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From this period, 1774, the royal government might be considered as virtually at an end, in Virginia. The self-constituted Convention, which was erected upon the ruins of the regal Legislature, immediately succeeded, by a bold usurpation, to all its functions, and took the reins of the government completely into their own hands.
Agreeably to their instructions, the Committee of Correspondence lost no time in proposing to the co-ordinate committees of the other Provinces, the expediency of uniting in the plan of a General Congress. They met the day after the adjournment of the Convention, Mr. Jefferson in the chair; prepared letters according to their instructions; and dispatched them by messengers express, to their
yeral destinations. The proposition was unanimously embraced; y Massachusetts first, whose Legislature was in session, when it
was received; and by all the other Provinces, in quick succession, in the order in which their respective Legislatures, or informal Conventions, assembled. Delegates were universally chosen ; no Province sending less than two or more than seven. Philadelphia, forming a convenient central point, was designated as the place, and the 5th of September ensuing, as the time, of meeting. Agreeably to the further recommendation of the memorable meeting at the Apollo, the People of the several counties of Virginia, universally elected Delegates to the preliminary Convention, at Williamsburg. Mr. Jefferson was chosen to represent the county in which he resided. Men of the first distinction in wealth, talents and wisdom, were uniformly selected ; such as George Washington, the Randolphs, Pendleton, Wythe, Henry, the Lees, Nicholas, Bland, Harrison, &c. &c.; and on the first of August, '74, this formidable body, being the first democratic Convention in Virginia, assembied at Williamsburg, and organized for business, with all the solemnities of the regular Legislature. Anticipating, probably, that he should be called upon to perform his usual office of draughtsman, at the Convention; or anxious, perhaps, to impress the stamp of liberality and forwardness upon their doings, Mr. Jefferson, before leaving home, had prepared a code of instructions to the Delegates who should be chosen to Congress, which he meant to propose for their adoption. Speaking of these instructions, the author says, “they were drawn in haste, with a number of blanks, with some uncertainties and inaccuracies of his. torical facts, which I neglected at the moment, knowing they could be readily corrected at the meeting.” However much the diffidence of the author may have inclined him to deprecate the rigor of criticism, by diminishing its pretensions, it is generally admitted, that this production ranks second only to the Declaration of Independence; of which it was, indeed, the genuine precursor, both as it respects boldness and originality of sentiment, and unrivaled felicity of composition. He set out for Williamsburg, some days before that appointed for the meeting of the Convention, but was arrested on his journey by sickness, which prevented his attendance in person. His ardent spirit, however, was wholly there; and so anxious was he to discharge, in some way, the duties of his appointment, that he forwarded by express, duplicate copies of his draught; one under cover to Patrick Henry, the other, to Peyton Randolph, whom he presumed would be chairman of the Convention. His own account of the reception of his draught, is too interesting to be omitted. “Whether Mr. Henry disapproved the ground taken, or was too lazy to read it, for he was the laziest man in reading I ever knew.-I never learned : but he communicated it to nobody. He probably thought it too bold, as a first measure, as the majority of the members did. On the other copy being laid upon the table of the Convention, by Peyton Randolph, as the proposition of a member who was prevented from attendance, by sickness on the road, tamer sentiments were preferred, and, I believe, wisely preferred ; the leap I proposed being too long, as yet, for the mass of our citizens. The distance between these, and the instructions actually adopted, is of some curiosity, however, as it shows the inequality of
pace with which we moved, and the prudence required to keep front and rear together.”
The paper was read, nevertheless, with great avidity, by the members; and although they considered it a leap too long for the present state of things, they were so impressed with its profound and luminous expositions of the rights and wrongs of the Colonies, that they caused it to be published in pamphlet form, under the title of “A Summary View of the Rights of British America.” A copy of the work having found its way to England, it was taken up by the o
whigs in Parliament, interpolated some by the celebrated Burke, in order to adapt it to opposition purposes there, and in that form ran rapidly through several editions. Such doctrines as were advanced in this pamphlet, had never before been heard in England, nor even ventured in America; and they drew upon the author, the hottest vials of ministerial wrath. The name of Jefferson was forthwith enrolled in a Bill of Attainder, for treason, in company with those of about twenty other American citizens, who were considered the principal agitators' in the Colonies. The Attainder, however, although actually commenced in Parliament, never came to maturity, but ‘was suppressed in embryo, by the hasty step of events, which warned them to be a little cautious.’ This ancient paper is highly valuable, as containing the first disclosure, in a round and authentic form, of the state of Mr. Jefferson's mind, on the subject of those great political questions, which were the bases of the American Revolution; and as exhibiting, in the discussions which it gave rise to, and in the circumstances attending its rejection by the Convention, the ‘inequality of pace' with which the leaders in the American councils travelled onward, to the same result. It is curious and impressive to take a retrospective view of the minds of that noble fraternity of American sages, which, some straining on to keep up, others falling back to receive them, moved in a column of unanimity and power, which astonished the eighteenth century. Nor will it be thought invidious, at the present day, to compare the birth, and trace the relative progress of their opinions, on the subject of those eternal principles, the practical application of which, in a rational and peacable way, has already regenerated the political condition of half the world. It appears, that in the most essential principles involved in the emancipation of the American Colonies, from Great Britain—those principles, which settled the question upon its right basis, and determined the final crisis, by forming an issue of eternal irreconcilibility—Mr. Jefferson was for a long time ahead of his cotemporaries. The great point, at which the leaders of that hazardous enterprise, with a single exception, halted, as the ne plus ultra of colonial right, he only called the ‘half-way house.’ A brief memorandum, which he himself has left of that period, explains the ground which he occupied, and the precise distance between him and his compatriots. Speaking of his draft of instructions, he says–
“In this I took the ground that, from the beginning, I had thought the only one orthodox or tenable, which was, that the relation between Great Britain and these Colonies, was exactly the same, as that of England and Scotland, after the accession of James and until the union; and the same as her present relations with Hanover, having the same executive chief, but no other necessary political connection; and that our emigration from England to this country, gave her no more rights over us, than the emigrations of the Danes and Saxons gave to the present authorities of the mother country, over England. In this doctrine, however, I had never been able to get any one to agree with me but Mr. Wythe. He concurred in it from the first dawn of the question— What was the political relation between us and England? Our other patriots, Randolph, the Lees, Nicholas, Pendleton, stopped at the half-way house of John Dickinson, who admitted that England had a right to regulate our commerce, and to lay duties on it for the purposes of regulation, but not of raising revenue. But for this ground there was no foundation in compact, in any acknowledged principles of colonization, nor in reason—expatriation being a natural right, and acted on as such, by all nations, in all ages.” Again, in a letter to John Saunderson, in 1820, containing some notices and recollections for the biography of George Wythe, he says: “On the first dawn of the Revolution, instead of higgling on half-way principles, as others did, who feared to follow their fetloo". he [Wythe) took his stand on the solid ground, that the coly link of political union between us and Great Britain, was the identity of our executive; that that nation, and its Parliament. had no more authority over us, than we had over them; and that we were coordinate nations with Great Britain and Hanover This point is further illustrated in the Bill of Attainder, before mentioned as having been commenced in the British Parliament. After reciting a list of proscriptions, among which were Hancock and the Adamses, as notorious leaders the opposition in Massachusetts, Patrick Henry, as the same i, Virginia, Peyton Randolph, as President of the General Congree in Philadelphia, the Bill adds, and Thomas Jefferson, as author of a proposition to the Convention. of Virginia, for an address to too King, in which was maintained, that there was in right, no 'ink of union between England and /e Colonies, but that of the same King ; and that neither the Parliament, nor any other functionary of that government, had any more right to exercise authority over the Colonies. than over the Electorate of Honor ; yet expressing, in conclusion,
an acquiescence in reasonable restrictions of commerce, for the benefit of Great Britain, a conviction of the mutual advantages of union, and a disavowal of the wish for separation.” it appears, therefore, that the correct definition and answer of the great question, which formed the hinge of the American Revolution, to wit, of the right of taxation without representation, were original with Mr. Jefferson. He, following out the right of expatriation into all its legitimate consequences, advanced at once, to the necessary conclusion, and the only one which he deemed orthodox or tenable—that there was no political connection whatever, between the Parliament of Great Britain and the Colonies; and, consequently, that it had no right to tax them in any case—not even for the regulation of commerce. The other patriots, either not admitting the right of expatriation, or, which is most likely, not having pursued, to the same extent, its necessary results, conceded the authority of Parliament over the Colonies, for the purposes of commercial regulation, though not of raising revenue. But this was going no farther than Burke, Chatham, Wilkes, Fox,
and the opposition members generally, of the House of Commons,
went; and it is not improbable, that had the question been restrained to that issue, it would have terminated in mutual reconciliation, upon that basis. But the question was not so retrained, and quite
a different conclusion resulted. It is no small evidence of original
ity, that one of the youngest of the American counsellors, and a youth compares, to most of them, should have been the first to have Planted "o" on the utmost verge of colonial right, short of absolute independense. But there W* * principles advanced in this bold political Essay, which Were deemol equally novel and extraordinary, by the sages of the Virginia Conwntion; and an adequate view of the singular progress of the *or's mind, at this period, cannot be given, without presenting itentin to the reader. The richness and energy of the composition, generals, and the orvid eloquence of particular passages, would alone compensate for as great length. It will be perceived, that, for the first time, the word States is substituted for ‘Colonies' by the author. This will not be thought a small circumstance, when it is known, that in the debates upon the
* Girardin's Ilistory of Virginia, Appendix, No. 12, note.