You remember, sir, the conclusion of the speech, so often declaimed in various ways by school-boys ‘Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!’ He gave each of these words a meaning which is not conveyed by the reading or delivery of them in the ordinary way. When he said, ‘Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?’ he stood in the attitude of a condemned galley slave, loaded with fetters, awaiting his doom. His form was bowed; his wrists were crossed; his manacles were almost visible as he stood like an embodiment of helplessness and agony. After a solemn pause, he raised his eyes and chained hands toward heaven, and prayed, in words and tones which trilled every heart. ‘Forbid it, Almighty God!’ He then turned toward the timid loyalists of the house, who were quaking with terror at the idea of the consequences of participating in proceedings which would be visited with the penalties of treason by the British crown; and he slowly bent his form yet nearer to the earth, and said, ‘I know not what course others may take,’ and he accompanied the words with his hands still crossed, while he seemed to be weighed down with additional chains. The man appeared transformed into an oppressed, heart-broken and hopeless felon. After remaining in this posture of humiliation long enough to impress the imagination with the condition of the colony under the iron heel of military despotism, he arose proudly, and exclaimed, ‘but as for me’ and the words hissed through his clenched teeth, while his body was thrown back, and every muscle and tendon was strained against the fetters which bound him, and with his countenance distorted by agony and rage, he looked for a moment like Laocoon in a death struggle with coiling serpents; then the loud, clear, triumphant notes, ‘give me liberty’ electrified the assembly. It was not a prayer, but a stern demand, which would submit to no refusal or delay. The sound of his voice, as he spoke these memorable words, was like that of a Spartan paean on the field of Platea; and, as each syllable of the word ‘liberty’ echoed through the building, his fetters were shivered; his arms were hurled apart; and the links of his chains were scattered to the winds. When he spoke the word ‘liberty’ with an emphasis never given it before, his hands were open, and his arms elevated and extended; his countenance was radiant; he stood erect and defiant; while the sound of his voice and the sublimnity of his attitude made him appear a magnificent incarnation of Freedom, and expressed all that can be acquired or enjoyed by nations and individuals invincible and free. After a momentary pause, only long enough to permit the echo of the word ‘liberty’ to cease, he let his left hand fall powerless to his side, and clenched his right hand firmly, as if holding a dagger with the point aimed at his breast. He stood like a Roman Senator defying Cæsar, while the unconquerable spirit of Cato of Utica flashed from every feature; and he closed the grand appeal with the solemn words “or give me death!’ which sounded with the awful cadence of a hero’s dirge, fearless of death, and victorious in death; and he suited the action to the word by a blow upon the left breast with the right hand which seemed to drive the dagger to the patriot’s heart.
Taken from Tyler’s “Life of Patrick Henry” http://www.gac.20m.com/henry1.htm