Rhetorical Devices in Patrick Henry’s “Speech in the Virginia Convention”

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Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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This essay will analyze the use of rhetorical devices in Patrick Henry’s “Speech in the Virginia Convention.” It will discuss how Henry used persuasion techniques like appeals to ethos, pathos, and logos, and rhetorical questions to effectively argue for American independence. The piece will explore the historical context and the speech’s impact on the American Revolution. You can also find more related free essay samples at PapersOwl about Colonialism.

Category: Colonialism
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Pages:  3
Words:  862
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The scene takes place in St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, on March 23rd, 1775, as American delegates watch thirty-nine-year-old Patrick Henry stand up and give a speech that would change history. Ears carefully catch on to his words, duly noting them down. Some instantly agree while others take their time to let themselves agree on the topic. He wants them to fight. He wants the colonists to stand up for themselves against the British.


Patrick Henry’s Defining Speech

Henry has grown tired of the tyrannical control that the British government has over the colonies, over his own country. Fast forward twelve years to September 17th, 1787, when Franklin speaks out his speech to his listeners. His words restate, saying that the Constitution was at its best at the moment. Standing firm and compromise are important facets of both men’s speeches. In both Patrick Henry’s “Speech in the Virginia Convention” and Benjamin Franklin’s “Speech in the Convention,” standing firm is necessary in order to form America into a strong and independent nation, while compromise is something they cannot agree with if they want to establish a better country.

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Rhetorical Questions and Resistance

Patrick Henry believed that compromise would not work anymore, and instead, they should stand up to Britain and stand firm to the fact that the colonists were not weak. Henry addresses compromise by asking rhetorical questions to his listeners, “And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument?” He already knows the answer when he replies to his own question by saying, “Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years” (102). The delegates have been trying to compromise with Britain, but there has been no success. A decade passed while the colonists tried to fight for their rights through words instead of using their fists.

Henry adds to his argument by asking, “What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted?” (102). He is implying that the colonialists have tried every approachable method that did not involve violence with no success. Nothing worked to help the colonists gain the rights that they crossed an ocean for. Later on in his speech, he provides examples of their attempts at negotiation.

The Rhetorical Devices Fueling Liberty

The speech states, “We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne” (102). He explains that their petitions “have been slighted; our remonstrances have provided additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded” (102). This shows that Britain simply does not care about any changes in the way that things are currently conducted. They do not care about the opinions and statements of the colonists. Enraged at Britain’s actions, Henry stands firm behind the idea that the colonists are not as weak as they are deemed by the British. Instead, they are stronger, and they need to use this strength to fight for the liberties they deserve.

Henry states, “They tell us, sir, that we are weak… Sir, we are not weak… Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty… are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us” (102-3). The colonists can win the war against Britain if they believe that they are not weak and gain the courage they need. With courage, they can stand up to Britain and gain the liberty that is rightfully theirs. Henry adds on to this saying, “If we wish to be free… if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained- we must fight!” (102).

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Henry uses emotional appeal to say that the delegates should not give up on what they have been trying to get for ten years. If they do desperately want to get liberty, they have to fight now. Compromising will not work now. He ends his speech with the famous line, “Give me liberty or give me death!” His words show that he is not going to stand around anymore, and he will fight for what he believes in.

It is now later in the day as Patrick Henry sits down and gulps down water for his dry throat due to his speech. He is quite proud of himself for standing up and finally being able to say what he has been wanting to say for ages. Henry knew that compromise was not a solution anymore. He knew that standing firm was not an option but a requirement for the good of their country. Henry stood firm behind the idea that colonists were not weak and they needed to fight the British. This comes to the conclusion that standing firm is necessary in order to form America into a strong and independent nation, while compromise is something they cannot agree with if they want to establish a better country.


  1. Henry, P. (1775). Speech in the Virginia Convention. In W. Wirt, Sketches of the life and character of Patrick Henry. James Webster.
  2. Franklin, B. (1787). Speech in the Convention. Constitutional Convention Publisher.
  3. Smith, J. A. (2005). The Rhetoric of the American Revolution. Academic Press.

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Rhetorical Devices in Patrick Henry’s "Speech in the Virginia Convention". (2023, Aug 17). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/rhetorical-devices-in-patrick-henrys-speech-in-the-virginia-convention/