Speech In The Virginia Convention Summary

How would you explain Patrick Henry's "Speech to the Virginia Convention" in terms of meaning and symbolism?

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mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this speech that he gave to the Virginia convention, Patrick Henry urges them to fight back against the oppressive Britain that has been defecting on promises for so long.  Many of the group of men wanted to continue to try to work with Britain, to ask for more freedoms from them, to petition them, to send letters of pleading, to protest and go through non-violent means in order to assure their freedom.  However, in his speech, Patrick Henry states that they have tried those means over and over again, and it hasn't worked.  He warns the Americans that Britain is, as they are speaking, amassing an army to come and fight them into submission.  He reminds them of the armies that are already on the continent, housed in their homes, and asks them why else would they be there if not to force us, through armies and violence, to obey and stop rebelling?  He urges them to not listen to the lies and insidious platitudes coming from Britain, but to stand up and fight for their rights.  He says that they must defend themselves against the tyran Britain, as it is the only course left to free men.  He says they can be lulled into submission, or they can stand up and fight for themselves, to free themselves from Britain once and for all. He ends with his famous line, "Give me liberty, or give me death," asserting his stance that he would rather die fighting for liberty than to live a slave.

Patrick Henry uses quite a bit of symbolism in his speech.  He refers to experience and wisdom as a lamp that guides his feet, to the false promises of Britain as a siren leading men to their destruction, to hope as a phantom, and to Britain's attempts to stop them as chains bound to enslave them.  This symbolism serves to enhance the imagery and emotional impact of the speech, making it more intense.  I hope that these explanations helped to clear it up a bit for you; good luck!

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

By the time the Virginia House of Burgesses met in March, 1775, many but not all of the American colonists were angry and frustrated with the way in which the British Parliament and monarch treated them. The colonists had attempted to convey their impatience and feelings that they were not being treated as loyal colonists in various ways, including written communications and active demonstrations. The results had been the same, regardless of the approach taken by the colonies - England continued to view the colonies as a market for English goods and a source of income for the benefit of the Crown, with the public opinion of the settlers having no impact.

Henry's speech was the first outright statement calling for the colonists to give up their attempts to appease and/or explain their case to the British. He summarized all the failed efforts that had been repelled and ignored, then set forth his feeling that the only reasonable course of action that remained for the colonists was to take action and obtain change through the use of force.

There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free,...we must fight! I repeat it, sir,-we must fight! An appeal to arms, and to the God of Hosts, is all that is left us.