The Greater of Two Persuasions
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Exceptional persuasive writings must contain a well executed use of Aristotle’s Rhetorical Appeals ethos, logos, and pathos. Patrick Henry’s “Speech in the Virginia Convention” and Benjamin Franklin’s “Speech in the Convention” are two tremendous examples of these appeals, however, Patrick Henry’s speech is the better of the two. In his speech, Henry is trying to convince the convention that war must be declared against Great Britain. Meanwhile, the context of Franklin’s speech is that he is giving his support of the Constitution. Henry’s speech uses logos and pathos better than Franklin’s speech does, although Franklin uses ethos better than Henry. Since Henry uses two of the three appeals more effectively, his speech is superior.
Ethos is the ethical appeal of the speaker or author. It is used to make the speaker seem more credible or humble. An example of this in Henry’s speech is seen in the quote, “No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the house” (Henry 187). By beginning his address this way, Henry makes himself seem respectful and gains the trust of the audience. However, Franklin uses ethos more often and more effectively. Franklin’s use of ethos is evident in the quote, “Sir, I am not sure I shall never approve of it; for, having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration, to change my opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but now found to be otherwise” (Franklin 191). In the quote, Franklin is saying that although he does not fully believe in the current condition of the Constitution, he is realizing that as he grows older, his opinions are changing and he is seeing that he is not always correct. This is a well executed example of ethos because by admitting that he is not always right, Franklin makes himself seem more human and less intimidating. As far as ethos goes, Franklin clearly beats Henry. Patrick Henry, however, does best Franklin in another appeal, logos.
Logos, as defined by Aristotle is the logical pull of a persuasive writing. Franklin uses logos in his speech, but it is scarcely used. An example of logos in his speech is seen in the quote, “Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better constitution; for, when you assemble a number of men, to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected?” (Franklin 191). This is a call to the logical appeal of the audience because he states the advantages and shortcomings of having a convention of men come together to make a decision, and with those shortcomings in mind, asks if a perfect product could ever be possible. The obvious, logical answer is no, perfection, when coming from imperfections, is not obtainable.
On the contrary, there are numerous examples of logos in Henry’s speech, such as when he lists actions the colonies have taken to resurrect their relationship with Britain or any of the rhetorical questions he inquires the audience about. These questions appear many times throughout Henry’s speech, most notably when he says, “Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love?” (Henry 188). Rhetorical questions are only ever asked when the answer is easily apparent, so when Henry asks theses questions, it gets the audience thinking about how what the British are doing is a call to arms and that to answer this call is the only logical option. That is how Henry uses logos in a more effective way than Franklin does.
The last rhetorical appeal is pathos: the appeal to the audience’s emotions. It is used by both Henry and Franklin, however Henry uses it in a more productive way than Franklin does. Franklin is using pathos when he says, “It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear, that our councils are confounded like those of the builders of Babel, and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another’s throats” (Franklin 191). This is an example of pathos because when they hear about how their enemies are waiting for their failure, and how they should not be able to receive that pleasure, the audience feels pride, hope, and joy for their emerging nation.
A stronger example of pathos can been seen in Henry’s speech. Henry’s use of pathos is clear when he states, “If we wish to be free, if we wish to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending, if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained – we must fight! I repeat we must fight!” (Henry 189). This appeals to the audience’s emotions because Henry discusses what it will take to remain free from tyranny and continue to take advantage of the privileges that they became accustomed to. The thought of losing these liberties invokes emotions such as anger and rage in the audience. By looking at these examples, it is evident that Henry’s speech is superior to Franklin’s speech when it comes to the appeal of pathos.
As proven in the previous paragraphs, Patrick Henry’s speech is the greater of the two persuasive writings. Benjamin Franklin uses ethos more efficiently than Henry, however, Henry’s use of logos and pathos far surpasses that of Franklin’s. As Henry uses two of Aristotle’s three Rhetorical Appeals better than Franklin does, Henry’s “Speech in the Virginia Convention” is evidently, more persuasive than Franklin’s “Speech in the Convention.”