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Patrick Henry's "give me liberty or give me death" is Toulmin or Rogerian? Why?

Aug 20th, 2014

The speech to the Virginia convention given by Patrick Henry, universally known by its poignant line "Give me Liberty of Give me Death" follows the Rogerian format.  Named after psychologist Carl Rogers, this type of presentation to convince an audience by appealing to the emotions of those present, rather than by sternly making a point of contention. 

Right from the beginning, the audience can sense that Henry is about to make a very strong appeal on behalf of a cause which hits close to his heart, his system of beliefs, and his morals. However, Henry did not have data, statistical backup, nor background evidence to support his belief. All that he had was the very little schemata that the colonists have built thus far with their history in the "new continent". 

He also had the abuses and the problems that the colonists faced, but his argument was in no way a thesis or a dissertation that he could have defended with paperwork worthy of a court of law. Even though the back up information (life in the colonies) was obvious enough for anyone to understand why he would want liberty, the prospects of a world without a King and removed from an empire as powerful as England were nonexistent, as such a world had never existed for any colonist before. Becoming independent was the same as jumping into the twilight zone so to speak: nobody knew what would happen. 

The solution then is to build an argument powerful enough to move the hearts of the audience. To do this cleverly, the speaker has to appeal to all the senses and emotions: ethos, pathos, and logos, or the sad, the happy, and the plea for something. This is exactly what Henry did. He did not start out by stating that he wanted liberty. He first complemented his audience, established that he was one of them, asked for forgiveness if his opinions may not agree with everyone, and made sure to put his listeners "on a pedestal" prior to coming to his main point. 

Then, he gradually intensified his speech, and added literary elements such as personification, metaphor, rhetorical language such as when he says the famous question "Shall we acquire the means of ….resistance by lying on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope?". At the end, he also plays with words while continuously appealing his cause, never involving anyone's opinions nor views, but his own. He is very respectful of his audience, and the main interaction between he and they is the manner in which he uses his persuasion skills to move them from the inside out.  It is precisely because he use Rogerian rather than the more exacting Toulmin method that he was able to "break through" even the staunchest of loyalist, even if it were for just the time that he speech was given. The fact that the speech still moves people centuries later gives you a good idea of how effective the Rogerian method can be when applied wisely and with care. 

Aug 23rd, 2014

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