« PreviousContinue »
in our deliberations. The subject of American Independence was taken up, on which the happiness of millions depended; a measure, the effects of which were not to be confined to the present generation, nor limited to the extent of the British Colonies. Well was it that they should consider the act about to be done. Should this step be taken, and a failure ensue, confiscations and gibbets stood presented to the view ; and death awaited not only them, but the best portion of the country; but if crowned with success, behold even then, the sacrifices to be met, the dangers to be encounteredour cities sacked and reduced to ashes- -a great portion of the country overrun by a licentious soldiery, headed by men controlled by the mandates of an enraged and maddened tyrant. The expense of blood and treasure, none could calculate; the merciless savage, alike regardless of the mother and the child, was to be let loose upon our defenceless frontier; and in the Southern Colonies a servile war, still more desolating in its character, was to be kindled. With whom was this contest to be? With Great Britain-a nation rich in all the means of warpowerful armies, commanded by experienced generalsample resources for the employment of the mercenary soldiers of other nations--an unbounded credit--a nation that claimed the ocean for her own, and might, in the pride of her powers exclaim
Go back with me, my countrymen, to those days of uncertainty and fearful apprehension, and view the condition of the Colonies. Have they armies? No. Have they officers of well tried skill? But one who has had the benefit of experience, and he reared a farmer, not a soldier. Have they a supply of munitions of war? None equal to the occasion. Have they a Navy? None that deserves the name. Have they money equal to the undertaking? No, nor credit suffi
cient to borrow. Can they procure foreign aid? That is uncertain and depends upon contingencies.
Here is fearful odds; but what is the prize to be contended for? Liberty; a pearl beyond all price: therefore, trusting in the God of battles, and in the stout and determined hearts, and the untrembling nerves of honest freemen, the Congress resolved to be free or die! Their trust was not in vain, God was with them! Yes, my friends, he was on our side; he taught our Senators wisdom; he banished from them the councils of fear, and nerved the hearts of our countrymen; he led us through the wilderness of the revolution ; he was a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night, and our Chief, more fortunate than Israel's, not only saw the promised land, but dwelt in it many years.
Mr. Jefferson had prepared the Declaration of Independence, had submitted it to the inspection of Mr. Adams, no amendments were suggested, it was laid before the whole Committee, approved and reported to the House as originally drawn-there some alterations were made, of which, Mr. Adams when writing an account of its transaction says, "The Congress cut off about a quarter part of it, as he expected they would do, but they obliterated some of the best of it, and left all that was exceptionable, if any was."
The instrument is complete, and each compatriot in succession advances and affixes his name, in testimony that he had pledged "his life, his fortune, and his sacred honor," to that which was true. The deed is done, and proclamation of it is made to American freemen, not now the subject of a foreign monarch.
Washington, for the honor of whose birth, not seven cities alone, but more than seven nations might have contended, had not the title of America been too clear to admit of con. troversy, was called forth to command the armies of this new made nation-he was ably supported by Greene and others, whose deeds of valor you have often read and heard recounted. While others were encountering the dangers and difficulties
of the field, were Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Adams idle spectators of passing events? far otherwise all the master spirits were at work, toiling in the cabinet or the field; rousing the drooping spirits of their countrymen ; awakening the people of Great Britain to a sense of the injustice inflicted by their government, upon their friends and unoffending kinsmen on this side of the Atlantic; in contriving the ways and means of feeding and clothing our armies, and in procuring foreign aid. These were employments worthy of statesmen and of patriots.
At last the contest ended; the gloomy period of the revolution passed away, and the pleasing spectacle is presented of a nation redeemed from the shackles and chains of slavery -a treaty was entered into, and Great Britain, weary of the contest, ackowledged our Independence.
Our connexion with other nations was then to be formed; envoys were sent to the courts of Europe to enter into treaties of amity and commerce. To whom for so important a
service could our country have turned with more confidence than to those who had first proclaimed her rights? to none: and hence Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Adams, with another renowned and fearless patriot, Dr. Franklin, were selected for these important objects; they fulfilled in their mission the high and just expectations of their countrymen.
The first election under the Federal Constitution arrived; he, who had led the nation to victory, Independence, and glory, was preferred to the chief magistracy; Mr. Adams to the Vice Presidency; Mr. Jefferson was selected by the President as the Secretary of State. Here the high estimation in which they were held by their country is still manifested-one is chosen to the second office in the gift of the people-the other is made one of the principal counsellors of the state, and confidential adviser of the chief magistrate. Between these distinguished individuals, even before General Washington retired from the Presidential chair, it became apparent that essential differences in political opinion pre
vailed; they differed as to the mode of administering the government, or rather as to the powers that might be legitimately exercised, while by the friends and advocates of their respective principles and opinions, each was looked to as best qualified to succeed him who had emphatically entitled himself to the appellation of "Father of his Country."
Mr. Adams was elected President, and Mr. Jefferson VicePresident. It will be recollected, that at that period the electors did not designate the individual who was voted for as President-each voted for two persons, and he who received the highest number of votes was to be the President, and he who obtained the next highest, the Vice-President. The people of the United States still called for the services of both.
The scheme of our government was then new; the history of other nations furnished nothing like it, or resembling it; whether upon a full experiment it would stand, or as all former Republics had done, fall, was a subject on which wise men doubted and greatly feared.
During the administration of Mr. Adams, his opinions and plan of administering the government, and those of Mr. Jef ferson, were brought fully before the American people; they were examined, discussed and compared, and by a decisive vote, the nation declared that the principles of the latter were those by which it ought to be governed. Upon this event, Mr. Adams retired to his native state, where he has spent the remainder of his life as became the patriot and sage, in dispensing good around him, and in preparing to meet his final judge.
Mr. Jefferson entered upon his duties as Chief Magistrate on the 4th of March, 1801, and, on that day exhibited to the American people in his inaugural address, those great and salutary principles upon which this government required to be administered. He proclaimed, "equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations;
entangling alliances with none-the support of the state governments in all their rights, as the most competent administrations for our domestic concerns, and the surest bulwarks against anti-republican tendencies. The preservation of the general government in its whole constitutional vigor, as the sheet-anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad-a jealous care of the right of election by the people, a mild and safe corrective of abuses, which are lopped by the sword of revolution, where peaceable remedies are unprovided—absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority, the vital principles of Republics, from which there is no appeal but to force
-a well disciplined militia, our reliance in peace, and for the first moments of war, till regulars may relieve them-the supremacy of the civil over the military authority—economy in the public expense, that labor may be lightly burdened— the honest payment of our debts, and sacred preservation of the public faith-encouragement of agriculture, and commerce as its handmaid-the diffusion of information, and the arraignment of all abuses at the bar of public reason-freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of person, under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trials by juries impartially selected."
He also inculcated the principles that the people themselves were the legitimate sovereigns of this land; that an equal portion of the sovereign power was possessed by each individual: that public officers were public servants, and responsible to the people for their public acts-that the will of the people should be obeyed by their representatives.
These, fellow-citizens, were the doctrines taught by this great apostle of civil liberty; they should form a portion of the creed of every American statesman-when they are departed from, the Republic is in danger.
Nor were these principles advanced by Mr. Jefferson only when he was highly elevated in office-while a member of the Virginia assembly, in order to prevent the accumulation of large masses of property in single families, we behold him as