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preme Court respecting Writs of Assistance, and heard the celebrated and patriotic speech of JAMES Oris. Unquestionably, that was a masterly performance. No flighty declamation about liberty, no superficial discussion of popular topics, it was a learned, penetrating, convincing, constitutional argument, expressed in a strain of high and resolute patriotism. He grasped the question, then pending between England and her Colonies, with the strength of a lion; and if he sometimes sported, it was only because the lion himself is sometimes playful. Its success appears to have been as great as its merits, and its impression was widely felt. Mr. Adams himself seems never to have lost the feeling it produced, and to have entertained constantly the fullest conviction of its important effects. "I do say," he observes, "in the most solemn manner, that Mr. Otis's Oration against Writs of Assistance, breathed into this nation the breath of life."
In 1765 Mr. Adams laid before the public, what I suppose to be his first printed performance, except essays for the periodical press, a Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law. The object of this work was to show that our New England ancestors, in consenting to exile themselves from their native land, were actuated, mainly, by the desire of delivering themselves from the power of the hierarchy, and from the monarchical and aristocratical political systems of the other continent; and to make this truth bear, with effect, on the politics of the times. Its tone is uncommonly bold and animated, for that period. He calls on the people, not only to defend, but to study and understand their rights and privileges; urges earnestly the necessity of diffusing general knowledge, invokes the clergy and the bar, the colleges and academies, and all others who have the ability and the means, to expose the insidious designs of arbitrary power, to resist its approaches, and to be persuaded that there is a settled design on foot to enslave all America. "Be it remembered," says the author, "that liberty must, at all hazards, be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned it, and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estate, their pleasure and their blood. And liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the character and conduct of their rulers. Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents, and trustees of the people; and if the cause, the interest and trust, is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority, that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute other and better agents, attorneys and trustees."
The citizens of this town conferred on Mr. Adams his first political distinction, and clothed him with his first political trust, by electing him one of their representatives, in 1770. Before this time he had become extensively known throughout the province, as well by the part he had acted in relation to public affairs, as
by the exercise of his professional ability. He was among those who took the deepest interest in the controversy with England, and whether in or out of the Legislature, his time and talents were alike devoted to the cause. In the years 1773 and 1774 he was chosen a counsellor, by the members of the General Court, but rejected by Governor Hutchinson, in the former of those years, and by Governor Gage in the latter.
The time was now at hand, however, when the affairs of the colonies urgently demanded united councils. An open rupture with the parent State appeared inevitable, and it was but the dictate of prudence, that those who were united by a common interest and a common danger, should protect that interest and guard against that danger, by united efforts. A general Congress of Delegates from all the colonics, having been proposed and agreed to, the House of Representatives, on the 17th of June 1774, elected JAMES BOWDOIN, THOMAS CUSHING, SAMUEL ADAMS, JOHN ADAMS, and ROBERT TREAT PAINE, delegates from Massachusetts. This appointment was made at Salem, where the General Court had been convened by Governor Gage, in the last hour of the existence of a House of Representatives under the provincial Charter. While engaged in this important business, the governor having been informed of what was passing, sent his secretary with a message dissolving the General Court. The secretary finding the door locked, directed the messenger to go in and inform the speaker that the secretary was at the door with a message from the governor. The messenger returned, and informed the secretary that the orders of the House were that the doors should be kept fast; whereupon the secretary soon after read a proclamation, dissolving the General Court upon the stairs. Thus terminated, forever, the actual exercise of the political power of England in or over Massachusetts. The four last named delegates accepted their appointments, and took their seats in Congress, the first day of its meeting, September 5, 1774, in Philadelphia.
The proceedings of the first Congress are well known, and have been universally admired. It is in vain that we would look for superior proofs of wisdom, talent, and patriotism. Lord Chatham said, that for himself, he must declare, that he had studied and admired the free states of antiquity, the master states of the world, but that for solidity of reasoning, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion, no body of men could stand in preference to this Congress. It is hardly inferior praise to say, that no production of that great man himself can be pronounced superior to several of the papers published as the proceedings of this most able, most firm, most patriotic assembly. There is, indeed, nothing superior to them in the range of political disquisition. They not only embrace, illustrate, and enforce everything which political philosophy, the love of liberty, and the spirit of free inquiry had antecedently produced, but they add new and striking views of their own, and apply the whole, with irresistible force, in support of the cause which had drawn them together.
Mr. Adams was a constant attendant on the deliberations of this body, and bore an active part in its important measures. He was
of the committee to state the rights of the colonies, and of that also which reported the address to the king.
As it was in the continental Congress, fellow citizens, that those whose deaths have given rise to this occasion, were first brought together, and called on to unite their industry and their ability, in the service of the country, let us now turn to the other of these distinguished men, and take a brief notice of his life, up to the period when he appeared within the walls of Congress.
THOMAS JEFFERSON, descended from ancestors who had been settled in Virginia for some generations, was born near the spot on which he died, in the county of Albemarle, on the 2d of April, (Old Style,) 1743. His youthful studies were pursued in the neighbourhood of his father's residence, until he was removed to the college of William and Mary, the highest honors of which he in due time received. Having left the college with reputation, he applied himself to the study of the law, under the tuition of George Wythe, one of the highest judicial names of which that State can boast. At an early age he was elected a member of the Legislature, in which he had no sooner appeared than he distinguished himself, by knowledge, capacity, and promptitude.
Mr. Jefferson appears to have been imbued with an early love of letters and science, and to have cherished a strong disposition to pursue these objects. To the physical sciences, especially, and to ancient classic literature, he is understood to have had a warm attachment, and never entirely to have lost sight of them, in the midst of the busiest occupations. But the times were times for action, rather than for contemplation. The country was to be defended, and to be saved, before it could be enjoyed. Philosophic leisure and literary pursuits, and even the objects of professional attention, were all necessarily postponed to the urgent calls of the public service. The exigency of the country made the same demand on Mr. Jefferson that it made on others who had the ability and the disposition to serve it; and he obeyed the call; thinking and feeling, in this respect, with the great Roman orator; Quis enim est tam cupidus in perspicienda cognoscendaque rerum natura, ut, si ei tractanti conte plantique res cognitione dignissimas subito sit allatum periculum discrimenque patriæ, cui subvenire opitularique possit, non illa omnia relinquat atque abjiciat, etiam si dinumerare se stellas, aut metiri mundi magnitudinem posse arbitretur?
Entering, with all his heart, into the cause of liberty, his ability, patriotism, and power with the pen naturally drew upon him a large participation in the most important concerns. Wherever he was, there was found a soul devoted to the cause, power to defend and n.untain it, and willingness to incur all its hazards. In 1774 he published a Summary View of the Rights of British America, a valuable production among those intended to show the dangers which threatened the liberties of the country, and to encourage the people in their defence. In June 1775 he was elected a member of the Continental Congress, as successor to PEYTON RANDOLPH, who had retired on account of ill health, and took his seat in that body on the 21st of the same month.
And now, fellow citizens, without pursuing the biography of these illustrious men further, for the present, let us turn our attention to the most prominent act of their lives, their participation in the DECLARATION of INDEPENDENCE.
Preparatory to the introduction of that important measure, a committee, at the head of which was Mr. Adams, had reported a resolution, which Congress adopted the 10th of May, recommending, in substance, to all the colonies which had not already established governments suited to the exigencies of their affairs, to adopt such gorernment, as would, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, and America in general.
This significant vote was soon followed by the direct proposition, which RICHARD HENRY LEE had the honor to submit to Congress, by resolution, on the 7th day of June. The published journal does not expressly state it, but there is no doubt, I suppose, that this resolution was in the same words, when originally submitted by Mr. Lee, as when finally passed. Having been discussed, on Saturday the 8th, and Monday the 10th of June, this resolution was on the last mentioned day postponed, for further consideration, to the first day of July; and, at the same time it was voted, that a committee be appointed to prepare a DECLARATION, to the effect of the resolution. This committee was elected by ballot, on the following day, and consisted of THOMAS JEFFERSON, JOHN ADAMS, BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, ROGER SHERMAN, and ROBERT R. LIVINGSTON.
It is usual, when committees are elected by ballot, that their members are arranged, in order, according to the number of votes which each has received. Mr. Jefferson, therefore, had received the highest, and Mr. Adams the next highest number of votes. The difference is said to have been but of a single vote. Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Adams, standing thus at the head of the committee, were requested, by the other members, to act as a sub-committee, to prepare the draught; and Mr. Jefferson drew up the paper. The original draught, as brought by him from his study, and submitted to the other members of the committee, with interlineations in the handwriting of Dr. Franklin, and others in that of Mr. Adams, was in Mr. Jefferson's possession at the time of his death. The merit of this paper is Mr. Jefferson's. Some changes were made in it, on the suggestion of other members of the committee, and others by Congress while it was under discussion. But none of them altered the tone, the frame, the arrangement, or the general character of the instrument. As a composition, the declaration is Mr. Jefferson's. It is the production of his mind, and the high honor of it belongs to him, clearly and absolutely.
It has sometimes been said, as if it were a derogation from the merits of this paper, that it contains nothing new; that it only states grounds of proceeding, and presses topics of argument, which had often been stated and pressed before. But it was not the object of the declaration to produce anything new. It was not to invent reasons for independence, but to state those which governed the Congress. For great and sufficient causes, it was proposed to declare independence; and the proper business of the paper to be
drawn, was to set forth those causes, and justify the authors of the measure, in any event of fortune, to the country, and to posterity. The cause of American independence, moreover, was now to be presented to the world, in such manner, if it might so be, as to engage its sympathy, to command its respect, to attract its admiration; and in an assembly of most able and distinguished men, THOMAS JEFFERSON had the high honor of being the selected advocate of this cause. To say that he performed his great work well, would be doing him injustice. To say that he did excellently well, admirably well, would be inadequate and halting praise. Let us rather say, that he so discharged the duty assigned him, that all Americans may well rejoice that the work of drawing the title deed of their liberties devolved on his hands.
With all its merits, there are those who have thought that there was one thing in the declaration to be regretted; and that is, the asperity and apparent anger with which it speaks of the person of the king; the industrious ability with which it accumulates and charges upon him, all the injuries which the colonies had suffered from the mother country. Possibly some degree of injustice, now or hereafter, at home or abroad, may be done to the character of Mr. Jefferson, if this part of the declaration be not placed in its proper light. Anger or resentment, certainly, much less personal reproach and invective, could not properly find place, in a composition of such high dignity, and of such lofty and permanent char
A single reflection on the original ground of dispute, between England and the colonies, is sufficient to remove any unfavorable impression, in this respect.
The inhabitants of all the colonies, while colonies, admitted themselves bound by their allegiance to the king; but they disclaimed, altogether, the authority of parliament; holding themselves, in this respect, to resemble the condition of Scotland and Ireland, before the respective unions of those kingdoms with England, when they acknowledged allegiance to the same king, but each had its separate legislature. The tie, therefore, which our revolution was to break, did not subsist between us and the British parliament, or between us and the British government, in the aggregate; but directly between us and the king himself. The colonies had never admitted themselves subject to parliament. That was precisely the point of the original controversy. They had uniformly denied that parliament had authority to make laws for them. There was, therefore, no subjection to parliament to be thrown off. But allegiance to the king did exist, and had been uniformly acknowledged; and down * Thus question, of the power of parliament over the colonies, was discussed with sirguv, by Gov. Hutchins n on the one side, and the house of representatives of M ́asne other, in 1773. The argument of the House is in the form of an wer sae, and was repered by Mr. Samuel Adams, Mr. Hancock, Mr. Hows, Mr boses, Mr. Hobson, Mr. Foster, Mr. Phillips, and Mr. Thayer. As the ponor of the palilament had been acknowl ged, so far at least as to affect us by laws of
it was betray to strle the ine of distraction. It was thought however to be very er, that the chapters of the colonies had excrapted thea from the general legislation of tim. Brután pardament. Dee Massachusetts Stite Papers, p. 351.