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The proprietor of this book, now verging on four score years, presents it to the public with an anxious hope that it will be instrumental in doing much good. To place within the reach of all classes of persons who desire it, the history of the venerable sages who wisely conceived, nobly planned and boldly achieved the independence of these United States, is believed to be a matter of great importance, especially to the rising generation.
Of those who signed the Declaration penned by Jefferson—the Articles of Confederation adopted by the Continental Congress, and the Federal Constitution—not one survives to aid in directing the destinies of our country. Like leaves in autumn they have descended to the earth—the winter of death has shut them from this world for ever. But they have left their bright examples, their shining lights, their luminous beacons, to guide their successors in the path of duty and of safety.
Having had the pleasure of seeing all the signers of the declaration before they made their last bow and retired from the stage of action, and having had the satisfaction of a personal acquaintance with many of them, the proprietor has long felt a strong desire to have the history of the prominent traits of their lives and characters reduced to a single portable and cheap volume, that should not be an onerous tax upon the purse or the memory. Such a volume is now presented to the American public, carefully and impartially prepared-plain in style, simple in arrangement and republican in its features.
If all obey the precepts suggested, and imitate the examples delineated upon the following pages, our republic will continue to rise sublimely, until it reaches an eminence of power and grandeur before unknown among the nations of the earth.
That this may be the happy lot of our country, and that our free government may be preserved in its native purity, is the sincere and ardent wish of the proprietor.
TIMOTHY CALDWELL. Philadelphia, February 22, 1839.
The present is emphatically an era of books. The march of mind is onward and upward, bold and expanding. The soaring intellect of man, rising on the wings of investigation and experiment, is seizing upon the elements in all their varied forms, threatening to unveil and reduce to subjection the whole arcana of nature. The flood gates of science are opened, and its translucent stream, rushing through the magic channel of the press, is illuminating the world with rays of light, as multiform in their hues as a rainbow. Like that beautiful phenomenon, some of them attract the delighted gaze of many for a brief period, then vanish from view for want of reflectives, or dissolve in thin air for want of stamina—an ominous hint to the present writer.
He, however, has not aimed at brilliancy or high refinement in composition, nor has he attempted to create a literary gem to induce admiration. He has aimed at brevity in the impartial statement of plain matters of fact, avoiding verbiage and extracting the essence of the history of the sages of "76. His work is not designed for the diffusive crucible of the critic, or the empirical hauteur of the cynic. To make a useful book has been the ultimatum of his efforts. It has been his constant purpose to incite a love for moral rectitude, a veneration for unsophisticated religion and pure patriotism, and a lively interest in the perpetuity of our union as a free people, by reflecting the precepts and examples of the revolutionary patriots upon the mind of the reader, from the truth-telling mirror of their history. To preserve, in its pristine purity, the liberty they purchased with years of toil, streams of blood and millions of treasure, is a duty imposed upon us by the law of nature, and by the great Jehovah. To imprint this deeply and strongly upon the heart of every reader, the author has interspersed many practical remarks, and, in some instances, compared the past with the present time.
If the amputating knife, the scalpel and the probe have occasionally
been used, a sincere desire to do good has prompted their application. To remove the unsound parts of the body politic—should be a desideratum with every freeman. By shrinking from this duty, we jeopardize our elective franchise and court the domination of designing men, who smile that they may betray, and flatter that they may destroy.
The author has laboured to be concise without being obscure, to inform the understanding without burdening the memory. He has introduced many apothegms, intending to improve the mind and mend the heart. The causes that led to the revolution, its interesting progress, its happy termination and the formation of our federal government, are all amply delineated. The character of each of the individuals who signed the declaration, and of the illustrious Washington and the bold Patrick Henry, is fully portrayed. The most prominent acts of their lives are also clearly exhibited. But few of the biographettes are encumbered with documentary extracts, although they will be found sufficiently full for all ordinary purposes.
To write the biography of fifty-eight individuals, all engaged in the accomplishment of a single object, although that object may be shrouded in refulgent glory—and preserve an interesting variety without being prolix or verbose, is a task no one can realize without attempting it—a task that the author does not claim the credit of having performed. To compensate for any want of diversity, the reader will find all the important facts contained in more expensive, ponderous and voluminous works, placed in so small a compass, that they may be referred to with greater facility than in them.
In the order of the names, it seems most appropriate to place the author of the Declaration of Independence first. In some instances, a character of high classic attainments has been placed by the side of one whose literary advantages were extremely limited, that the reader, when admiring the dazzling splendour of the former, mày contemplate the equal patriotism and substantial usefulness of the latter. The names of Messrs. Gwinnett and Ellery, are placed by the side of each other because of the contrast in their demise.
The Appendix is considered an important affixion, and renders the work more full and complete. The Farewell Address of Washington is one of the happiest productions ever penned by mortal man. It should be read often, not only by the young, but by all—the rich and the poor—the public officer and the private citizen. It should be rehearsed in every school and declaimed in every lyceum.
The Constitution of the United States should also be better known; it should be familiar to every farmer and mechanic, that it may be better understood and more faithfully adhered to.
Finally, to carry the reader back to first principles, and point plainly and clearly to the land marks of '76, as fixed by the signers of the declaration of our independence, and to rouse the patriot to a just sense of our blood-bought privileges and the necessity of preserving them pure and undefiled, has been the constant aim of the author.
If his humble, but honest and earnest efforts shall prove instrumental in adding one inch of time—one happy hour to our political existence, or in strengthening one single link of the golden chain of the glorious Union of these United States, he will deem the months of severe labour devoted to the preparation of this work-AS TIME WELL SPENT.
L. CARROLL JUDSON. Philadelphia, February 22, 1839.