Words Are As Strong As Weapons
How does one fight authority when one is not a solider? Some might say that one cannot fight as guns win the war, but that is not the case for Patrick Henry, who chooses a different path to help his side, the Patriots, win the war.
Henry poses the question when the Revolutionary War against Britain is near. To solve his question, Henry turns to his use of words to express his opinion and thoughts on the situation against the British. Patrick Henry, a former lawyer, is well-known for his speech to the Second Virginia Convention in March 1775, where he urges his fellow colonists to prepare for war with Britain. Henry not only speaks his mind, to persuade others to share his opinion. Today, his speech is still remembered due to his effective persuasive techniques, which help convince others that Henry’s way of thinking was correct. Patrick Henry’s overall effectiveness as a speaker is exposed through his tone and use of both logical and emotional appeals.
The three rhetorical devices Henry uses help to verify his point that war with Britain is inevitable. When examining Henry’s famous speech, one can feel the passion Henry has behind the subject of going to war with Britain based on his diction. Word choice is always significant, which is especially evident in Patrick Henry’s case as his words were his weapons against the British, as they create the dire nature of the circumstances. Throughout his entire speech, one can detect a sense of urgency behind Henry’s words, as the impending war is gloomy, but realistic thought and actions need to be taken without delay. To finish his speech in an aura of drama, Patrick Henry exclaims, “I know not what the course others may take; but for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” (Elements in Literature 126).
When Patrick Henry makes such a strong statement, he creates the tone of urgency based on his diction. His quote demonstrates that for him there for are only two choices when facing the British-freedom or death. By exclaiming such a dramatic declaration, Henry is saying he will either have freedom from Britain or face death as a free person from Britain, but either way he is against British rule. Claiming he would rather die than bow down to Britain; creates the sense of urgency behind his words and shows that he is dedicated enough to stand up for his beliefs by risking his life and is not just making a false pretense through words. He hopes by risking his own life, he will be able to influence others to lay their lives on the line for the urgent cause.
His passion and dedication behind his words is undeniable. Also, by giving two choices, others are able to see how bleak their situation is, as there are only two options-liberty or death. His use of the word “death” constructs the idea for others to see that the conflict cannot be resolved without fighting the British now as they will not win independence if they delay any longer. Henry persuades his audience that their decision needs to be made fast to fight against the British. Besides using tone to sway his audience to agree on with his opinion, Henry uses logical appeals. Before one is to persuade another to think a particular way, one must give their audience facts to understand the background information of the predicament, which Henry does in his speech by the use of logical appeals.
Logical appeals appear in Henry’s speech by the use of facts to help the audience understand the foundation of Henry’s opinions towards the British. Like any good speaker, Henry provides facts to give background information to his audience about which past events have already taken place with the British prior to their meeting. One statement that exhibits use of logical appeal is when Henry states, “We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament” (Elements in Literature 125). Through his quote, Henry reminds the listeners of the relationship that the British has established over the past ten years; the colonists have been submissive, begged, and pleaded for equal treatment, but to no avail. In his statement, Henry reminds the colonists of the tactics they had taken, which provides background information of why he thinks war is the only option. Listing the past tactics the colonists have taken, Henry concludes that war is the only strategy left to win independence as Britain will not back down or accept their past peaceful requests.
By using a logical appeal, Henry is stating all the courses of actions the colonists have done to avoid war with Britain but ultimately all the actions were unsuccessful. Facts help demonstrate what has happened and can be used to help determine the future; if peaceful attempts did not work than more forceful approaches must be made to win the independence from Britain. Logical appeals give facts of what actually has happened to persuade the audience to see the situation in the manner Henry is creating through his words. By stating the facts from the past ten years, the audience is urged to remember the past peaceful attempts and failures, but also to seek another solution which Henry provides: the solution of going to war. The use of a logical appeal in the form of facts helps give the basis of what has happened to the colonists to help decide the future. In addition to logical appeals, Patrick Henry also uses emotional appeals to stir feelings within his audience.
Henry’s speech means to aim for the heart of the audience too. One who is well-versed with words is able to paint a picture by only using words, which is how an emotional appeal works if effectively used. Patrick Henry is able to use emotional appeals to persuade his audience further to share his opinion on the approaching war. One form of an emotional appeal that Patrick Henry successfully uses is an allusion to Greek mythology. To give a visual of the British to his audience, Patrick Henry says, “We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth and listen to the song of that siren, till she transforms us into beasts” (Elements in Literature 123).
Sirens are sea maidens who would kill sailors by luring them to crash their ships into boulders by captivating the sailors with their singing, until they are too dumbfounded to control themselves. Henry uses this allusion to compare the British to the sirens, where he is implying that no matter how benevolent the British may seem, they have ulterior motives for themselves, similar to Greek mythological sirens. Like the sirens, Henry believes the British are trying to lure the colonists to their own death by providing false acts of friendship, by using lies to confuse the colonists into loyalty. Painting the picture of the British being sirens helps to compare their current situation to that in negative images from Greek mythology. By referencing Greek mythology and other literature, Henry is providing background of being educated, which helps prove his credibility; an educated man is appealing to his educated audience, therefore all educated men should think like him. By using an allusion and emotional appeal, Henry stirs the feelings from his audience to not trust the British’s false affectations and rather turn their backs on the British.
The use of the persuasive technique helps provide a visual for the audience, and proves his own credibility by referencing literature. Overall, the use of persuasive techniques is efficient in Henry’s speech to help sway his audience to believe war with Britain is essential towards gaining independence. Through his speech to the Second Virginia Convention, Patrick Henry not only expresses his own opinion, but also helps to persuade his audience that war with Britain is unavoidable. By making such an influential speech, Henry helps to uniform the colonists thinking; this proved to be beneficial later on in the war against Britain as it gave the colonists clear thoughts of what they were fighting for and ultimately, led the colonists to win the Revolutionary War against Britain. The reason Henry’s speech helps to persuade the colonists to fight the British is because his speech consists of concrete examples and is not purely based on his feelings. By providing facts, such as in a logical appeal, or a reference to literature, such as in an emotional appeal, Henry is able to thoroughly explain himself to his audience; Henry leaves no empty gaps to question why he believes in something, but gives information to cover all of his thoughts and feelings, yet has facts to prove his emotions behind the words he chooses to use.
Henry’s persuasion was successful due to his use of tone, logical appeals, and emotional appeals that helped the audience agree with Henry’s thoughts. By making such a motivating speech, Henry was able to persuade others to see that fighting the British was the necessary course of actions to take and Henry helped unify the colonists’ thinking. Through his speech, Patrick Henry proves that one does not need to be a solider armed with a gun to help fight in the War, as he proves to be just as effective by using his words against the British to help win independence.