transparent portrait of Patrick Henry superimposed on an American flag

Speech to the Virginia Convention

by Patrick Henry

Start Free Trial

What was the effect of Patrick Henry's “Speech to the Virginia Convention”?

Quick answer:

Patrick Henry's “Speech to the Virginia Convention” was ultimately successful in swaying his audience to prepare for war with the British. Many colonists were divided at the time over whether or not to go to war, so speeches like Henry's were necessary to convince people to take up arms.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Before Patrick Henry began his famous “Speech to the Virginia Convention,” the speakers who preceded him had argued against armed conflict with the British. They thought peace could still be achieved through dialogue and petitioning, and that the colonies were too weak to wage a successful war against the British. Henry argued differently: he believed the time for dialogue and petitioning was gone, because all of their years of trying to engage the British through nonviolent methods had only led to further subjugation. As Henry notes, this is proven by the increased presence of British military forces within the colonies, a tactic meant to intimidate them into silence rather than to assure them of peace. From his perspective, if the colonies continued to resist going to war, matters would only get worse, ending with even worse oppression at the hands of the British.

Henry's speech ultimately turned the convention's audience in his favor. When it was time to call for a vote regarding the formation of a militia, the Virginia Convention voted in favor of preparing for a war with the British, forming a Virginia militia and sending it into the field. From a greater historical perspective, the speech's effects still remain potent. It is one of the most quoted and invoked speeches in American history, particularly its final line, "Give me liberty or give me death!"

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the significance of Patrick Henry and his "Speech To The Virginia Convention?"

Patrick Henry strongly advocates for using physical force against England, declaring that, though we may prefer peace, "The war is actually begun!" already. He points out that men elsewhere in the colonies are already fighting, and he implies that it is their duty to fight alongside them. He asks, "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?" In other words, he asks a rhetorical question—one to which he does not expect to receive an answer—which implies that those who choose not to fight England would rather be slaves and live in a kind of bondage. Is life so valuable that they want to live no matter how base a life they have? No, he assumes, and so he ends the speech with one of the most famous quotations in all of American history, "[...] give me liberty or give me death!" For Henry, there is no road between: there is no life worth living if it does not include freedom.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the significance of Patrick Henry and his "Speech To The Virginia Convention?"

When Patrick Henry gave his speech at the Second Virginia Convention in Richmond on March 23, 1775, his idea to gather and rally troops in all the counties of Virginia was strongly opposed by the other speakers that day. The colonies had only recently sent a new petition to the British ministry, and many were in favor of waiting to hear if there could be some concessions coming from Britain before undertaking any sort of military action.

Henry's speech is bold for many reasons; he argues that further negotiation would be futile, and questions the manhood and dignity of any man who will not consent to fight, likening them to slaves. He points out that there has already been armed conflict in Boston and that it is disgraceful for the men of the Virginia colony to stand "idle" and wait for it to reach the South.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on