. I declare that if twelve states and a half had adopted it, I would with manly firmness, and in spite of an erring world, reject it. You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your government....
Is it necessary for your liberty, that you should abandon those great rights by the adoption of this system, Will the abandonment of your most sacred rights tend to the security of your liberty? Liberty, the greatest of all earthly blessings, gave us that precious jewel, and you may take everything else! ... The Confederation, this same despised government, merits, in my opinion, the highest encomium; it carried us through a long and dangerous war; it rendered us victorious in that bloody conflict with a powerful nation; it has secured us a territory greater than any European monarch possesses; and shall a government which has been thus strong and vigorous, be accused of imbecility, and abandoned for want of energy? Consider what you are about to do before you part with the government ... We are cautioned by the honorable gentleman who presides against faction and turbulence. I acknowledge also the new form of government may effectually prevent it; yet there is another thing it will as effectually do: it will oppress and ruin the people. ... This Constitution is said to have beautiful features, but when I come to examine these features, sir, they appear to me horribly frightful; among other deformities, it has an awful squinting-it squints towards monarchy; and does not this raise indignation in the breast of every true American? Your President may easily become king; your senate is so imperfectly constructed that your dearest rights may be sacrificed by what may be a small minority; and a very small minority may continue forever unchangeably this government, although horribly defective: where are your checks in this government? Your strong holds will be in the hands of your enemies.
If your American chief, be a man of ambition, and abilities, how easy is it for him to render himself absolute? The army, is in his hands, and if he be a man of address, it will be attached to him, and it will be the subject of long meditation with him to seize the first suspicious moment to accomplish his design; and, sit, will the American spirit solely relieve you when this happens? ...
Mr. Chairman, it is now confessed that this is a national government. There is not a single federal feature in it. It has been alleged within these walls, during the debates, to be national and federal, as it suited the arguments of gentlemen.
But now when we have heard the definition of it, it is purely national. The honorable member James Madison was pleased to say, that the sword and purse included every thing of consequence. And shall we trust them out of our hands without checks and barriers? The sword and purse are essentially necessary for government every essential requisite must be in congress. Where are the purse and sword of Virginia? They must go to congress. What is become of our country? The Virginian government is but a name. It clearly results from his last argument that we are to be consolidated. We should be thought unwise indeed to keep 200 legislators in Virginia, when the government is in fact gone to Philadelphia or New York. We are as a state to form no part of the government. Where are your checks? The most essential objects of government are to be administered by congress. How then can the state governments be any check upon them? If we are to be a republican government it will be consolidated, not confederated.
Footnote 1: The first paragraph preface and the text of Henry's speech was originally extracted from the Northern Virginia Community College web site at::
however, the last time I checked on 16 Nov 2006, this page could not be found online anymore]