« AnteriorContinuar »
attachments were deeply rooted, and it required great exertions to counteract the intrigues of foes within, and repel the attacks of enemies without. In addition to his duties as speaker of the assembly of Delaware and member of Congress, he was brigadier-general of the militia. His numerous messages to the legislature, and letters to his officers, urging them to decisive action, manifest great industry, strength of mind, clearness of perception, firmness of purpose and patriotic zeal. He was decidedly in favour of the declaration of independence from the time the proposition was first laid before Congress. The day previous to the final question upon this important measure, he was in Delaware pursuing means to arrest the career of certain tories in the lower part of the province. Mr. M.Kean informed him by express of the approaching crisis. He immediately mounted his horse and arrived at Philadelphia just in time to dismount and enter the hall of Congress, with boots and spurs, and give his vote in favour of liberty, and affix his name to that bold instrument that dissolved allegiance to England's king, and created a compact of rational freedom.
In the autumn of 1776, the tories so far succeeded in obtaining the reins of power as to prevent the re-election of Mr. Rodney to Congress. But this only served to increase the exertions of this devoted patriot. He immediately commenced military operations and repaired to Princeton, soon after the brave Haslet and Mercer fell in the cause of justice. He was also an active member of the council of safety. He remained with the army for two months, and received the high approbation of the commander-in-chief for his active services in bringing out the militia and raising recruits. In a letter written to him by Washington, dated at Morristown on the 18th of February, 1777, is the following eulogium: “The readiness with which you took the field at the period most critical to our affairs—the industry you used in bringing out the militia of the Delaware state—and the alertness observed by you in forwarding on troops from Trenton-reflect the highest honour on your character and place your attachment to the cause in the most distinguished point of view. They claim my sincerest thanks, and I am happy in this opportunity in giving them to you."
On his return to his native state he was appointed a judge of the supreme court, organized under the new order of things. He declined serving, believing that he could be of more use to the cause in other situations. About that time an open insurrection against the new government broke out in Sussex. He immediately repaired to the district with a few troops and quelled it at once.
At the time the British forces were preparing to march from the Chesapeake towards the Brandywine, General Rodney was stationed south of the American army to watch the movements of the enemy, and if possible to get between them and their shipping. He exerted his noblest powers to rouse the militia to their duty, and acquitted himself faithfully in the discharge of every duty that devolved upon him.
In December, 1777, he was again elected to Congress, but the legislature of his state being in session, he concluded to remain in that until the close of its deliberations, during which time he was elected president of Delaware, which prevented him from rendering any further assistance in the national assembly. His services in his new and dignified station were of the utmost importance in the exposed territory over which he presided. His exertions in raising supplies for the continental army were of the most vigorous character, especially during the winter and spring of 1779, when the troops were much of the time on half allowance, and the magazines so empty and bare, that it frequently seemed impossible that the army could be sustained another week.
During the four years that he presided over the destinies of Delaware, he had many refractory spirits to manage and many difficult questions to decide which required the exercise of firmness, prudence and wisdom. All these qualities were possessed by him. Upon his own matured judgment he relied. His course was onward towards the temple of liberty, and so discreetly did he pursue it, that he stood approved and applauded by every friend of equal rights, and was admired even by his enemies. He continued to serve his country until 1789, when he fell a victim to the cancer that had been preying upon him for many years.
He met death with calm submission and fortitude, and died rejoicing in the bright prospects that were opening upon his country:
From his writings he appears to have highly respected religion and to have practised the soundest morals. His private character was unexceptionable and truly amiable. He was partial to good dinners but not guilty of any excesses. He was remarkably fond of a good joke, and sometimes exhibited brilliant displays of wit, but was extremely careful not to give personal offence.
When in Congress, Mr. Harrison, who had often claimed Virginia as the Dominion of the colonies, asked for immediate aid to protect her from the invading foe. When he sat down, Mr. Rodney rose, with assumed gravity and sympathy, and assured the gentleman that the powerful Dominion should be protected: “Let her be of good cheer-she has a friend in need-DELAWARE will take her under its protection and insure her safety.” The portly Harrison and the skeleton Rodney both enjoyed the whit," and the other members were convulsed with laughter.
His constitutional sympathy was so strong that he always avoided, if possible, scenes of physical suffering, and could not be induced to approach the dying bed even of his dearest friend or nearest relative.
To be able to judge correctly of the actions of men, we must understand the philosophy of human nature thoroughly. We must trace the circuit of the immortal mind, follow it through the regions of revolving thought, become familiar with the passions that influence and control it, learn its natural desires, its innate qualities, its springs of action and its multifarious combinations. We must understand its native divinity, its earthly frailty, its malleability, its contractions, its expansions and its original propensities. In addition to all this knowledge, when we judge the conduct of an individual, we must know the predominants and exponents of his mind, the impress it has received from education, the motives that impelled it to action, the circumstances that produced its momentum, its propulsive and repulsive powers, the ultimatum of its designs and its ulterior objects. With all these guides we shall still become involved in errors unles our judgments are based upon the firm foundation of impartiality and are enlightened and warmed by the genial rays of heaven-born charity. Bias and prejudice are ever at our
elbows, ready to lead us to false conclusions.
With such criteria before me, I proceed to sketch, concisely, the eventful career of SAMUEL CHASE, a native of Somerset county, Maryland, who was born on the 17th of April, 1741. He was the son of the Rev. Thomas Chase, who immigrated to this country from England, and in 1743 became the pastor of St. Paul's parish in Baltimore, then a mere country village and destitute of good schools. At the age of two years Samuel was deprived of the tender care of his mother by her premature death. In the superior classical and theological qualifications of his father to guide him in the paths of science and virtue, he was peculiarly fortunate. Under his instructions he became an accomplished scholar, admired and esteemed by a large circle of acquaintances. At the age of eighteen he commenced the study of law, and prosecuted it with great industry under the direction of John Hammond and John Hall of Annapolis. At the age of twenty he was admitted to practice in the mayor's court, and at twenty-two was admitted to several of the county courts and the court of chancery. He located at Annapolis, married the amiable and intelligent Miss Ann Baldwin, and soon obtained the reputation of a sound lawyer and an able advocate.
He was of a sanguine temperament, bold, fearless and undisguised, independent in mind, language and action, but honest, patriotic and pure in his motives and immovable in his purposes qualities that dignify a man if prudently balanced, but which often rouse the most implacable enmity in others. These leading trajts in the original com
position of the nature of Samuel Chase must be kept constantly in view to enable the reader to form a just estimate of his character. The circumstances and times that influenced him must also be borne in mind.
On the flood-tide of a prosperous business and forensic fame, in the full enjoyment of domestic felicity and social intercourse with friends, Mr. Chase glided smoothly along until his country began to writhe under kingly oppression. The stamp act, the first born of the pernicious revenue system devised by the putrescent British ministry, met with a hostile reception in Annapolis. Mr. Chase, aided by a band of kindred spirits under the cognomen of the “sons of liberty,” forcibly seized and destroyed the newly imported stamps and burnt in effigy the stamp distributor. No further violence was then committed. The king's officers opened a newspaper battery against this “furious mob,” and directed their whole artillery at Mr. Chase, complimenting him with the courtly names of busy, restless incendiary; a ringleader of mobs, a foul-mouthed and inflaming son of discord and faction; a common disturber of the public tranquillity, a promoter of the lawless excesses of the multitude,” and similar emphatic appellations-conferring upon this young patriot a diploma of honour little anticipated by them. His answers to these vituperations were charged with strong and conclusive logic, keen and withering sarcasm. This brought him into the political field, and so delighted were the people with the manner he handled the hirelings of the crown that they elected him to the colonial assembly. There he took a conspicuous part and became the uncompromising opposer of all measures that were not within the pale of the constitution or that were tinctured with oppression. So strongly was he in favour of liberal principles and rational liberty, that he gave his whole influence and vote in favour of the repeal of the law that compelled the people to support the clergy, by which the stipend of his father was reduced one half. Agreeably to the laws of primogeniture then in force, this was voting money out of his own pocket in order to impart greater freedom to the people at large. By his bold and independent course he became an object for the persecution of the creatures of the crown and an object of pride and admiration with the people. But his enemies found him a bramble full of the keenest thorns and were unmercifully scarified every time they approached him. . His tongue, his pen, his logic and his sarcasm were as blighting as the sirocco of Sahara.
After the repeal of the stamp act a calm of the public mind ensued, but it was a calm of delusion such as precedes a tornado. The inquisitorial rack of the ministry was again put in motion; fresh impositions commenced and the fire of discontent was again kindled. The bill closing the port of Boston and authorizing the king's officers to seize and send to England for trial those who should dare resist the royal authority, roused the indignation of the colonies that had before been rather passive. A general Congress was agreed upon to meet at Philadelphia, and Mr. Chase, with four others, was appointed a member from Maryland. They were instructed to join in agreeing on a general plan of conduct operating on the commercial connexion
of the colonies with the mother country for the relief of Boston and preservation of American liberty.” A committee of correspondence was also appointed, of which Mr. Chase was an active and efficient member.
The deep solemnity and unparalleled wisdom and prudence that marked the proceedings of the Congress of 1774, shed a lustre around the cause of equal rights, then in embryo, that forced applause from its most violent opposers. Had not the cabinet of Great Britain been blinded by sordid avarice, mad ambition and political delusion, and had not the king been a mere automaton, the moving, loyal and logical appeals from that august body of sages would have been treated with respect and peace restored. The colonists asked for nothing but what was clearly right, and asked in the most respectful and even suppliant
Ministers were left without an excuse; their sacrilegious hands broke the great seal of the social compact; their agents sowed the seeds of rebellion; their cruelty kindled the flame that devoured them; their visionary policy severed the cords of maternal affection; their treachery spread the mantle of righteousness over the cause of the revolution. We justly censure them for their corrupt designs but rejoice in the result of their projects. Haman erected his own gallows -Grenville and North destroyed their own power.
In 1775, Mr. Chase was again returned to Congress, but was tramelled with instructions of conciliation that were not congenial to his ardent feelings. His prudence, however, kept him within their limits. He was placed upon numerous committees and upon the very important one of providing ways and means for preparing a naval armament. The ensuing year he was again elected to the national legislature, bound by instructions disavowing a desire for independence, imposing upon him a course of amity and pacific submission that would have induced him to decline serving, had he not hoped and predicted truly that British violence would eventually remove the injunction. In the spring of 1776 he was appointed upon an important mission, in conjunction with Benjamin Franklin, Charles Carroll and Bishop Carroll. These gentlemen proceeded to Canada for the purpose of persuading the Canadians to join in shaking off the yoke of bondage. The fall of General Montgomery and the dark gloom that hung over the cause of liberty induced them to decline, and after the most faithful and zealous efforts the committee were compelled to return without accomplishing the desired object, and the Canadas are still enjoying the cold comforts of foreign power. When he arrived and took his seat in Congress he was rejoiced to learn that the subject of a final separation from the mother country was under consideration and was ably and boldly advocated. It•was the very measure to animate the soul of Samueľ Chase. His instructions now became oppressive and hung over him like an incubus. He redoubled his exertions to open the eyes of the members of the Maryland convention and induce them to leave him and his colleagues to act upon their own judgments. The request was granted just in time for him to record his vote in favour of that imperishable instrument that has immortalized the names of its signers and is the pride of every true American. The same day