Reading about The Use of Myth in History

I’m not the only person writing about history myths. Check out this article by Gil Klein in the current issue of Colonial Williamsburg’s magazine about some of the history myths we most revere.

The Use of Myth in History

The crowd waited expectantly as Adrian Grantz, portraying Patrick Henry, rose to reenact the culmination of the debate of the Second Virginia Convention of March 1775. A couple hundred people from all over the country packed into Richmond’s St. John’s Church, the site of the original speech, as they do nearly every Sunday. The words tripped out of Grantz’s mouth as the hushed audience waited for the famous concluding lines. “Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace—but there is no peace,” Grantz said, his voice rising for the finale. “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?”

Then, in a gesture that has been repeated by generations of schoolchildren, he raised his arms as though breaking the chains.”Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” Cheers and applause. People stood in ovation.

Henry’s “Liberty or Death” became a slogan useful in situations where action is summoned to defeat perceived tyranny. But the historical fact is that though Henry did speak forcefully on that March day to spur the convention to action, we have no reliable record of what exactly he said.

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2 Responses to Reading about The Use of Myth in History

  1. Melissa Nesbitt says:

    That’s one I don’t think we’ll EVER be getting rid of. I like that one too much myself. Patrick Henry is my favorite founding father. 🙂

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