FOR PREACHING THE GOSPEL OF THE SON OF GOD!
Spotsylvania County, Va.-June 4, 1768. Patrick Henry, in defense of three Baptist preachers: John Walker, Louis Craig, James Child, dragged before the magistrate and indicted with disturbing the peace.
Patrick Henry heard about it and decided to defend them and aid in their acquittal. The indictment brought against them was "For preaching the Gospel of the Son of God contrary to the statutes in that case provided and, therefore, disturbers of the peace.
The clerk was reading the indictment in a slow and formal manner. . ."For preaching the gospel". . . when a plain dressed man entered the courtroom and sat at the bar. He was known to the court and lawyers, but a stranger to the mass of people who had gathered on the occasion. This was Patrick Henry. He had ridden some 50-60 miles from his Hanover County home to volunteer his services in their defense. He listened to the reading of the indictment with marked attention. The first sentence which had caught his ear was "For preaching the Gospel of the Son of God".
When the indictment had been read and the prosecuting attorney had submitted a few remarks, Henry arose, stretched out his hand and received the paper and then addressed the court.
“May I please, your worship, I think I heard read by the prosecutor as I entered this house the paper I now hold in my hand. If I have rightly understood, the King's attorney of this colony has framed an indictment for the purpose of arraigning and punishing by imprisonment three inoffensive persons before the bar of this court for a crime of great magnitude as disturbers of the peace!
May it please the court. . . What did I hear? Did I hear it distinctly or was it a mistake of my own? Did I hear an expression as of a crime that these men whom your worship is about to try for a misdemeanor are charged with what?"
(low and heavy tone)
". . for preaching the Gospel of the Son of God!”
Pausing amidst the most profound silence and breathless astonishment of his hearers, he slowly waved the paper three times around his head and lifted up his eyes to heaven with extraordinary and impressive energy exclaimed "Great God!"
The exclamations, the action, the burst of feeling from the audience were all over powering.
Mr. Henry continued: "May it please your worship in a day like this when truth is about to burst her fetters, when mankind is about to be raised to claim their natural and inalienable rights, when the yoke of oppression which has reached the wilderness of America and the unnatural alliance of ecclesiastical and civil power is about to be disserved. . .a period when liberty, and liberty of conscience is about to awake from her slumberings, and enquire into the reason for such charges as I find exhibited here today in this indictment.”
Another fearful pause with the speaker alternatively casting his sharp piercing eyes on the court and the prisoners and resumed: "If I am not deceived according to the content of the paper I hold in my hand, these men are accused of preaching the Gospel of the Son of God! (looking up to heaven again).
Another long pause during which he again waved the paper three times around his head while a deeper impression was made on the audience.
Resuming the speech "May it please your worship, there are periods in the history of man when corruption and depravity have so long debased the human character that man sinks under the weight of the oppressor's hand and becomes his servile, his abject slave! He licks the hand that smites him! Bows in passive obedience to the mandates of the despot! And in this state of servility he receives his fetters of perpetual bondage. But may it please your worship such a day is passed away. From the period when our fathers left the land of nativity for settlement in these American wilds; For liberty, for civil and religious liberty, for liberty of conscience to worship their creator according to their concepts of heaven's revealed will. From that moment they placed their feet on the American continent, in deep imbedded forests sought an asylum from persecution and tyranny. From that moment despotism was crushed. Her fetters of darkness were broken and heaven decreed that man should be free - free to worship God according to the Bible. But may it please your worship; permit me to enquire once more, For what are these men about to be tried? This paper says for preaching the Gospel of the Son of God.
Great God! For preaching the Saviour to Adam's fallen race!"
Another pause. . . loudly-"What law have they violated?" Then for the third time in a slow dignified manner, he lifted his eyes to heaven and waved the indictment around his head. , .