Persuasion is a form of speaking or writing that aims to move an audience to take action. The speaker must not only win the audience's agreement, but push them to execute the appropriate task. Patrick Henry's Speech to the Virginia Convention is one of the most powerful examples of persuasion of that time period. It is Henry's mastery of the persuasive elements such as the call to action, the proof and motivation for this action and the heightened style that make his address so moving.
The first priority in Henry's Speech to the Virginia Convention is to define the purpose of his oration and to convey the urgency of the situation, known as the "call to action," to the members present. Henry states that "this is no time for ceremony" relating the sense of immediacy of the situation, that the "war is actually begun" and it is imperative that the members vote to arm themselves in defense. Henry defines his speech as opposing those who favor peace and supporting he arming of the colonists against the British.
In order to support his "call to action" to the learned group of men at the Virginia Convention, Henry had to provide substantial proof endorsing his position. While an appeal to their emotions would rouse them against the British for the moment, emotions are short-lived and their endurance would depend on proof. Henry asks, "are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation?" "what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission?" By using the literary device of the rhetorical question, Henry attempts to pull his audience into his speech and show how obvious the need for the colonists to arm themselves against the British was. Not only did Henry have to provide evidence that opposing the British forces was absolutely necessary, but he had to refute the arguments for peace made by his fellow Convention members. Henry cites that although King George III may have seemed to be complying with the colonists by retracting the new tax! ation laws conditionally in response to the First Continental Congress'protest, his actions do not "comport with these warlike preparations." Henry points out that resorting to "entreaty and humble supplication" has been tried for the past ten years and that the subject of the independence of the colonies from Britain has been held up in "every light which it is capable." The colonists had stated their position to King George III and had nothing new to offer on the subject.
Patrick Henry's use of "heightened style" or appeal to the emotions permeates his Speech to the Virginia Convention and allows him to communicate on a more personal level than just the exposition of proof and motive. In this way Henry appeals to the ideals that we esteem highest; of integrity,patriotism, justice and honor, winning over one's support and confidence. It is here through the use of heightened style that hyperbole, parallel structure, biblical and classical allusions, metaphors, simplicity and imagery have the strongest affect. Henry's conclusion with "give me liberty, or give
me death" contains many elements of heightened style employed to their utmost effectiveness. Although out of context it is an obvious hyperbole, it seems the perfect conclusion to a recitation emphasizing patriotism and loyalty, placing one's country's needs above one's own. Henry's dramatic conclusion also contains parallel structure and simplicity, making the statement even stronger! In Henry's mind and what he hoped to impress upon his audience was that there were
only two choices; liberty or death and choice to be made was obvious. Quoting "We are apt to . . . listen to the song of that siren, till she transforms us into beasts" from the popular epic poem The Odyssey serves the purpose of providing a commonality, something the audience can relate to as well as a metaphor comparing the British to the evil sirens and those who would listen to their promises as fools, heading toward their death. Although Henry's persuasive writing style and his mastery of literary persuasion techniques certainly aided him in convincing the Virginia Convention to arm themselves against the British, his writing is also able to convey a sense of true emotion and feeling on the discussed subject. Solely by reading