“Give Me Tree Bark, Or Give Me Death.”: Liberty Yesterday and Today


No speech has ever stirred the American people so much as Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty, or Give Me Death” speech. No matter if I see a professional orator perform it with eloquence, or a young child reciting that speech, it touches my heart with goodness and purpose. The United States of America was built upon these two feelings and Patrick Henry’s speech.

Henry’s cry for liberty started a world wide movement toward governmental freedom, spiritual freedom, and personal freedom.

Liber, Liberty, and Freedom

What is liberty? Years ago I attended a seminar called “The Liber” by a professor named Dr. Shannon Brookes. Dr. Brookes explained that before books and parchment, there was tree bark. Only a few people in each community could read or write the tree bark documents they had. At the time tree bark was the most logical, and simple method of communicating for business, politics, and religion with other communities of people. The word for tree bark is liber, and the people who were privileged enough to learn how to read it, write on it and speak what it said to the community were called “Liber” as well.

The Liber knew more than anyone else and shared his knowledge with all. He was the main source for the community’s freedom since he was the only one educated in the liber arts. And, as we know, education is freedom.

Since that time liber has been the root word of many words which lead to freedom: liberal arts, libros, library, and liberty to name a few.

It is very fitting that in United States history, liberty started with a speaker, Patrick Henry, and a document, The Declaration of Independence, which was signed by all the delegates from our large communities called colonies. Liberty has always been born the same. The founders of the United States of America were liber.

Standing For Freedom

Once a person, or a people become more liber they will not accept any system, except a free system. When I say “free” I don’t me consequence free. I mean open, intelligent, and not-controlling. A system based on self analysis and self-government. That is what our country was built upon. The idea that all good people try to govern themselves with correct principles.

Remember in 1831 when the famous French historian Alexis de Tocqueville said:
“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors
and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and
boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast
world of commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of
America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the
secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if
America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

(Elder L. Tom Perry, “God’s Hand in the Founding of America,” New Era, Jul 1976, 45)

George Takes A Stand

Imagine yourself sitting in session with the First Continental Congress. You are meeting with people like John Adams, Benjamin Frankin, Richard Henry Lee, and Thomas Jefferson. You and all your fellow delegates are in business attire, ready for a full days debate, when through the door walks the war hero, George Washington,  in his military uniform. What could it mean?

George Washington was making a statement. He was saying that he was ready to fight against the British to get his liberty.

Another large part of the continental congress meetings was drafting a document which would declare our independence from Britain. The Declaration of Independence was written for the congress by Thomas Jefferson.

The United States of America began it’s fight to become an independent, liber, country with some writing on a piece of paper and a man ready to fight for the freedoms the document declared if necessary. Tree bark works again.

Note: At a constitutional studies class I attended a few years ago, the instructor said that only about four percent of the current United States population has actually read the whole Declaration of Independence. Take a minute or two to raise the percentage.

Same Story, Another Era

Many many years before George Washington, Captain Moroni did the same thing George Washington did. He wrote the Title of Liberty, and put on his military uniform, to show he would fight for his liberties if it was necessary. Incidentally, Moroni was also fighting against a man who wanted to unlawfully become king of his people. Same land, similar dispute, but a different time.

Alma 46

12And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—aIn memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole.

13 And he fastened on his head-plate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land

In true tree bark fashion, Captain Moroni went from place to place sharing his message about Liberty. This many years later, he is still an inspiration because of his goodness, his purpose, and his stand.

The words on the title were not complicated. He simply declared that he waned freedom of religion and peace for their families.

Freedom For Families

Freedom for families has always been a concern. It is an ongoing discussion which includes people of all ages and throughout all times. It is especially important to discuss freedom for families in our world today.

Our families are in bondage. Not to some king, or cruel master. We are in bondage because we are not obedient, and give in to our weaknesses. We are under attack in the walls of our own homes. Confusion, distraction, and selfishness abound.

Think for a minute…what are your weaknesses?

How do these weaknesses affect your family relationships?

Who is the enemy this time? You could probably name a few people as ‘bad guys,’ but in reality, the ultimate ‘bad guy,’ Satan has turned us all against ourselves. He confuses us and instills anger and dishonesty in our hearts. He encourages us to judge, and hate one another, and to turn out backs on the most important organization we have in life; the family.

Captain Moroni was willing to lose his life to protect his family. We need to do the same. We need to lose all the confusion, comparison, and contention of daily life, and become united families instead.

Our free country was built upon the principles of self-government. Our founding fathers fought for years to defend the right to self-govern. Now, we, not too many years later, spend most of our time fighting because none of us know what self-government is. We need to take back the self-government our founding fathers fought for by taking back our agency.

We get to choose how to behave, and what our relationships will feel like. Even if another person wrongs us, or is unkind, we get to choose our reaction, and in so doing our peace and happiness.

What To Do About It?

What can we really do to start our families on the road to liberty and self-government? The answer is; become liber again.

Who are you? What is your battle cry? What will you fight for? Make a statement.

We have a family mission statement which we say each morning after family prayer. We wrote it, we read it, we say it, and we live it. It goes like this:

We the Peck family, will love support and be united with one another.

We are dedicated to building an atmosphere of trust, faith, and learning in our home.

We spread love and happiness to others.

We know that we are children of God and endeavor to return to his presence as an eternal family.

We have patience and wisdom in our relationships.

Heavenly Father guides and loves each of us so that we can fulfill our life’s missions.”

When our family says this each day as a group, I feel, in a small way, like Patrick Henry. We are taking a stand, we are fighting each day for goodness and purpose. We will go against mediocrity and accepted social apathy to serve God’s purpose.

This is our liber. It makes us free to be different than the crowd. And, if followed will bring us social, religious, personal, family and even governmental liberty.

I echo the words or the great Patrick Henry, “I know not what course others may take. But, give me liberty, or give me death.”

Because without self-government (liberty), what are we really living for? If our purpose is the next thing that feels good, then we are in bondage forever.

Look at Nicholeen’s Blog http://TeachingSelfGovernment.com

Read her book: Parenting A House United: Changing Children’s Hearts and Behaviors by Teaching Self-Government.

7 thoughts on ““Give Me Tree Bark, Or Give Me Death.”: Liberty Yesterday and Today

  1. Nicholeen, this is GREAT! I love the idea of a family mission statement. I might borrow some of your words on this.

    Yours in liberty,

    Geoff B

  2. Nicholeen,

    Thanks so much for this. We remember from the Book of Mormon how important writing was to the Nephites. Nephi killed to obtain the Brass Plates so his people would not drift into obscurity and forgetfulness. The Mulekites had become a people who lost both religion and language, because they had no writing to guide them.

    And the modern history of writings becomes equally important, as we see people like Tyndale sacrifice his life to bring the Bible to the plow boy.

    Knowledge really is power. Sadly, Americans are now so inept at math, science, history, etc., that we are beginning to forget all the important things; and not because we don’t have the writings, but because we won’t read and study them. And with you, I hope more would read the Declaration of Independence and Constitution so as to remember/learn what this nation is all about.

  3. I’ve heard others talk about a family mission statement. I wish we had done that when my older children were younger. I wonder about the effect it might have had on some of my children who have chosen different faith paths than mine.

  4. I just wanted to add something substantive other than my sweet Braveheart-FREEDOM! mission statement suggestion.

    I think one of the most important aspects of a family mission statement would be for the individual family members to exercise their agency in crafting it. The parents should set the vision, which should probably come from God and what his vision for us is…I only say this on the suggestion, success and blessings are more likely to come if we seek to bring our vision inline with God’s.

    Then, when the family has it clear what the vision is, then the family members could each spend some time writing down individually the things they see as bringing that vision to pass or being a part of that vision. Then I’d have a good group discussion on combining/simplifying each of their thoughts into a concise mission statement.

    And of course, reviewing it regularly as outlined, and I’d go the extra step of saying it should be updated on perhaps an annual basis. The entire process of creating the mission statement – discussing our Heavenly Father’s vision for us, and then individually contemplating it and writing down some thoughts, and then reevaluating our mission statement.

    I think if something like this could actually be done and not just talked about, you’d be pretty well focused on the things that matter and also flexible enough allow your horizons to be broadened in the process. The heart of the mission, in my example, then would be bringing it in tune with the vision Heavenly Father has outlined for us in the scriptures and words of the prophets.

  5. Chris,

    I think you must have read my book. I talk about having vision, and about how the parents make that and introduce to the family and talk about it often. Then the whole group makes the mission statement to be said often and checked up on regularly. We are so on the same page. You would probably like to see in my book, how our family uses these two things to improve obedience and teach self-government in our home.


    It’s never too early to have a mission statement. My younger children started memorizing it when they were babies.


    You are so right about literacy in our country and about really understanding what makes us free. Great comments.

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