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Speech to the Virginia Convention

by Patrick Henry

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What does Henry argue the colonies should do in his "Speech to the Virginia Convention"?

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Patrick Henry argues that the colonies should rebel against Britain and King George III. Henry claims there is no hope that Britain will start treating them justly and says the only way to secure their freedom is through armed conflict. He acknowledges that people will die in the process, but he says death is preferable to a life without liberty.

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Patrick Henry used his speech to the Virginia Convention to argue that the colonies should go to war with Britain if they truly wanted an end to the oppressive policies of King George III.

Henry argues that the behavior of Britain over the last handful of years should make it clear that any hope for a peaceful resolution is unrealistic. Henry claims that it’d be foolish to think that King George III and Britain will start to treat the colonies justly. He points to the build up of “navies and armies” as evidence that war is inevitable.

Henry argues that this unavoidable war is not the fault of the colonies. According to Henry, the colonists “have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on.” Yet all of their diplomatic petitions and pleadings have led them nowhere. If the colonists want to keep their freedom, the time has come for them to fight.

Henry also implies that God will be on the side of the colonists. According to Henry, the colonists represent the “holy cause of liberty.” To back down from this fight would sentence them to “submission and slavery”—of course, considering the colonies’ dependence on Black slaves both before and after the Revolutionary war, this statement might strike modern readers as more than a bit hypocritical.

Henry wraps up his speech by arguing that the war needs to happen. “Let it come!” he thunders. He acknowledges that war will likely bring death to many people. Yet death, he famously says, is preferable to a life without liberty:

I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

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