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‘Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!’ and Other Legendary American Rallying Cries

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1775: American statesman Patrick Henry (1736 - 1799) delivers his patriotic 'give me liberty, or give me death' speech before the Virginia Assembly. Original Artwork: Printed by Currier & Ives. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
Patrick Henry (1736 – 1799) delivers his ‘Give me liberty, or give me death’ speech before the Virginia Assembly. Original Artwork: Printed by Currier & Ives. (MPI/Getty Images)


On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry declared, “Give me liberty or give me death.” (For the record, his full statement was, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”)

On the anniversary of that iconic declaration, here are 10 other catchphrases that roused the nation.

“No taxation without representation.” While outright revolution was still a decade away, the fury was building by the early 1760s. The Stamp Act of 1765 required colonists to pay a tax on each page of printed paper they used, in the process inspiring a movement that took the saying as its inspiration. The slogan itself was a slight modification of “Taxation without representation is tyranny,” popularized by the colonial lawyer James Otis. (While profound, that quote was sadly rhyme-free.)

“Don’t tread on me.” In recent times it’s been adopted by a variety of causes, but it originally comes from the Gadsen flag and was intended to convince colonists to stand up to England.

“I have not yet begun to fight.” On September 23, 1779, John Paul Jones and his vessel Bonhomme Richard appeared on the verge of defeat to two British ships. Yet when asked if he cared to surrender, Jones offered that retort. Three hours later the Americans pulled out a victory.

“Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” 1811’s Battle of Tippecanoe proved a defeat for the Native American forces led by Laulewasikau, the brother of Tecumseh known as “The Prophet.” Victorious General William Henry Harrison earned the nickname “Tippecanoe” and achieved nationwide celebrity. Indeed, his fame proved so lasting that he successfully ran for the presidency with John Tyler nearly three decades later in 1840, with their campaign adopting that rhyming slogan. It even inspired a song you can listen to here, should you be in the mood for some musical Martin Van Buren bashing.

“Remember the Alamo.” The 1836 fall of the Alamo became a rallying point for Texan independence. (Over time the shortened version stuck over Sam Houston’s original, “Remember the Alamo, remember Goliad” as he paid tribute to that later massacre as well.)

“Fifty-four forty or fight.” It’s the rare catchphrase that involves latitude.  The dispute with Great Britain over the Oregon territory in the Pacific Northwest was ultimately settled by treaty in 1846, with President James K. Polk and the U.S. accepting the 49th parallel that marks the Canadian border today.

“Vote as you shot.” By 1868, the Republican party was a mess. Andrew Johnson had become president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Once in office, Johnson feuded relentlessly with his own party members, to the point they impeached him. (Though narrowly failed to remove him from office when voting for conviction in the Senate.) Enter General Ulysses S. Grant. Having led the Union Army to triumph, now he marched on to the White House.

“Remember the Maine.” The 1898 explosion of the American battleship USS Maine while docked in Havana’s harbor killed 266 of its crew and directly led to war with Spain. (Which in turn resulted in the U.S. acquiring Cuba, the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico.) Modern research, however, suggests the explosion was not the result of Spanish treachery but an accident within the Maine, possibly a coal bunker fire.

“I want you.” Accompanying a picture of a pointing Uncle Sam, the 1917 army recruitment poster proved a highly effective way to boost enlistment in World War I.

“I like Ike.” Okay, it wasn’t profound, but it certainly expressed the fondness America had for the man who oversaw the U.S. military victory in World War II. Dwight D. Eisenhower won over 55 percent of the popular vote in 1952 and over 57 percent in 1956, ending a streak of five straight presidential wins by the Democrats.

—Sean Cunningham for RealClearLife