Today in History

Today in History: May 29

Orator of Liberty

Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry,
photograph of a painting by George B. Matthews in the United States Capitol, copyright 1904.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920.

Patrick Henry was born on May 29, 1736, in Studley, Virginia. He was a brilliant orator and an influential leader in the opposition to British government. As a young lawyer, he astonished his courtroom audience in 1763 with an eloquent defense based on the doctrine of natural rights—the political theory that man is born with certain inalienable rights.

On his twenty-ninth birthday, as a new member of Virginia's House of Burgesses, Henry presented a series of resolutions—the Stamp Act Resolves—which opposed Britain's Stamp Act. The Resolves were adopted on May 30, 1765. He concluded his introduction of the Resolves with the fiery words "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third—" when, it is reported, voices cried out, "Treason! treason!" He continued, "—and George the Third may profit by their example! If this be treason make the most of it."

Henry went on to serve as a member of the first Virginia Committee of Correspondence, which facilitated inter-colonial cooperation, and as a delegate to the Continental Congresses of 1774 and 1775. At the second Virginia Convention, on March 23, 1775, in St. John's Church, Richmond, he delivered his most famous speech. As war with Great Britain appeared inevitable, Henry proclaimed:

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!

a man with outstretched arm speaking to a crowd
"Give me liberty, or give me death!"
Currier & Ives, c. 1876.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Henry was the first elected governor of the state of Virginia, serving five one-year terms in this office from 1776-79 and again from 1784-86, alternating with terms as a member of the state legislature. Throughout his public career, Henry retained his leadership role, having a profound influence on the development of the new nation.

In 1788 Henry opposed Virginia's ratification of the new U.S. Constitution because of his concern that the rights of individuals and of states were inadequately protected. After the Constitution was adopted, he continued to work for the addition of the first ten amendments guaranteeing the freedoms that came to be known as the Bill of Rights. His last speech before he died in 1799 was a plea for American unity in response to early arguments favoring primacy of states' rights.


Crystal Lake
Crystal Lake, Wisconsin, copyright 1913.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

Wisconsin is a beautiful land… by reason of its wooded hills and the multitude of its beautiful little lakes. I had imagined it to be less well settled; for although one finds the borders of civilization so near at hand that in hunting one often encounters Indians, yet the southern half of the state is developing into a great, blooming, densely populated agricultural district.

Carl Schurz to Margarethe Meyer Schurz,
Letter of October 9, 1854,
Intimate Letters of Carl Schurz, 1841-1869, 139.
Pioneering the Upper Midwest, ca. 1820-1910

On May 29, 1848, Wisconsin became the thirtieth state admitted to the Union. The "Badger State" was the last state formed in its entirety from the Northwest Territory. Textured with beautiful landscapes and abundant natural resources, Wisconsin has a rich legacy of concern regarding their conservation. Tourist sites include the Wisconsin Dells and Devil's Lake.

The Winnebago, Menominee, Potowatomi, Dakota (Sioux), and Ojibwa (Cherokee) were among the Native American tribes to reside in the area. Among the first Europeans in this region were Jean Nicolet, who started a profitable fur trade between France and the native population, and Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, Catholic priests who first explored the upper Mississippi territory.

The first permanent European settlement in this area was established in 1717, but only after the War of 1812 did the number of settlers increase notably. In 1832, the Sauk and Fox, under Chief Black Hawk, sought to regain their lands in the Illinois and Wisconsin territory but, after their defeat, settlers rapidly moved in. Miners poured into the southwestern sector of Wisconsin early. Lumberjacks came to the northern and central portions of the state. Farmers found abundant fresh water sources and rich land. Factory workers populated the southeastern industrial belt along Lake Michigan.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Panoramic View of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, copyright 1898.
Panoramic Maps 1847-1929

Last evening I went with my parents to a summer refreshment place near the city, which was opened last Sunday with a great bowling contest. In such places things are conducted with much cheerfulness and wholly in the German style. The arrangement of the garden and all the grounds, and the predominance of the German language, would almost make you feel that you were in the fatherland if you did not hear the most varied German dialects and here and there a couple of Americans talking. At another place near the town, in the woods, there is target shooting on Sunday, and when the setting sun ends the work of the marksman a piano in the hall invites the young people to dance.

Carl Schurz to Margarethe Meyer Schurz,
Letter of August 12, 1855,
Intimate Letters of Carl Schurz, 1841-1869, 147.
Pioneering the Upper Midwest, ca. 1820-1910

Political refugees from Germany found a haven in Wisconsin during the mid-nineteenth century, especially around Milwaukee. German immigrants contributed their social idealism to community life and German influence was also seen in the development of music, theater, and leisure activities. The Progressive Movement of the early 1900s, which introduced innovative ideas in education and government, found a particular resonance in the state, resulting in legislation that made Wisconsin a leader in the social reform of industry and government.

Group shot of a singing society
Weimar Manner Gesang Vereine, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, copyright 1907.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

A singing society [Gesangverein] has been organized which has already given a very successful concert. A lot of balls were given during the winter, and an amateur theatre is organizing. Of course all this is only a beginning, but it is something. It is a sign that spiritual needs are strongly making themselves felt….

Carl Schurz to Margarethe Meyer Schurz,
Letter of March 4, 1855,
Intimate Letters of Carl Schurz, 1841-1869, 143.
Pioneering the Upper Midwest, ca. 1820-1910