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Speech to the Virginia Convention

by Patrick Henry

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What examples of ethos, logos, and pathos are in Patrick Henry's "Speech to the Virginia Convention"?

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In Patrick Henry's "Speech to the Virginia Convention," an example of ethos is when he says, "I have but one lamp... the lamp of experience," an example of logos 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?" and an example of pathos is when he says "we have been spurned... from the foot of the throne."

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Patrick Henry begins the speech with pathos, saying that he regards the matter before the convention as “nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery.” The emotive language continues as he says that if he were to remain silent at such a time, he would consider himself a traitor to his country and his God. In the third paragraph, rhetorical questions add to the effect of the emotive language. These techniques of pathos continue thick and fast in the ensuing paragraphs and are to be found throughout the speech.

One of the strongest appeals to logos comes in paragraph ten. People say the colonists are too weak to take on the British. “But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year?” Henry’s language becomes more ironic and closer to an emotional appeal when he asks whether the colonists will “acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs,” but the initial argument is clearly a logical one. There is then an invocation of ethos when Henry claims that the colonists will not fight alone: “a just God” will take their part and supply them with allies. This comes in the midst of many more stirring appeals to pathos, enhanced by dramatic imagery.

Finally, Patrick Henry employs his own ethos in the famous final rallying cry: “as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” This would only be effective if his audience regarded Henry as a man worthy of respect.

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To establish a sense of ethos, in other words, credibility, Patrick Henry writes of himself, "I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience." He states that he has the necessary experience to judge the British throne because he has been watching and observing them for the last 10 years.

Henry tries to evoke a sense of pathos (or emotion) in his listeners. For example, he says, "Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss." He tries to rouse the listeners' anger so that they feel entitled to rebel against the king. Later, he writes the following to rouse the ire of the colonists:

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.

The use of words such as "slighted," "insult," "spurned," and "contempt" are designed to make the colonists angry toward the British and color their emotional response to recent events so that they are motivated to start a revolution.

Lastly, Henry uses logos (logic). For example, he asks of the British forces gathering in the New World:

Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies?

In other words, he states that it is only logical to conclude that the British are about to launch a war against the colonies and that the colonies have no reason to remain loyal to Britain. 

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Ethos is argument from the character of the speaker. It can be of two types, intrinsic, meaning created within the context of the speech itself, and extrinsic, or existing independent of or prior to the speech. For extrinsic ethos, Henry was a well educated lawyer who had served in House of Burgesses and had a solid track record of pushing back against British rule. His intrinsic ethos appears at the start of the speech, where he affirms his patriotism and argues that his actions are motivated precisely by loyalty rather than disloyalty.

Argument from logos implies reference to logic rather than simple citation of facts. It is a method of emphasizing the abstract principles of reasoning such as the rules of inference. A typical example of this is:

... in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate ...

This is an argument from analogy, following what in ancient rhetoric was termed the topos of greater and lesser, which is considered by Aristotle to be among the common topics of both forensic and deliberative oratory

The peroration, with its use of highly charged emotional language and vivid imagery, is an example of pathetic argument which attempts to sway the emotions of its hearers. 

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Appeals to ethos help a speaker or writer establish credibility.  Since Patrick Henry had been elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, he had some built-in credibility.  He adds to that by addressing the House formally and demonstrating his respect for the men who were advocating further negotiation with Britain--the opposite of what Henry believed was the right course of action.  He builds ethos when he asserts, "different men often see the same subject in different lights."

Appeals to logos signal to your audience that reason and rationality are present in your thinking.  Henry points out that the colonies have tried negotiating with Britain for a decade and that it would be illogical to expect a different outcome if nothing different is attempted.  Henry's logic is made clear when he declares "I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past."  Britain has set a precedent by rebuffing the colonies' petitions and protests.

There are many appeals to emotion, or pathos, in Henry's speech.  When Henry alludes to skirmishes between patriots and the British in Boston, he observes: "Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle?" It seems he might be trying to make the men of the Virginia colony feel guilty for not taking up arms to support the northern colonies and doing nothing substantive to repel the aggression of the British.

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What are some examples of ethos, logos, and pathos in Patrick Henry's “Speech to the Virginia Convention”?

Speakers use ethos to establish credibility, proving to the audience that they can be trusted. Patrick Henry does this in his “Speech to the Virginia Convention” when he notes that his “feet are guided” by “the lamp of experience.” Here, he is saying that he has enough professional and life experience to know what he is talking about. Another example of ethos is when Henry says that “it is only in this way [resistance] that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country.” In this quote, Henry says that God is on his side. God was viewed by most people at this time as an omnipotent higher power, meaning that Henry has the ultimate source of credibility behind him.

Henry also uses logos, an appeal to logic. For example, consider how he says, “I know of no way of judging the future but by the past.” Here, he says that he is basing his predictions for the future by looking at history. This is logical because he is clarifying that he is not just making his ideas up but basing them on concrete evidence.

Pathos is different than ethos and logos because it appeals to emotions. Consider how Henry respects and flatters the people he is speaking to. He calls them “very worthy gentlemen.” This is a technique that gets listeners engaged in a speech because they hear themselves being complimented. Another example of pathos with his vivid use of metaphor and symbolism: “They [the British] are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging,” he exclaims. In this line, the profound image of slavery underlines the pain and hardship Henry feels the colonists are enduring. In painting this brutal picture, Henry aims to make the listeners empathize with this pain and understand the need to declare war.

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