Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
[merged small][ocr errors]

performed the journey together on horseback. It was a noble companionship. Henry was then in the youthful vigour and elasticity of his bounding genius; ardent, acute, fanciful, eloquent. Pendleton, schooled in public life, a veteran in council, with native force of intellect, and habits of deep reflection. Washington in the meridian of his days, mature in wisdom, comprehensive in mind, sagacious in foresight. Such were the apostles of liberty, repairing on their august pilgrimage to Philadelphia from all parts of the land, to lay the foundations of a mighty empire. Well may we say of that eventful period, "There were giants in those days."

Congress assembled on Monday, the fifth of September, in a large room in Carpenter's Hall. There were fifty-one delegates, representing all the colonics excepting Georgia.

The meeting has been described as "awfully solemn." The most eminent men of the various colonies, were now for the first time brought together; they were known to each other by fame, but were, personally, strangers. The object which had called them together, was of incalculable magnitude. The liberties of no less than three millions oi people, with .that of all their posterity, were staked on the wisdom and energy of their councils.1

"It is such an assembly," writes John Adams, who was present, "as never before came together on a sudden, in any part of the world. Here are fortunes, abilities, learning, eloquence, acuteness, equal to any I ever met with in my life. Here is a diversity of religions, educations, manners, interests, such as it would seem impossible to unite in one plan of conduct."

There being an inequality in the number of delegates from the different colonies, a question arose as to the mode of voting; whether by colonies, by the poll, or by interests.

Patrick Henry scouted the idea of sectional distinctions or individual interests. "All America," said he, "is thrown into one mass. Where are your landmarks—your 1 oundaries of colonies? They are all thrown down. The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New

1 Wirt's Life of Patrick Henry, p. 224.

Yorkers and New Englaiiders, are no more. / am not a Virginian, but an American.""

After some debate, it was determined that each colony should have but one vote, whatever might be the number of its delegates. The deliberations of the House were to be with closed doors, and nothing but the resolves promulgated, unless by order of the majority.

To give proper dignity and solemnity to the proceedings of the House it was moved on the following day, that each morning the session should be opened by prayer. To this it was demurred, that as the delegates were of different religious sects, they might not consent to join in the same form of worship.

Upon this, Mr. Samuel Adams arose and said: "He would willingly join in prayer with any gentleman of piety and virtue, whatever might be his cloth, provided he was a friend of his country;" and he moved that the reverend Mr. Duche, of Philadelphia, who answered to that description, might be invited to officiate as chaplain. This was one step towards unanimity of feeling, Mr. Adams being a strong Congregationalist, and Mr. Duche an eminent Episcopalian clergyman. The motion was carried into effect; the invitation was given and accepted.

In the course of the day, a rumour reached Philadelphia that Boston had been cannonaded by the British. It produced a strong sensation; and when Congress met on the following morning (7th), the effect was visible in every countenance. The delegates from the east were greeted with a warmer grasp of the hand by their associates from the south.

The reverend Mr. Duche1, according to invitation, appeared in his canonicals, attended by his clerk. The morning service of the Episcopal church was read with great solemnity, the clerk making the responses. The Psalter for the 7th day of the month includes the 35th Psalm, wherein David prays for protection against his enemies. "Plead my cause, 0 Lord, with. them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me.

"Take hold of shield and buckler and stand up for my help.

t 8 J. Adams' Diary.

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

"Draw out, also, the spear, and stop the way of them that persecute me. Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation," &c., &c.

The imploring words of this psalm spoke the feelings of all hearts present, but especially of those from New England. John Adams writes in a letter to his wife: "You must remember this was the morning after we heard the horrible rumour of the cannonade of Boston. I never saw a greater effect upon an audience. It seemed as if heaven had ordained that psalm to be read on that morning. After this, Mr. Duche unexpectedly struck out into an extemporary prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present. Episcopalian as he is, Dr. Cooper himself never prayed with such fervour, such ardour, such earnestness and pathos, and in language so eloquent and sublime, for America, for the Congress, for the province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially the town of Boston. It has had an excellent effect upon everybody here." 3

It has been remarked that Washington was especially devout on this occasion—kneeling, while others stood up. In this, however, each, no doubt, observed the attitude in prayer to which he was accustomed. Washington knelt, being an Episcopalian.

The rumoured attack upon Boston rendered the service of the day deeply affecting to all present. They were one political family, actuated by one feeling, and sympathizing with the weal and woe of each individual member. The rumour proved to be erroneous; but it had produced a most beneficial effect in calling forth and quickening the spirit of union, so vitally important in that assemblage.

Owing to closed doors, and the want of reporters, no record exists of the discussions and speeches made in the first Congress. Mr. Wirt, speaking from tradition, informs us that a long and deep silence followed the organization of that august body; the members looking round upon each other, individually reluctant to open a business so fearfully momentous. This "deep and death-like silence" was beginning to become painfully embarrassing, when Patrick Henry arose. He faltered at first, as was his

* John Adams' Correspondence and Diary.

habit; but his exordium was impressive; and as he launched forth into a recital of colonial wrongs he kindled with his subject, until he poured forth one of those eloquent appeals which had so often shaken the House of Burgesses and gained him the fame of being the greatest orator of Virginia. He sat down, according to Mr. Wirt, amidst murmurs of astonishment and applause, and was now admitted, on every hand, to be the first orator of America. He was followed by Eichard Henry Lee, who, according to the same writer, charmed the house with a different kind of eloquence, chaste and classical; contrasting, in its cultivated graces, with the wild and grand effusions of Henry. "The superior powers of these great men, however," adds he, "were manifested only in debate, and while general grievances were the topic; when called down from the heights of declamation to that severer test of intellectual excellence, the details of business, they found themselves in a body of cool-headed, reflecting, and most able men, by whom they were, in their turn, completely thrown into the shade."4

The first public measure of Congress was a resolution declaratory of their feelings with regard to the recent acts of Parliament, violating the rights of the people of Massachusetts, and of their determination to combine in resisting any force that might attempt to carry those acts into execution.

A committee of two from each province reported a series of resolutions, which were adopted and promulgated by Congress, as a "declaration of colonial rights." In this were enumerated their natural rights to the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property; and their rights as British subjects. Among the latter was participation in legislative councils. This they could not exercise through representatives in Parliament; they claimed, therefore, the power of legislating in their provincial assemblies; consenting, however, to such acts of Parliament as might be essential to the regulation of trade; but excluding all taxation, internal or jxternal, for raising revenue in America.

The common law of England was claimed as a birthright,

4 Wirt's Life of Patrick Henry.

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

including the right of trial by a jury of the vicinage; of holding public meetings to consider grievances; and of petitioning the king. The benefits of all such statutes as existed at the time of the colonization were likewise claimed; together with the immunities and privileges granted by royal charters, or secured by provincial laws.

The maintenance of a standing army in any colony in time of peace, without the consent of its legislature, was pronounced contrary to law. The exercise of the legislative power in the colonies by a council appointed during pleasure by the crown, was declared to be unconstitutional, and destructive to the freedom of American legislation.

Then followed a specification of the acts of Parliament, passed during the reign of George III., infringing and violating these rights. These were: the sugar act; the stamp act; the two acts for quartering troops; the tea act; the act suspending the New York legislature; the two acts for the trial in Great Britain of offences committed in America; the Boston Port Bill; the act for regulating the government of Massachusetts, and the Quebec act.

"To these grievous acts and measures," it was added, "Americans cannot submit; but in hopes their fellow subjects in Great Britain will, on a revision of them, restore us to that state in which both countries found happiness and prosperity, we have, for the present, only resolved to pursue the following peaceable measures:

"1st. To enter into a non-importation, non-consumption, and non-exportation agreement, or association.

"2nd. To prepare an address to the people of Great Britain, and a memorial to the inhabitants of British America.

"3rd. To prepare a loyal address to his majesty."

The above-mentioned association was accordingly formed, and committees were to be appointed in every county, city, and town, to maintain it vigilantly and strictly.

Masterly state papers were issued by Congress in conformity to the resolutions: viz., a petition to the king, drafted by Mr. Dickinson, of Philadelphia; an address to the people of Canada by the same hand, inviting them to join the league of the colonies; another to the people of Great Britain, drafted by John Jay, of New York; and a

« ZurückWeiter »