Page images
PDF
EPUB

sions to the liberal spirit of the new government, he was, at a most critical period, elected its chief magistrate. Having successfully co-operated with our national friend, and late national guest, La Fayette, in delivering his state from invasion, he returned at the expiration of his executive office, once more to its legislature, and devoted what leisure the intermission of his public duties allowed him, to the composition of his "Notes on Virginia"-that work on which his reputation in literature and science is principally founded. It was not long, however, before he was again delegated to the Continental Congress; and that body, with its characteristic discernment, soon resolved to engage the talents of Jefferson as well as of Adams, in the diplomatic service of their country. By another of those remarkable coincidences which have distinguished their public lives, both were named in the commission to negociate the peace with Great Britain; and Jefferson was only prevented by an accidental detention, from uniting with Adams in the signature of the treaty. They were, however, subsequently joined in arranging terms of commercial intercourse, with the maritime powers of Europe, and were ultimately settled as resident Plenipotentiaries, at its two principal courts; Adams at London, and Jefferson in France.

In these respective stations they remained, until, upon the adoption of the present Constitution, they were both recalled from Europe. The one to occupy, under Washington, the second office in the national government, and the other to superintend the important department of its foreign affairs. During his residence in England, Adams had published his "Defence of the American Constitutions," in answer to the attacks of certain British writers, on those of the states severally, and upon the old confederation. From some of the doctrines advanced in this work, Jefferson was supposed to dissent; but as the new Constitution had been formed in their absence, they had neither of them taken part in the public discussions to which it had given rise, and which had not yet

subsided. Their personal feelings, therefore, had never been implicated in that controversy; although it was well understood that they entertained different views in regard to the new Confederation; and subsequent events rendered it more clearly manifest, that, whilst the Vice-President fully approved of the federal system as it had gone into operation, that scheme of government was not, in every respect, conformable to the opinions of the Secretary of State. The latter, nevertheless, as well as the former, gave a fair and efficient support to the administration of Washington: and the official correspondence, which he conducted upon the most embarrassing and delicate questions which arose under it, afforded the complete vindication of its most important and most contested measures. Apprehensive, however, of future disagreement with his colleagues, Jefferson honorably withdrew from his office before Washington had left the government; and carried with him into a retirement which he long had coveted, the undiminished confidence of the Father of his country, the unbounded attachment of his friends, and the universal respect and esteem of his fellow citizens. Nor was he drawn from his retreat, until called to the chair which Adams had left vacant, upon his elevation to the seat of Washington.

The former colleagues and associates had now became rivals, and were claimed as the respective heads of the two great parties into which their country was divided. The relative strength and numbers of these parties were nearly ballanced; their confidence was equal; their zeal unabated: and though Adams had prevailed in the first general contest between them, Jefferson was successful in the last. A complete transfer of political power was the consequence. But notwith standing the warfare between the parties had seemed to threaten the peace of the nation, no violent change of measures or of system followed, to put to hazard its permanent welfare: and those who had apprehended this result, if not blinded by fear or prejudice, were soon persuaded that neither the existence of the government was to be endangered, the

security it afforded impaired, nor its essential principles of administration altered.

So far as the prevailing differences of opinion had arisen from a contrariety of views in regard to the Federal Constitution, so far indeed were they founded in a difference of princi ple. But much of this original discord had been harmonized by compromises in the frame and structure of the government itself, by the spirit in which it was administered, or by actual changes of sentiment wrought by the convictions of experience; whilst the more violent and direct conflict of political sentiment bore reference to the war existing at the time in Europe, and being thus temporary in its nature, subsided with the cause in which it had originated. Before the close of Jefferson's administration, Adams had expressed his approbation of the course of policy pursued by his successful competitor; and the disciples and successors of Jefferson recurred to those measures of his predecessor, of which experience had demonstrated the wisdom of the necessity. Between the venerable chiefs themselves, a mutual confidence was re-established, and from their respective retirements they maintained at intervals a friendly correspondence, terminating only with their lives.

Thus these illustrious statesmen not only survived the causes by which they had been so long and widely separated, but lived to revive the sympathies, and realize the hopes, which had united them in early life; to witness the triumph of those principles for which they had mutually contended; and to enjoy in the reputation, prosperity, and union of their country, the reward of those services, which, whether in concert or apart, they both had rendered it. And when they died, as if Heaven had deigned to approve those services, and hallow that reward, they died together! How mysterious! yet how merciful the event! And what an instructive spectacle do not we, my countrymen, present, who are here with one accord assembled, to pay the last sad tribute to their worth! We, who participated in the exasperated passions

and fierce contentions by which they were once separated and estranged; who were arrayed under their respective banners, friend against friend, and brother against brother, now here united heart and voice, to solemnize with equal rites, their common obsequies!

Such deaths as theirs, indeed, we cannot mourn; but come to celebrate, in joy for the mercy they reveal, in thankfulness for the admonition they impart. The commemoration of events like these-the contemplation of a scene like this, elevate our thoughts from Earth to Heaven, lead us to look more reverently on the ways of Providence, and points us to the source of every temporal good. They serve to endear the more to us our public institutions, and to assure us of their excellence and stability. They inculcate lessons of forbearance and moderation to regulate our own future conduct, and enforce those precepts of good will and charity to others, which bear the impress of divine authority. Nor are they intended for ourselves alone: the events we celebrate, the spectacle we here present, will have their influence in another land, and swell the bosoms of another people. If these signal coincidences in the lives and deaths of our departed sages—if the prolonged existence of their sole remaining colleague--of him who hazarded the richest venture on our Independence, and still survives, its living monument; if these be deemed to indicate a divine approval of the cause of freedom, they hold forth a beacon of encouragement to deserted Greece, sufficient to rouse her from despair; and though abandoned by surrounding Christendom, the descendants of the warriors of Constantine, will discern afar off in the west, a sign as palpably revealed from Heaven, as that which led their ancestors to victory.`

But while we indulge these fervent wishes for the success of others, let us not foster a presumptuous hope, my countrymen, in favor of ourselves. Let us never forget, that in proportion to the benefits bestowed on us, are our obligations and responsibility increased; and let us endeavor to avoid the

dangers incident to too strong a confidence of security. Let us resolve to convert every benignant dispensation to its obvious ends of practical improvement; and whilst we draw a veil over the frailties of the dead, and cherish the remembrance of their virtues, let us frequently recur to the examples of their lives, and advert to the union of their souls in death. Should the institutions of our country be assailed by intestine violence, or their existence threatened by local jealousies and geographical distinctions, let us revert to the national principles and catholic feelings of the two great chieftains of the North and South; and remember the auspicious day that blended their kindred spirits in one admonitory death. whilst thus studious to repress the germs of rising animosities, let the remembrance of our past dissentions be buried in the graves of ADAMS and of JEFFERSON.

« PreviousContinue »