transparent portrait of Patrick Henry superimposed on an American flag

Speech to the Virginia Convention

by Patrick Henry

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What is Henry's response to the claim that the colonists are too weak to fight the British?

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Patrick Henry acknowledges that many people say the colonies are too weak to take on such a formidable adversary as Britain; however, he argues that the colonies simply cannot wait until they become stronger. When will that be? The more the British raise troops against them, the weaker the colonies will seem to become. He asks, "Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction?"— which implies that the colonies, of course, will not become stronger in this way. The more they waffle and wait, the weaker, rather than stronger, they will grow. Hope, he suggests, will not make them stronger; it will only cause them to delay. He claims that the colonies will not be weak when they make "proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in [their] power." He, as many others did, believes strongly that God was on the side of the colonists and, put to proper use, God will provide them with what they need to beat the corrupt mother-country of England. He also says,

The 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.

If everyone comes together, then, there is no way the colonists can be beaten because they have God on their side in this "holy cause"—the quest for freedom.

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In anticipating the objection to war against the military superpower of Britain, Henry makes two responses.  First, he asks the rhetorical question "when shall we be stronger?"  He doesn't believe that time ("next year") alone will enable the colonies to strengthen themselves. He creates an image of every colonial home forced to quarter a British soldier, implying that then it would be too late to muster any military strength.  He goes on to claim that God will send allies to help the colonies repel the British; it seems plausible that he was thinking of the French, who did indeed assist the colonies later in the Revolutionary War.  Henry estimates that there are three million in the colonies, and that if they all united in the common cause, they would be invincible against "any force which our enemy can send against us." 

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