Gambar halaman
PDF
ePub

his resolution agreeably to parliamentary rules. Mr. Jefferson was selected in his stead. The wrath of British power was now roused against him. During his short stay at home, an armed force broke into his house in the night, and by threats and bribes endeavoured to induce his servants to inform them where their master could be found. They persisted in affirming that he had started for Philadelphia. He was not in his house at the time, but a few miles from it with a friend.

In August he returned to Congress and most cheerfully affixed his name to that instrument which his imagination had dwelt upon for years. He served until June, 1777, when he returned to Virginia in order to confute a base slander, charging him with unfaithfulness to the American cause, in consequence of his having received rents in kind instead of continental money. He was honourably acquitted by the assembly and a vote of thanks for his valuable services was passed by that body. During the two ensuing years his health did not permit him to sit in Congress but a part of the time, but in all the vast concerns that occupied the attention of that body he took a deep interest and aided by his counsel.

The portals of military fame were now opened to Mr. Lee. The enemy, defeated in the north, made a rush upon the southern states. He was appointed to the command of the militia of his native county, and proved as competent to wield the sword and lead his men to the field of epic glory, as he was to command the admiration of his audience by his eloquence. He annoyed the operations of the enemy in his vicinity whenever they approached, and made admirable arrangements for the defence of the country under his charge. In 1780-1-2, he served in the legislature of Virginia. The propositions of making paper money a legal tender, of paying debts due to the mother country, and of raising a tax to support the clergy, or a general assessment to support the christian religion, were then before the house and excited great interest. Mr. Lee advocated them, Mr. Henry opposed them. Upon the sacredness of contracts he based his arguments in support of the two first; from the principles of ethics he drew conclusions in favour of the last. He considered good faith in the former necessary to secure peace and respect, and an adherence to the latter necessary to correct vice and purge the body politic from moral corruptions, the bane of any government. He remarked, “Refiners may weave reason into as fine a web as they please, but the experience of all times shows religion to be the guardian of morals.” He contended that the declaration of rights was aimed against restrictions in the form and mode of worship, and not against the legal compulsory support of it.

In 1784, Mr. Lee was again elected to Congress and chosen president of that body. At the close of the session he received a vote of. thanks for the faithful and able performance of his duty, and retired to the bosom of his family to rest from his long and arduous public toils. Under the federal constitution he was elected to the first senate of the United States, and fully sustained the high reputation he had before acquired. Infirmity at length compelled him to bid a final farewell to the public arena, and, with the honours of a most flatter

ing resolution of thanks for his many valuable services, passed by the Virginia legislature on the 22nd of October, 1792, he retired to the peaceful shades of Chantilly, in his native county, covered with laurels of lasting fame. There he lived esteemed, beloved, respected and admired, until the 19th of June, 1794, when the angel of death liberated his immortal spirit from its prison of clay, and seraphs from heaven wafted his soul to realms of bliss beyond the skies, there to enjoy the rich reward of a life well spent.

Mr. Lee was a rare model of human excellence and refinement. He was a polished gentleman, an accomplished scholar, orator and statesman. In exploring the vast fields of science he gathered from them the choicest flowers and the most substantial fruits. The classics, belles lettres, the elements of civil, municipal, national and common law, and the principles of every kind of government, were all familiar to his mind. He was ardently patriotic, pure and firm in his purposes, honest and sincere in his motives, liberal and republican in his general principles, frank and open in his designs, and highly honourable in his course. As an orator the modulation of his voice, manner of action, and mode of reasoning, were a fac simile of his great prototype, Cicero, as described by Rollin.

His private character was above reproach. He possessed and exer. cised all those amiable qualities calculated to impart substantial hap. piness to those around him. To crown with enduring splendour all his rich and varied talents, he was a christian and an honest man. Whilst his dust reposes in peace let his examples deeply impress our minds and excite us to imitation,

STEPHEN HOPKINS.

Party spirit when based on selfishness, unhallowed ambition and venal corruption, is a gangrene in the body politic. Its history is red with blood-blackened by the darkest crimes, its career has been marked with all the terrific horrors that demons could plan and wicked men execute. It rides upon the whirlwind of faction; it is wafted on the tornado of fanaticism; it is fanned by fell revenge and delights in human gore. It has been the mighty conqueror of nations; its burning lava has consumed kingdoms and empires; the fairest portions of crea

tion have been blighted by its rankling poison; countless millions have · fallen by its murderous hand; and, fearful thought! its end has not yet come. :

A few rare instances are recorded where parties have arrayed themselves against power, prompted alone by pure motives and elevated patriotism, guided by reason and sound policy. To be successful and not violate the laws of wisdom and justice, the leaders of a party must be men who are influenced alone by a desire to promote the general

[ocr errors]

good, aiming at holy ends to be accomplished by righteous means. to The brightest example of this kind spread upon the pages of history

was exhibited by the sages of the American revolution. No conven

tion of men ever assembled to consult upon a nation's rights and a hol nation's wrongs, graced with as much splendour of talent, sterling mal integrity, self-devotion and disinterested patriotism, as that of the e Continental Congress of America. 1 Among them, the patriarch, STEPHEN HOPKINS, took a conspicuous

place. He was a native of Scituate, Rhode Island, and born on the CO! C'! 7th of March, 1707. He was the son of William Hopkins, a respectaEdible farmer, whose father, Thomas Hopkins, was one of the earliest

settlers of that province. The juvenile education of the subject of this biographette was limited to the elementary English branches, then but superficially taught in the common schools. From that embryo beginning, he reared, from the force of his own exertions, a towering and beautiful superstructure. Remarkably attached to books, he spent all his leisure hours in the acquisition of knowledge. A farmer in easy circumstances, he devoted a portion of the day and his quiet evenings to the improvement of his mind.

No profession not literary, affords so good a chance for mental exercise and reflection as that of agriculture. It is their own fault if the independent tillers of the soil are not enlightened and intelligent. The time was when ignorance was winked at. That dark age has passed away, and now common sense and reason command all to drink at the scholastic fountain.

Blessed with strong intellectual powers, Mr. Hopkins acquired a thorough knowledge of mathematics at an early period and became an expert surveyor. At the age of nineteen he married Sarah Scott, whose paternal great grand-father was the first Quaker who settled in Providence. After becoming the mother of seven children she died, and in 1755, Mr. Hopkins married the widow Anna Smith, a pious member of the society of Friends.

In 1731, he was appointed town-clerk, soon after which he was appointed clerk of the court and of the proprietors of the county. The ensuing year he was elected to the general assembly, and was continued for six successive years. In 1795, he was elected to the town council, and for six years was president of that body. The next year he was appointed a justice of the peace and a judge of the common plea court, and in 1739 was elevated to the seat of chief justice of that branch of the judiciary. During the intervals of these public duties he spent much of his time at surveying. The streets of his native town and of Providence were regulated by him, and a projected map made of each. The next year he was appointed proprietary surveyor for the county of Providence, and prepared a laborious index of returns of all the lands west of the seven mile line, then laid out, which still continues a document of useful reference. Beauty and precision marked all his draughts and calculations. In 1741, he was again elected to the assembly. The next year he removed to Providence, and was elected, soon after his arrival, to the same public body, and was chosen speaker of the house. In 1744, the same honour was con

ferred upon him, as also that of justice of the peace for Providence. In 1751, he was appointed chief justice of the superior court, and elected for the fourteenth time to the general assembly. In 1754, he was a delegate to the colonial Congress held at Albany, for the purpose of effecting a treaty with the five nations of Indians in order to gain their aid, or at least their neutrality in the French war. A system of union similar to the confederation subsequently entered into by the Continental Congress, was recommended and submitted at that time, but was vetoed by England and not adopted by the colonies.

In 1755, when the triumphant victories of the French and their savage allies spread consternation over the frontier settlements, a requisition for troops was made by the earl of Loudoun, then commander of the king's forces. The quota from Rhode Island was four hundred and fifty, and no one was more active than Mr. Hopkins in raising them. The next year he was elected chief magistrate of the colony. In 1757, the fall of fort William Henry and the sad reverses of the English army, made it necessary that the colonists should raise an efficient force for self-protection. A company of volunteers, composed of the most respectable gentlemen of Providence, was orga. i nized and Mr. Hopkins appointed to command it. The timely arrival of troops from the mother country dispensed with the necessity of their services. The ensuing year, this useful man was again elected chief magistrate, and served as such seven out of the eleven following years.

In 1767, party spirit was rolling its mountain waves over Rhode Island so fearfully, that it threatened the prostration of social order and civil law. Anxious for the welfare of the colony, this patriotic Roman put forth his noblest efforts to check its bold career. In his message to the assembly he expressed his deep solicitude for the restoration of harmony, and offered to retire at once from the public arena, if, in the opinion of that body, it would contribute in the slightest degree to heal the political breach. To show his sincerity he soon after retired from the public service, contrary to the wishes of his friends. His picture of that era so much resembles the political drama of the present time, in some sections of our republic at least, that I cannot forbear presenting it to the reader.

“When we draw aside the veil of words and professions, when we attend to what is done and not to what is said, we shall find in the present age of our country, that liberty is only a cant term of faction, and freedom of speaking and acting, used only to serve the private interests of a party. What else can be the cause of our unhappy disputes: What other reason for the continual struggle for superiority and office? What other motive for the flood of calumny and reproach cast on each other? Behold the leading men meeting in cabals, and from thence dispersing themselves to the several quarters, to delude and deceive the people. The people are called together in tippling houses, their business neglected, their morals corrupted, themselves deluded; some promised offices for which they are unfit, and those

have disputes with their neighbours are assured of their causes

whether they be right or wrong. Those with whom these arts will not prevail, are tempted with the wages of unrighteousness, and are offered a bribe to falsify their oath and betray their country. By these scandalous practices, elections are carried and officers appointed. It makes little difference whether the officer, who in this manner obtains his place, is otherwise a good man or not; for, put in by a party, he must do what they order, without being permitted to examine the rectitude even of his own actions. The unhappy malady runs through the whole body politic; men in authority are not revered, and there. fore lose all power to do good; the courts of judicature catch the infection and the sacred balance of justice does not hang even. All complain of the present administration, all'cry out the times are hard and wish they might grow better. But complaints are weak, wishes are idle, cries are vain, even prayers will be ineffectual, if we do not universally amend. Will no friend, no patriot, step in and save the commonwealth from ruin: Will no good Samaritan come by and pour in the wine and oil into the bleeding wounds of his country?!? Again, from his essay on the duties of freemen: “Permit me, therefore, to remind my countrymen of the blood, the sufferings, the hardships and labour of their ancestors in purchasing the liberty and privileges they might peaceably enjoy. How can they answer it to fame, to honour, to honesty, to posterity, if they do not possess those inestimable blessings with grateful hearts, with purity of morals, and transmit them with safety to the next generation? Nothing is desired but that every man in the community may act up to the dignity of his own proper character. Let every freeman carefully consider the particuIar duty allotted to him as such by the constitution; let him give his suffrage with candour for the person he sincerely thinks best qualified; let him shun the man who speaks to him to persuade him how to vote; let him despise the man who offers him an office, and spurn the sordid wretch that would give him a bribe; let him think it his duty to give his vote according to his conscience, and not depend on others to do his duty for him. Let him know that as duty is not local, so neither is capacity or fitness for office confined to this or that town or place. Officers and magistrates I would humbly entreat to consider, that their turn has arrived to serve the commonwealth and not themselves; that their own discreet and exemplary behaviour is their chiefest and best authority to do good in their offices; that it is vain to command others to practise what we ourselves omit, or to abstain from what they see us do; that where moderation and example are insufficient to suppress vice, power ought to be used, even to its utmost severity, if necessary; and, above all, that justice should be, in all cases and under all circumstances, equally, impartially and expeditiously administered.”

This plain but lucid exposition of the duties of freemen, merits the highest consideration of the private citizen, the able statesman, and the profound judge. It is the effusion of a clear head, a good heart, and a noble mind. It exhibits briefly and fully, in language of unvarnished but sublime simplicity, the only sure foundation of a republican government. It strikes at the very root of alarming evils, that at

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »