What would Patrick Henry think if he turned on the TV today?

“Told you so.”

That’s what Patrick Henry told me when I asked what he thought of what is happening in our nation today.

OK, not the Patrick Henry, but the closest thing to the “Voice of the Revolution” here in 2017. 

Richard Schumann, who has portrayed Patrick Henry at Colonial Williamsburg for nearly two decades, answered my question without a moment’s hesitation. “What would Mr. Henry think,” I wondered aloud, “if he turned on the TV today to see all the anger, division, anarchy and misery displayed across our fruited plain?”

Patrick Henry and the other founders sought an entirely new way to govern. It would be a government beholden to its people—not a people beholden to its government—with only God as America’s sovereign.

“Told you so,” Mr. Henry, well Richard, answered.

You see, the real Patrick Henry penned a note to you and me, warning us that what is happening in America today could happen. In fact, it was the only thing he ever wrote down that he cared for future generations of Americans to remember.

While we most remember him for seven little words, “Give me liberty, or give me death!,” Mr. Henry only cared to be remembered for his 1765 Stamp Act Resolves that set the colonies ablaze for Independence. He included those resolves with his will, along with a note he penned to future Americans:

Whether this (Independence) will prove a blessing or a curse, will depend upon the use our people will make of the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us. If they are wise, they will be great and happy. If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Righteousness alone can exalt them as a nation. Reader! Whoever thou art, remember this: and in thy sphere practice virtue thyself, and encourage it in others.

Patrick Henry was quoting the wisdom of Proverbs 14 here—his speeches and correspondence were laced with Scripture. He knew that righteousness alone could exalt America, but he also knew that righteousness doesn’t come naturally to men.

He studied history and human nature and understood how quick man is to discard virtue for personal gain whenever power is at stake.

That’s why he fought for three years for the Bill of Rights to be added to the Constitution. Yes, you can thank Patrick Henry for, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Our founding documents acknowledged that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were not from man but were God-given rights—they are the blessings which a gracious God hath bestowed on us.

Knowing this, Patrick Henry and the other founders sought an entirely new way to govern. It would be a government beholden to its people—not a people beholden to its government—with only God as America’s sovereign.

Freedom of religion meant the pursuit of worship by the individual however he or she chose, not freedom from religion by removing God from governance and suppressing it in the daily life of our nation.

It simply meant that America would never establish a state religion that would force its citizens to worship as had been the case with the Church of England. That was the extent of the law, but we’ve taken it to such an extreme that righteousness is having a hard time exalting our nation.

Mr. Henry knew that if our rights were not specified and protected, they would be in danger if righteousness and virtue were abandoned.

Our freedom of religion, speech, and expression are protected, but did you catch that word ‘peaceably’ when talking about our right to assemble?

That’s what wise people do—they meet and talk things through, rationally and peaceably.

They come to an understanding of how to “do life” together despite opposing points of view.

Wise people exhibit the virtue of respect for others.

Is that what we’re doing, America?

I imagine Patrick Henry frowning and shaking his head to see Americans screaming with repugnant disrespect while hurling objects and tossing statues with incivility. “If they are of a contrary character, they will be miserable. Told you so,” he might say.

But rather than give up hope and thinking that America has gone to hell in a hand basket, I choose to focus on the good that isn’t being shown on TV.

My friend Kenneth Kihughi came from Jamaica 20 years ago to become a U.S. citizen and pursue the American Dream.

Our 17-year friendship has been filled with talk of politics, what’s going on in our country, football and God.

I’ve watched him rise to a top position nationally in his company, get married, buy a home, have children, and participate in multiple elections.

Kenneth vigorously reads, listens, and watches the news and is one of the most intelligent, passionate, savvy citizens I know. He is a shining example of immigration done right.

I asked Kenneth his opinions as an African-American (or Jamaican American, as it were) about what is going on in America with the riots and the removal of statues.

He said, “We need to keep our statues up so I can point to them and teach my five-year-old son, David, all of America’s history and what we’ve overcome.”

He’s teaching David America’s good history—how she gained independence as a nation before she could secure it for all. He is also teaching David about America’s bad history, including slavery and civil war.

Kenneth wants David to see how America rose from those ugly ashes and struggled with civil rights until American citizens of every color and nationality could enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “But,” he stresses, “through their own initiative and hard work, following the laws of our Constitution and not being dependent on the government.”

“America is the most beautiful country in the world, and gave me a life I never could have had in Jamaica! America is a noble country and I am not afraid to tell people how great this country has been to me. God bless America and our President!” he bellowed in his booming, delightful Jamaican accent.

He then shared a heart-warming story about how little David woke him early on July Fourth to go put up their American flag.

“It’s America’s birthday, Daddy!” As Kenneth proudly displayed their flag, David exclaimed, “Daddy, you forgot something! We have to sing ‘O say, can you see?’!’” He placed his small hand over his heart and happily sang our national anthem despite not knowing all the words.

To me, Kenneth and David are the embodiment of all that is good and great in America, and what it looks like when righteousness is at work in the hearts and minds of its citizens.

He’s doing what Patrick Henry penned to us: Reader! Whoever thou art, remember this: and in thy sphere practice virtue thyself, and encourage it in others.

Do you know what I think Patrick Henry would have said if he had been standing there for Kenneth and David’s July  flag raising ceremony?

 

He would have smiled at the scene and said, “If they are wise, they will be great and happy. Told you so.”

Jenny L. Cote is the author of "The Voice, the Revolution, and the Key" (AMG Publishers), a book designed to encourage kids to get excited about learning the history of Patrick Henry’s life and quest for liberty.