“I see the awful immensity of the dangers with which it is pregnant.—I see it—I feel it.—I see beings of a higher order, anxious concerning our decision. When I see beyond the horizon that binds human eyes, and look at the final consummation of all human things, and see those intelligent beings which inhabit aetherial mansions, reviewing the political decisions and revolutions which in the progress of time will happen in America, and consequent happiness or misery of mankind—I am led to believe that much of the account on one side or the other, will depend on what we now decide.” As Henry spoke, a terrible storm rose outside the hall. Fierce winds and roaring thunder forced him to conclude his speech. Frightened members scurried to take cover. For Henry’s biographer William Wirt, the “spirits whom he had called, seemed to have come at his bidding.” (From Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots, pgs. 206-207)
Patrick Henry gave the speech partly quoted above at Virginia’s convention on the ratification of the Constitution. It is a little known fact that Patrick Henry, George Mason, and others in Virginia opposed the Constitution. They feared that it provided the federal government with too much power, and that the state governments would eventually be overwhelmed by it.
Many liberty-minded folks today would argue that the problems are not with the Constitution itself but with the failure of the federal government to abide by the Constitution and with the interpretations given to the Constitution by the Supreme Court, with the most problematic decisions coming down primarily in the 20th and 21st centuries. A fuller discussion of that topic will have to await a future blog post.
Suffice it to say now that good-willed people can certainly be on both sides of that argument today, and we will likely need to take a “both-and” approach. For example, I recently heard Virginia’s excellent Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a strong supporter of Constitutionally limited government, say that we might eventually need to amend the Constitution on a few points, such as to include a really strong balanced budget amendment to control the federal government. Like the Attorney General, I am a big proponent of Constitutionally limited government, and I a very thankful for the United States Constitution. However, I also, like the Attorney General, believe that the United States federal government is out of control, and we may need to ultimately amend the Constitution as a part of an overall program to rein it in.
For his part, Patrick Henry eventually made peace with the Constitution, and the evils he feared did not arise in his time. I didn’t really quote the above to discuss that, but to note that we too live in momentous times. And, future generations will judge us based upon how we acquit ourselves in these times. Will we do our duty, take the hard and difficult stances that are necessary, and thereby preserve the blessings of liberty and a Constitutional republic for us and our posterity? Or, will we stand by and allow the enemies of liberty to prevail without our spending ourselves in the noble cause of checking their advance?
I agree with Patrick Henry—there is great interest in the halls of heaven in such portentous events. And, much of the “consequent happiness or misery of mankind . . . will depend on what we now decide.”