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MIN HARRISON. He was the eldest son of Benjamin Harrison, and born in Berkley, Virginia. The date of his birth is not recorded. His family descended from a near relation of General Harrison, who was a bold leader in the revolution of the English commonwealth and was sacrificed upon the scaffold for his liberal principles. This relation settled in Surrey, Virginia, about 1640. His descendants sustained the high character of their ancestors, and filled many important public stations in the colony, and were uniformly wealthy and liberally educated. It is recorded of Benjamin Harrison, who was the son of the Mr. Harrison who settled at Surrey, that "he did justice, loved mercy, and walked humbly with his God;" thus leaving a memento of character that forms the crowning excellence of human attainments. The father of the subject of this narrative was killed by lightning with two of his daughters. At that time Benjamin was prosecuting his studies at the college of William and Mary, where he finished his education at an early age. Before he arrived at his majority he assumed the entire management of the large estate left him by his father. He shortly after married Elizabeth, the beautiful and accomplished daughter of Colonel William Bassett, and niece to the sister of Lady Washington. He was a man of great muscular power, above the middle height, graceful but plain in his manners, with an intelligent countenance, indicating truly strength of mind and decision of character. Towards the latter part of his life he became corpulent, in consequence of good dinners and a quiet mind. Before he arrived at the age then required by law, he was elected a member of the house of burgesses, and soon became a distinguished leader. His talents were of the peculiar kind calculated to lead, without an apparent desire to command. His magic wand was sound discretion deliberately and firmly exercised on all occasions, enlivened by a good humour and sprightliness that took off the wiry edge of his otherwise stern qualities; for when his purposes were fixed, it required a powerful lever to move them-he adhered to them with a firmness that in a more morose man would have been called obstinacy.
Wielding a powerful influence, the creatures of the crown were particularly courteous towards him, especially just preceding the commencement of the revolution, and proposed to confer upon him the highest official dignity in the colony, except that of governor, which was always reserved for a native of the mother country. But Mr. Harrison was too independent in mind, too republican in principle, and too penetrating in their designs, to be caught in the silken web of ministerial intrigue or royal cunning. With all his wealth and influence he was a plain common sense man, acting upon the principle that modesty is the handmaid of virtue, and has more charms than the pomp of courts and the flourish of high pretensions. He was a man of the people, and went for them and his country. He was too high-minded to become a tool, and scorned to be the slave of a king.
As early as 1764, Mr. Harrison was one of the committee appointed by the house of burgesses that prepared an address to the throne, a memorial to the house of lords, and a remonstrance to the house of commons of Great Britain, predicated upon the Virginia resolutions,
anticipating the contemptible stamp act. These documents were strong meat in view of a majority of the house, and by the process of political alchymical chemistry, were transmuted to milk and water. But the time rolled on that brought with it circumstances that inspired far different feelings and action. As British oppression increased, Virginia patriotism and indignation were kindled to a flame that illuminated the remotest bounds of the old dominion. Harrison, Henry, Wythe, Randolph, Jefferson and other sons of Virginia were roused. Mr. Harrison was a member of the convention that met at Williamsburgh on the first of August, 1774, that passed a series of strong resolutions in favour of equal rights, and sanctioned the measures of opposition adopted in New England. The same convention appointed seven delegates to the Congress to be held at Philadelphia, Mr. Harrison being one. When the time arrived, he repaired to the post of duty and of honour. As but one object was contemplated at that time
-the adoption of measures to sustain right, justice and peace, the session continued but two months, and was entirely employed in preparing petitions, remonstrances, and addresses, in which Mr. Harrison aided by his counsels. A personal acquaintance and a free interchange of personal views, which served to establish mutual confidence, and to produce a concert of feeling when the time for more decisive action arrived, appears to have been the greatest good that resulted from the meeting of that Congress. Its proceedings also placed the colonies in a favourable light in view of other nations and of reflecting men, showing that they paid a proper respect to the royal authority of the mother country, and were unwilling to cut the cord of allegiance without a just cause. The king and his infatuated counsellors were left without excuse in their mad career.
On the 20th of March, 1775, Mr. Harrison was a member of the Virginia Convention that met at Richmond, and passed the bold resolutions offered by Patrick Henry. A vote of approbation and thanks was also passed in favour of the delegates that had served in Congress the preceding autumn. Many had their eyes opened at that time and came to the rescue of their country.
Lord Dunmore, anticipating the appointment of delegates to a second Congress, issued his proclamation forbidding the procedure, at the same time affecting to treat the convention as a mere bagatelle. But the time had arrived when proclamations from the royal governors had lost their virtue and were in bad odour. The convention elected Congressional delegates, among whom was Mr. Harrison.
When he again repaired to his post, a wider field opened for labour. The proceedings of the preceding Congress had been treated with contumely by the crown, and an awful crisis had arrived. The cry of blood resounded from the heights of Lexington, and penetrated the ears, the heart, the very soul of every patriot.
At the death of Mr. Randolph, the first president of the Continental Congress, Mr. Hancock was elected to fill his place. When his name was announced, he seemed overcome with a modest diffidence, and not proceeding instantly to his post, Mr. Harrison, who was standing near him, picked him up in his gigantic arms and placed him in the
chair, remarking, "we will show mother Britain how little we care for her, by making a Massachusetts man our president, whom she has excluded from pardon by public proclamation."
Action now became the order of the day. Each gale from the North wafted tidings of fresh outrages and increasing oppression on the part of "mother Britain." Congress began to prepare for the worst, although many of its members still listened to the syren song of peace. An important committee was appointed to devise ways and means for defence, and for organizing the militia throughout all the colonies that were represented, of which Mr. Harrison was an efficient member. After labouring arduously for a month, the committee reported the plan of military operations that carried the American armies through the revolution. From the fact that Mr. Harrison was uniformly selected to aid in military operations when they required the attention of Congress, it may be inferred that he was well qualified to act in that department. He was on the most intimate terms with Washington and enjoyed his unlimited confi dence, which is the ne plus ultra of eulogy upon his character.
In September, he was one of the committtee of three appointed to consult with the commander-in-chief, and with the authorities of the regenerated colonies, for the means of preparing for vigorous action. On the 29th of November, he was appointed chairman of the committee of five to take charge of the foreign correspondence, subsequently organized and made the committee on foreign affairs. On the second of December, he was sent to Maryland to aid in organizing a naval armament to repel the predatory warfare of Lord Dunmore along the shores of the Chesapeake. On the 17th of January, 1776, he laid before Congress a plan upon which to predicate the recruiting service, which was approved. On the 21st of the same month, he was placed upon the committee to organize the war department, and two days after, started with Messrs. Lynch and Allen to New York, to aid General Lee in arranging means for its defence, and for the erection of fortifications upon the two confluent rivers. On his return he was placed on the committee for organizing the military departments of the middle and southern colonies; and on the sixth of March he was placed on the standing marine committee, bestowing upon him labour according to his physical as well as mental powers.
On the 26th of March, Congress published a complete preface to the declaration of independence, setting forth the contempt with which the petitions, remonstrances, and appeals for redress had been treated, and portraying in lively colours the constitutional and chartered rights of the American people, and the manner they were trampled under foot and steeped in blood by the British hirelings. The same document authorized the colonies to fit out vessels of war to meet the mistress of the seas on her own element. At the same time Mr. Harrison was appointed chairman of a committee to select and cause to be fortified one or more ports for the protection of these vessels and such prizes as they might take. In May, he was made chairman of the committee on the Canada expedition. After consulting Generals Washington, Gates, and Mifflin, he laid a plan of ope
rations before Congress, which was approved. On the 26th of the same month he was appointed chairman of a committee of fourteen, directed to confer with the general officers of the army relative to a plan of operations for the ensuing campaign. When this was matured he laid it before Congress, and during its consideration was chairman of the committee of the whole. With some amendments the report of the committee was adopted. On the 15th of June a board of war was organized, of which Mr. Harrison became chairman, and continued to fill this important post until he retired from Congress. In the discharge of its duties the revered Judge Peters remarks of him, "He was a member, &c. when I entered upon the duties assigned me in the war department. This gave me an opportunity of observing his firmness, good sense and usefulness in deliberation and in critical situations, and much use indeed, was required of these qualities, when every thing around us was lowering and terrific."
Mr. Harrison became very popular as chairman of the committee of the whole, and when in the house, uniformerly presided when important questions were under discussion. He was in the chair during the discussion of the declaration of independence. He also brought up the resolution of the committee that recommended the formal preparation of that sacred instrument, and on the fourth of July reported it as sanctioned by Congress, and sealed his own approbation with his vote and signature. As a further evidence of his cheerfulness and good humour under all circumstances, at the thrilling moment when the members were signing what was by many considered their death warrant; as Mr. Gerry, who was a light slender man finished his signature, the robust Mr. Harrison remarked to him, "When the hanging scene comes to be exhibited, I shall have all the advantage over you. It will be all over with me in a minute, but you will be kicking in the air half an hour after I am gone."
During the protracted discussions upon the articles of confederation, Mr. Harrison was uniformly in the chair if in the house. From August until the 5th of November, 1776, he was not a member of Congress, and was engaged in the service of his own state, having been appointed one of the counsellors of Virginia under the new form of government. He then succeeded Mr. Jefferson, and again assumed the important stations he had before so ably filled. He was also placed upon the committee to superintend the movements of the northern army. During the sad reverses of the winter of 1776–7, he remained firm at his post, whilst many had gone home disheartened and dejected, but not willing to abandon the cause of freedom. When Congress was compelled to fly from Baltimore to Lancaster, where they remained but for a day, and from there to Yorktown, he followed all its destinies. At one time, at the latter place, the number of members did not exceed twenty, but these few were rendered more zealous and strong from this very circumstance. When there were but twenty-eight, Samuel Adams said it was the truest Congress ever assembled; and when the number was reduced still lower, the amount of zeal manifested and labour performed was not diminished. Its enemies predicted its final dissolution, but proved them
selves to be false prophets. They even reported that Mr. Harrison was about to desert the cause. The moderation of this patriot often interposed to soften proposed measures that were too hasty and harsh. When the question was agitated relative to the Quakers, (referred to in the biography of Mr. Chase,) he interfered in their behalf, and as one of their number often remarked, "He saved us from persecution. He had talents to perceive the right and firmness enough to pursue it however violently opposed."
At the close of 1777, Mr. Harrison resigned his seat in Congress and returned to the bosom of his family. No one member had performed more labour than him, and no one was more highly esteemed and honoured. He was a colossus in the cause of liberty and human rights. He was emphatically a powerful working man.
On his return to his constituents he was not permitted to enjoy repose, but was immediately elected to the house of burgesses, and on taking his seat, was elevated to the dignified station of speaker, which he continued to fill for five successive years. During that period the revolutionary storm rolled its fury over Virginia, which before had experienced but little inconvenience within its own borders. Arnold the traitor and Cornwallis the tyrant, were tinging its streams and saturating its soil with the blood of her noble sons. Fire and sword, murder and rapine, ruin and destruction, marked their savage career. The house of burgesses was driven from Richmond to Charlottesville, to Staunton, and to the Warm Springs, and found but a transient resting place at either. Application was made to Washington, but he could afford no relief. During these rapid removes of the legislature, Mr. Harrison remained firm, and used every exertion to promote such measures as were best calculated to ward off impending dangers. He did much to rouse the people to action and dispel the terrors of their minds. He knew no fugitive fears; the opinion of another writer to the contrary notwithstanding, uttered without any foundation in truth, merely to raise his own hero above his proper level, by climbing upon the shoulders of the towering reputation of Mr. Harrison. This ruse de guerre will not answer even at this late day. Records speak for the dead in a voice that withers the slanderer like the hand writing that paralysed the sturdy frame of Belteshazzer.
In 1782, Mr. Harrison was elected governor of Virginia and assumed an herculean task. The recent devastations of the British army, and the efforts of internal enemies, had thrown every thing into one chaotic mass. He entered upon his duties with an energy and sagacity that showed no "fugitive fear," and so well did he succeed, that he became one of the most popular chief magistrates that ever filled the gubernatorial chair of Virginia. He was re-elected twice, and then became ineligible by the constitution, and once more sought repose in retirement. Immediately after, he was nominated as a candidate for the legislature without his knowledge, and for the first time was unsuccessful. His election was defeated by a singular circumstance that was taken advantage of by his opponent. When governor, he had directed the militia to level the embankments at Yorktown,