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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 gouernment, 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
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
paper. The 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 character.
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 to 1775 the most solemn assurances had been given that it was not intended to break that allegiance, or to throw it off. Therefore, as the direct object, and only effect of the declaration, according to the principles on which the controversy had been maintained, on our part, was to sever the tie of allegiance which bound us to the king, it was properly and necessarily founded on acts of the crown itself, as its justifying causes. Parliament is not so much as mentioned, in the whole instrument. When odious and oppressive acts are referred to, it is done by charging the king with confederating, with others,
* This qnestion, of the power of parliament over the colonies, was discussed with singular ability, by Gov. Hutchinson on the one side, and the house of representatives of Massachusetts on the other, in 1773. The argument of the House is in the form of an answer to the governor's message, and was reported by Mr. Samuel Adams, Mr. Hancock, Mr. Hawley, Mr. Bowers, Mr. Hobson, Mr. Foster, Mr. Phillips, and Mr. Thayer. As the power of the parliament had been acknowledged, so far at least as to affect us by laws of trade, it was not easy to settle the line of distinction. It was thought however to be very clear, that the charters of the colonies had exempted them from the general legislation of the British parliament. See Massachusetts State Papers, p. 351.
in pretended acts of legislation;" the object being, constantly, to hold the king himself directly responsible for those measures which were the grounds of separation. Even the precedent of the English revolution was not overlooked, and in this case, as well as in that, occasion was found to say that the king had abdicated the government. Consistency with the principles upon which resistance began, and with all the previous state papers issued by Congress, required that.the declaration should be bottomed on the misgovernment of the king; and therefore it was properly framed with that aim and to that end. The king was known, indeed, to have acted, as in other cases, by his ministers, and with his parliament; but as our ancestors had never admitted themselves subject either to ministers or to parliament, there were no reasons to be given for now refusing obedience to their authority. This clear and obvious necessity of founding the declaration on the misconduct of the king himself, gives to that instrument its personal application, and its character of direct and pointed accusation.
The declaration having been reported to Congress, by the committee, the resolution itself was taken up and debated on the first day of July, and again on the second, on which last day it was agreed to and adopted, in these words,
Resolved, That THESE UNITED COLONIES ARE, AND OF Right ought TO BE, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; THAT THEY ARE ABSOLVED FROM ALL ALLEGIANCE TO THE BRITISH CROWN, AND THAT ALL POLITICAL CONNEXION BETWEEN THEM, AND THE STATE OF GREAT BRITAIN IS, AND OUGHT TO BE, TOTALLY DISSOLVED.
Having thus passed the main resolution, Congress proceeded to consider the reported draught of the declaration. It was discussed on the second, and third, and fourth days of the month, in committee of the whole; and on the last of those days, being reported from that committee, it received the final approbation and sanction of Congress. It was ordered, at the same time, that copies be sent to the several States, and that it be proclaimed at the head of the army. The declaration thus published, did not bear the names of the members, for as yet it had not been signed by them.
It was authenticated, like other papers of the Congress, by the signatures of the president and secretary. On the 19th of July, as appears by the secret journal, Congress “Resolved, that the declaration, passed on the fourth, be fairly engrossed on parchment, with the title and style of “The UNANIMOUS DECLARATION OF THE THIRTEEN United States of AmeriCA;' and that the same, when engrossed, be signed by every member of Congress.” And on the second DAY OF August, following, “the declaration, being engrossed and compared at the table, was signed by the members.” So that it happens, fellow citizens, that we pay these honors to their memory, on the anniversary of that day, on which these great men actually signed their names to the declaration. The declaration was thus made, that is, it passed, and was adopted, as an act of Congress, on the fourth of July; it was then signed and certified by the president and secretary, like other acts. The Fourth of July, therefore, is the ANNIVERSARY OF THE DECLARATION, But the signatures of the members present were made to it, being then engrossed on parchment, on the second day of August. Absent members afterwards signed, as they came in; and indeed it bears the names of some who were not chosen members of Congress, until after the fourth of July. The interest belonging to the subject, will be sufficient, I hope, to justify these details.
The Congress of the Revolution, fellow citizens, sat with closed doors, and no report of its debates was ever taken. The discussion, therefore, which accompanied this great measure, has never been preserved, except in memory, and by tradition. But it is, I believe, doing no injustice to others, to say, that the general opinion was, and uniformly has been, that in debate, on the side of independence, John Adams had no equal. The great author of the declaration himself has expressed that opinion uniformly and strongly.
“John Adams,” said he, in the hearing of him who has now the honor to address you, “John Adams was our colossus on the floor. Not graceful, not elegant, not always fluent, in his public addresses, he yet came out with a power, both of thought and of expression, which moved us from our seats.”
For the part which he was here to perform, Mr. Adams doubtless was erninently fitted. He possessed a bold spirit, which disregarded danger, and a sanguine reliance on the goodness of the cause, and the virtues of the people, which led him to overlook all obstacles. His character, too, had been formed in troubled times. He had been rocked in the early storms of the controversy, and had acquired a decision and a hardihood, proportioned to the severity of the discipline which he had undergone.
He not only loved the American cause devoutly, but had studied and understood it. It was all familiar to him. He had tried his powers, on the questions which it involved, often, and in various ways; and had brought to their consideration whatever of argument or illustration the history of his own country, the history of England, or the stores of ancient or of legal learning could furnish. Every grievance, enumerated in the long catalogue of the declaration, had been the subject of his discussion, and the object of his remonstrance and reprobation. From 1760, the colonies, the rights of the colonies, the liberties of the colonies, and the wrongs inflicted on the colonies, had engaged his constant attention; and it has surprised those, who have had the opportunity of observing, with what full remembrance, and with what prompt recollection, he could refer, in his extreme old age, to every act of Parliament affecting the colonies, distinguishing and stating their respective titles, sections, and provisions; and to all the colonial memorials, remonstrances, and petitions, with whatever else belonged to the intimate and exact history of the times from that year to 1775. It was in his own judgment, between these years, that the American people came to a full understanding and thorough knowledge of their rights, and to a fixed resolution of maintaining them; and bearing himself an active part in all important transactions, the controversy with England being then, in effect, the business of his life, facts, dates and particulars made an impression which was never effaced. He was prepared, therefore, by education and discipline, as well as by natural talent and natural temperament, for the part which he was now to act.
The eloquence of Mr. Adams resembled his general character, and formed, indeed, a part of it. It was bold, manly, and energetic; and such the crisis required. When public bodies are to be addressed on momentous occasions, when great interests are at stake, and strong passions excited, nothing is valuable, in speech, farther than it is connected with high intellectual and moral endowments. Clearness, force, and earnestness are the qualities which produce conviction. True eloquence, indeed, does not consist in speech. It cannot be brought from far. Labor and learning may toil for it, but they will toil in vain. Words and phrases may be marshalled in every way, but they cannot compass it. It must exist in the man, in the subject, and in the occasion. Affected passion, intense expression, the pomp of declamation, all may aspire after it-they cannot reach it. It comes, if it come at all, like the outbreaking of a fountain from the earth, or the bursting forth of volcanic fires, with spontaneous, original, native force. The graces taught in the schools, the costly ornaments, and studied contrivances of speech, shock and disgust men, when their own lives, and the fate of their wives, their children, and their country, hang on the decision of the hour. Then words have lost their power, rhetoric is vain, and all elaborate oratory contemptible. Even genius itself then feels rebuked, and subdued, as in the presence of higher qualities. Then, patriotism is eloquent; then, self-devotion is eloquent. The clear conception, outrunning the deductions of logic, the high purpose, the firm resolve, the dauntless spirit, speaking on the tongue, beaming from the eye, informing every feature, and urging the whole man onward, right onward to his object—this, this is eloquence; or rather it is something greater and higher than all eloquence, it is action, noble, sublime, godlike action.
In July 1776, the controversy had passed the stage of argument. An appeal had been made to force, and opposing armies were in the field. Congress, then, was to decide whether the tie which had so long bound us to the parent state, was to be severed at once, and severed forever. All the colonies had signified their resolution to abide by this decision, and the people looked for it with the most intense anxiety. And surely, fellow citizens, never, never were men called to a more important political deliberation. If we contemplate it from the point where they then stood, no question could be more full of interest; if we look at it now, and judge of its importance by its effects, it appears in still greater magnitude.
Let us, then, bring before us the assembly, which was about to decide a question thus big with the fate of empire. Let us open their doors, and look in upon their deliberations. Let us survey the