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Methods of Persuasion Used in Patrick Henry's Speech

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Introduction

On March 23rd, 1775, the Continental Congress came together to discuss their relations with Britain. At the time, some viewed Britains as helpers to the formation of the United States, and others saw them as an obstacle that was only trying to use the United States to benefit themselves. The Continental Congress met at St. Johns Church and began to discuss. Patrick Henry then gave his speech to try to persuade them to go to war with Britain. In his speech, Patrick Henry uses figurative language, religious and inspirational diction and precise organization to persuade the people that war is inevitable and they must fight now.

Figurative Language

Patrick Henry effectively uses figurative language to persuade the court his argument, that America needs to fight against the British. One form of figurative language that Henry uses is an allusion. In one part of his speech he is speaking to the president specifically and he says “… listen to the song of the sirens…”. He is relating the problem between the United States and Britain to the greek mythology about the siren women. In the greek story of the sirens, men are lured to these womens beautiful voices, but if they follow the “siren” the women kill them. He is saying that if they keep listening to all these things that Britain is saying they’ll fall into their trap and get hurt in the long run. Henry’s use of allusion best connects to the audience’s emotions because they don’t want to be deceived by Britain as the men in the story were deceived by the siren women. It made the audience feel scared as to what could happen to their liberty and freedom. Another branch of figurative language that Henry uses in his speech is metaphors. He says “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience”. He is insisting that the only way to judge what will happen in the future is to look at the past and in the last 10 years nothing has been done to make them think there will be a change. He continues and uses another metaphor saying “it is that insidious smile… trust it not sir; it will prove a snare to your feet”. This metaphor is pointing out that Britain is acting nice but it is all a lie and they will betray the United States. A “snare” is a trap and by stating “it will prove a snare to your feet” he is proving that by following Britain they are falling into their trap. Both metaphors in Patrick Henry’s speech create a logical argument, that by looking at the past, it should be clear that if they continue to be loyal to Britain they will only keep getting hurt. Therefore, his metaphors appeal to logos. Patrick Henry uses allusions and metaphors to effectively persuade the audience.

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Religious and Inspirational Diction

Patrick Henry uses religious and inspirational diction to enhance his argument that the war is inevitable and they must fight. Patrick Henry uses religious diction throughout his speech. He uses words and phrases along the lines of “God of nature… Holy cause of liberty… Peace, peace… and forbid it, Almighty God!”. By using religious diction, Patrick Henry is relating their problem to their religion. This connects to logos because he is making a logical argument that if they fight against Britain, then God will be happy. Towards the end of Henry’s speech, he uses loaded diction to describe the people who don’t want to fight and bias diction to describe people who are in favor of war. While talking about people who don’t want to go to war, he uses words and phrases like “weak… unable to cope… irresolution and inaction… delusive phantom of hope… slavery… and bound us”. All of these words have a bad connotation and therefore insulting the people who don’t want to fight. Henry is saying the people who are against war are weak and there will be no resolution to their problem if they do not put war into action. The loaded diction in his speech creates a logical argument, that if they do not fight, their problem will never go away and they shall remain weak. On the other hand, he is very biased towards the people who are in favor of war. Henry uses words like “stronger… not weak… our power… armed… invincible… fight… the brave… no retreat… raise up… and let it come”. He, in fact, is in favor of war and thinks the best option for America is to fight and therefore uses bais diction to try to inspire others to fight with him. The bias diction in his speech relates to logos because, like stated before, his inspirational words create a logical argument of why they should go to war.

Precise Organization

Patrick Henry uses precise organization to effectively persuade his audience that they should fight Britain. Henry begins his speech by declaring “No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentleman who have just addressed the house”. Henry is complimenting the opposite side in his first sentence. By complimenting them, it serves as a way to set up his argument because it shows he has considered the other side’s ideas and making his next statements seem as thoughtful. This makes Patrick Henry seem credible because he’s building himself up to appear as a thoughtful and considerate man which makes them more open to his ideas. Patrick Henry continues his argument by explaining what has gone wrong in the past. He says “Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received?” he continues with “Trust it not, sir; It will prove a snare to your feet”. The purpose of this statement is that Britain is using the colonies and it will hurt them more in the future if they do not go to war. By stating what has gone wrong in the past and what could go wrong in the future, Henry can give the solution, which is going to war. This appeals to the audience’s logos because he creates a logical argument about the right decision for their future. Henry then gives his thesis to the audience on why they should fight against Britain. He shouts, “but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”. The thesis makes his argument clear to the reader that liberty is worth dying for and doing nothing is the same as being dead. This appeals to the audience’ emotions because it makes them have the urge to protect their liberty and freedom that they wanted so badly.

Conclusion

Patrick Henry’s goal was to convince the Continental Congress that America must go to war with Britain and break off from them instead of continuing to listen to them and do what they demand from the United States. He went to St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia on March 23, 1775, where he gave his persuasive speech. Patrick Henry uses figurative language, religious and inspirational diction and precise organization to persuade the people that war is inevitable and they must fight now.

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