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from the mother country, Mr. Gwinnett became a warm advocate of the measure, and when the trying hour, big with consequences, arrived, he gave his approving vote and affixed his signature to the important document that stands acknowledged by the civilized world the most lucid exposition of human rights upon the records of history -the Declaration of American Independence.
In February, 1777, Mr. Gwinnett took his seat in the convention of his own state, convened for the purpose of forming a constitution and establishing a republican form of government. His activity in Congress, to which he stood re-elected, had already given him great weight, and he at once exercised a powerful influence in his new situation. He submitted the draft of a constitution which, with a few slight amendments, was immediately adopted by the convention. Shortly after this he was elevated to the presidency of the provincial council, then the highest station in the state, thus rising within a single year from private life to the pinnacle of power in the colony. At this time an acrimonious jealousy existed between the civil and military authorities. At the head of the latter was General M'Intosh, against whom Mr. Gwinnett had pitted himself the preceding year, whilst in Congress, as a candidate for brigadier-general, and was unsuccessful. His elevation and influence became a source of uneasiness to his antagonist. The civil power claimed the right to try military officers for offences that General M'Intosh conceived were to be tried only by a court-martial. Another root of bitterness between these two gentlemen took its growth from the promotion of a senior lieutenant-colonel, then under General M'Intosh, to the command of his brigade, destined for the reduction of East Florida, agreeably to a plan formed by Mr. Gwinnett, which proved a disastrous failure. This was a source of mortification to the one, and the other publicly exulted in the misfortune. Under the new constitution a governor was to be elected on the first Monday of the ensuing May, and Mr. Gwinnett offered himself as a candidate. His competitor was a man whose talents and acquirements were far inferior to his, but succeeded in obtaining the gubernatorial chair. General M'Intosh again publicly exulted in the disappointments that were overwhelming his antagonist-a challenge from Mr. Gwinnett ensued-they met on the blood-stained field of false honour-fought at the distance of four paces --both were wounded, Mr. Gwinnett mortally, and died on the 27th of May, 1777, the very time he should have been in Congress. Comment is needless-reflection is necessary.
THE sacredness of contracts honourably and fairly entered into by parties competent to make and consummate them, should be held in high veneration by all. The individual and the social compact from the co-partnership of the common business firm up to the most exalted nation, are bound by the laws of God, of man and of honour to keep inviolate their plighted faith. A deviation from the path of rectitude in this particular, is uniformly attended with evil consesequences and often with those of the most direful kind. The party that violates its engagements without accruing causes of justification, and to advance its own interests regardless of those of the other, comes to court with a bad cause. I have repeatedly remarked, that the American revolution was produced by a violation on the part of the mother country of chartered rights secured to the colonists by the crown under the British constitution.
To enter into a full exposition of the relations between the two high contracting parties, would require more space than can be allowed in this work. A reference to some of the prominent points in a single charter, will give the reader an idea of the nature of the whole as originally granted, although some of a later date are rather more limited in their privileges than that of Rhode Island, to which I refer.
This charter secured religious freedom, personal liberty, personal rights of property, excluding the king from all interference with the local concerns of the colony and was virtually democratic in its features. One of the early acts of parliament, referring to Rhode Island, contains the following language. "That no person within the said colony at any time hereafter shall be in any way molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question for any difference of opinion in matters of religion that does not actually disturb the civil peace of the said colony." The feelings of the inhabitants from the time they received their charter up to the time oppressions were commenced by Great Britain, may be inferred from the following extract taken from the ancient records of the secretary of state of that province addressed to the king. "The general assembly judgeth it their duty to signify his majesty's gracious pleasure vouchsafed to us," &c.; and also from the following extract of a letter written at a later period to Sir Henry Vane then in England. "We have long drunk of the cup of as great liberties as any people we can hear of under the whole heavens. We have not only been long free together with all English from the yokes of wolfish bishops and their popish ceremonies, against whose grievous oppressions God raised up your noble spirit in parliament, but we have sitten down quiet and dry from the streams of blood spilt by war in our native country. *** We have not known what an excise means. We have almost forgotten what
tythes are, yea, or taxes either to church or common weal.” In addition to other declaratory acts of parliament, sanctioning and construing chartered privileges generally in all the colonies, one was passed in March, 1663, involving the very hinge upon which the revolution turned, as the following extract shows. "Be it further enacted, that no taxes shall be imposed or required of the colonies, but by the consent of the general assembly," meaning the general assembly of each colony separately and collectively. This single sentence of that act, based upon the British constitution and guarded by the sanctity of contracts that could not be annulled but by the mutual consent of the high contracting parties, solves the whole problem of the revolution. Living as the colonists did in the full enjoyments of these chartered privileges which had become matured by the age of more than a century, they would have been unworthy of the name of men, had they tamely submitted to their annihilation. To the unfading honour of their names let it be said they did not submit. A band of sages and heroes arose, met the invader sof their rights, and drove them from Columbia's soil.
Among them was WILLIAM ELLERY, a native of Newport, Rhode Island, born on the 2nd of December, 1727. His ancestors were from Bristol, England. He was the son of William Ellery, a graduate of Harvard College and an enterprising merchant, who filled many public stations, among which were those of judge, lieutenant-governor, and senator. Delighted with the docility of his son, he became his instructor and superintended his studies preparatory to his entrance in college. After these were completed, William entered Harvard College and became a close and successful student. He became delighted with the Greek and Roman classics and dwelt with rapture upon the history of the ancient republics. So great was his veneration for the ancient authors, that he continued to be familiar with them during his whole life, and became a lucid philologist in classic literature. At the age of twenty he took the degree of bachelor of arts, and then commenced the study of law. In that laborious field he was all industry and diligence, and was admitted to practice with brilliant prospects before him. Located in one of the pleasantest towns on the Atlantic, surrounded by a large circle of friends who desired his success, blessed with superior talents, improved by a refined education, esteemed by all who knew him, his situation was truly flattering. He possessed an agreeable and amiable disposition, a strong mind, enlivened by a large share of wit and humour, an urbanity of manners of a refined and polished cast, and an animation and life in conversation that dispelled ennui from every circle in which he moved. He was of the middle stature, well formed, with a large head, an intelligent and expressive countenance, moderate in his physical movements, and with all his vivacity generally wore a grave aspect. He was temperate, plain, and uniform in his habits and dress, and could seldom be induced to join in the chase after the ignus fatuus of fashion. For many years before his death, his wardrobe bespoke a man of another generation.
Mr. Ellery commenced business in his profession at his native town,
took to himself a wife, soon became eminent and obtained a lucrative practice. He was highly honourable in his course and gained the confidence of his fellow citizens and of the courts. Up to the time of the commencement of British oppression, his days passed peacefully and quietly along and a handsome fortune accumulated around him. When the revolutionary storm began to gather, the mind of Mr. Ellery became roused and a new impetus was given to his physical powers. His townsmen were the first among the colonists who had dared to beard the lion and unicorn. On the 17th of June, 1769, in consequence of the oppressive conduct of her captain, the revenue sloop Liberty, belonging to his Britannic majesty, and then lying at Newport, was forcibly seized by a number of citizens in disguise, who cut away her masts, scuttled her, carried her boats to the upper part of the town, and committed them to the flames under the towering branches of a newly planted liberty tree. This was a hard cut and thrust at the revenue system that contemplated taxing the colonies contrary to the letter of the constitution and charters granted by the laws of England. This act was followed by another on the 9th of June, 1772, in which blood was spilt-that of seizing and burning the British schooner Gaspee. This was made a pretext for more severe measures on the part of the hirelings of the crown, and a disfranchisement of the colony was recommended and urged upon parliament. Already was the revolutionary ball in motion. In the midst of these turmoils, Mr. Ellery was not an idle spectator. He declared for the cause of liberty and the preservation of those rights that had become sacred by age and had the high sanction of the laws of nature, of man, and of God. In 1774, he was warmly in favour of the project of a general Congress, and, in conjunction with Governor Ward, who was a delegate with Mr. Hopkins to that august assembly, approved of a suggestion already made in a letter from General Greene, "that the colonies should declare themselves independent." The same spirit soon became general in the province.
In 1776, Mr. Ellery was elected a member of the Continental Congress, and proceeded to the post of duty boldly and fearlessly, left by his constituents to act as free as mountain air. He had participated in all the incipient measures of the conflicts in his own colony, he now became a vigorous and active patriot of the national legislature. He was fully prepared to sanction, and well qualified to advocate the Declaration of Independence. An agreeable speaker, master of satire, sarcasm, logic, and philosophy, he exercised a salutary and judicious influence. He was an able member of committees and was immediately placed upon some of great importance. He was upon the committee for establishing expresses, upon that for providing relief for the wounded and disabled, upon that of the treasury, and upon the committee of one delegate from each state for the purchase of necessaries for the army. He was also upon the marine committee, and was a warm advocate for the navy. His constituents were many of them bold mariners, and he felt a just pride in referring to his fellow-citizen, commodore Ezek Hopkins, of Rhode Island, as the first commander of the little fleet of the infant Republic. It was him
who took New Providence by surprise, seized a large amount of munitions of war, one hundred pieces of cannon, and took prisoners the governor, lieutenant-governor, and sundry others of his majesty's loyal officers. When the time arrived for the final question upon that sacred instrument which was to be a warrant of death or a diploma of freedom, Mr. Ellery was at his post, and most cheerfully gave it his sanctioning vote and approving signature. With his usual vivacity, he placed himself by the side of Charles Thomson, the secretary, for the purpose of observing the apparent emotions of each member as he came up and signed the important document. He often recurred to this circumstance in after life, and observed, that "undaunted resolution was displayed in each countenance." He was continued a member of Congress until the close of the session of 1785, which shows how highly his services were valued by the patriotic citizens of his native state. In 1777, he was one of the important committee of admiralty, the committee for replenishing the empty treasury, the committee upon commercial affairs, of the one to investigate the causes of the surrender of Ticonderoga, and of the one for preventing the employment in the public service of persons not clearly in favour of the American cause. He ably advocated the plan, supposed to have originated with him, and submitted by the admiralty committee, of fitting out six fire-ships from Rhode Island to annoy the British fleet.
When the enemy obtained possession of Newport their vengeance against this patriot was manifested by burning his buildings and destroying all his property within their power. This only increased his zeal in the glorious cause of liberty and scarcely disturbed the equanimity of his mind. In 1778, he advocated strongly a resolution making it death for any member of the colonies, alias tories, who should betray or aid in delivering into the hands of the enemy any of the friends of the revolution, or give any intelligence that should lead to their capture. He also supported the plan of confederation adopted by Congress. He spent nearly his whole time in that body.
The ensuing year he was one of the committee on foreign relations, which at that time involved the unpleasant duty of settling some difficulties that existed between the United States foreign commissioners, in addition to the usual diplomatic affairs with foreign nations. He was also chairman of a committee to provide provisions for the inhabitants that were driven from the island of Rhode Island and were entirely destitute of the necessaries of life. The ensuing year he was arduously employed upon most of the standing committees, especially the admiralty committee, the duties of which became very delicate, as the powers claimed by some of the states conflicted with those of the general government under the articles of confederation. A committee was created for the express purpose of defining those powers, of which he was the prominent member. Their deliberations resulted in the determination that all disputed claims were subject to an appeal from the court of admiralty to Congress, where the facts as well as the law were to be finally settled. On all occasions and in all situations he was diligent, punctual, and persevering. In the house, whenever he discovered any long faces or forlorn countenances, even