Patrick Henry’s Use of Rhetorical Strategy
A natural disaster can uprise at any moment, ready to destroy anything and everything in its path, the question is how to retaliate and prepare oneself for what’s to come. Hurricane Florence. A Cape Verde hurricane hurling towards the Carolinas in September of 2018, coming in with winds at 90 miles per hour, was ready to bring upon drastic changes to the lives of the East coast and the rest of the United States. Similarly, in the 18th century, the American colonies were facing a storm of their own, Britain. British aggression reflected onto the colonies, which led to a motivation for patriotism and the need for a response to this aggression. In Patrick Henry’s speech to the delegates in the 2nd Virginia Convention, he presents arguments and thoughts in favor of retaliating and developing a military response against Britain. Patrick Henry, and the delegates, as well as the rest of the colonies knew that Britain’s belligerence was only the beginning of their hardships, and that if nothing was done the colonies would surely drown in their own suffering. Patrick Henry’s speech at the 2nd Virginia Convention was an aid to encourage the delegates to secede from Britain; moreover, to fight back against them. Through the use of rhetorical strategies, including: biblical references, fear, and repetition he strikes his audience, and draws them into his ideas of freedom for the 13 colonies.
Patrick Henry skillfully uses biblical passages familiar to the delegates and audience present to motivate their spirits. Through the mentions of God and his power that will lead them to fight, Henry is using God as a guiltrip to persuade is the delegates in favor for retaliation. The mention of God is as stated, “Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself of Heaven which I revere above all earthly kings” (Henry 3). By stating this Patrick Henry is appealing to the emotions of his audience on a scale that is associated with religion. During this time religion was a major part of life, and by using it in his speech he is appealing to those with a biblical foreground or point of view.
Henry brings forth the idea of freedom and slavery among the colonists between Britain. He states, “I consider it nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery” ( Henry 1). He is trying to make the delegates realize that within their current state, they are on the path to becoming slaves to the British. His enlistment of fear to his audience, makes them realize that fighting is the only way to succeed. He points out that the British has prepared to force them into submission by asking, “Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation?…They are meant for us… They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains… There is no retreat but in submission and slavery!” (Henry 2). By listing the colonies past efforts to try and make peace, that do not involve retaliation, he is bringing to light how all of them have come to no avail, he is enticing fear on the delegates on what step should be taken next. Will they accept what’s coming to them, or will they fight back?
At the climax of his speech, Patrick Henry uses parallel repetition to emphasize the importance of what he is stating, thus resulting in a strong, emotional uproar to the audience. He demonstrates this by stating, “If we wish to be free-if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges… if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle… we must fight! I repeat it sir, we must fight!” (Henry 3). By reiterating the words “if we”, and “we must fight”, Patrick Henry is generating passion and pride in the courtroom in favor of his argument. His use of this rhetorical strategy is also seen in his statement, “But when shall we be stronger?… Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs…” (Henry 3). The repetition of a rhetorical question gives Henry’s audience an opportunity to ponder these “questions”, that they already know the answer to. This emphasis on the issues that matter most to the colonists, is necessary for the colonists to willingly pick up their arms and enter a war with Britain.
Much like hurricane Florence, the British storm cannot be stopped. The Only way for the colonies to survive is to be prepared and ready for anything that comes their way. By understanding the circumstances, momentum, and the audience’s beliefs and emotions, Henry provides much needed facts and spirit to justify his argument. By using the rhetorical strategies of fear, religion, and repetition, Patrick Henry’s speech is powerful, thought provoking, and emotional towards his audience. The strength of his speech induced the strength of the spirits, and hearts of the American people. Much like a hurricane, the British storm is approaching, and cannot be stopped. The only way for the colonies to survive is to be prepared for anything that comes their way, and with persuasion of Patrick Henry, they were.
Patrick Henry’s Use of Rhetorical Strategy