transparent portrait of Patrick Henry superimposed on an American flag

Speech to the Virginia Convention

by Patrick Henry

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What answers does Patrick Henry give to those who believe the colonists can't win the war?

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Unfortunately there is no consistent paragraphing in Patrick Henry's "Speech Before the Virginia COnvention," but he addresses the issue of being unable to win the war after this line which encapsulates the argument that the Colonies could never win a war against England:

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary.

Patrick Henry wisely does not make the brash claim that the Colonies will of course be able to win the war or that it will be an easy fight. What he does do is remind them of a few facts, most of them framed in the form of a question, ecnouraging each of the men to think about these things for themselves before they vote.

He asks them "when shall we be stronger?" The colonies are consistently losing their ability to mount an attack--or even a defense--both because they are slowly being disarmed and because the British military presence is creeping ever closer. 

Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?

This image of helplessness and inacton--not to mention slavery--undoubtedly made an impact on the men in hs audience. Henry respectfully suggests to his fellow representatives that they may, indeed, seem to be in the weaker position; however, "we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power."

The means they have, according to Henry, include three million people, with a just and even holy cause; with these, they "are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us." He goes on to remind them, passionately, that they are not going to be fighting this battle merely in the flesh; God will be fighting along with him. He is just and He is involved "the destinies of nations." Henry is confident that God will "raise up friends" to help them fight this battle.

The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.

In the end, of course, Henry reminds them that they really have no choice, as the battle has already begun and it is too late for them to claim that war is not imminent. The only other option is "submission and slavery."

The war is inevitable and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

Henry's speech was treasonous to those still loyal to the English king, and he made this impassioned argument at the risk of his life--and following the speakers who all made arguments for Virginia to remain loyal to England. Henry's strategy, to make his audience think rather than just making bold or irresponsible claims, worked. Loyalties to the Crown or not, these men were independent thinkers and responded just as Patrick Henry hoped they would. 

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