On a chilly day in 1775, a lawyer named Patrick Henry flicked a fish moth off his stockinged knee, fixed his wig firmly on his head and implored his fellow Virginians to form a militia, in a speech whose climax still reverberates through history.

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” he cried to high heaven. “Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

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