« ZurückWeiter »
ing resolution of thanks for his many valuable services, passed by the Virginia legislature on the 22nd of October, 1792, he retired to the peaceful shades of Chantilly, in his native county, covered with laurels of lasting fame. There he lived esteemed, beloved, respected and admired, until the 19th of June, 1794, when the angel of death liberated his immortal spirit from its prison of clay, and seraphs from heaven wafted his soul to realms of bliss beyond the skies, there to enjoy the rich reward of a life well spent.
Mr. Lee was a rare model of human excellence and refinement. He was a polished gentleman, an accomplished scholar, orator and statesman. In exploring the vast fields of science he gathered from them the choicest flowers and the most substantial fruits. The classics, belles lettres, the elements of civil, municipal, national and common law, and the principles of every kind of government, were all familiar to his mind. He was ardently patriotic, pure and firm in his purposes, honest and sincere in his motives, liberal and republican in his general principles, frank and open in his designs, and highly honourable in his course. As an orator the modulation of his voice, manner of action, and mode of reasoning, were a fac simile of his great prototype, Cicero, as described by Rollin.
His private character was above reproach. He possessed and exercised all those amiable qualities calculated to impart substantial happiness to those around him. To crown with enduring splendour all his rich and varied talents, he was a christian and an honest man. Whilst his dust reposes in peace let his examples deeply impress our minds and excite us to imitation.
PARTY spirit when based on selfishness, unhallowed ambition and venal corruption, is a gangrene in the body politic. Its history is red with blood-blackened by the darkest crimes, its career has been marked with all the terrific horrors that demons could plan and wicked men execute. It rides upon the whirlwind of faction; it is wafted on the tornado of fanaticism; it is fanned by fell revenge and delights in human gore. It has been the mighty conqueror of nations; its burning lava has consumed kingdoms and empires; the fairest portions of creation have been blighted by its rankling poison; countless millions have fallen by its murderous hand; and, fearful thought! its end has not yet come.
A few rare instances are recorded where parties have arrayed themselves against power, prompted alone by pure motives and elevated patriotism, guided by reason and sound policy. To be successful and not violate the laws of wisdom and justice, the leaders of a party must be men who are influenced alone by a desire to promote the general
good, aiming at holy ends to be accomplished by righteous means. The brightest example of this kind spread upon the pages of history was exhibited by the sages of the American revolution. No convention of men ever assembled to consult upon a nation's rights and a nation's wrongs, graced with as much splendour of talent, sterling integrity, self-devotion and disinterested patriotism, as that of the Continental Congress of America.
Among them, the patriarch, STEPHEN HOPKINS, took a conspicuous place. He was a native of Scituate, Rhode Island, and born on the 7th of March, 1707. He was the son of William Hopkins, a respectable farmer, whose father, Thomas Hopkins, was one of the earliest settlers of that province. The juvenile education of the subject of this biographette was limited to the elementary English branches, then but superficially taught in the common schools. From that embryo beginning, he reared, from the force of his own exertions, a towering and beautiful superstructure. Remarkably attached to books, he spent all his leisure hours in the acquisition of knowledge. A farmer in easy circumstances, he devoted a portion of the day and his quiet evenings to the improvement of his mind.
No profession not literary, affords so good a chance for mental exercise and reflection as that of agriculture. It is their own fault if the independent tillers of the soil are not enlightened and intelligent. The time was when ignorance was winked at. That dark age has passed away, and now common sense and reason command all to drink at the scholastic fountain.
Blessed with strong intellectual powers, Mr. Hopkins acquired a thorough knowledge of mathematics at an early period and became an expert surveyor. At the age of nineteen he married Sarah Scott, whose paternal great grand-father was the first Quaker who settled in Providence. After becoming the mother of seven children she died, and in 1755, Mr. Hopkins married the widow Anna Smith, a pious member of the society of Friends.
In 1731, he was appointed town-clerk, soon after which he was appointed clerk of the court and of the proprietors of the county. The ensuing year he was elected to the general assembly, and was continued for six successive years. In 1735, he was elected to the town council, and for six years was president of that body. The next year he was appointed a justice of the peace and a judge of the common plea court, and in 1739 was elevated to the seat of chief justice of that branch of the judiciary. During the intervals of these public duties he spent much of his time at surveying. The streets of his native town and of Providence were regulated by him, and a projected map made of each. The next year he was appointed proprietary surveyor for the county of Providence, and prepared a laborious index of returns of all the lands west of the seven mile line, then laid out, which still continues a document of useful reference. Beauty and precision marked all his draughts and calculations. In 1741, he was again elected to the assembly. The next year he removed to Providence, and was elected, soon after his arrival, to the same public body, and was chosen speaker of the house. In 1744, the same honour was con
ferred upon him, as also that of justice of the peace for Providence. In 1751, he was appointed chief justice of the superior court, and elected for the fourteenth time to the general assembly. In 1754, he was a delegate to the colonial Congress held at Albany, for the purpose of effecting a treaty with the five nations of Indians in order to gain their aid, or at least their neutrality in the French war. A system of union similar to the confederation subsequently entered into by the Continental Congress, was recommended and submitted at that time, but was vetoed by England and not adopted by the colo
In 1755, when the triumphant victories of the French and their savage allies spread consternation over the frontier settlements, a requisition for troops was made by the earl of Loudoun, then commander of the king's forces. The quota from Rhode Island was four hundred and fifty, and no one was more active than Mr. Hopkins in raising them. The next year he was elected chief magistrate of the colony. In 1757, the fall of fort William Henry and the sad reverses of the English army, made it necessary that the colonists should raise an efficient force for self-protection. A company of volunteers, composed of the most respectable gentlemen of Providence, was organized and Mr. Hopkins appointed to command it. The timely arrival of troops from the mother country dispensed with the necessity of their services. The ensuing year, this useful man was again elected chief magistrate, and served as such seven out of the eleven following years.
In 1767, party spirit was rolling its mountain waves over Rhode Island so fearfully, that it threatened the prostration of social order and civil law. Anxious for the welfare of the colony, this patriotic Roman put forth his noblest efforts to check its bold career. In his message to the assembly he expressed his deep solicitude for the restoration of harmony, and offered to retire at once from the public arena, if, in the opinion of that body, it would contribute in the slightest degree to heal the political breach. To show his sincerity he soon after retired from the public service, contrary to the wishes of his friends. His picture of that era so much resembles the political drama of the present time, in some sections of our republic at least, that I cannot forbear presenting it to the reader.
"When we draw aside the veil of words and professions, when we attend to what is done and not to what is said, we shall find in the present age of our country, that liberty is only a cant term of faction, and freedom of speaking and acting, used only to serve the private interests of a party. What else can be the cause of our unhappy disputes? What other reason for the continual struggle for superiority and office? What other motive for the flood of calumny and reproach cast on each other? Behold the leading men meeting in cabals, and from thence dispersing themselves to the several quarters, to delude and deceive the people. The people are called together in tippling houses, their business neglected, their morals corrupted, themselves deluded; some promised offices for which they are unfit, and those who have disputes with their neighbours are assured of their causes
whether they be right or wrong. Those with whom these arts will not prevail, are tempted with the wages of unrighteousness, and are offered a bribe to falsify their oath and betray their country. By these scandalous practices, elections are carried and officers appointed. It makes little difference whether the officer, who in this manner obtains his place, is otherwise a good man or not; for, put in by a party, he must do what they order, without being permitted to examine the rectitude even of his own actions. The unhappy malady runs through the whole body politic; men in authority are not revered, and therefore lose all power to do good; the courts of judicature catch the infection and the sacred balance of justice does not hang even. All complain of the present administration, all cry out the times are hard and wish they might grow better. But complaints are weak, wishes are idle, cries are vain, even prayers will be ineffectual, if we do not universally amend. Will no friend, no patriot, step in and save the commonwealth from ruin? Will no good Samaritan come by and in the wine and oil into the bleeding wounds of his country?" Again, from his essay on the duties of freemen: "Permit me, therefore, to remind my countrymen of the blood, the sufferings, the hardships and labour of their ancestors in purchasing the liberty and privileges they might peaceably enjoy. How can they answer it to fame, to honour, to honesty, to posterity, if they do not possess those inestimable blessings with grateful hearts, with purity of morals, and transmit them with safety to the next generation? Nothing is desired but that every man in the community may act up to the dignity of his own proper character. Let every freeman carefully consider the particular duty allotted to him as such by the constitution; let him give his suffrage with candour for the person he sincerely thinks best qualified; let him shun the man who speaks to him to persuade him how to vote; let him despise the man who offers him an office, and spurn the sordid wretch that would give him a bribe; let him think it his duty to give his vote according to his conscience, and not depend on others to do his duty for him. Let him know that as duty is not local, so neither is capacity or fitness for office confined to this or that town or place. Officers and magistrates I would humbly entreat to consider, that their turn has arrived to serve the commonwealth and not themselves; that their own discreet and exemplary behaviour is their chiefest and best authority to do good in their offices; that it is vain to command others to practise what we ourselves omit, or to abstain from what they see us do; that where moderation and example are insufficient to suppress vice, power ought to be used, even to its utmost severity, if necessary; and, above all, that justice should be, in all cases and under all circumstances, equally, impartially and expeditiously administered."
This plain but lucid exposition of the duties of freemen, merits the highest consideration of the private citizen, the able statesman, and the profound judge. It is the effusion of a clear head, a good heart, and a noble mind. It exhibits briefly and fully, in language of unvarnished but sublime simplicity, the only sure foundation of a republican government. It strikes at the very root of alarming evils, that at
this moment hang over our beloved country like an incubus. It is naked truth plainly told, and by us should be strongly felt and implicitly obeyed.
Owing to the great reputation of Mr. Hopkins as a mathematician, he was called in June, 1769, to aid in taking observations upon the transit of Venus over the disk of the sun. So highly prized were his services on that occasion, that the pamphlet published upon the subject was dedicated to him. This rare phenomenon occurred in 1739-61-69, and will occur again in 1874 and 1996, if the planetary system is not before dissolved, or changed in its primitive revolving
Governor Hopkins had incurred the displeasure of the British ministry previous to the revolution, by licensing vessels from Rhode Island to trade with the French and Spanish colonies. So long as it did not violate any act of parliament he continued to exercise the privilege, and disregarded the authority assumed but not delegated, of directing the local concerns of the colony. He had long been convinced that the mother country cared more for the fleece than the flock she claimed in America, which had often been left to contend alone against a merciless foe. With convictions like these upon his mind, a republican to the core, and valuing liberty above life, he was fully prepared to resist the first scintillations of the unconstitutional claims made by corrupt and corrupting ministers. When the stamp act was passed, his voice and his pen were arrayed against it. He showed clearly, that this and other acts of parliament had no foundation in justice, and were contrary to the spirit of the constitution of Great Britain. In 1772, the mountain torrent of local party spirit having subsided in the colony, and its effervescence submerged in the more absorbing question of British opression, Mr. Hopkins again took his seat in the assembly and continued a member for the three succeeding years. In 1774, this patriarch statesman was elected to the national Congress, and entered with a calm but determined zeal upon the responsible duties of that august convention. The same year he proposed and obtained the passage of a bill by the assembly of Rhode Island, entirely prohibiting the slave trade in that colony; and, to show that he strongly felt what he earnestly advocated, he emancipated all his negroes, some of the descendants of whom still reside in Providence. He had incorporated their freedom in his will dated some time previous.
In 1775, he was appointed chief justice of the colony, was a member of the assembly and member of Congress; holding, simultaneously, a trio of offices. The ensuing year he was one of the immortalized fifty-six by whose exertions a nation was born in a day, and who signed, sealed, and delivered the certificate of legitimacy to their grateful country. The same year he was president of the board of commissioners of the New England states that convened at Providence to consult and devise plans for the promotion of the glorious cause of freedom. The next year he presided over a similar board at Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1778, he was a member of Congress for the last time, and the next year closed his long, useful and arduous