In 1765, the twenty-nine-year-old lawyer Patrick Henry was chosen to represent his region in the Virginia House of Burgesses. There his rousing speech against the Stamp Act was the first of the two most famous speeches in American Colonial history. The second, his "liberty of death" speech, which is under consideration here, came in 1775 as the Colonies neared the breaking point with England. On March 23, after several speeches in favor of compromise with the British, Patrick Henry rose in order to defend his resolution to take up arms. His speech has long been studied as a fine example of rhetoric as in it he dramatically employs rhetorical questions as well as repetition, a device used to stress one's main points. Here are examples:
Repetition of an idea
Having proposed to the House that the question before it is "nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery," Henry repeats these two concepts throughout his speech. For instance, he states that some are enslaved mentally as they entertain "illusions of hope" when the British have fleets and armies ready to force the colonists into submission. Henry points out that their supplications have been disregarded; if they wish to be free, they must fight.
There is no retreat, but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston!....
Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?
Repetition of a words and phrases in a sentence
I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience.
I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years....
...if we wish to be free--if we mean to preserve invioate those inestimable privileges...if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle....we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight!