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Allusion in Speech to the Second Virginia Convention

Biblical Allusions: Many of Henry’s incendiary remarks are enhanced by biblical allusions. Henry does not explicitly denounce the British, which would have been perceived as treacherous; instead, he veils his remarks behind recognizable anecdotes from the Old and New Testaments. For example, he repeatedly warns his audience to remain vigilant against the British by alluding to to the betrayal of Christ in the New Testament. The allusion compares Judas’s disloyalty to Jesus with Britain’s disloyalty to the American colonists.

Allusion Examples in Speech to the Second Virginia Convention:

Text of Henry's Speech

6

"God of hosts..."   (Text of Henry's Speech)

Translated from the Hebrew word sabaoth, the word “host” refers to armies. First referred in the Old Testament, specifically 1 Samuel 1:3, the “God of hosts” is the God of the armies of heaven. In addition to an appeal to warfare, he calls on the God of war to aid the American people in their revolutionary efforts. This reflects Henry’s devout sense of faith, even in the case of war.

"Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss...."   (Text of Henry's Speech)

By peppering the speech with biblical allusions, Henry is able to make disparaging remarks about the British without consequence. Here, he compares the actions of the British to the kiss of Judas, an episode known as the Betrayal of Christ. In the New Testament, Judas kisses Jesus in order to identify him to the chief priests and have him arrested. Henry warns his audience to be careful of the British, who might appear friendly on the surface but who are actually vindictive and cunning.

"Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet...."   (Text of Henry's Speech)

A “snare” is a trap with a string and a noose used to capture small animals. The image of a foot trapped in a snare is used repeatedly throughout the Old and New Testament of the Bible, often to describe how God will prevent someone’s foot from becoming metaphorically ensnared. With this biblical allusion and the image of ensnarement, Henry compares British mistreatment to a trap. He encourages his audience to remain vigilant towards the British. This biblical allusions, like the others Henry uses, hint at British mistreatment without overtly renouncing it. This allowed Henry to make strong claims against the British without seeming treasonous.

"I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience...."   (Text of Henry's Speech)

Henry alludes to Psalm 119:105, a passage from a book in the Bible written as an anonymous prayer to God. The speaker of Psalms asks that God light their way forward, as a lamp to guide their feet. In this allusion, the lamp that lights Henry’s path is not God, but the “lamp of experience.” He asks his audience to recall the past in order to avoid repeating mistakes. This allusion also appeals to ethos because it conveys that Henry has experienced and observed the British imposition for the “last ten years.”

"Are we disposed 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? ..."   (Text of Henry's Speech)

Both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible make reference to eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear to describe God’s followers who do not attend to his teachings. Henry alludes to these passages (Isaiah 6:10, Jeremiah 5:21, Ezekiel 12:2, Matthew 13:15, Acts 28:27, and Romans 11:8) to compare his audience to such ignorant disciples. With this rhetorical question, Henry encourages his audience to remain vigilant.

"the song of that siren..."   (Text of Henry's Speech)

In Greek mythology, a siren, similar to a mermaid, was a female creature who lured sailors into shipwreck with their beautiful voices. Henry warns his audience with this allusion, asking that they ignore the similarly tempting but dangerous “illusion of hope.”

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