Patrick Henry's famous "Speech to the Virginia Convention" was delivered to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775. Among those present at the convention were Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Henry's speech was instrumental in persuading the delegates at the convention to pass a resolution authorizing Virginia to raise a militia to fight in the Revolutionary War.
The speech was not recorded verbatim by anyone at the time it was given, and there is no known record of the speech in Henry's own hand. However, the extant version is replete with rhetorical devices.
The use of rhetorical devices in the speech begins in the first paragraph with concessions and flattery—an appeal to pathos, or emotion—made to those delegates at the Convention. Henry refers to the delegates as "very worthy gentlemen" as he prepares to convince them to wage war with Britain.
Henry also speaks about different men viewing the same subject "in different lights," using "lights" to symbolically represent truth, spirituality, and righteousness in the eyes of God. This appeal to higher authority is an example of ethos.
Henry's use of pathos is notable in an emotional either/or fallacy ("I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery"), in his juxtaposition of "freedom" and "slavery," and in his comparison of "the magnitude of the subject" with "the freedom of debate."
Henry's use of the words "freedom" and "slavery" seems ironic almost 250 years later. Even though Henry was opposed to slavery, at least in principle, he nevertheless owned up to 67 slaves during his lifetime and gave freedom to none of them.
Further use of ethos is apparent in Henry's direct references to "truth," "great responsibility," and to "God and our country." Henry closes the first paragraph by using metonymy—"the majesty of heaven," as a substitute reference to God—and by juxtaposing the higher authority of God, which Henry invokes, with the authority of "earthly kings," specifically the king of Britain.
Henry's appeals to pathos and ethos continue throughout the speech, supported by his use of rhetorical questions, oxymoron ("insidious smile"), biblical allusions ("one lamp" and "suffer not"), an allusion to the Odyssey ("listen to the song of the siren"), and the biblical allusion/metaphor of Judas betraying Jesus ("suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss.").
Interestingly, Henry's speech contains remarkably few appeals to logos, which hinge on logic, reason, common sense, and clear, specific evidence. Appeals to logos occur in the second paragraph ("I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it") and in the third paragraph ("I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past").
Even what appears to be an appeal to logos in the first sentence of paragraph nine ("if we make a proper use of those means") is arguably more of an appeal to pathos ("we are not weak") and to ethos (“those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power").
In Henry's final appeals to ethos (in calling on fate to determine his destiny) and pathos (in his use of the parallel structure) are apparent in the stirring final line: "I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!"