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How to End a Speech: Patrick Henry at Second Virginia Convention

“It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, PeaceĀ²but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Patrick Henry delivered the speech “give me liberty or give me death” in 1775 to mobilize the residents of Virginia to bring actions against the British Rules. His speech was pivotal in terms of igniting the political revolution in the American colonies in the following years. This piece, as the one of the most influential war and revolution speeches in the book of Great Speeches in History by William Safire, had the most dramatic closing of all time.

Prior to the conclusion, the speech began on a high note of patriotism. The mood and the feeling were built upon one wave after another brought by the rhetorical questions. Even though Patrick Henry seemed to talk directly to the President of the convention, he raised the excitement which led the audience to consider the essence of freedom. “Are we dispose to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation?” This question needs no answer but presents the reality of the relationship between Britain and the colonists in Virginia which many colonists never think of. All the rhetoric questions fit seamlessly to the building of his arguments which motivates the crowd to perceive the destinies of the nation and how the current situation was converting themselves into slaves of the Britain- “shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? ”

The ending paragraph was the climax of his entire speech. Historian described Patrick Henry as: “His voice rose louder and louder until the walls of the building and all within them seemed to shake and rock in its tremendous vibrations. Finally, his pale face and glaring eyes became terrible to look upon.” The question of “why stand we here idle?” and the imagery of chains of slavery are quite different from many political speeches where speakers draw an image of harmony and peace. Patrick Henry emphasized the freedom was precious and won’t happen if people do not fight for it. The last sentence “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” resonated with the audience because they had been following his train of thoughts for the entire time. Studying this example, the ending of a speech can maximize the mood by embedding rhetorical questions frequently and connecting with the audience once again. By asking rhetorical questions first and proposed his response “fight or die”, Patrick Henry achieved his purpose with this sensational end of the message.

Published inSpeech Analysis

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