Speech in the Virginia Convention of Delegates | Patrick Henry


Plot summary


A fiery speech delivered on March 23, 1775 to support the Colonies’ effort to become independent. He urges Virginia to raise a militia.


Author and Date


ŕ Is the same true in Islamic countries?

·        After retiring from the governorship, he turned down an offer to become Secretary of State under George Washington, an offer from to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a request to return as governor, and an offer from President Adams to serve on a mission to France.


Historical Background


- Seeds of self-government sown almost from founding of America

-         British typically have hands-off policy through early years

-         First Continental Congress (1774) – protests British taxation

o       Sends list of grievances to King George III

o       Wanted to revamp Empire, not break completely (Henry says this in his speech, but no choice)

-         Second Continental Congress (May 1775) –

o       By time it meets, British decide to reject American demands and put down rebellion by force

o       British Blockade Boston

o       The battles at Lexington and Concord took place less than a month

                        after Henry's speech, on April 19, 1775. At Lexington and

Concord, American colonists took up arms against their own government, whose troops had come to seize colonial guns and gunpowder.


ŕ Interesting fact: The City of London, whose merchants had been badly savaged by the loss of American trade, was a focal point of resistance to the government. Within days, members of the Constitutional Society meeting at the Kings Arms Tavern on Cornhill launched a subscription [fund-raiser] for the "relief of widows and orphans...of our beloved American fellow subjects...unhumanely murdered by the King's Troops

at or near Lexington and Concord."


- Declaration of Independence




-         Power of oratory to rouse men’s emotions through the spoken world

o       One thing even the great Jefferson lacked

o       Goes to his knees as a manacled slave, then he bends to the earth with his hands still crossed, for a few seconds, then springs to his feet, shouting, “Give me liberty…” and then he beats his breast with an imaginary dagger

o       Silence, then a man listening at an open window says, “Let me be buried on this spot!”

-         Does Henry sound like a lawyer making his case?

-         Henry's speech was delivered at St. John's Church in Richmond

-         The slavery which concerned those, like Henry, who fought the Revolution was tax slavery, as opposed to chattel slavery

-         Need to win people’s hearts before they would pick up bayonets

-         His statement that "The war is actually begun!" is a reference to the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770, when British troops, occupying to "keep order," killed five colonists at the head of an angry mob.

-         Is there a Patrick Henry of today? Congressmen? Senators?

-         Why does he choose this means to make his point?

-         He later opposed the proposed Constitution. Why?