Sidor som bilder

not yet been contemplated, either by Congress or the nation; and many of those who had voted for the war, would have voted, and did afterwards vote against that dissolution.

Such was the state of things under which the Congress of 1776 assembled, when Adams and Jefferson again met. It was, as you know, in this Congress, that the question of American Independence came, for the first time, to be discussed ; and never, certainly, has a more momentous question been discussed in any age or in any country ; for, it was fraught, not only with the destinies of this wide extended continent, but, as the event has shown, and is still showing, with the destinies of man all over the world.

How fearful that question then was, no one can tell but those who forgetting all that has since past, can transport themselves back to the time, and plant their feet on the ground which those patriots then occupied. “Shadows, clouds, and darkness" then covered all the future, and the present was full only of danger and terror. A more unequal contest never was proposed. It was, indeed, as it was then said to be, the shepherd boy of Israel going forth to battle against the giant of Gath; and, there were yet among us, enough to tremble when they heard that giant say, “ Come to me, and I will give thy flesh to the fowls of the air, and the beasts of the field.” But, there were those who never trembled—who knew that there was a God in Israel, and who were willing to commit their cause “to his even-handed justice," and his Almighty power. That their great trust was in Him, is manifest from the remarks that were continually breaking from the lips of the patriots. Thus, the patriot Hawley, when pressed upon the inequality of the contest, could only answer, “We must put to sea-Providence will bring us into port;" and Patrick Henry, when urged upon the same topic, exclaimed, “True, true; but there is a God above, who rules and overrules the destinies of nations.”

Amid this appalling array that surrounded them, the . first to enter the breach, sword in hand, was John Ad. ams--the vision of his youth at his heart, and his country in every nerve. On the 6th of May, he offered, in committee of the whole, the significant resolution, that the colonies should form governments independent of the crown. This was the harbinger of more important measures, and seems to have been put forward to feel the pulse of the House. The resolution after a bloody struggle, was adopted on the 15th of May following. On the 7th of June, by previous concert, Richard Henry Lee moved the great resolution of Independence, and was seconded by John Adams; and " then came the tug of war." The debate upon it was continued from the 7th to the 10th, when the further consideration of it was postponed to the 1st of July, and at the same time a committee of five was appointed to prepare, provisionally, a draft of a Declaration of Independence. At the head of this important committee, which was then appointed by a vote of the House, although he was probably the youngest member, and one of the youngest men in the House, for he had served only part of the former session, and was but thirty-two years of age, stands the name of Thomas Jefferson-Mr. Adams stands next. And these two gentlernen having been deputed a sub-committee to prepare the draft, that draft, at Mr. Adams' earnest importunity, was prepared by his more youthful friend. Of this transaction Mr. Adams is himself the historian, and the authorship of the Declaration, though once disputed, is thus placed forever beyond the reach of question.

The final debate on the resolution was postponed as we have seen for nearly a month. In the mean time, all who were conversant with the course of action of all deliberative bodies, know how much is done by conversation among the members. It is not often, indeed, that proselytes are made on great questions by public debate. On such questions, opinions are far more frequently formed in private, and so form

.ed, that debate is seldom known to change them.

Hence the value of the out-of-door talent of chamber consultation, where objections, candidly stated, are candidly, calmly, and mildly discussed; where neither pride, nor shame, nor anger, take part in the discussion, nor stand in the way of a correct conclusion: but where every thing being conducted frankly, delicately, respectfully, and kindly, the better cause and the better reasoner are almost always sure of success. In this kind of service, as well as in all that depended on the power of composition, Mr. Jefferson was as much a master-magician, as his eloquent friend Adams was in debate. They were, in truth, hemispheres of the same golden globe, and required only to be brought and put together, to prove that they were parts of the same heaven-formed whole.

On the present occasion however, much still remained to be effected by debate. The first of July came, and the great debate on the resolution for Independence was resumed, with fresh spirit. The discussion was again protracted for two days, which, in addition to the former three, were sufficient, in that age, to call out all the speaking talent of the House.

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

Mr. Jefferson has told us that “the Colossus of that Congress—the great pillar of support to the Declaration of Independence, and its ablest advocate and champion on the floor of the House, was John Adams."

The resolution having been carried, the draft of the Declaration came to be examined in detail ; and so faultless had it issued from the hands of its author, that it was adopted as he had prepared it, pruned only of a few of its brightest inherent beauties, through a prudent deference to some of the States. It was adopted about noon of the Fourth, and proclaimed to an ex. ulting nation, on the evening of the same day.

That brave and animated band who signed it where are they now? What heart does not sink at the question ? One only survives : CHARLES CARROLL, of Carrollton-a noble specimen of the age that has gone by, and now the single object of that age, on whom the veneration and prayers of his country are concentrated. The rest have bequeathed to us the immor. tal record of their virtue and patriotism, and have as. cended to a brighter reward than man can confer.

Of that instrument to which you listen with rever. ence on every returning anniversary of its adoption, “ which forms the ornament of our halls, and the first political lesson of our children," it is needless to speak. You know that in its origin and object, it was a statement of the causes which had compelled our Fathers to separate themselves from Great Britain, and to declare these States free and independent. It was the voice of the American Nation addressing herself to the other Nations of the earth: and the address is, in all respects, worthy of this noble personification. It is the great argument of America in vindication of her course; and as Mr. Adams had been the Colossus of the cause on the floor of Congress, his illustrious friend, the author of this instrument, may well be pronounced to have been its Colossus on the theatre of the world.

It is a remark of one of the most elegant writers of antiquity, in the beautiful essay which he has left us “on Old Age," “ that “to those who have not within themselves the resources of living well and happily, every age is oppressive; but that to those who have, nothing is an evil which the necessity of nature brings along with it." How rich our two patriots were in these internal resources, you all know. How lightly they bore the burthen of increasing years was apparent from the cheerfulness and vigor with which, after having survived the age to which they properly belonged, they continued to live among their posterity. How happy they were in their domestic re

lations, how beloved by their neighbors and friends, ; how revered and honored by their country, and by the

friends of liberty in every quarter of the world, is a matter of open and public notoriety. Their houses were the constant and thronged resort of the votaries of virtue, and science, and genius, and patriotism, from every portion of the civilized globe: and no one ever left them without confessing that his highest expectations had been realized, and even surpassed, in the interview.

Of “ the chief of the Argonauts," as Mr. Jefferson So classically and so happily styled his illustrious friend of the North, it is my misfortune to be able to speak only by report. But every representation concurs, in drawing the same pleasing and affecting pic. ture of the Roman simplicity in which that Father of his Country lived; of the frank, warm, cordial, and elegant reception that he gave to all who approached him; of the interesting kindness with which he disbursed the golden treasures of his experience, and shed around him the rays of his decending sun. His conversation was rich in anecdote and characters of the times that were past ; rich in political and moral instruction; full of that best of wisdom, which is learnt from real life, and flowing from his heart with that warm and honest frankness, that fervour of feeling and force of diction, which so strikingly distinguished him in the meridian of his life. Many of us heard that simple and touching account given of a parting scene with him, by one of our eloquent divines : When he rose up from that little couch behind the door, on which he was wont to rest his aged and weary limbs, and with his silver locks hanging on each side of his honest face, stretched forth that pure hand, which was never soiled by a suspicion, and gave his kind and parting benediction. Such was the blissful and honored retirement of the sage of Quincy. Happy the life which, verging upon a century, had met with but one serious political disappointment! and even for that, he

« FöregåendeFortsätt »