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Jefferson became a member. They terminated their first session on the 26th of October, to meet again at the same place, on the 10th of May ensuing, at which time Mr. Jefferson became a Deputy elect. On the 20th of March, 1775, the popular Convention of Virginia assembled, for the second time, upon invitation of the Chairman, to deliberate further on the condition of public affairs, and the measures which it demanded. Mr. Jefferson continued to be a member ; and the reader will be prepared to expect a corresponding continuance of bold results. We have already seen him the author of opinions, which, should they become so far americanized as to affect the controversy, could not but transfer the decision to the bloody tribunal of nations. To a political union with Great Britain, upon the broad basis of reason and right, he was not averse; nay, he most anxiously and fervently desired it, to avoid the horrors and desolations which the other alternative presented. “But, by the God that made me,” said he, a short time subsequent, “I will cease to exist, before I yield to a connevion on such terms as the British Parliament propose.” The distance between the terms upon which he would consent to a union, and the terms which Great Britain had challenged, and manifested a disposition to extort, was too great to admit any reasonable hope of accommodation. The only grounds upon which he would submit to a compromise, were, freedom from all jurisdiction of the British Parliament, and the exclusive regulation, by the Colonies, of their own internal affairs, L freedom from all restraints upon navigation, with respect to other nations,—freedom from all necessary accountability to the common law, and, in a word, freedom from all the laws, institutions and customs of the mother country, until they should have been specifically adopted as our laws, institutions and customs, by the positive or implied assent of the people. But would Great Britain consent to an abandonment of all her pretensions, and accept the proffered bagatelle? The idea was preposterous. So far from it, there was little probability she would yield to the far more gracious proposals of Congress. Mr. Jefferson saw, with prophetic certainty, the inevitable result; and he yearned to have the same clear, strong, yet terrible perspective burst upon the tardy apprehensions of his countrymen. With that wonderful precision with which he always penetrated the future, and predicted its developments, he had long anticipated the awful crisis, to which the current of events was fast settling; and we have now arrived close upon the epoch, when his mind was made up to meet that crisis, with all the firmness
which the nature of it demanded. “My creed,” says he, “had been X
formed on unsheathing the swordat Lewington.” This event, it
Resolved, That this Colony be immediately put into a state of defence, and that be a committee to prepare a plan for embodying, arming, and disciplining, such a number of men, as may be sufficient for that purpose.”
The effect of this proposition was like a bolt from heaven, upon the veteran and placid body of the Convention. A deep and painful sensation ensued, portending a desperate resistance to the measure. Long and vehement was the contest that succeeded. The resolution was opposed by all the old and considerate members, including some of the warmest patriots of the Convention, Pendleton, Harrison, Bland, Nicholas, and even the sanguine and republican Wythe. Alluding to these gentlemen, and their backwardness upon this occasion, Mr. Jefferson writes to a friend, in 1815 :
“These were honest and able men, who had begun the opposition on the same grounds, but with a moderation more adapted to their age and experience. Subsequent events favored the bolder spirits of Henry, the Lees, Pages, Mason, &c. with whom I went in all points. Sensible, however, of the importance of unanimity among our constituents, although we often wished to have gone on faster, we slackened our pace, that our less ardent colleagues might keep up with us; and they, on their part, differing nothing from us in principle, quickened their gait somewhat beyond that, which their prudence might, of itself, have advised, and thus consolidated the phalanx, which breasted the power of Britain. By this harmony of the bold with the cautious, we advanced, with our constituents, in undivided mass, and with fewer examples of separation, than perhaps existed in any other part of the union.”
It is a sublime contemplation to dwell upon the example thus recorded by Mr. Jefferson, of that indissoluble fraternization in the cause of liberty, which prevailed among our forefathers; humbling the pride of experience, chastening the enthusiasm of youth, and graduating all minds to the same height of resolution and action. In the chaste and cohesive patriotism of that day, no mixture of personal ambition ever entered, to corrupt or divide the mass. These gentlemen were all characters of weight in the Colony; so much so, that in all proceedings of a popular bearing, it was essential to conciliate their interest. Their opposition, therefore, at this stage of their advances, was a source of real anguish to the more ardent chiefs of the reform party. Their repugnance, too, to the military proposition, was as unfeigned, as it was firm. They had never dreamed of carrying their resistance into more serious forms, than those of petition, remonstrance, and passive non-intercourse. Their expectations were yet warm and unclouded, of a final reconciliation with the parent government; and they shrunk, with unaffected horror, from any attitude, which might endanger that result. Their minds had not yet expanded beyond the restraints of education and deep-rooted prejudice; and they clung, with filial attachment, to the institutions and form of government, of the mother country. Most of them, moreover, were zealous Churchmen, ardently attached to the established religion of Great Britain; and dreaded an avulsion from her, on that account, as from the anchor of their salvation. They directed the whole weight of their influence, and exerted all the powers of their eloquence, to defeat the measure; but their resistance was overborne by the impetuosity of that torrent, which poured from the lips of the affirmative champions. The resolution was moved by Mr. Henry, and supported by him, by Mr. Jefferson, and the whole of that magnanimous host, which had achieved such miracles in council. They put their united resources into action; and, by an effort of tremendous power, bore off the palm against the wisdom and pertinacity of the adversary corps. The proposition was carried; and no sooner was the vote declared, than the opposing members, one and all, filed in with the majority, and lent their names to supply the blank in the resolution. They “quickened their gait somewhat beyond that which their prudence had, of itself, advised, and advanced boldly, to a line with their colleagues. Mr. Jefferson was also appointed on the committee to prepare the plan called for by the resolution. The committee met immediately; and reported to the same Convention, a plan for embodying, arming, and disciplining the militia, which was likewise adopted. Thus did the Colony of Virginia arise and cover herself with the “impenetrable aegis” of popular governernments, an army of citizen soldiers.
This was a capital revolutionary movement. Besides the local advantages which it secured, it operated as a stimulus to the sister Colonies, and to Congress. But it was even more important as recognizing a fundamental principle. In the preamble to the resolution, which bears the broad stamp of Mr. Jefferson's sentiments, it is declared, ‘that a well-regulated militia, composed of gentlemen and yeomen, is the natural strength and only security of a free government; and, that a standing army, of mercenary soldiers is subversive of the quiet, dangerous to the liberties, and burthensome to the properties of the people.’
Having disposed of this trying subject, and transacted some other business of minor importance, the Convention proceeded to the election of Deputies to the ensuing Congress. They re-appointed the same persons; and, foreseeing the probability that Peyton Randolph would be called off, to attend a meeting of the House of Burgesses, of which he was Speaker, they made choice of Mr. Jefferson to supply the vacancy. To have been appointed, young as he was, a substitute of the President of Congress, was an evidence of the extraordinary estimate which was put upon his abilities. Lastly, having provided for a re-election of Delegates to the next Convention, they came to an adjournment.
We have now reached the precise date, May 1775, at which Mr. Jefferson consummated his creed; that creed which he so eloquently dictated to Congress, one year after, and they soundauntedly promulgated to the world. ‘The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time, was his first tenet; ‘the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them,' was his last, his determined resolution. How beautifully consistent the profession, with the final resolve. The ‘hand of force' had been upraised; the sword had been drawn at Lexington, and blood had been spilt. From that moment, all hope, not to say desire, of a peaceable accommodation. perished in his bosom. Strong as had been the ties of consanguinity, which bound him to his British brethren, and none had ever felt or cherished them more fondly, his love of justice, honor. and the rights of humanity, were still stronger. Long had he returned affection for cruelty; long had he striven, by the holy eloquence of passive fortitude, and the holier eloquence of his untiring prayers, to re-establish fraternal love and harmony. But his “repeated petitions had been answered only by repeated injuries, until the merciless catalogue had been crimsoned with the blood of his countrymen. This fatal act had “given the last stab to agonizing affection, and manly spirit bade him to renounce forever those unfeeling brethren.’ ‘We must endeavor, he then felt, to forget our former love for them, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.’
The following letter, written at this time, exhibits the state of his own, and of the public mind, on the intelligence of the first hostilities. It is the earliest, in date, of his published Correspondence,