Abbildungen der Seite

upon him; and to the joint influence of the whole mass of the virtues, even in the imperfect state he was able to acquire them, all that evenness of temper, and that cheerfulness in conversation, which makes his company still sought for, and agreeable even to his younger acquaintance. I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.


John Adams was born in Braintree, in that part now forming the town of Quincy, October 19, 1735

He entered Harvard College at the age of sixteen, having had a meagre preparation under two clerical tutors. The fact that he studied Virgil and Homer painfully after his graduation, is not calculated to give us a very high idea of the state of classical learning in Cambridge at the time. He taught school and afterwards read law in Worcester. He commenced the practice of his profession in his native town at the age of twenty-three, and with many discouragements slowly won his way to the first place among lawyers. He was early a friend of the popular cause against the British government; but his sense of justice was so strong that he undertook the defence of the soldiers concerned in what has been termed the Boston Massacre, at the risk of his personal popularity and business interests. The kind of courage which we agree to call “ pluck” was always the eminent characteristic of the elder Adams. From the time of the discussions upon the Stamp Act until the declaration of independence, the life of John Adams is a part of our national history. His patriotism, courage, eloquence, and zeal have been celebrated in sentences which future generations will read with ever-increasing enthusiasm. Nor is there space even to mention his services and honors as diplomatist, vice president, and president; every school-boy knows his history.

Mr. Adams lived in an age of action, and had little time for rhetorical arts. But few of his speeches have been preserved. His letters form the most valuable part of his published works, and are among the best in our literature. Those addressed to his wife, in particular, are delightfully frank, tender, and manly.

In his later days, when the doctrines of the Federalists had become unpopular, Mr. Adams suffered unspeakable indignities from political enemies, and from summer friends ; but before the close of his life the substantial integrity and purity of his character were honored by friends and foes alike, and all the din of party strife was hushed in admiration of his long services and unselfish patriotism.

The doctrines of his antagonists have thus far prevailed, for the most part, in directing public affairs ; but it is not settled yet that universal suffrage, without restraints upon the ignorant and vicious, will make a republic either perpetual or desirable.

Mr. Adams died at the ripe age of ninety-one, on the 4th of July, 1826, on the same day with his illustrious friend and rival, Jefferson.

His Life and Letters have been published, in ten volumes, under the care of his grandson, Hon. Charles Francis Adams.

(From a Letter to his Wife, July 3, 1776.] YESTERDAY the greatest question was decided which ever was debated in America, and a greater, perhaps, never was, nor ever will be, decided among men.

A resolution was passed, without one dissenting colony, " that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and in-ependent States, and as such they have, and of right ought to have, full power to make war, conclude peace, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which other States may rightfully do.” You will see, in a few days, a declaration setting forth the causes which have impelled us to this mighty revolution, and the reasons which will justify it in the sight of God and man. A plan of confederation will be taken up in a few days.

When I look back to the year 1761, and recollect the argument concerning writs of assistance in the superior court, which I have hitherto considered as the commencement of the controversy between Great Britain and America, and run through the whole period from that time to this, and recollect the series of political events, the chain of causes and effects, I am surprised at the suddenness as well as greatness of this revolution. Britain has been filled with folly, and America with wisdom ; at least, this is my judgment. Time must determine. It is the will of Heaven that the two countries should be sundered forever. It may be the will of Heaven that America shall suffer calamities still more wasting, and distresses yet more dreadful. If this is to be the case, it will have this good effect at least: it will inspire us with many virtues which we have not, and correct many errors, follies, and vices, which threaten to disturb, dishonor, and destroy us. The furnace of affliction produces refinement in states as well as individuals. And the new governments we are assuming, in every part, will require a purification from our vices, and an augmentation of our virtues, or they will be no blessings. The people will have unbounded power, and the people are extremely addicted to corruption and venality, as well as the great. But I must submit all my hopes and fears to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe.

Had a declaration of independency been made seven months ago, it would have been attended with many great and glorious effects. We might before this hour have formed alliances with foreign states. We should have mastered Quebec, and been in possession of Canada.

You will, perhaps, wonder how such a declaration would have influenced our affairs in Canada ; but if I could write with freedom, I could easily convince you that it would, and explain to you the manner how. Many gentlemen in high stations and of great influence have been duped by the ministerial bubble of commissioners to treat. And in real, sincere expectation of this event, which they

[ocr errors]

su fondly wished, they have been slow and languid in promoting measures for the reduction of that province. Others there are in the colonies who really wished that our enterprise in Canada would be defeated, that the colonies might be brought into danger and distress between two fires, and be thus induced to submit. Others really wished to defeat the expedition to Canada, lest the conquest of it should elevate the minds of the people too much to hearken to those terms of reconciliation which they believed would be offered

These jarring views, wishes, and designs occasioned an opposition to many salutary measures, which were proposed for the support of that expedition, and caused obstructions, embarrassments, and studie:l delays, which have finally lost us the province. All these causes, however, in conjunction, would not have disappointed us, if it had not been for a misfortune which could not be foreseen, and, perhaps, could not have been prevented. I mean the prevalence of the small-pox among our troops. This fatal pestilence completed our destruction. It is a frown of Providence upon us, which we ought to lay to heart.

But, on the other hand, the delay of this declaration to this time has many great advantages attending it. The hopes of reconciliation, which were fondly entertained by multitudes of honest and wellmeaning, though weak and mistaken, people, have been gradually, and at last totally, extinguished. Time has been given for the whole people maturely to consider the great question of independence, and to ripen their judgments, dissipate their fears, and allure their hopes, by discussing it in newspapers and pamphlets, by debating it in assemblies, conventions, committees of safety and inspection, in town and county meetings, as well as in private conversations, so that the whole people, in every colony of the thirteen, have now adopted it as their own act. This will cement the Union, and avoid those heats, and perhaps convulsions, which might have been occasioned by such a declaration six months ago.

But the day is past. The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.

You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means, and that posterity will triumph in that day's transaction, even although we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not.

(To Messrs. Jacob B. Taylor, John Yates Cebra, Stuart F. Randolph, R. Riker, and

Henry Arcularius, a committee of arrangements of the city corporation of New York.]

Quincy, 10th June, 1826. GENTLEMEN : Your very polite and cordial letter of invitation, written to me in behalf of the city corporation of New York, has been gratefully received, through the kindness of General J. Morton.

The anniversary you propose to celebrate, “ with increased demonstrations of respect,” in which you invite me to participate in person, is an event sanctioned by fifty years of experience, and it will become memorable by its increasing age, in proportion as its success shall demonstrate the blessings it imparts to our beloved country, and the maturity it may attain in the progress of time.

Not these United States alone, but a mighty continent, the last discovered, but the largest quarter of the globe, is destined to date the period of its birth and emancipation from the 4th of July, 1776.

Visions of future bliss in prospect, for the better condition of the human race, resulting from this unparalleled event, might be indulged, but sufficient unto the day be the glory thereof; and while you, gentlemen of the committee, indulge with your fellowcitizens of the city of New York in demonstrations of joy and effusions of hilarity worthy the occasion, the wonderful growth of the state whose capital you represent, within the lapse of half a century, cannot fail to convince you that the indulgence of enthusiastic views of the future must be stamped with any epithet other than visionary.

I thank you, gentlemen, with much sincerity for the kind invitation with which you have honored me, to assist in your demonstrations of respect for the day and all who honor it. And, in default of my personal attendance, give me leave to propose, as a sentiment for the occasion, Long and lasting prosperity to the City and State of New York.



I am,


Thomas Jefferson was born at Shadwell, in Albemarle County, Virginia, April 2, 1743. He received a classical education at the Coilege of William and Mary, and subsequently studied law. He was successful at the bar, but was soon drawn away from practice into political life. As he had inherited a handsome estate, and had besides a large fortune with his wife, he was able to give his whole time to public affairs. It was remarkable that a man who never made a set speech should have been the most able and most successful politician of his time. It was by his private correspondence that he disseminated his views, and maintained his ascendency as a party leader. Many volumes of his letters have been published, but it is probable that many more will yet be discovered. These, with his Notes on Virginia, and his state papers, coustitute his works. His name will forever be connected with the immortal Declaration of Independence, a production that is nearly as conspicuous in literary as in political annals.

During his whole career, as member of the House of Burgesses, as governor, as member of the Provincial Congress, as secretary of state under Washington, as ambassador, and as president, he adhered, with a singular tenacity, to the doctrines of equality and to popuLr rights as against prescription. It was owing to him that primogeniture and the law of entail, the chief Lulwarks of a landed aristocracy, were abolished by the new constitution of Virginia. His influence as a law reformer made it possible for that state to adopt and maintain a republican form of governnient. He was firmly opposed to slavery, although a slaveholder, and strove, by legal means, to prevent its increase, and to prepare the way for its abolition. He was averse to titles of honor, and maintained, both in official station and at home, a severe republican simplicity. The later years of his life were devoted, in a great measure, to the establishment of the University of Virginia, an institution in which he took a great and just pride.

Though the political principles of Jefferson were warmly combated in his day, and by men of high character and undoubted patriotism, yet it is noticeable that his ideas have been most efficient in moulding the institutions and inspiring the legislation of the country. This influence is not inherited by any one party; it has come to pervade all thinking minds.

The style of Jefferson is easy, natural, and perspicuous. He seldom rises to eloquence, although many of his sentences contain powerful strokes. His manners were very attractive, and his hospitality, at Monticello, was unbounded. He died July 4, 1826, just fifty years after the Declaration.

Of the several biographies of Jefferson, the best is by H. S. Randall (3 vols., 8vo). His works were published by order of Congress, and fill nine volumes. A new selection of letters, including some not before printed, has recently been published by his granddaughter, under the title of The Domestic Life of Jefferson.

[From the Letters of Jefferson.)


His mind was great and powerful, without being of the very first order ; his penetration strong, though not so acute as that of a Newton, Bacon, or Locke ; and, as far as he saw, no judgment was ever sounder. It was slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion. Hence the common remark of his officers, of the advantage he derived from councils of war,

« ZurückWeiter »