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study of law under chancellor Wythe, whose liberal views were well calculated to strengthen and mature those already preponderating in the mind of Jefferson. With regard to the oppressions of the mother country, and the justice and necessity of resistance by the colonies, their kindred bosoms were in unison. By a thorough investigation of the science of law and government, Jefferson soon became prepared to enter upon the great theatre of public action, and into the service of his injured country. Planting himself upon the broad basis of Magna Charta, encircling himself within the pale of the British constitution, he demonstrated most clearly, that the ministry of the crown had long been advancing, with rapid strides, beyond the bounds of their legitimate authority, by exercising a tyrannical power over the American colonies, not delegated to them by the monarchy they corruptly represented. So conclusive and luminous were his expositions of chartered rights on the one hand, and of accumulating wrongs on the other, that he soon became the nucleus of a band of patriots, resolved on deeds of noble daring-on liberty or death.
At the age of twenty-two, he was elected to the provincial legislature, and commissioned a justice of the peace, which gave him an opportunity of disseminating his liberal principles to a considerable extent. He proclaimed himself the unyielding advocate of equal rights, and had engraved upon his watch seal as his motto, "Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God."
By his eloquence and unanswerable reasoning, he soon kindled the flame of opposition in old Virginia, which increased as tyranny advanced; and, in 1769, assumed the shape of a resolution, offered and advocated by Mr. Jefferson in the legislature, not to import a single article from Great Britain. The boldness and firmness with which he maintained his position, astonished the adherents of the crown, and gave a fresh impetus to the glorious cause then in embryo. With ample pecuniary means, with talents unsurpassed, his soul illumined with the fire of patriotism, his indignation roused against the hirelings of the king, his sympathies excited by the sufferings of his country, Mr. Jefferson was well calculated to become one of the master spirits of the revolution; one of the giant champions of universal freedom; a pillar of fire in the cause of liberty, flashing terror and dismay into the ranks of his enemies.
The plan of organizing committees of correspondence throughout the colonies, was devised by him in the early part of 1773, and proved eminently useful in producing unity of sentiment and concert of action among the patriots. About that time, he wrote and published "A Summary View of the Rights of British America," which also set forth the wrongs inflicted upon his countrymen, in bold and glowing colours. This he addressed to the king in respectful, but plain and impressive language, in the following eloquent strain. "Open your breast, Sire, to liberal and expanded thought. It behooves you to think and act for your people. The great principles of right and wrong are legible to every reader: to peruse them, needs not the aid of many counsellors. The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest," etc.
So exasperated was Lord Dunmore on perusing this article, that he threatened to arrest its author for high treason. Written and published during the session of the legislature of which Mr. Jefferson was an influential member, and finding that resolutions had been passed by the representatives, quite as treasonable in their character as the publication in question, his lordship immediately dissolved the farther action of that body.
The following year, the British ministry, in answer to petitions for redress of grievances, sent to the assembly of the Old Dominion, a series of propositions that they termed conciliatory, but which, in truth, added insult to injury. Their hypocrisy and fallacy were unmasked and exposed by Mr. Jefferson, in a masterly strain of eloquent and withering logic and sarcasm, that carried conviction to a large majority of his colleagues. They were referred to a committee, which reported an answer, drawn by the author of the declaration of independence, similar, in its main features, to that much admired document, which was immediately adopted. The ball of resistance was put in motion, the electric fluid of patriotism commenced its insulating powers in the north and in the south; and, extending from sire to from heart to heart, the two streams met in the centre, and rising in grandeur, formed the beautiful and luminous arch of FREEDOM, with its chord extending from Maine to Georgia, its versed sine resting upon the city of Penn. Under its zenith, at the city of Philadelphia, the continental congress convened, in which Thomas Jefferson took his seat on the 21st of June, 1775. Although one of the youngest members of that venerated assemblage of sages and patriots, he was hailed as one of its main pillars. Known as a man of superior intelligence, of liberal sentiments, of strict integrity, of stern republicanism, and of unbending patriotism, his influence was strongly felt and judiciously exercised. From the beginning, he advocated a separation from the mother country, and met, at the threshold, every argument that was urged against it. He considered that allegiance to the crown had been dissolved by oppression, and the original contract cancelled by American blood. Submission was no longer a virtue; the measure of wrongs was filled and overflowing; public sentiment demanded the dissolution of the gordian knot; and a voice from heaven proclaimed, "let my people go."
The following year, the declaration of independence was proposed, and Mr. Jefferson appointed chairman of the committee to draft a form. He was requested, by his colleagues, to prepare the important document. He performed the task with a boldness of design, and beauty of execution, before unknown and yet unrivalled. The result of his labour is before the world. Admiring nations have united in applauding the declaration of our rights, penned by Jefferson, and sanctioned by the continental congress on the 4th of July, 1776. As a master piece of composition, as a clear and lucid exposition of the rights of man, the principles of free government, the sufferings of an oppressed people, the abuses of a corrupt ministry, and the effects of monarchy upon the destinies of man, it stands unequalled. Pure in its origin, graphic in its delineations, noble in its features, glorious in its career, benign in its influence, and salutary in its results, it has
become the chart of patriots throughout the civilized world. It is the ne plus ultra* of a gigantic mind, elevated to a lofty eminence by the finest touches of Creative Power; displaying its boldest efforts, its brightest conceptions, its holiest zeal, its purest desires, and its happiest conclusions. It combines the attributes of justice, the flowers of eloquence, the force of logic, and the soul of wisdom. It is the grand palladium of equal RIGHTS, the polar star of rational LIBERTY, the Magna Charta of universal FREEDOM, and has crowned the name of its author with laurels of immortal fame.
In the autumn of 1776, Mr. Jefferson, in conjunction with Dr. Franklin and Dr. Deane, was appointed a commissioner to the court of France, for the purpose of forming a treaty of alliance. Ill health of himself and family, and an urgent necessity for his services in his native state, induced him to decline the proffered honour, and also to resign his seat in congress.
He was immediately elected a member of the first legislature of Virginia convened under its new constitution, and was looked upon as one of the main bulwarks of her future safety. After taking his seat in that body, his first business was, to demolish the superstructure of the judicial code, that had been reared, either by, or under the supervision of the British parliament. Although sustained and aided by able and willing colleagues, the great work of revision fell most heavily upon him. The first bill he introduced was aimed at the slave trade, and prohibited the farther importation of negroes into Virginia. This act alone is a triumphant confutation of the accusation often reiterated against Mr. Jefferson, that he was an advocate of slavery. To its principles he was always opposed, and submitted to it practically only by entail. That he struck the first blow at the unhallowed trade of importing human beings for the purpose of consigning them to bondage, is a fact beyond dispute. That this was the first grand step towards a correction of the most cruel features of the traffic, will not be denied. To transfer those born in America, from one state to another, bears no comparison to the heart-rending barbarity of dragging the African from his native home.
He next introduced and effected the passage of bills destroying entails, the rights of primogeniture, the church as established by the English law; and also various others, calculated to assimilate the entire system of jurisprudence in the state, to its new and republican form of government; amounting, in all, to one hundred and twentysix, most of which were passed, and form the present much admired statutory code of Virginia.
In 1779, he was called to the gubernatorial chair of the Old Dominion, surrounded by dangers and perils on every side. The British troops, headed by the proud Tarleton and the traitor Arnold, were spreading death and destruction over the state, and contemplated the capture of Jefferson, to cap the climax of their triumphant victories. Terror and dismay were depicted on the faces of the more timid patriots, whilst many of the bolder spirits were much alarmed at the approach of these merciless foes. But the energy and vigilance of the
* Nothing beyond-the utmost point.
governor were found equal to every emergency. He rallied the bone and sinew of old Virginia, who with hearts of oak and nerves of steel," checked the enemy in their bold career of indiscriminate slaughter. He imparted confidence and vigour to the desponding, and roused them to bold and noble action. He dispersed the dark and gloomy clouds that hung over his bleeding state, and inspired the friends of liberty with fresh and cheering hopes of ultimate success. So highly were his services appreciated during the eventful period of his administration, that the members of the legislature entered upon their records an unanimous vote of thanks to him, for the able and efficient manner he had performed his public duties, expressing their high opinion of his superior talents, strict rectitude, and stern integrity.
In 1783, Thomas Jefferson again took his seat in congress, and became one of its brightest ornaments. The chaste and moving address from that body to Washington, when he surrendered his commission, was from the soul-stirring pen of Jefferson. He was chairman of the committee appointed to form a plan of territorial government for the extensive regions of the then "far west." True to his favourite principle of finally emancipating the sable African, he introduced a clause prohibiting slavery after the year 1800, in any of the territories, or states that should be formed from them.
In May, 1784, Mr. Jefferson was appointed a minister plenipotentiary, to aid Messrs. Adams and Franklin, in the important duties of negotiating treaties of commerce with several European nations. He embarked in July following for France, and arrived there on the 6th of August. During his stay he visited several of the foreign courts, but spent the largest portion of his time in Paris. He commanded the highest respect and esteem wherever he went. He was made a welcome guest in the halls of literature, legislation, and jurisprudence. He was received with marked distinction by courtiers and kings, and effected much towards the promotion of the commercial interests of the infant Republic he so ably represented.
He was at Paris when the French revolution commenced, and was often consulted by the leading members of the national convention, relative to the best course to be pursued, in order to establish their government upon the firm basis of republicanism. So far as was consistent with his situation, he gave his opinion freely in favour of rational liberty.
On the 23d of November, 1789, he returned to his native land, and was received with great enthusiasm and affection by his fellow citizens. Soon after his arrival, he was induced to resign his commission as minister to France, and accept the responsible situation of Secretary of State under President Washington. The appointment showed the sagacity of the chief magistrate, and proved a lasting blessing to our country. Familiar with every principle of government; comprehending, at one bold view, the requisites necessary to perfect and perpetuate the new confederation, he was enabled to propose amendments to the constitution that were subsequently adopted, with some suggested by others; and to do much to beautify and reduce to har
monious system, the new order of things. Well versed in the usages of diplomacy, international law, and the policy of European courts, he was prepared to plant the permanent landmarks of foreign intercourse that have guided our nation to the present time in safety, and raised her to a degree of greatness before unknown, in so short a period. A reciprocity of commerce and honourable peace with foreigners, and a rigid neutrality with belligerents, carefully avoiding ambiguous or entangling alliances, were some of his leading principles. To submit to nothing that was clearly wrong, and to ask for nothing but what was unquestionably right, was a doctrine of Jefferson, forcibly inculcated in his able correspondence with the French ministers, during the brief period of their republic. The motto is still nailed to the flag staff of the star spangled banner, and is handed down from sire to son in its native purity.
To the domestic concerns of his country he devoted a laborious and laudable attention. He insisted upon the adoption of a uniform system of currency and of weights and measures, and suggested many other improvements, predicated upon plain and enlightened premises, and all designed to advance the best interests of the American system. He pointed to the importance of securing and protecting fisheries, and of encouraging enterprise in all the branches of industry. He demonstrated the advantages of every species of commerce, and the necessity of preventing others from monopolizing such sources as legitimately belonged to the United States. He showed, in a masterly exposition of existing facts, the increasing policy of European courts, in restricting the intercourse of America, and their evident designs of engrossing trade. He submitted to congress an able and elaborate report, showing great foresight, close observation, and deep investigation, relative to the privileges and restrictions of the commercial intercourse of this with other countries. It received great attention, was a subject of long and animated discussion in congress, and became the foundation of a series of resolutions introduced by Mr. Madison embracing the doctrines it contained, and forming the great line of demarcation between the old school federal and republican parties.
Having served his country long and faithfully, and having contributed largely in placing her on the high road of prosperity and freedom, Mr. Jefferson retired from public life on the 31st of December, 1793, and, for a season, enjoyed the more substantial comforts of the domestic circle at Monticello. He took especial care to impart comfort to all around him, and treated his slaves in the kindest manner, thus reducing to practice the mode of treatment towards them he had so often alluded to in theory. The education of his children, the cultivation and improvement of his estate, and the resumption of scientific research, gave to him an exhilarating consolation he had long desired, and which is never found in the arena of public business and political bustle.
His manner of life at the period alluded to, is happily described by the Duke de Liancourt, a distinguished French gentleman who visited him at Monticello, and who wrote a narrative of his tour in the United States.