What examples did Henry give to show that Britain had no intention of peaceful reconciliation with the colonies?

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Patrick Henry's "Give me Liberty or give me Death" speech of 1775 is one of the most famous and memorable orations in American political history. At the time, revolution was in the air, and the great and the good of Virginia had come together in a statewide Convention to determine their political strategy. Inevitably, there was a wide variety of opinions on how to deal with the growing threat. Strange as it may seem today, there were many at the Convention who still held out the hope of a peaceful reconciliation with the British.

Henry, for his part, was certain that war was an inevitability and that it was therefore absolutely essential for Virginians to form themselves into militias to resist the British. Despite the martial rhetoric of his speech, he nonetheless puts forward a number of rational arguments for taking the fateful step of armed resistance.

Henry is guided by "the lamp of experience." In his experience, there is absolutely nothing that the British have done in the last ten years to suggest any hope of reconciliation. He illustrates his point by citing the example of British troops mobilizing across the colonies:

Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with these war-like preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love?

If the British were really serious about peaceful reconciliation, as some at this Convention believed, they had a funny way of showing it.

Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other.

Henry uses incontrovertible logic to press home his point. If the British are building up their army and navy, it can only be to suppress the American colonists. They have no other enemies in that part of the world.

Trying to reason with the British has been a complete waste of time. Time and time again the colonists have presented their grievances only to have them completely ignored and treated with utter disdain:

We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne. . . 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.

We tried to achieve peaceful reconciliation with the British, suggests Henry, but they just did not want to know. If they had really wanted to achieve better relations, they would at least have made meaningful efforts at negotiation.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, "Peace, Peace" but there is no peace. The war is actually begun!

The time for talking is over. We must now fight for our liberty and, if necessary, be prepared to die for it:

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

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