What is the counterclaim to Patrick Henry's speech to the Virginia Convention?

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edcon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When the delegates from Virginia met in March of 1775, most of them agreed that armed rebellion was not a viable response to their troubles with Britain.  Patrick Henry, however, believed it was time to take up arms.

Henry addresses the opposing argument in many ways. He begins the speech with a concession that the speakers who addressed the house before him are "very worthy gentlemen," but he goes on to say that his opinion is very different from theirs. He acknowledges that it is "natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope" that Britain will negotiate with the colonies but proceeds to lay out his argument that there are no signs that Britain will respond favorably to any further petitioning from the colonies. He challenges his opponents with a rhetorical question that asks what there has been in the conduct of the British over the previous ten years that makes his opponents think that there will be any improvement in the relationship between Britain and the colonies through continued negotiation.

Henry uses refutation delivered through a rhetorical question when he asks why a country with peaceful intentions toward its colony would mass troops there and surround it with its navy. This "martial array," Henry argues, is sent to "force us to submission."

As he concludes the speech, Henry refutes the idea that "Gentlemen may cry, Peace! Peace!" by pointing out that, contrary to those wishes, "the war is actually begun." He then pledges his very life to the cause of liberty.

huntress eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A counterclaim, in rhetoric, is a claim made to rebut a previous claim. Other delegates to the convention had just argued that it was best to tread cautiously, to hold off on preparing for war with Britain. After all, King George III might come through and compromise, making war unnecessary. They were relying on hope and the triumph of diplomacy. 

Henry rebuts this claim by pointing out that history tells them if one looks at "the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years," it cannot possibly "justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves." He says that they have petitioned for their grievances to be dealt with, but the British have responded with "warlike preparations," and since that is the "last articles to which kings resort," it's foolish to assume the crown is seriously considering anything other than oppression of the Colonies through force. "Fleets and armies" deployed by the crown are incompatible with any hope for "love and reconciliation." 

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Speech to the Virginia Convention

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