transparent portrait of Patrick Henry superimposed on an American flag

Speech to the Virginia Convention

by Patrick Henry

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In his speech before the Second Virginia Convention, what measures does Patrick Henry says the colonists have already tried in their dealings with England?

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In his famous March 23, 1775, speech before the Virginia Convention, Patrick Henry made an impassioned argument for independence for Britain's American colonies. In so doing, he firmly positioned himself, as was already established, in the corner of those colonialists prepared to break with the British Crown and to employ violence, if necessary, in defense of that proposition. Henry's position was not, of course, unanimously accepted, as there remained many who favored remaining part of the British Empire. Lest anyone underestimate the gravity of the situation, Henry, early in his comments, makes clear that this is a momentous occasion, but one fraught with great peril:

"The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery . . ."

Henry was a gifted orator, and understood the importance of setting forth his case for independence, and that meant reiterating the measures taken to date with regard to the colonies' grievances with the Crown. And, Henry emphasized the military threat imposed upon the colonies by the Crown in response to efforts at reconciliation--efforts that spanned the previous decade. The time had come, he argued, to put diplomacy aside and to fight for secession:

"Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. . .Sir, we have done everything that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on. 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."[Emphasis added]

To all of this, Henry pointed out, the Crown repeatedly responded with indifference at best and with military threats at worst. He remonstrated about the presence among the colonies of increased numbers of soldiers and of British naval vessels off the coast. The answer to the student's question--what measures did Patrick Henry reiterate were taken with regard to the British Crown--are those in the bold print above. Henry was declaring that legitimate forms of petitioning the Crown, and the humiliating process of attempting to appease it, all lead to nothing, and that it was time to take the next step.

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Patrick Henry is specific about what the colonies have tried to do to negotiate with Britain.  He points out that the negotiations have dragged on for ten years with no discernible improvement.  He goes on to say that the colonies "have petitioned; [we have] remonstrated; [we have] supplicated; [we have] prostrated ourselves before the throne."  In other words, the colonies have tried to submit signed petitions that demonstrate the will of the people to the ministers of Parliament, they have made forceful protests, begged humbly, and more or less made every gesture of submission to try to effect change in their relationship--all to no avail.  He also implies that the colonies have not shown that they are unwilling to be satisfied; it is Britain who has been behaving unreasonably despite the honest and peaceful efforts of the colonies to work out their differences. 

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