On Veterans Day, we honor those who have risked their lives in military service for America. Such commemorations of the valor of servicemen and women are not unique to us. But the vision that Americans have fought for sets Nov. 11 apart. From revolutionary times, our military forces have fought to defend something unprecedented – “a new nation conceived in liberty.”
A good way to honor those who have served to protect America’s unique vision is to remember Patrick Henry, because America’s “Orator of Liberty” reminds us of the cause that justifies what our veterans have sacrificed for.
Henry’s 1775 “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech sparked the revolution in Virginia. “The Voice of the Revolution” was the first person to condemn England for taxation without representation. He led the attack against the Stamp Act in 1765, and in every subsequent protest against British tyranny and every movement for colonists’ rights. He helped draft the Virginia Constitution and the May 1776 declaration favoring independence. He led in campaigning for a bill of rights. He was instrumental in bringing to life the ideal that became America, which our armed forces have fought to defend ever since.
Most Americans know little of Patrick Henry beyond his most famous quote. But he was a leading advocate of the principles that formed America and an important actor in making our nation a reality. Consider his words as we honor those in uniform, because they recall the importance of the liberty they have protected and continue to protect.
[We are] engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty.
We wish to be free … to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending.
[Do not] bind our posterity by an improvident relinquishment of our rights.
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!
Liberty is the greatest of all earthly blessings … the dearest rights of man … the time has been, when every pulse of my heart beat for American liberty; and which … had a counterpart in the breast of every true American.
Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.
Be extremely cautious, watchful, jealous of your liberty; for instead of securing your rights, you may lose them forever.
Liberty ought to be the direct end of your government.
When the American spirit was in its youth … liberty, sir, was then the primary object … the foundation of everything.
What can make an adequate satisfaction … [for] the loss of … liberty?
I address my most fervent prayer to prevent our adopting a system destructive to liberty.
In the language of freemen, stipulate that there are rights which no man under heaven can take from you.
The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government–lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.
As long as we can preserve our inalienable rights, we are in safety.
No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by … frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.
The first thing I have at heart is American liberty.
If our descendants be worthy of the name of Americans they will preserve and hand down to their latest posterity the transactions of the present times … to preserve their liberty.
America’s veterans have risked their lives for our country. But as Patrick Henry made clear, what most ennobles their sacrifices is that they were in service to liberty. Therefore, truly honoring our veterans also requires honoring our liberty with our actions, not just with our words on Nov. 11. Perhaps that is even more important this year, after an election in which the importance of advancing liberty was virtually absent, but proposals to shrink it were ubiquitous.
Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University.