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Speech to the Virginia Convention

by Patrick Henry

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What is the theme of Patrick Henry's speech to the Virginia Convention?

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Patrick Henry's "Speech to the Virginia Convention" is about the need to raise a militia to fight the British and the justification for the colonists' fight for independence from Britain.

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Patrick Henry's famous speech was delivered to the Second Virginia Convention in 1775. Popularly known as the "Give me liberty or give me death" speech, Henry's goal was to convince the Virginia House to raise a volunteer army to face the British troops. He believed that war was the only option going forward.

Therefore, the speech outlines all the reasons why an army is needed. Henry claims the American colonists have exhausted every other option in trying to sway the British to their view:

Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. 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! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope.

Throughout the speech, Henry makes such points with impassioned rhetoric, stressing the gravity of their situation. By the end of the speech, he makes it plain that circumstances for the colonists will only grow worse if they do not take action now. He suggests that the British will only tighten the reins on the colonies, stationing a soldier in every home and disarming the colonial population so they cannot fight back. Therefore, the best time to revolt is as soon as they can muster a sufficient fighting force. The famous closing remark—"Give me liberty or give me death!"—is meant to hammer home that life without freedom should not be considered.

Ultimately, Henry's argument persuaded his audience and went down in history as one of the most famous American speeches.

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