Rhetorical Analysis of Patrick Henry’s Famous Speech

Patrick Henry understood that the american colonies were faced with a choice during the eighteenth century; either they could continue to try and make peace with Britain or they could fight for their freedom. He expresses this idea in his speech, “Give me liberty or give me death” during the second continental congress. This speech riles the colonists and compels them to fight. It is not an easy things to convince a man to risk his life in war but Henry accomplishes it through his powerful use of rhetoric. Henry uses rhetorical strategies such as rhetorical questions and hypophora, diction, and counterclaims to convince the continental congress that they need to fight for their freedom.

Patrick Henry uses rhetorical questions to draw in his audience and get them thinking, he is speaking in the continental congress after all. He uses these questions to call to attention the actions of the colonists and the actions of the british is response. Henry asks,” Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation?” Henry is contrasting the efforts of the colonists to be peaceful and patient with the british’s actions which seem to be subjective and stubborn. Henry is illuminating to the people that their current efforts are not effective and that they need to change. Henry also ask the colonist what they should do to gain their freedom. He inquires the people, “Shall we try argument?… Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication?” Henry uses these questions to mack the past efforts of the colonists. He is almost sarcastic in the way he approaches his claim and refutes the opposing claim.

Henry’s final question to the congress carries the most weight. He asks when, when will a better opportunity arise to fight the british. He asks, “Will it be next week or next year? Will it be when we

are totally disarmed and when a british guard shall be stationed at every house?” Henry is suggesting that their situation will only get worse if they do not fight. They will only continue to be subjected and ignored by the british. The time to act is now before things get any worse. This was the central argument of Henry’s speech, that the colonists need to fight and they need to fight now. The visual of a british guard at every house in the colonies is very startling and certainly worked very well to stir his audience.

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