페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

and that very determination, determines me on mine. You know that I have been constant and uniform in opposition to her designs. The die is now cast. I have passed the Rubicon. Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish with my country, is my unalterable determination." He accordingly took his seat: and with what activity and effect he discharged its duties, the journals of the day sufficiently attest.

Of that august and venerable body, the old Continental Congress, what can be said that would not fall below the occasion? What that would not sound like a puerile and tumid effort, to exaggerate the praise of a body which was above all praise? Let me turn from any attempt at description to your own hearts, where that body lies entombed with all you hold most sacred. To that Congress, let future statesmen look, and learn what it is to be a patriot. There was no self. No petty intrigue for power. No despicable faction for individual honors. None of those feuds, the fruit of an unhallowed ambition, which converted the Revolution of France into a mere contest for the command of the guillotine; and which have, now, nearly disarmed unhappy Greece, in the sacred war she is waging for the tombs of her illustrious dead. No: of our Great Fathers we may say with truth, what was said of the Romans in their golden age; "with them the Republic was all in all; for that alone they consulted; the only faction they formed was against the common enemy: their minds, their bodies were exerted, sincerely, and greatly and nobly exerted, not for personal power, but for the liberties, the honor, the glory of their country." May the time never come, when an allusion to their virtues can give any other feelings than those of pleasure and pride to their descendants.

Having, in this imperfect manner, fellow-citizens, touched rather than traced the incidents by which Mr. Adams was prepared and conducted into the scenes of the Revolution, let us turn to the great luminary of the South.

Virginia, as you know, had been settled by other

VOL. V.

60

causes than those which had peopled Massachusetts; and the Colonists themselves were of a different character. The first attempts at settlement in that quarter of the world had been conducted, as you remember, under the auspices of the gallant Raleigh, that "man of wit and man of the sword," as Sir Edward Coke tauntingly called him, and certainly one of the brightest flowers in the Courts of Elizabeth and James. He did not live to make a permanent establishment in Virginia; but, his genius seems, nevertheless, to have presided over the State, and to have stamped his own character on her distinguished sons. Virginia had experienced none of those early and long continued conflicts which had contributed to form the robust character of the North; on the contrary, during the century that Massachusetts had been buffetting with the storm, Virginia, resting on a halcyon sea, had been cultivating the graces of science, and literature, and the genial elegancies of social life. But, her moral and intellectual character was not less firm and vigorous than that of her Northern sister: for the invader came, and Athens as well as Sparta, was found ready to do her duty, and to do it too, bravely, ably, heroically.

At the time of Mr. Jefferson's appearance, the society of Virginia was much diversified, and reflected, pretty distinctly, an image of that of England. There was, first, the landed aristocracy, shadowing forth the order of English nobility: then, the sturdy yeomanry, common to them both; and last, a faculum of beings, as they were called by Mr. Jefferson, corresponding with the mass of the English plebeians.

Mr. Jefferson, by birth, belonged to the aristocracy; but, the idle and voluptuous life which marked that order had no charms for a mind like his. He relished better the strong, unsophisticated, and racy character of the yeomanry, and attached himself of choice, to that body. Born to an inheritance, then deemed immense, and with a decided taste for literature and science, it would not have been surprising if he had de

voted himself, exclusively, to the luxury of his studies, and left the toils and the hazards of public action to others. But, he was naturally ardent, and fond of action, and of action too, on a great scale; and, so readily did he kindle in the feelings that were playing around him, that he could no more have stood still while his country was agitated, than the war-horse can sleep under the sound of the trumpet.

He was a republican and a philanthropist from the earliest dawn of his character. He read with a sort of poetic illusion, which identified him with every scene that his author spread before him. Enraptured with the brighter ages of republican Greece and Rome, he had followed, with an aching heart, the march of history which had told him of the desolation of those fairest portions of the earth; and had seen, with dismay and indignation, that swarm of monarchies, the progeny of the Scandinavian hive, under which genius and liberty were now, every where crushed. He loved his own country with a passion not less intense, deep. and holy, than that of his great compatriot; and with this love, he combined an expanded philanthropy which encircled the globe. From the working of the strong energies within him, there arose an early vision, too, which cheered his youth and accompanied him through life-the vision of emancipated man throughout the world. Nor was this a dream of the morning that passed away and was forgotten. On the contrary, like the Heaven descended banner of Constantine, he hailed it as an omen of certain victory, and girded his loins for the onset, with the omnipotence of truth.

On his early studies we have already touched. The study of the law he pursued under George Wythe; a man of Roman stamp, in Rome's best age. Here he acquired that unrivalled neatness, system and method in business, which, through all his future life, and in every office that he filled, gave him, in effect, the hundred hands of Briareus; here, too, following the giant steps of his master, he travelled the whole round of the civil and common law. From the same example,

be caught that untiring spirit of investigation which never left a subject till he had searched it to the bottom, and of which we have so noble a specimen in his correspondence with Mr. Hammond, on the subject of British debts. In short, Mr. Wythe performed for him, what Jeremiah Gridley had done for Mr. Adams; he placed on his head the crown of legal preparation: and well did it become him. Permit me, here, to correct an error which seems to have prevailed.. It has been thought that Mr. Jefferson made no figure at the bar: but the case was far otherwise. There are still extant, in his own fair and neat hand, in the manner of his master, a number of arguments which were delivered by him at the bar, upon some of the most intricate questions of the law: which, if they shall ever see the light, will vindicate his claim to the first honors of the profession. It is true he was not distinguished in popular debate; why he was not so, has often been matter of surprise to those who have seen his eloquence on paper, and heard it in conversation. He had all the attributes of the mind, and the heart, and the soul, which are essential to eloquence of the highest order. The only defect was a physical one; he wanted volume and compass of voice for a large deliberative assembly; and his voice, from the excess of his sensibility, instead of rising with his feelings and conceptions, sunk under their pressure, and became guttural and inarticulate. The consciousness of this infirmity repressed any attempt in a large body, in which he knew he must fail. But his voice But his voice was all sufficient for the purposes of judicial debate; and there is no reason to doubt that, if the service of his country had not called him away so soon from his profession, his fame as a lawyer, would now have stood upon the same distinguished ground which he confessedly occupies as a statesman, an author, and a scholar.

It was not until 1764, when the Parliament of Great Britain passed its resolutions preparatory to the stamp act, that Virginia seems to have been thoroughly startled from her repose. Her Legislature was then in ses

sion; and her patriots, taking the alarm, remonstrated promptly and firmly against this assumed power. The remonstrance, however, was, as usual, disregarded, and the stamp act came. But it came to meet, on the floor of the House, an unlooked-for champion, whom Heaven had just raised up for the good of his country and of mankind. I speak of that untutored child of nature, Patrick Henry, who had now, for the first time, left his native forests to show the metal of which he was made, and "give the world assurance of a man."

The Assembly met in the city of Williamsburg, where Mr. Jefferson was still pursuing the study of the law. Mr. Henry's celebrated resolutions against the stamp act were introduced in May, 1765. How they were resisted, and how maintained, has been already stated to the world, in terms that have been pronounced extravagant, by those who modestly consider themselves as furnishing a fair standard of Revolutionary excellence. The coldest glow-worm in the hedge, is about as fair a standard of the power of the sun. To the present purpose, it is only necessary to remark, that Mr. Jefferson was present at this debate, and has left us an account of it, in his own words. He was then, he says, but a student, and stood in the door of communication between the House and the lobby, where he heard the whole of this magnificent debate. The opposition to the last resolution was most vehement; the debate upon it, to use his own strong language, "most bloody;" but, he adds, torrents of sublime eloquence from Henry, backed by the solid reasoning of Johnson, prevailed; and the resolution was carried by a single vote. I well remember, he continues, the cry of treason," by the Speaker, echoed from every part of the House, against Mr. Henry: I well remember his pause, and the admirable address with which he recovered himself, and baffled the charge thus vociferated.

He here alludes, as you must perceive, to that memorable exclamation of Mr. Henry, now become al

« 이전계속 »