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AMERICAN ELOQUENCE.

JAMES OTIS.

: The subject of this memoir, descended in the fifth generation from John Otis, who came

- rer from England at a very early period of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, and settled at Hingham, was born on the 5th of February, 1725, in the family mansion, at Great Marshes, now West Barnstable, Massachusetts. Nothing is known of his early youth. Pursuing his classical

dies under the guidance of the Reverend Jonathan Russel, minister of the parish in which he wed, he entered Harvard College in June, 1739, and took his first degree in 1743. “During the first two years of his college life,” says his biographer, “his natural ardor and vivacity made

society much courted by the elder students, and engaged him more in amusement than in : udy; but he changed his course in the junior year, and began thenceforward to give indications of great talent and power of application." The only record of his having taken any part in the usual collegiate courses, is that of a syllogistic disputation, on receiving his first degree.

At college, excepting his two first years, he was serious in his disposition and steady in the prosecution of his studies. When he came home during the vacations, being so devoted to his books, he was seldom seen; and the near neighbors to his father's dwelling would sometimes only remark his return after he had been at home a fortnight. Though enveloped and marked with some of the gravity and abstraction natural to severe application, he would occasionally discover the wit and humor which formed, afterwards, striking ingredients in his character. A small party of young people being assembled one day at his father's house, when he was at home during a college vacation, he had taken a slight part in their sports, when, after much persuasion, they induced him to play a country dance for them with his violin, on which instrument he then practised a little. The set was made up, and after they were fairly engaged, he suddenly stopped, and holding up his fiddle and bow, exclaimed, “So Orpheus fiddled, and so danced the brutes ! " and then tossing the instrument aside, rushed into the garden, followed by the disappointed revellers, who were obliged to convert their intended dance into a frolicsome chase after the fugitive musician.

It was the intention of Mr. Otis to qualify himself for the practice of law, but he did not engage in the appropriate studies for that purpose immediately on leaving college. He wisely devoted nearly two years to the pursuits of general literature and science, intending thereby to (stablish broad and deep the foundations of his professional studies. In 1745 he commenced the sturly of the law, in the office of Jeremiah Gridley, at that time the most eminent lawyer in the province; and on completing those studies, he removed to Plymouth, and practised there during the years 1748 and 1749. Finding the “narrow range of country business” unsuited to his powers, he returned to Boston, where he soon rose to the highest position in his profession, being often called upon from other colonies and distant provinces for legal assistance and advice.

Through all his professional.engagements, he still retained his taste for literature. In 1760, he published “The Rudiments of Latin Prosody, with a Dissertation on Letters, and the Principles of Harmony, in Pgetic and Prosaic Composition, collected from the best Writers." He also composed a similar work on Greek Prosody, which was never published, but perished with all the rest of his papers.

The important events preceding and connected with the American Revolution, attracted the attention of.Mr. Otis. On the death of George the Second, in 1760, his grandson reached the throne. The conquest of Canada was completed, and rumors were widely spread that the colonits were to be deprived of their charters and formed into royal governments. The new king issued orders that enabled his officers of the revenue to compel the sheriffs and constables of the *Provinces to search for goods which it was supposed had not paid the taxes imposed by Parliament. The good will of the colonists was wanted no longer to advance the prosecution of the war, and Writs of Assistance were undertaken through the influence of royal governors and some other interested friends of the Crown. The first application for those writs was made at Salem, Massachusetts. Stephen Sewall,* who was the Chief Justice of the Superior Court, expressed great doubt of the legality of such writs, and of the authority of the court to grant them. The other judges would not favor it; and as it was an application of the Crown, that could not be dismissed without a hearing, it was postponed to the next term of the court, to be holden at Boston, in February, 1761. The probable result of this question caused great anxiety among the mercantile portion of the community. The merchants applied to Benjamin Pratt,t to undertake their cause, but he declined, being about to leave Boston for New York, of which province he had been appointed Chief Justice. They then solicited Otis, and Oxenbridge Thacher, both of whom engaged to make their defence.

The arguments in this important; e, were heard in the Council Chamber of the old Town House in Boston. Chief Justice Sew having died, Lieut. Gov. Hutchinson had been appointed as his successor, and before him the Cewe wps opened, by Mr. Gridley, 8 Otis's veteran law teacher, then Attorney General. He was followed by Mr. Thacher, with great ingenuity and ability, on the side of the merchants. “But," in the language of President Adams, “Otis was a flame

* Stophen Sewall was the son of Major Samuel Sewall, of Salem, Mass. He was born in December, 1702, and graduated at Harvard College, in 1721. In 1728 he was chosen tutor in the College, and occupied that position until 1789, when he was called to take a seat on the Bench of the Superior Court. On the death of Chief Justice Dudley, in 1752, he was appointed to succeed him, though not the senior judge. He was distinguished for his honor, integrity, moderation, and great benevolence. IIe died in December, 1760, and the loss of this impartial, high-minded magistrate, at that critical period, was rightly esteemed a great public misfortune.

† Mr. Pratt affords a striking example how strong talent and energy of mind may raise one from a humble lot, and make even calamity the foundation of prosperity. He was bred a mechanic, and met with a serious injury that prevented him from pursuing his occupation. He turned his mind to study, entered Harvard College, and took his first degree in 178i. lle studied law, and rose to great distinction at the bar. Through the friendship of Governor Pownall, he was made Chief Justice of New York, in 1761. A cause of great difficulty, which had been many years depending, being brought up soon after he had taken his seat, gave him an opportunity of displaying the depth and acuteness of his intellect, and the soundness of his judgment, and secured for him at once the public respect and confidence. He wrote some political essays on the topics of the day; and a few remaining fragments in verse of his composition, a specimen of which is preserved in Knapp's Biography, prove that he possessed both taste and talent for poetry. He presided over the Courts of New York bat two years, dying in 1763, at the age of fifty-five.- Tudor.

# Mr. Thacher was at that time one of the heads of the bar in Boston ; was a fine scholar, and possessed of much general Icarning. He received his degree at Harvard College, in 1738. Unassuming and affable in his deportment, of strict morality, punetual in his religious duties, and with sectarian attachments, that made him, like a large majority of the people around him, look with jealousy and enmity on the meditated encroachments of the English hierarchy; he was in all these respects fitted to be popular. To these qualities he joined tho purest and most ardent patriotism, and a quick perception of those in power. His opposition gave the government great uneasiness; his disposition and habits secured public confidence; his moderation, learning, and ability, gave weight ti nis opinions, and prevented him from being considered as imder the influence of others. John Adams says, the advocates of the Crown “hated him worse than they did James Otis or Samuel Adams.” Thacher published some essays on the subject of an alteration proposed by Lieutenant Governor Ilutchinson relative to the value of gold and silver; also, a pamphlet against the policy of the Navigation Act, and the Acts of Trade, entitled, “ The Sentiments of a British American." He died, of a pulmonary complaint, in 1765.

$ Mr. Gridley was one of the principal lawyers and civilians of this time. He took his degree at Harvard College, in 1725. He came to Boston as an assistant in the Grammar School, for some time preached occasionally; but turning his attention to the law, he soon rose to distinction in the profession. He set on foot a weekly journal, in 1732, called the Re nearsal, in which he wrote on various literary as well as political subjects; but it lasted only one year. He was a Whig in politics, anil as a representative from Brookline, in the General Court, opposed the measures of the ministry. He was

of fire; with a promptitude of classical allusions, a depth of research, a rapid summary of

historical events and dates, a profusion of legal authorities, a prophetic glance of his eyes into { faturity, and a rapid torrent of impetuous eloquence, he hurried away all before him. American

independence was then and there born. The seeds of patriots and heroes, to defend the Non sine Diis animosus in fans,* to defend the vigorous youth, were then and there sown. Every man of an immense crowded audience appeared to me to go away as I did, ready to take arms Against Writs of Assistance. Then and there was the first scene of the first act of opposition to the arbitrary claims of Great Britain. Then and there the child Independence was born. In fifteen years, i. e. in 1776, he grew up to manhood and declared himself free.” The principles Otis educed and elaborated with such profound learning, humor and pathos, could not be subverted, and the court at the close of his speech adjourned for consideration : Chief Justice Hutchinson, at the end of the term, giving the opinion, “The Court has considered the subject of Writs of Assistance, and can see no foundation for such a writ; but as the practice in England is not known, it has been thought best to continue the question to the next term, that in the mean time opportunity may be given to know the result.”+

It was on the occasion of this masterly performance, when Otis stood forth as the bold and brilliant advocate of colonial rights, that he became famous. Although he had never before interfered in public affairs, his exertions on this single occasion secured him a commanding popularity with the friends of their country, and the terror and vengeance of her enemies; neither of which ever deserted him. · In May, 1761, he was chosen to the Legislature, in which assembly he wielded immense power. His superiority as a legislator was everywhere acknowledged, and in all important measures he was foremost. In 1762 he published the “Vindication of the Conduct of the House of Representatives of the Pr vince of Massachusetts Bay," &c., a work in which many volumes are concentrated. “Look ver the Declarations of Rights and Wrongs issued by Congress in 1774,” says John Adams. Look into the Declaration of Independence, in 1776. Look into the Writings of Dr. Pe ce und Dr. Priestly. Look into all the French Constitutions of government; and to cap the climax, look into Mr. Thomas Paine's Common Sense, Crisis, and Rights of Man; and what can you find that is not to be found in solid substance in this Vindication of the House of Representatives?” Mr. Otis was a member of the Congress which met at New York in the month of October in the year 1765. During the same year he published “A Vindication of the British Colonies," &c. Also, “Considerations on behalf of the Colonists, in a Letter to a Noble Lord.” It was written with spirit and ability, and was the last work that appeared from his pen. On the return of Otis to the colonial legislature of 1766, he was appointed chairman of a committee to reply to a message of Governor Bernard, in which that officer had shown some resentment. In the answer to the message they say, “It appears to us an undue exercise of the prerogative to lay us under the necessity either of silence, or of being thought out of season in making a reply. Your Excelleney says, that these times have been more difficult than they need have been; which is also the opinion of this House. Those who have made them so, have reason to regret the injury they have done to a sincere and honest people.” It need not be said that Otis had neither respect nor fear of the royal governor. The same year Mr. Otis brought before the legislature a proposition “for opening a gallery of the House for such as wished to hear the debates; " thus aiding in the establishment of one of the most important principles of representative government, the publicity of legislative proceedings. Until this time it had been customary for the legislative assemblies to sit with closed doors, and it was with great reluctance that the change was made.

During the summer of the year 1767, Parliament passed an act "to raise a revenue in

however, appointed Attorney-General, when Mr. Trowbridge was promoted to the Bench, and in that capacity was obliged, to defend the famous “ Writs of Assistance," in which he was opposed and wholly confuted by his pupil, Otis. Ho was a Colopel of the Militia, and Grand Master of the Freo Masons, and belonged to some other charitable associations. He died in Boston, September 7th, 1767.-Eliot.

This motto was furnished by Sir William Jones for the Alliance Medal, struck in Paris to commemorate the alliance Dutween France and America.

* When the next term came," says Mr. Adams, “nc judgment was pronounced, --nothing was said about Writs of Assistance."

America," imposing duties on glass, paper, painters' colors and tea; and by virtue of another act, the king was empowered to put the customs and other duties in America, and the execution of the laws relating to trade in the colonies, under the management of resident commissioners. The news of the passage of these bills revived the popular excitement which arose at the time of the Stamp Act, which had died away on its repeal. A town meeting was held in Boston, at which Mr. Otis appeared, “contrary to his usual practice, as the adviser of cautious and moderate proceedings,” for which moderation he was charged with being a friend to the act for appointing commissioners. To this charge he replied, “If the name and office of Commissioner General imports no more than that of a Surveyor General, no man of sense will contend about a name. The tax—the tax is undoubtedly, at present, the apparent matter of grievance.” At this meeting resolutions were passed to encourage the manufactures of the province, and to abstain from the purchase of articles on which duties were imposed, thus deceiving Bernard, the governor, by the quiet character of their proceedings, which were represented as “the last efforts of an expiring faction,” but at the same time becoming more firm and decided.

To all the movements of the king and ministry to abridge the liberties of the colonists, Otis maintained a decided and fearless opposition. Bold and daring in the expression of his principles and opinions, he sometimes gave utterance to unguarded epithets, but never employed his gift of irony and sarcasm in a spirit of hatred towards the masses of mankind. Owing to a severe refutation of some strictures upon him, published in the public papers in 1769, he was attacked by one John Robinson, a commissioner of the customs, in a coffee-house in Boston, and in a general affray was cruelly wounded; from the effects of which he never recovered. His wounds did not prove mortal, but his reason was shattered, and his great usefulness to his country destroyed. He gained heavy damages for the assault; but in an interval of returning reason he forgave his destroyer and remitted the judgment. He lived until May 28, 1783. On that day, during a heavy thunder-storm, he, with a greater part of the family with whom he resided, had entered the house to wait until the shower should have passed. Otis, with his cane in one hand, stood against the part of a door which opened into the front entry, and was in the act of telling the assembled group a story, when an explosion took place, which seemed to shake the solid earth, and he fell without a struggle, or an utterance, instantaneously dead. He had often expressed a desire to die as he did. In one of his lucid intervals, a few weeks previous to his death, he said to his sister: “I hope, when God Almighty, in his righteous providence, shai) take me out of time into eternity, that it will be by a flash of lightning." He lived to see the Independence of the Colonies, but never fully to enjoy it.

“When the glorious work which he begun,
Shall stand the most complete beneath the sun;
When peace shall come to crown the grand design,
His eyes shall live to see the work Divine-
The heavens shall then his generous spirit claim
In storms as loud as his immortal fame!'
Hark! the deep thunders echo round the skies !
On wings of flame the eternal errand flies;
And Otis mingles with the glorious dead."-Dawes.

One chosen, charitable bolt is sped

THE WRITS OF ASSISTANCE. MAY IT PLEASE YOUR Hoxors: I was de- under a fee or not, (for in such a cause as this I sired by one of the Court to look into the despise a fee,) I will to my dying day oppose books, and consider the question now before with all the powers and faculties God has given them concerning Writs of Assistance. I have me, all such instruments of slavery on the one accordingly considered it, and now appear | hand, and villany on the other, as this writ of not only in obedience to your order, but like- assistance is. wise in behalf of the inhabitants of this town, It appears to me the worst instrument of who have presented another petition, and out arbitrary power, the most destructive of English of regard to the liberties of the subject. And liberty and the fundamental principles of law, I take this opportunity to declare, that whether that ever was found in an English law book. I must therefore beg your honors' patience and I say I admit that special writs of assistance, to attention to the whole range of an argument, search special places, may be granted to certain that may perhaps appear uncommon in many persons on oath; but I deny that the writ now things, as well as to points of learning that are prayed for can be granted, for I beg leave to inore remote and unusual: that the whole ten- make some observations on the writ itself, bedency of my design may the more easily be per- fore I proceed to other acts of Parliament. In ceived, the conclusions better descend, and the the first place, the writ is universal, being force of them be better felt. I shall not think directed “to all and singular justices, sheriffs, much of my pains in this cause, as I engaged in constables, and all other officers and subjects;" it from principle. I was solicited to argue this so that, in short, it is directed to every subject cause as Advocate General; and because I would in the king's dominions. Every one with this not, I have been charged with desertion from writ may be a tyrant; if this commission be my office.* To this charge I can give a very legal, a tyrant in a legal manner, also, may consufficient answer. I renounced that office, and trol, imprison, or murder any one within the I argue this cause from the same principle; and realm. In the next place, it is perpetual, there I argue it with the greater pleasure, as it is in is no return. A man is accountable to no perfavor of British liberty, at a time when we hear son for his doings. Every man may reign the greatest monarch upon earth declaring from secure in his petty tyranny, and spread terror his throne that he glories in the name of Briton, and desolation around him, until the trump of and that the privileges of his people are dearer the archangel shall excite different emotions in to him than the most valuable prerogatives of his soul. In the third place, a person with this bis crown; and as it is in opposition to a kind writ, in the daytime, may enter all houses, of power, the exercise of which in former shops, &c., at will, and command all to assist periods of history, cost one King of England him. Fourthly, by this writ, not only depuhis head, and another his throne. I have taken ties, &c., but even their menial servants, are more pains in this cause than I ever will take allowed to lord it over ns. What is this but to again, although my engaging in this and another have the curse of Canaan with a witness on us; popular cause has raised much resentment. But to be the servant of servants, the most despicaI think I can sincerely declare, that I cheerfully ble of God's creation? Now one of the most sobmit myself to every odious name for con- essential branches of English liberty is the freescience' sake; and from my soul I despise all dom of one's house. A man's house is his those, whose guilt, malice, or folly has made castle ; and whilst he is quiet, he is as well them my foes. Let the consequences be what guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, they will, I am determined to proceed. The if it should be declared legal, would totally anonly principles of public conduct, that are wor- nihilate this privilege. Custom-house officers thy of a gentleman or a man, are to sacrifice may enter our houses when they please; we estate, ease, health, and applause, and even are commanded to permit their entry. Their life, to the sacred calls of his country.

menial servants may enter, may break locks, These manly sentiments, in private life, bars, and every thing in their way: and whemake the good citizen; in public life, the ther they break through malice or revenge, no patriot and the hero. I do not say, that when man, no court can inquire. Bare suspicion brought to the test, I shall be invincible. I without oath is sufficient. This wanton exerpray God I may never be brought to the melcise of this power is not a chimerical suggestion ancholy trial, but if ever I should, it will be of a heated brain. I will mention some facts. then known how far I can reduce to practice Mr. Pew had one of these writs, and when Mr. principles which I know to be founded in Ware succeeded him, he endorsed this writ over truth. In the mean time I will proceed to the to Mr. Ware: so that, these writs are negotiasubject of this writ.

ble from one officer to another; and so your Your honors will find in the old books con- honors have no opportunity of judging the cerning the office of a justice of the peace, pre-persons to whom this vast power is delegated, cedents of general warrants to search suspected Another instance is this : Mr. Justice Walley houses, But in more modern books, you will had called this same Mr. Ware before him, by a find only special warrants to search such and constable, to answer for a breach of the sabsuch houses, specially named, in which the bath-day acts, or that of profane swearing. As complainant has before sworn that he suspects soon as he had finished, Mr. Ware asked him his goods are concealed ; and will find it ad- | if he had done. He replied, Yes. Well then, judged, that special warrants only are legal. said Mr. Ware, I will show you a little of my In the same manner I rely on it, that the writ power. I command you to permit me to search praved for in this petition, being general, is your house for uncustomed goods; and went illegal. It is a power that places the liberty | on to search the house from the garret to the of every man in the hands of every petty officer. | cellar, and then served the constable in the

same manner! But to show another absurdity

in this writ, if it should be established, I insist *Otis had lately been occupying the office of Advocate General of the Crown, and had resigned because "he be- upon it every person, by the 14th Charles Sedered these writs to be illegal and tyrannical," and would cond, has this power as well as the custompot prostitute his office to the support of an oppressive act. I house officers. The words are, “it shall be

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