« AnteriorContinuar »
sir, is not mistaken; I must avow to your majesty, I have no attachment but to my own country.’ The king replied, as quick as lightning, ‘An honest man will never have any other.’ The king then said a word or two to the secretary of state, which, being between them, I did not hear, and then turned round and bowed to me, as is customary with all kings and princes when they give the signal to retire. I retreated, stepping backwards, as is the etiquette; and making my last reverence at the door of the chamber, I went to my carriage.” — He died on the 4th of July, 1826, with the same words on his lips, which, fifty years before, on that glorious day, he had uttered on the floor of Congress — “Independence forever.”— Mr. Adams is the author of an Essay on Canon and Feudal Law; a series of Letters, published under the signature of Novanglus; and Discourses on Davila.
Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, was born at Shadwell Farm, near Monticello, April 2, 1743. It is a little remarkable that the date of his birth could never be accurately determined, till it was discovered after his death. He invariably resisted all attempts made by his enthusiastic friends to obtain knowledge of it, who wished that the anniversary of his birth might become a day of jubilee to our nation.
His youth was not squandered in pleasure which brings no return, but was faithfully and diligently devoted to the improvement of his mind. When he was yet quite young, he was one day present while Patrick Henry was pouring forth a flood of eloquence, carrying away the sentiments of all before it; Jefferson felt within himself the mighty struggles of a great spirit, which only demanded for its exhibition a theatre adequate to its powers. He reflected seriously whether he should spend his time in the fashionable amusements of the young men of his age, or make the glory of Patrick Henry the pole-star of his thoughts and aspirations.
He decided on the latter course, and commenced the study of law, to which he assiduously devoted himself, and, after admission to the bar, engaged for a time in the practice of it. But he was early called to take a seat in the council of his native state, where he advanced at once to the very front rank. He took his stand on the part of the people, and, through the whole course of his subsequent career, was faithful to the generous spirit of his youth. Though himself a slaveholder, one of his first efforts at legislation was the introduction of a bill entitled “permission for the emancipation of slaves,” which was defeated by a large majority; yet it served to exhibit the uncompromising hostility of Jefferson to oppression in all its forms. It was while he was a member of the Virginia legislature, that the resolutions of the British parliament, directed against Massachusetts, were received, and, at the instance of Jefferson, were met by counter resolutions. For this offence, the legislature was dissolved by the royal governor. Jefferson, Wythe, the two Lees, and Carr, adjourned to a tavern, where they conceived and perfected the non-importation act, which, more than any other measure, crippled the commerce of England, and revealed to her, and to the colonies themselves, the importance of the colonial trade. At a subsequent meeting, they discussed and settled a plan of operations for the committees of correspondence in the different colonies, through whom every important act, that transpired in one, was immediately communicated to the sister colonies. Thus the slow and cautious step of tyranny in any colony was detected, and the whole policy of England unfolded to the view of all. But the public mind was still too sluggish for the impetuous feelings of Jefferson, and he had recourse to the press, and to private correspondence, to breathe into the people the breath of life. He even proposed, and caused to be proclaimed, a religious fast on the day appointed for the Boston Port Bill to go into operation. For this appointment, the legislature was dissolved by Lord Dunmore, the royal governor. At this time, as after the former dissolution of the assembly, Jefferson and his patriotic associates retired to a tavern, where they digested other schemes to excite the indignation of the colonies against England. To effect this design, they resorted to every means that offered—the pulpit, the pen, the press, and political harangues. At length, Jefferson had the satisfaction of taking part in the democratic Convention at Williamsburg, in Virginia, the first ever assembled in America, where he wrote and presented instructions for the congressional delegates, entitled “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” which was republished by the whigs in the British Parliament. The bold stand taken in this pamphlet, brought down on Jefferson the vengeance of the British ministers, and a bill of attainder for high treason was commenced against him in the British Parliament, which, however, was never brought to maturity; and had it been so, it could never have been served upon him, without a posse comitatus of one hundred thousand soldiers. In the year 1774, the royal government in the colonies may be said to have ceased, and the American assemblies to have succeeded to the inheritance of power, of which they had hitherto been unjustly deprived. Since she could no longer hope for success in overt acts of tyranny, England had recourse to the arts of finesse and diplomatic skill. The conciliatory proposition of Lord North was now sent to each colony, allowing the Americans the privilege of taxing themselves, provided that the amount of their contributions was satisfactory to England. So shallow a device could not have been supposed, by candid and sensible men, to have the most distant prospect of success with the majority of the people, but was probably intended merely to create a division, and overthrow the confederation. On this ground Jefferson took his stand; and in the answer which he was appointed to prepare, he clearly and decidedly announced the determination of Virginia to accept no proposition which was not made to the General Congress. But now the hour of trial had come. September 5, 1774, Congress had assembled in Philadelphia. A resolution, moved by Patrick Henry, declaring the expediency of putting the colonies in a state of defence, was before them. The wary and the prudent shrank from the dreidsul leap ; the bold and far-sighted rushed at once into the Rubicon. Long and vehement was the contest; but nothing could resist the power of Henry, Jefferson, the Lees, the Pages, and Mason. The Rubicon was passed — the resolution was adopted. And now the principle that sustained America in the shock with Britain's power, was pointedly displayed; the minority, to a man, united with the majority, and boldly put their names to the resolution. Jefferson was appointed to draw the Declaration of Independence. The draught was reported June 28th, ordered to lie on the table till July 2, when it was subjected to a most tremendous ordeal in the debate that followed; but after many alterations it passed. Thirty-seven years afterwards, Mr. Jefferson declared that Mr. Adams was the pillar of its support on the floor of Congress, its ablest advocate and defender against the multifarious assaults it encountered. In a memorandum made by Jefferson relative to the alterations and omissions, he says, “The clause reprobating the enslaving the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who, on the contrary, still wished to continue it. Our northern brethren, also, I believe, felt a little tender under those censures; for, though the people had very few slaves themselves, yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others.” The congressional term for which Jefferson was elected, expired in August, 1776, and he was reëlected, but soon resigned his seat to take a place in the legislature of Virginia, where he believed that he could be more useful. He was here the author of a bill abolishing entailments, and of one securing religious liberty; a bill for emancipating slaves born after its enactment, which was defeated in his absence, a bill to abolish capital punishment, except in extreme cases; and a bill establishing literary inStitutions. In 1779, Jefferson was chosen governor of Virginia, where he was distinguished for his firmness in opposition to the cruelty practised by the British on the Americans who fell into their power. To repress these cruelties, he had recourse to retaliation upon a man named Hamilton, and on his associates, who had exercised great enormities, and were therefore deemed proper objects of retaliation. This measure was believed to have been advantageous to American prisoners in the power of the British, and accordingly severities were soon relaxed. In 1781, Mr. Jefferson, from a belief that the interests of the states required a governor whose military experience would enable him to lead the forces of the state, resigned in favor of Governor Nelson. Shortly after his resignation, Cornwallis, having learned that the Assembly was in session at Charlottesville, detached Colonel Tarleton at the head of his corps, to seize Mr. Jefferson. When about ten miles from Charlottesville, Tarleton sent a small troop to Monticello, and with the rest of his corps rode to Charlottesville. The alarm was given about sunrise; the speakers of the two houses hastened from Monticello, where they had slept the previous night, hastily rode to Charlottesville, adjourned the Assembly, and made their escape. Jefferson placed his wife and children in a carriage, and sent them to the house of Colonel Carter, on a neighboring mountain, and remained at his own house, waiting until his horse should be shod, when word was brought that the British troops were already at the foot of the hill on which his mansion stood. Upon hearing this, he mounted his horse, and fled into the woods, with whose avenues he was perfectly acquainted, and soon afterwards joined his family. Tarleton, chagrined at his disappointment, burned all the barns of Jefferson, containing his last year's crop, carried off all the cattle, sheep, swine, &c., and some of his horses, cut the throats of the rest, and burned all the fences on his plantation, reducing it to a barren waste. In 1783, Mr. Jefferson was elected to Congress, where, as in former times, he was to be found on those committees that particularly required ability, integrity, and patriotism. He proposed and carried the measure effecting a change in the denomination of the currency, and introducing the decimal system. He opposed the formation of the Society of the Cincinnati, and the multiplication of amb Issadors to foreign powers, in order to contract with them entangling alliances. In 1789, he was appointed minister plenipotentiary to