Page images
PDF
EPUB

and insignificance. Those of his countrymen who only knew him personally during this long void of fame can scarcely realize what he once was, and what, in the fair calculation of chances, he might have been.

While Mr. Jefferson and Colonel Burr were friends and political associates, there was between them, on most points, perfect unison of opinion-on one or two of them, not entirely uninteresting, the volume before us throws some light. We presume that it is no longer a matter of doubt that there was, on the part of Mr. Jefferson, not only a bitter but an active hostility to General Washington. Those who were attentive observers of the times, opponents as well as friends, never doubted it, and Mr. Jefferson's memoirs and letters fully confirm it. The idle distinction between opposition to men and opposition to measures, even if ever available, will not serve to exculpate Mr. Jefferson from the charge of an insidious and active hostility, uttered, on all occasions, when there seemed to be no danger of disclosure to its unsuspecting object, to every measure of the administration after he left it, and to much that was done before. In his letters to his foreign correspondents (e. g. to Mazzei) he palpably libelled the president for his official course, and scarcely troubled himself to draw the faintest line between personal and official acts.

Burr's hostility to Washington was unmitigated, but it was not disguised, and from the date of his unexplained quarrel with the commander in chief in 1776 to the hour of his death, his purpose seems to have been unwavering to lose no oportunity to depreciate his character and talents, and to question the purity of his motives. His shrewdness, however, convincing him that it was in vain to attempt to inspire any portion of the American people with even a suspicion of the integrity and spotless purity of the father of his country, his anxious effort seems to have been to show the world that Washington was a man without any extraordinary reach of mind, and especially destitute of military ability. Mr. Davis tells us in his preface, that Colonel Burr was especially anxious to mingle the tale of personal grievances with this memoir, and to make it the medium of a harsh critique on General Washington's military character. This, the biographer very prudently refused to do, and the refusal seems for a time to have put in jeopardy Mr. Davis's literary project. The curious reader may collate with this trait of Burr, Mr. Jefferson's delineations of Washington's character, in which, if he finds an involuntary and honest tribute to his virtue, it is paid uniformly at the expense of his abilities.

Sometimes, as in the celebrated letter to Doctor Jones, the portrait is so highly finished, praise and censure, approval and doubt are so interwoven, that it is no easy matter to say which predominates; but, on the other hand, when the result is less elaborate, and natural impulse guides the pen, it is easy to detect the motive which impels him. Every one familiar with the history and writings of Washington (and we must thank an indefatigable contemporary for giving us all an opportunity of becoming familiar with them) knows, that at no period of his life were his energies more perfect, than from the year 1794 to the end of his eventful career, during more than a half of which time he continued president, and for a portion of the rest was in the performance of actual and perplexing duty as commander in chief of the provisional army. This is indisputable truth, which he that reads may know, and yet Mr. Jefferson, who, unlike his former friend and rival, Burr, had no prudent Mr. Davis at hand to chasten his animosities, in putting the seal on his “Ana,” in February, 1818, thus characterises the close of Washington's great career

“From the moment of my retiring from the administration, the Federalists got unchecked hold of General Washington. His memory was sensibly impaired by age,"—(Washington in 1794 was but sixty-two, and Jefferson, when he wrote this elegy on departed intellect, was seventy-five)—“the firm tone of his mind, for which he was remarkable, was beginning to relax, its energy was abated, a listlessness of labour, a desire for tranquillity had crept on him, and a willingness to let others act, and even think, for him.

Understanding, moreover, that I disapproved of the British treaty, and copiously nourished with falsehoods by a malignant neighbour of mine, who ambitioned to be his correspondent, he had become alienated from myself personally, as from the republican body, generally, of his fellow citizens; and he wrote the letters to Mr. Adams and Mr. Carroll, over which, in devotion to his imperishable fame, we must for ever weep as monuments of mortal decay."

The most malignant limner of the Conway cabal could not have more grossly caricatured the last scene of Washington's life, or made more graphically distinct the decrepit figure of the dotard patriot tottering to his grave unsustained by the only hand, unsolaced by the only counsel, on which Mr. Jefferson modestly thought he could securely rely.

When Mr. Jefferson's executor published his Memoirs and Correspondence in 1829, those whose memories were assailed in their encyclopediacal pages, had not more reason to complain than those who, according to Mr. Jefferson's account, were the tale-bearers for his contemporary records. All the gossip there registered has its pedigree minutely set forth, and is traced from the last endorser backward. Amongst those most frequently

" Jefferson's Works, iv. 452.

[ocr errors]

cited as authority for the rumours of the day, and who doubtless little dreamed that after the lapse of more than thirty years, all the details of current rumour which, as such, they carried to the credulous secretary, would be published and they quoted as authority, were several who, it now appears, were in the same confidential relation to Colonel Burr. There was no tale of federal delinquency and Hamiltonian enormity which, according to Mr. Jefferson's journal, these worthy gentlemen did not credit and repeat, and to the narrative, the record shows their auditor lent a ready ear and most retentive memory. We need not cite instances of what we refer to; but find, in the volume before us, the following letter, which shows that Burr, too, was the recipient of the same things from the same sources. It is a letter from Dr. Rush to Colonel Burr, introducing Mr. John Beckley, an individual, who, we need not remind the reader, was a cherished disciple of Mr. Jefferson, and an accredited defamer, under the well-known signature of “The Calm Observer," of the Washington administration. We can imagine how grateful the writer's comment on Hamilton's funding system must have been to him to whom it was addressed:

“Puliladelphia, 24th September, 1792. “Dear Sir,—This letter will be handed you by Mr. Beckley. He possesses a fund of information about men and things. The republican ferment continues to work in our state; and the time, I think, is approaching very fast, when we shall universally reprobate the maxim of sacrificing public justice and national gratitude to the interested ideas of stock-jobbers and brokers, whether in or out of the legislature of the United States.

“ Your friends every where look to you to take an active part in removing the monarchical rubbish of our government. It is time to speak out, or we are undone. The association in Boston augurs well. Do feed it by a letter to Mr. Samuel Adams. My letter will serve to introduce you to him, if enclosed in one from yourself.

"Yours sincerely, -pp. 316, 317.

“ BENJAMIN Rush." In the comparison which we have sketched, rather than illustrated, between Jefferson and Burr, we have been actuated by no disposition to exalt or depress either at the expense of the other, but chiefly by a wish to render to Colonel Burr that justice of which none have been so anxious to deprive him as his ancient fellow-labourers and associates. The aversion of the federalists to Burr, though founded in reason and justice, was a moderated and softened feeling in comparison with the rancorous animosity which Mr. Jefferson and his school exhibited towards him. The former saw, in his seclusion and obscurity, a judgment on his faults and follies, and were content without adding weight to the dispensation. Mr. Jefferson,

[ocr errors]

from the moment that Burr dared to aspire to the high honour for which his life of intrigue had been spent, never lost sight of his victim, and would, if we may judge him by his letters, have gladly seen him end his days upon the scaffold. After Burr had been once acquitted on the charge of treason, Mr.Jefferson wrote to Mr. Hay "We are strongly of opinion that the prosecution against Burr for misdemeanour should proceed at Richmond. If defeated, it will heap coals of fire on the head of the judge (Marshall): if successful, it will give time to see whether a prosecution against him for treason can be instituted in any, and what other court." Now, whatever Colonel Burr may have merited, at other hands, this persecution by Mr. Jefferson and his political friends was most unjust-morally and historically unjust. From 1789 to 1800 they were fellow labourers in the same political vineyard. They were the Theseus and Pirithous of their party. They were “the twinn'd lambs” of the same flock,

" that did frisk i' the sun And bleat the one at the other." “A letter,” says Mr. Jefferson to Burr in 1797, “will, at any rate, give me an opportunity of recalling myself to your memory, and of evincing my esteem for you." Mr. Davis has not favoured the world with any of the responsive notes of Colonel Burr's affection.

We have endeavoured cursorily to show not only that, till the period when a conflict of interests occurred, they were closely united in personal and political communion, but, as we honestly believe, that their chances of success were nearly balanced and that there was little or no disparity of intellectual merit or pretension between them. Burr had traits of charac

” ter to which Mr. Jefferson had no claim whatever. They were both men of inordinate ambition. Mr. Jefferson masked his projects of personal and political advancement with all the adroitness of a practised and cautious engineer-never exposing himself to unnecessary risk, and directing his steps stealthily but surely to the object in view. Burr was a bad, brave man, of restless temperament and uncontrolled passions. While a soldier, there was no enterprise dangerous enough to appal himno hazard which, in pursuit of his military ambition, he would not readily run. As a politician, he was a man of desperate expedients, unshaken resolution, and indefatigable persever

While Mr. Jefferson was enjoying all the lucky irre

а

ance.

2

1 Jefferson's Works, iv. 103.

? Id. iii. 356. In his deposition in the case of Burr v. Cheetham, Mr. James A. Bayard said, speaking of Colonel Burr, “I considered Mr. Burr personally better qualified to fill the office of president than Mr. Jefferson.”

sponsibility of the vice presidential station, Burr was boldly fighting the battles of his party on the floor of the senate, mingling in all discussions with ability and decision, and seeking rather than avoiding the responsibilities of a leader.

When, in 1794, Mr. King's modified bill to increase the standing army was under consideration on the last day of the session—it having passed all its preliminary stages by a decided majority-an unanimous vote was necessary on its final passage. By the rules of the senate, the question could not be put if any member objected. Colonel Burr objected, and the bill was thus defeated. It may well be doubted whether Mr. Jefferson's temperament qualified him for such thorough and responsible party duty. Whenever, in the course of his political or professional career, he was made the object of insult, Burr was always ready to resort to the soldier's last redress; and in his personal encounters, as well the bloodless one with Mr. Church as the mortal combat with General Hamilton, he exhibited a degree of courage and composure worthy his military reputation. Even when driven into retirement, (and here the contrast is honourable to Mr. Jefferson, his chafed and wounded spirit led him to seek solace and excitement in his Mexican expedition ; and, after that failed, to sink back into gloomy misanthropy, and, unless story much wrongs his fame, freely to resort to desperate professional expedients.

The curfew of Mr. Jefferson's eventful day called him to the retirement of literary and philosophic ease, which, though ultimately and most unhappily disturbed by pecuniary embarrassments, was hallowed by the enthusiastic reverence of numerous political adherents, and by the devotion of the dominant party in our country. His death formed part of a romantic coincidence ; and a nation, grateful for the good and generously forgetful of the evil he had done or wished to do, poured their willing lamentations o'er his tomb. Burr died at an equally advanced age in obscurity and neglect, without a friend or child to stand by his bed of pain. In what way his old age was passed-in what pursuits and with what feelings towards the world he was about to leave-Mr. Davis's next volume must inform us.

His preface to the volume before us gives an incident and trait of character with which, and one of familiar and corresponding interest of Mr. Jefferson's, we close these general remarks, and this hasty parallel between these two eminent

On the 14th of February, 1818, in the calm and philosophic retirement of Monticello, Mr. Jefferson revised his "Ana," and put the seal of final approval on that malignant tissue of exploded calumny which he destined as a posthumous memorial of unconquered prejudices, to wound the feelings of the living

a

men.

« PreviousContinue »