ePub 版
[ocr errors]

pression of his own, “the key-stone of the political arch,” in popular governments, and the only foundation which can be laid for permanent freedom and prosperity. Upon this point he was enthusi. astically pertinacious. His efforts were perseveringly directed to the attainment of the object, in the form originally proposed by him, on all possible occasions which subsequently offered; and on his final retirement from the theatre of public affairs, he made it the great business of his life. Being in France, as before stated, at the time the main body of the Revisal was entered on, he was deprived the opportunity of raising his voice, and uttering his opinions in the Legislature, with the power and authority he had formerly done; but his letters to his friends in Virginia, of that date, abound with the most eloquent persuasions of the importance of carrying into effect those portions of the work, which he deemed most essential to the freedom and happiness of the people. Among these, the Bill under consideration occupied a prominent share of his solicitude; as is manifested by the following extract of a letter to Mr. Wythe, dated Paris, August 13, 1786.

“I think by far the most important bill in our whole code, is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness. If any body thinks, that kings, nobles, or priests are good conservators of the public happiness, send him here. It is the best school in the universe to cure him of that folly. He will see here, with his own eyes, that these descriptions of men are an abandoned confederacy against the happiness of the mass of the people. The omnipotence of their effect cannot be better proved, than in this country particularly, where, notwithstanding the finest soil upon earth, the finest climate under heaven, and a people of the most benevolent, the most gay and amiable character of which the human form is susceptible; where such a people, I say, surrounded by so many blessings from nature, are loaded with misery by kings, nobles, and priests, and by them alone. Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance: establish and improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know, that the people alone can protect us against these evils, and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose, is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles, who will rise up among us, if we leave the people in ignorance. The people of England, I think, are less oppressed than here. But it needs but half an eye to see, when among them, that the foundation is laid in their dispositions for the establishment of a despotism. Nobility, wealth, and pomp are the objects of their admiration. They are by no means the free minded peo: ple, we suppose them in America. Their learned men, too, are

few in number, and are less learned, and infinitely less emancipa"

ted from prejudice than those of this country.”

such are some of the extraordinary innovations on the established order of things, contained in the celebrated Rivised Code of Virginia, in 1779; of all which, Mr. Jefferson was the originator and draughtsman. It is impossible, at the present day, to form an adequate idea of this stupendous political work, or of the combined energies of genius and application, which it required. On the authority of Mr. Madison we are enabled to say, “that it, perhaps, exacted the severest of Mr. Jefferson's public labors.” It was unprecedented in the order of time, and stands on the page of history, the revered repository of the original, consecrate, foundations of republicanism. Well might his country apply to himself, the exulting congratulation which he applied to her, in proud antithesis with all the world besides: “What a germ have the freemen of the United States planted . And how faithfully should they cherish the parent tree at home.” What a germ indeed! the growth of which the human imagination can scarcely circumscribe Whose ‘parent tree,' planted under the auspices of his care, and nourished by the genius of his philosophy, is stretching its branches higher and wider in the heavens, and striking its roots deeper and broader in the earth, carrying life, and strength, and the power of self-resurrection to the nations which sit time-pinioned in despo


tism, and rapidly enfranchising the world. How insignificant, emp-o

ty, and inoperative, would have been the American Revolution, without the benefits secured by such labors as these. “Surely,” says Mr. Jefferson in writing to one of his revolutionary friends, “we had in view to obtain the theory and practice of good government; and how any, who seemed so ardent in this pursuit, could as shamelessly have apostatized, and supposed we meant only to put our government into other hands, but not other forms, is indeed wonderful.” The revolution from despotism or from simple monarchism even, to a free structure of government, is an enterprise of transcendent difficulty; no other nation on earth has been able to accomplish it, finally and completely, though the attempts have been frequent, desperate, and terrible. The most refined portions of the earth have been deluged with blood, and overspread with desola

tion, to recover the high ground on which the State of Virginia planted herself, at once, with the whole American empire in her train, by the mere force of reason, without a solitary throe. And the whole of this magnificent undertaking, was executed during the short interval of three years, chiefly by a single individual. agreeably to a long premeditated plan, and carried into action, in great part, by his efforts; supported, indeed, by able and faithful coadjutors from the ranks of the House, very effective as seconds. but who would not have taken the field as leaders. The whole catalogue of monarchical degeneracies and corruptions under which the transatlantic man has groaned, immemorially, and which Were attempted to be entailed on this new hemisphere, were extir. Pated in a mass; and an entire foundation laid for the bold and doubtful experiment of self-government. Freedom and elasticity were restored to the mind; and the natural equality of the hu. ** race, the first maxim of the Author's political creed, was, as on all former occasions, the governing principle of his present general institute. Four of the bills reported were remarkable illustrations of this principle, sufficient “to crush forever the eternal antagonism of artificial aristocracy, against the rights and happiness of the people.” They were marshalled in phalanx by the Author, for the express purpose of carrying out the principle of equality in all its latitude, as appears by his own record of the transaction. “I considered four of these bills, passed or reported, as forming a system by which every fibre would be eradicated of ancient or future aristocracy; and a foundation laid for a government truly republican. The Repeal of the Laws of Entail would prevent the accumulation and perpetuation of wealth, in select families, and preserve the soil of the country from being daily more and more absorbed in mortmain. The Abolition of Primogeniture, and equal partition of inheritances, removed the feudal and unnatural distinctions, which made one member of every family rich, and all the rest poor, substituting equal partition, the best of all Agrarian laws. The Restoration of the Rights of Conscience relieved the people from taxation for the support of a religion not theirs; for the establishment was truly of the religion of the rich, the dissenting sects being entirely composed of the less wealthy people ; and these, by the Bill for a General Education, would be qualified to understand their rights, to maintain them, and to exercise with intelligence their parts in self-government: and all this would be effected, without the violation of a single natural right of any one individual citizen. To these, too, might be added, as a further security, the

introduction of the trial by jury into the Chancery Courts, which
have already engulphed, and continue to engulph, so great a pro-
portion of the jurisdiction over our property.”
Among those who were associated with Mr. Jefferson in the
great cause of reform, upon democratic grounds, and steadfastly co-
operated in impressing the stamp of his principles upon the gov-

ernment of the nation, at the first crisis of its birth, the names of . . .

George Mason and James Madison, occupy a pre-eminent station. The characters of these distinguished republican statesmen, as drawn by their political chieftain, in his posthumous memoir of those times, are too interesting to be pretermitted.

“I had many occasional and strenuous coadjutors in debate, and one, most steadfast, able, and zealous; who was himself a host. This was George Mason, a man of the first order of wisdom among those who acted on the theatre of the Revolution, of expansive mind, profound judgment, cogent in argument, learned in the lore of our former constitution, and earnest for the republican change, on democratic principles. His elocution was neither flowing nor smooth; but his language was strong, his manner most impressive, and strengthened by a dash of biting cynicism, when provocation – made it seasonable.”

“Mr. Madison came into the House in 1776, a new member, and ,

young; which circumstances, concurring with his extreme modesty, prevented his venturing himself in debate, before his removal to

the Council of State, in November, 77. From thence he went to

Congress, then consisting of few members. Trained in these successive schools, he acquired a habit of self-possession, which placed at ready command the rich resources of his luminous and discriminating mind, and of his extensive information, and rendered him the first of every Assembly afterwards, of which he became a mem. ber. Never wandering from his subject into vain declamation, but pursuing it closely, in language pure, classical and copious, soothing always the feelings of his adversaries, by civilities and softness of expression, he rose to the eminent station which he held in the great National Convention of 1787; and in that of Virginia, which followed, he sustained the new constitution in all its parts, bearing off the palm against the logic of George Mason, and the servid declamation of Mr. Henry. With these consummate powers, was united a pure and spotless virtue, which no calumny has ever attempted to sully. Of the powers and polish of his pen, and of the wisdom of his administration in the highest office of the nation, I need say nothing. They have spoken, and will forever speak for them


Of Mr. Pendleton, also, who was his great opponent on all the ultra points of his theory, he has left a most interesting and flatter.

ing portrait. “Mr. Pendleton, taken all in all, was the ablest man in debate I have ever met with. He had not, indeed, the poetical fancy of Mr. Henry, his sublime imagination, his lofty and overwhelming diction; but he was cool, smooth, and persuasive; his language flowing, chaste, and embellished; his conceptions quick, acute, and full of resource; never vanquished; for if he lost the main battle, he returned upon you, and regained so much of it as to make it a drawn one, by dexterous manoeuvres, skirmishes in detail, and the recovery of small advantages which, little singly, were important altogether. You never knew when you were clear of him, but were harassed by his perseverance, until the patience was worn down of all who had less of it than himself. Add to this, that he was one of the most virtuous and benevolent of men, the kindest friend, the most amiable and pleasant of companions, which ensured a favora. ble reception to whatever came from him.”

Our detail of the public and official services of Mr. Jefferson, must now give place to an incident in private life, which discovers to view the richness of his social affections, and the warmth of his general

philanthrophy. On the memorable surrender of Burgoyne, in 77, it will be recollected, about four thousand British troops fell prisoners

of war, into the hands of the American general; and by an express

article in the capitulation, it was provided, that the surrendering ar. my should be retained in America, until an authentic ratification of the Convention entered into between the belligerents, should be re. ceived from the British government. The troops were at first ordered to Boston, where they remained about a twelve-month, when they were removed to Charlottesville, in Virginia, a short distance from Monticello. They arrived at the latter destination, in January, 1779, harassed by a long journey, during a most inclement season, and doomed to encounter the severest hardships on their arrival, from the unfinished state of their barracks, the pressing insufficiency of stores, and the impassable condition of the roads, which rendered the prospect appalling, of a timely and competent supply of subsistence. A general alarm was disseminated among the inhabitants, insomuch that reasonable minds became infected with the panic. Mr. Jefferson, whose steady prescience of a seasonable change in the state of things, preserved him from the contagion, remained tranquil

« 上一頁繼續 »