Patrick Henry: Fallacy Essay

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In his speech during the Virginia Convention, Patrick Henry used a dynamic tone to express his ideas. He utilized the rhetorical technique of fallacy to persuade his audience into thinking that America’s independence was necessary for the good of the nation and its people. Henry takes advantage of fallacies such as the either or fallacy, fallacy of complex questions, appeal of consequence, and appeal to emotion to implement his ideas into the audience.

One common type of fallacy that Henry uses is an either-or fallacy; either gain independence by war with Britain or forever stay under the manipulation of the British empire. For example, “For my own part I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery…the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth…” Henry claims that freedom from Britain is the only solution to their problems.

By doing so, the audience is more engaged on this side of the argument, and may not see any sense of the other argument as a result. This reason is not really an actual fact, but more of Henry’s own personal opinion of what they should do. The listener may feel biased and that they should agree with Henry. Henry uses the fallacy of complex questions, which shows that Henry is confident his audience will respond in agreement to his demands for freedom. For example, Henry questions the army of Great Britain acting aggressively despite Americans peacefully trying to reconcile.

Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with these warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? ” The obvious answer to these questions would be “no. ” He goes on to scare the audience onto his side by using the fallacy, appeal to consequence. “But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction?

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? ” This effectively puts the audience into a panic of a future under the British, luring them more into Henry’s ideas of war. The audience, already hyped from their boosted sense of independence since the beginning of the speech, is now completely vulnerable to Henry’s words. Finally, what I consider the most powerful technique Henry uses is the fallacy of appealing to emotion.

Henry talks about various actions that the colonists have already taken to protest the English government, such as, “We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated…” By doing so, the audience is reminded of all these things that have been done, only to realize that they have failed. Henry “reveals” that the English government has only denied them and turned them down each time. “Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned…” This quote builds up anger in the audience, creating great contempt for the British.

The colonists start to feel as though the British have no intention to care about them and will take advantage of Americans every chance they get. By using the rhetorical strategy of fallacy, Patrick Henry is able to persuade his audience into thinking that America needs their independence, and war with Britain is the only way they can achieve such freedom. Techniques such as the either or fallacy, fallacy of complex questions, appeal of consequence, and appeal to emotion all help influence the consciousness of the audience, bringing them to Henry’s support.

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