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Patrick Henry: Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

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Patrick Henry’s speech was, in essence, a resolution in the form of an argument that addressed the prospect of war with England over controversial trade relations and which confirmed the contention that “the people of the colonies had the right to govern themselves. The following is an analysis of Henry’s speech according to the Toulmin method.

Patrick Henry: Give Me Liberty or Give Me DeathPatrick Henry claimed that the freedoms that had been sought for by the colonists and hopefully afforded in the establishment of the American colonies in the New World could only be preserved through war:

If we wish to be free -- if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending -- we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!

Patrick lays out a number of reasons to support his claim that war with England was the only viable alternative in maintaining the initial freedoms that the colonies had strived for in the New World. Primary, is the fact that the British parliament had been remiss in addressing the petitions and supplications of the colonists, which led, instead, to the condition of both domestic and British aggression and offense. More importantly, that this condition eliminated all hope for peace or reconciliation in the matter:

Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrance has produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation? There is no longer any room for hope.

Henry presents evidence to support his argument that “the storm” of war was the only viable alternative in this matter, pointing to the colonist’s futile petitions, remonstrations, supplication and humbleness before the throne of England:

Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm, which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament.

Patrick emphasizes that all alternatives to war have been exhausted and that all pursuits of peace have been thwarted by the fact that the British Crown has placed bondage before freedom:

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, "Peace! Peace!" -- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! … 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!

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