transparent portrait of Patrick Henry superimposed on an American flag

Speech to the Virginia Convention

by Patrick Henry

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What are three logos appeals Patrick Henry uses in his "Speech to the Virginia Convention"?

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Logos is one of the three pillars of argument in classical Greek rhetoric. To be effective arguments must appeal to emotions (pathos), credibility (ethos), and logic (logos). Logos consist of the facts and statistics that give an argument backbone.

Patrick Henry appeals primarily to pathos or emotional appeals in...

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his speech, using heightened language to incite emotions, but he does also use logos.

One example is when he asks:

Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies?

He is using a rhetorical question (one that has only one possible answer) to imply that Britain's intentions toward to colonies are hostile and aggressive. Logically, there can be no other reason for England to send armed forces across the sea.

Henry also questions those who argue the colonies must not fight Britain because they are too weak. He asks when they will be stronger than they are now:

But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year?

With these questions, Henry points to the logic of striking now.

Another logical fact Henry points to is that fighting against Britain has already begun in other colonies: "The war is actually begun," he states. His implication is that it makes no logical sense to debate whether or not to fight when the fighting has already begun.

The speech is highly weighted towards emotional appeal, using language meant to inflame. The logos is not as fleshed out as we could hope: the many rhetorical questions Henry asks that are based on logic are short on factual details, relying on the audience to recall the specifics he alludes to.

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  1. When Patrick Henry asks his colleagues in the Virginia House of Burgesses "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" he is pointing out what he sees to be obvious: the massed British troops and navy anchored offshore are in place to keep the American colonies under military control. In his way of thinking, Britain has already brought the threat of war to the colonies and all that remains is for the colonies to engage.
  2. Henry employs refutation in the form of this question to the president of the House of Burgesses: "shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years." Henry is making the logical point that the colonies have pursued peaceful negotiation for a decade and have not been satisfied with the results.
  3. Using a run of parallel structure, Henry points out that "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!" His logical point is that the colonies have tried at least three different approaches to attempt to negotiate better terms with Britain, and none have proved successful.
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Logos appeals are appeals to logic or reason. They include deductive or inductive reasoning, cause and effect relationships, facts, and statistics. Here are some of the logos appeals Patrick Henry used in his "Speech to the Virginia Convention":

"I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past." Here Henry uses inductive reasoning--using examples from past observation--to argue that Britain was not going to suddenly start treating the colonies better. What the colonies had observed in Britain was going to continue; the colonies' entreaties would continue to be ignored.

"Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation?" Here Henry uses cause and effect reasoning. If Britain was planning to reconcile with the colonies, ships containing soldiers would not be required. Only a plan for continued domination and suppression of the colonies would have prompted Britain to send more soldiers on more boats.

"What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted?" Henry uses some deductive reasoning here. He states that they have tried every possible peaceful solution. The reasoning goes like this: If we cannot reach a peaceful solution with Britain, we will have to have a non-peaceful solution. We have not been able to reach a peaceful solution; therefore, we must go to war. 

"Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us." Finally, Henry brings facts and statistics to support his argument. Although some have said the colonies were too weak to fight against Britain, he notes that they have a potential force of 3 million. He further suggests that other countries may come to the colonies' aid.

Although Henry's speech is notable for its great pathos (emotional) appeals, he also uses logos appeals very effectively. 

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A logos in rhetoric is an appeal to an audience where the appeal is based on reason or logic (not emotion).  Here are some examples from this speech:

At the start of the speech, he says why he should speak his mind clearly.  This is an important topic he says, and the openness of the debate should be equal to the importance of the situation.

Second, he argues that the British government clearly means to suppress them.  He says there are no enemies of Britain near.  Therefore, the military forces the British have sent must be meant to suppress the colonists.

Finally, he argues that the colonists should fight now.  He says that they may be weak now, but they will not get any stronger.

All of these are arguments that are based, at least partly, on logic and reason.

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