What does Patrick Henry urge the colonists to do in his Speech to the Virginia Convention?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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When Patrick Henry addresses the Virginia Convention, he does so with at least a little trepidation, for he is about to speak words and ideas that could be considered treasonous. He begins his Speech to the Virginia Convention by suggesting, respectfully, that what is at stake here is the future of the country. He says:

I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate.

He rather scolds the members for not wanting to hear the complete truth, so the first thing he does is encourage them to hear the whole truth and reasoning so they can make a better judgment about whether or not to take appropriate action. Then he begins to systematically build an argument for the creation of a militia.

First, he wants the members of the House to judge the future based on the past; if they do, they will see that there is no hope of change or reconciliation. Time after time, petitions have been spurned, military actions continue, and violence has been done. Nothing has changed has changed for the better.

Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne.

Second, he wants the members of the House to consider when they will ever be in a stronger position, given that the British tentacles (he calls them chains) are creeping closer and entangling the colonists more every day. 

Third and most importantly, Henry wants the House of Burgesses to raise a militia to fight against the British rather than risk becoming more enslaved than they already are. He reminds them that God will fight with them if they act now and for this just cause.

There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.

Finally, he wants the members of the House to recognize the reality that the war has already begun, and standing idle while others are fighting should not be an option for the people of Virginia. He ends his famous speech, of course, with his famous cry:

I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

Patrick Henry's argument works, and the House of Burgesses in Richmond, Virginia, votes to create a militia just months before war against Britain is declared. 

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michuraisin's profile pic

michuraisin | Student, College Junior | (Level 1) Salutatorian

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In his speech to the Virginia Convention, Patrick Henry is urging the colonists to raise a militia that could oppose the British army. His speech comes in rebuttal to those who had spoken to the Virginia House of Burgesses the day before about not waging war against Britain. What Henry essentially claims is that Britain has brought their own troops to the colonies, and that war is inevitable. The colonies have already tried everything they could to make nice, but nothing has been working, so therefore action is needed. In the words of Henry:

"There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, 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!"

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