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Patrick Henry's Legacy of Liberty Remembered at Twentieth Anniversary of Tiananmen Square

June 17, 2009

Richmond, VA - June 4, 2009 marked the twentieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests held in the People's Republic of China in 1989. Chinese dissidents seeking democratic reforms demonstrated from mid-May until June 4 when the government forcefully cleared the square with tanks, murdering protestors and bystanders.

Protestors demonstrated against the authoritarian communist government, seeking to obtain democratic reforms. Students erected a "Goddess of Democracy" statue and also found inspiration in the immortal words of Patrick Henry by displaying his famous cry for political liberty, "Give me liberty or give me death!"

Liberty was the founding ideal of the United States. The end result of the American Revolution was the transfer of power from a system of government where the people were ruled by a monarch to a system of government where the power of government resided in "We the People" -- citizens with the right to vote who rule through locally elected representatives.

Patrick Henry (May 29, 1736 – June 6, 1799) was the leading Virginia statesman in defending the Virginia colonists' rights as Englishmen and the colony's right to legislate in local matters. John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson in November 1813, "In the Congress of 1774 there was not one member, except Patrick Henry, who appeared to me sensible of the Precipice or rather the Pinnacle on which he stood, and had the candour and courage enough to acknowledge it."

Henry's career in the Virginia legislature from 1765 to 1791 straddled the American Revolution. He helped draft the Virginia Constitution of 1776 and the Virginia Declaration of Rights. He served as the first elected governor and an additional four terms as governor of the independent commonwealth. A leading critic of the Constitution in the ratification debates of 1787-1788, Henry strongly influenced the creation of a national Bill of Rights.

Born in Hanover County, Henry became the most famous orator of his day. He credited his oratorical style to the influence of Rev. Samuel Davies, the Presbyterian minister at Polegreen Church. Henry made a name for himself as a young lawyer when he challenged a royal decree in the Parson's Cause at Hanover Courthouse in 1763. During the trial, Henry characterized the king as a tyrant for disallowing a locally enacted law. Two years later, his resolutions against the Stamp Act articulated the basic principles of the American Revolution. In March 1775 at the Second Virginia Convention held at St. John's Church in Richmond, Henry's masterful argument in support of his resolution to put the colony into a state of defense before his fellow delegates George Washington and Thomas Jefferson summoned Americans toward independence from Great Britain with the immortal words, "Give me liberty or give me death." Henry's speech had national implications, for Virginia's support of independence prevented the American Revolution from becoming a regional conflict.

Residents and visitors to the Greater Richmond area are invited to explore Patrick Henry's legacy of liberty at the historic sites and locations on the Road to Revolution State Heritage Trail. Locations on the site include Studley, Rural Plains, Polegreen Church, Hanover Tavern, Hanover Courthouse, Pine Slash, Scotchtown, St. John's Church, Red Hill, and Hampden-Sydney College. This trail explores and interprets the life of Patrick Henry. Additional information on the trail can be found at www.roadtorevolution.com.

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