« PreviousContinue »
of that day, Mr. Turgot, the Abbé de Mably, and Dr. Price, at a time when the people of the United States were employed in forming and revising their systems of government.
Returning to the United States in 1788, he found the new government about going into operation, and was himself elected the first Vice-President, a situation which he filled with reputation for eight years, at the expiration of which he was raised to the Presidential chair, as immediate successor to the immortal Washington. In this high station he was succeeded by Mr. Jefferson, after a memorable controversy, between their respective friends, in 1801; and from that period his manner of life has been known to all who hear me. He has lived, for five and twenty years, with every enjoyment that could render old age happy. Not inattentive to the occurrences of the times, political cares have yet not materially, or for any long time, disturbed his repose. In 1820 he acted as elector of President and Vice-President, and in the same year we saw him, then at the age of eighty-five, a member of the convention of this Commonwealth, called to revise the constitution. Forty years before, he had been one of those who formed that Constitution; and he had now the pleasure of witnessing that there was little which the people desired to change. Possessing all his faculties to the end of his long life, with an unabated love of reading and contemplation, in the centre of interesting circles of friendship and affection, he was blessed, in his retirement, with whatever of repose and felicity, the condition of man allows. He had, also, other enjoyments. He saw around him that prosperity and general happiness, which had been the object of his public cares and labors. No man ever beheld more clearly, and for a longer time, the great and beneficial effects of the services rendered by himself to his country. That liberty, which he so early defended, that independence of which he was so able an advocate and supporter, he saw, we trust, firmly and securely established. The population of the country thickened around him faster, and extended wider, than his own sanguine predictions had anticipated; and the wealth, respectability, and power of the nation sprang up to a magnitude, which it is quite impossible he could have expected to witness, in his day. He lived, also, to behold those principles of civil freedom, which had been developed, established, and pratically applied in America, attract attention, command respect, and awaken imitation, in other regions of the globe: and well might, and well did he, exclaim, "Where will the consequences of the American Revolution end!
If anything yet remain to fill this cup of happiness, let it be added, that he lived to see a great and intelligent people bestow the highest honor in their gift, where he had bestowed his own kindest parental affections, and lodged his fondest hopes. Thus honored in life, thus happy at death, he saw the JUBILEE, and he died; and with the last prayers which trembled on his lips, was the fervent supplication for his country, "independence forever."
Mr. Jefferson, having been occupied in the years 1778 and 1779, in the important service of revising the laws of Virginia, was elected governor of that State, as successor to Patrick Henry, and held the situation when the State was invaded by the British arms.
In 1781 he published his Notes on Virginia, a work which attracted attention in Europe as well as America, dispelled many misconceptions respecting this Continent, and gave its author a place among men distinguished for science. In November 1783, he again took his seat in the Continental Congress, but in the May following was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary, to act abroad, in the negotiation of commercial treaties, with Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams. He proceeded to France, in execution of this mission, embarking at Boston; and that was the only occasion on which he ever visited this place. In 1785 he was appointed minister to France, the duties of which situation he continued to perform, until October 1789, when he obtained leave to retire, just on the eve of that tremendous Revolution which has so much agitated the world, in our times. Mr. Jefferson's discharge of his diplomatic duties was marked by great ability, diligence, and patriotism; and while he resided at Paris, in one of the most interesting periods, his character for intelligence, his love of knowledge, and of the society of learned men, distinguished him in the highest circles of the French capital. No court in Europe had, at that time, in Paris, a representative commanding or enjoying higher regard, for political knowledge or for general attainment, than the minister of this then infant republic. Immediately on his return to his native country, at the organization of the government under the present Constitution, his talents and experience recommended him to President Washington, for the first office in his gift. He was placed at the head of the Department of State. In this situation, also, he manifested conspicuous ability. His correspondence with the ministers of other powers residing here, and his instructions to our own diplomatic agents abroad, are among our ablest State Papers. A thorough knowledge of the laws and usages of nations, perfect acquaintance with the immediate subject before him, great felicity, and still greater facility, in writing, show themselves in whatever effort his official situation called on him to make. It is believed, by competent judges, that the diplomatic intercourse of the government of the United States, from the first meeting of the Continental Congress in 1774 to the present time, taken together, would not suffer, in respect to the talent with which it has been conducted, by comparison with anything which other and older states can produce; and to the attainment of this respectability and distinction, Mr. Jefferson has contributed his full part.
On the retirement of General Washington from the presidency, and the election of Mr. Adams to that office, in 1797, he was chosen Vice-President. While presiding, in this capacity, over the deliberations of the senate, he compiled and published a Manual of Parliamentary Practice, a work of more labor and more merit, than is indicated by its size. It is now received, as the general standard, by which proceedings are regulated, not only in both Houses of Congress, but in most of the other legislative bodies in the country. In 1801, he was elected President, in opposition to Mr. Adams, and re-elected in 1805, by a vote approaching towards unanimity.
From the time of his final retirement from public life, in 1808, Mr. Jefferson lived, as became a wise man. Surrounded by affectionate
friends, his ardor in the pursuit of knowledge undiminished, with uncommon health, and unbroken spirits, he was able to enjoy largely the rational pleasures of life, and to partake in that public prosperity, which he had so much contributed to produce. His kindness and hospitality, the charm of his conversation, the ease of his manners, the extent of his acquirements, and especially the full store of revolutionary incidents, which he possessed, and which he knew when and how to dispense, rendered his abode in a high degree attractive to his admiring countrymen, while his high public and scientific character drew towards him every intelligent and educated traveller from abroad. Both Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson had the pleasure of knowing that the respect, which they so largely received, was not paid to their official stations. They were not men made great by office; but great men, on whom the country for its own benefit had conferred office. There was that in them, which office did not give, and which the relinquishment of office did not, and could not, take away. In their retirement, in the midst of their fellow citizens, themselves private citizens, they enjoyed as high regard and esteem, as when filling the most important places of public trust.
There remained to Mr. Jefferson yet one other work of patriotism and beneficence, the establishment of a university in his native state. To this object he devoted years of incessant and anxious attention, and by the enlightened liberality of the legislature of Virginia, and the co-operation of other able and zealous friends, he lived to see it accomplished. May all success attend this infant seminary; and may those who enjoy its advantages, as often as their eyes shall rest on the neighbouring height, recollect what they owe to their disinterested and indefatigable benefactor; and may letters honor him who thus labored in the cause of letters.
Thus useful, and thus respected, passed the old age of Thomas Jefferson. But time was on its ever-ceaseless wing, and was now bringing the last hour of this illustrious man. He saw its approach, with undisturbed serenity. He counted the moments, as they passed, and beheld that his last sands were falling. That day, too, was at hand, which he had helped to make immortal. One wish, one hope-if it were not presumptuous-beat in his fainting breast. Could it be so-might it please God-he would desire--once more— to see the sun-once more to look abroad on the scene around him, on the great day of liberty. Heaven, in its mercy, fulfilled that prayer. He saw that sun-he enjoyed its sacred light-he thanked God, for this mercy, and bowed his aged head to the grave. Felix, non ritæ tantum claritate, sed etiam opportunitate mortis."
The last public labor of Mr. Jefferson naturally suggests the expression of the high praise which is due, both to him and to Mr. Adams, for their uniform and zealous attachment to learning, and to the cause of general knowledge. Of the advantages of learning, indeed, and of literary accomplishments, their own characters were striking recommendations, and illustrations. They were scholars, ripe and good scholars; widely acquainted with ancient, as well as modern literature, and not altogether uninstructed in the deeper sciences. Their acquirements, doubtless, were different, and so were the par
ticular objects of their literary pursuits; as their tastes and characters, in these respects, differed like those of other men. Being, also, men of busy lives, with great objects, requiring action, constantly before them, their attainments in letters did not become showy, or obtrusive. Yet, I would hazard the opinion, that if we could now ascertain all the causes which gave them eminence and distinction, in the midst of the great men with whom they acted, we should find, not among the least, their early acquisition in literature, the resources which it furnished, the promptitude and facility which it communicated, and the wide field it opened, for analogy and illustration; giving them, thus, on every subject, a larger view, and a broader range, as well for discussion, as for the government of their own conduct.
Literature sometimes, and pretensions to it much oftener, disgusts, by appearing to hang loosely on the character, like something foreign or extraneous, not a part, but an ill-adjusted appendage; or by seeming to overload and weigh it down, by its unsightly bulk, like the productions of bad taste in architecture, where there is massy and cumbrous ornament, without strength or solidity of column. This has exposed learning, and especially classical learning, to reproach. Men have seen that it might exist, without mental superiority, without vigor, without good taste, and without utility. But, in such cases, classical learning has only not inspired natural talent; or, at most, it has but made original feebleness of intellect, and natural bluntness of perception, something more conspicuous. The question, after all, if it be a question, is, whether literature, ancient as well as modern, does not assist a good understanding, improve natural good taste, add polished armor to native strength, and render its possessor, not only more capable of deriving private happiness from contemplation and reflection, but more accomplished, also, for action, in the affairs of life, and especially for public action. Those whose memories we now honor, were learned men; but their learning was kept in its proper place, and made subservient to the uses and objects of life. They were scholars not common, nor superficial; but their scholarship was so in keeping with their character, so blended and inwrought, that careless observers, or bad judges, not seeing an ostentatious display of it, might infer that it did not exist; forgetting, or not knowing, that classical learning, in men who act in conspicuous public stations, perform duties which exercise the faculty of writing, or address popular, deliberative, or judicial bodies, is often felt, where it is little seen, and sometimes felt more effectually, because it is not seen at all.
But the cause of knowledge, in a more enlarged sense, the cause of general knowledge and of popular education, had no warmer friends, nor more powerful advocates, than Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson. On this foundation, they knew, the whole republican system rested; and this great and all-important truth they strove to impress, by all the means in their power. In the early publication, already referred to, Mr. Adams expresses the strong and just sentiment, that the education of the poor is more important, even to the rich themselves, than all their own riches. On this great truth, in
deed, is founded that unrivalled, that invaluable political and moral institution, our own blessing, and the glory of our fathers, the New England system of free schools.
As the promotion of knowledge had been the object of their regard through life, so these great men made it the subject of their testamentary bounty. Mr. Jefferson is understood to have bequeathed his library to the university, and that of Mr. Adams is bestowed on the inhabitants of Quincy.
Mr. Adams, and Mr. Jefferson, fellow citizens, were successively Presidents of the United States. The comparative merits of their respective administrations for a long time agitated and divided public opinion. They were rivals, each supported by numerous and powerful portions of the people, for the highest office. This contest, partly the cause, and partly the consequence, of the long existence of two great political parties in the country, is now part of the history of our government. We may naturally regret, that anything should have occurred to create difference and discord, between those who had acted harmoniously and efficiently in the great concerns of the revolution. But this is not the time, nor this the occasion, for entering into the grounds of that difference, or for attempting to discuss the merits of the questions which it involves. As practical questions, they were canvassed, when the measures which they regarded were acted on and adopted; and as belonging to history, the time has not come for their consideration.
It is, perhaps, not wonderful, that when the Constitution of the United States went first into operation, different opinions should be entertained, as to the extent of the powers conferred by it. Here was a natural source of diversity of sentiment. It is still less wonderful, that that event, about contemporary with our government, under the present Constitution, which so entirely shocked all Europe, and disturbed our relations with her leading powers, should be thought, by different men, to have different bearings on our own prosperity; and that the early measures, adopted by our government, in consequence of this new state of things, should be seen in opposite lights. It is for the future historian, when what now remains of prejudice and misconception shall have passed away, to state these different opinions, and pronounce impartial judgment. In the meantime, all good men rejoice, and well may rejoice, that the sharpest differences sprung out of measures, which, whether right or wrong, have ceased, with the exigencies that gave them birth, and have left no permanent effect, either on the Constitution, or on the general prosperity of the country. This remark, I am aware, may be supposed to have its exception, in one measure, the alteration of the Constitution, as to the mode of choosing President; but it is true, in its general application. Thus the course of policy pursued towards France, in 1798, on the one hand, and the measures of commercial restriction, commenced in 1807, on the other, both subjects of warm and severe opposition, have passed away, and left nothing behind them. They were temporary, and whether wise or unwise, their consequences were limited to their respective occasions. It is equally clear, at the same time, and it is equally gratifying, that those measures of