Patrick Henry: An Analysis of America's Call to Revolution

Topics: Question, British Empire, Rhetorical question Pages: 5 (1600 words) Published: November 13, 2013

Logan Barber
Ms. St. Clair
AP English Language and Composition
18 October 2013
Patrick Henry: An Analysis of America's Call to Revolution
Leading up to the fierce and fiery confrontations at Lexington and Concord, a tumultuous period of debate and negotiation ensued regarding the preferred response of the colonies to British encroachment on their rights. The meeting of Virginian representatives in March of 1775 would prove to be a fruitless affair; that is, until a young, ardent lawyer by the name of Patrick Henry delivered an impassioned oration, with the intent of elucidating upon the reality of the situation: that the then-colonies were being driven to militant opposition of their royal overlords, and that to continue on passively would be to “retreat...[into] submission and slavery.” In his speech, Patrick Henry persuades the convention, and thereby the people, of the necessity of revolution through his employment of metaphorical imagery, stylized religious and mythological allusions, and a slew of rhetorical questions. In a blaze of libertarian sentiment, Henry incited the passions of the delegates and set the stage for the most glorious revolution in the history of mankind.

Henry liberally applied metaphors wherever possible. In this way, he first seeks to establish his ethos with the delegation; portraying his intelligence, he claims that the only “lamp” by which his feet are guided, and that it is the “lamp of experience.” It is characteristic of any effective speaker to subtly compliment themselves, both overtly (as seen here) as well as covertly, in order to assuage the doubts of the audience, which Henry manages to achieve at this moment. Ethos established, Henry moves to a more logos-centric series of metaphors corresponding with a multitude of his rhetorical questions. He begins the sixth paragraph by stating that the colonists have already “done everything that could be done” to “avert the storm”. Henry does not have to explicitly say that the British will continue their acts of oppression until they can simply seize all manner of power; he simply likens the British monarchy to a destructive maelstrom, aimless and hungering for devastation. Gracefully, Henry almost dehumanizes the British in this way, such that they are not human beings like the colonists, but rather a void of tyranny from which no liberty can shine, or even a force of nature without mercy or regret, such as death and disease. This synthesis of pure logic, as the British had no clear intent of stopping their advance, and a more covert portrayal of the British as a storm, transitions smoothly into the more emotionally-appealing last third of the speech. Of particular note is his consistent employment of slave imagery in the latter paragraphs of the speech, perhaps wishing to finish by satisfying the pathos corner of the rhetorical triangle. He declares, “Our chains are forged!”, destroying any notion of peaceful negotiation – for that has already been tried. Referencing the exceptionally rebellious port of Boston and Britain's repayment ten fold, he goes on to say that “their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston!”, very much attuned to the plight of the Bostonians. Henry cleanly finishes off his metaphors as well as his storm imagery when he shouts, “the next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms!”, implying now that the storm of total British domination of the colonies is not a far ways off but rather has already begun, and that the people must act before the monstrous hurricane of oppression annihilates them all.

Henry was not only a masterful connoisseur of blatant metaphor, but also synchronized into his figurative language repeated allusions to both God and mythology. Henry ends his introductory paragraph, which was essentially an extended remark that all that he would say was in loyalty to the colony, by stating that the loyalty in his words extended not only to colony...
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