Patrick Henry

Start Free Trial

What made Patrick Henry's arguments so powerful?

The effective use of classical rhetorical elements and emotional appeals are what make Patrick Henry's arguments so powerful. He contrasts liberty and tyranny and makes it clear to his audience that they owe it to themselves and their country to join the rebellion no matter the personal cost.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of Patrick Henry's great skills was oratory rhetoric. He knew how to use words to achieve his goals and convince people to come over to his side. His most famous speech, the one he gave to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23rd, 1775, illustrates just how well Patrick Henry could make powerful arguments. Henry was fed up with those in the room who continued to argue for diplomatic solutions. His words "Give me liberty or give me death" have lasted through the centuries as an enduring cry for American liberty.

Patrick Henry was able to put into words the concept that liberty is more valuable and important than life itself. At the dawn of the American Revolution, there were many in the colonies who were struggling with this idea. Using just a few words, Henry presented a stark contrast between the circumstances at the time with the promise of American liberty. Every point that he makes during his speech relates to his central point that the pursuit of liberty, no matter the risks, is preferable to life under tyranny.

To help make his arguments event more powerful, Patrick Henry's speeches employ the rhetorical use of pathos. He makes repeated emotional appeals and plays up the significance of the moment. Although there is indignation and resentment in his words when referring to the tyranny of Britain, he focuses even more on feelings of hope and virtue. This appeal to positive emotional connections is frequently contrasted with the despair that would ensue if the hope of liberty were to disappear. He also plays on possible feelings of guilt that members of his audience may have for not participating in the conflict that has already begun.

Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle?

All these many techniques of persuasive argument show just how effective Patrick Henry was with the spoken word. It should come as no surprise that he was formally trained in classical rhetoric. This all shows in the structure and tone of his speech and makes it highly effective.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team