Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

silk stockings, large shoes with short quarters and buckles to match. This dress sketched from the wardrobe of a member, was not peculiarly appropriate to occasions of ceremony, but assumed with more or less exactness by the fashionable gentlemen of the day.

The full bottomed wig, the red roquelot, and the gold headed cane, which are seen in some of our ancient pictures, belonged to an earlier period, and were at that time the appropriate habiliments of persons distinguished for their age and wealth. It is not many years since some examples of this antiquated fashion were recognised in venerable men, who belonged to those interesting times, and seemed to connect a past generation with the present. They have now it is believed ceased from any connexion with society, if indeed any of them still have a being on the earth.

At the period referred to great deference was paid to years, more to family and not less to fortune. Ancient habits could not at once be changed, and the forms of a society, which had been regulated by provincial imitation of English manners, continued to prevail. It was the effect of the revolution to break down these artificial distinctions, and to show that a man's influence should not be in proportion to family or wealth, but to the character of his mind and the motives of his conduct. The leaders of the revolution rose upon the ruins of anti-republican prejudices, and settled public opinion in a more rational style, but they never attempted like the revolutionists of later times to confound all distinctions of society. While the equality of personal and political rights was a sacred article of their creed, they did not forget that a community by the immutable principles of its constitution must consist of the poor as well as the rich, of the ignorant as well as the educated, and of labouring classes as well as classes of comparative leisure. They did not forget that different opportunities and situations would produce different results on the manners as well as the mind. Allowing the state of society to which they had been accustomed, and the principles for which they were contending, to operate with their proper weight, the leaders of the revolution, whether in the cabinet or the field, generally acquired a dignity and at the same time a courtesy of deportment, which in the memory of those who have been acquainted with their character will entitle them to be received as the model of an American gentleman.

It has been remarked that the courts of justice were closed, and it is wonderful how society could be kept together when laws lost their sanction. But in the intercourse of the citizens peace and good order generally prevailed. The collecting of men in camp, and the removing of young men especially from the restraints of the neighbourhood in which they were known, could not be favoura

ble to very exact morality. The power of the military arm was in itself an unpopular one. Indeed it had hardly strength enough to preserve the necessary discipline of the army, and would not readily exert itself when not required by military duty. When occasions presented, the members of the provincial congress exercised a kind of civil authority by something like common consent, more indeed because it was right that authority should be exerted than because they had any right to exert it. They proceeded individually or by two or three to hear, decide and punish in a very summary way; and by this interference, and more perhaps by a common opinion that they could interfere, those minor irregularities which appear in the best ordered government, and are never entirely absent from the vicinity of a camp, were in a good degree suppressed.

CHAPTER XI.

Elected to the Continental Congress........Constitution and Charac

ter of that Assembly.

ON 9th February, 1776, Mr. Gerry, having been previously elected a delegate from Massachusetts to the continental congress, then in session at Philadelphia, took his seat in that illustrious assembly.

The importance of the situation in the opinion of his fellow-citizens of Massachusetts was not less than it has since become in the estimation of the world, and may be determined by the public character of those, on whom it had before been conferred.

“ The recovery and establishment of our just rights and liberties, civil and religious, and the restoration of union and harmony between Great Britain and America," claimed the exertion of the purest patriotism and the most incorruptible integrity, and called into exercise all the wisdom and firmness of the most eminent and able of our citizens. Liberty, property and life, character and fame, every thing that was dear to men in civil society were at hazard in the bold experiment of resistance, and safety was expected only in the councils of the most virtuous and intelligent and

honourable minds. It became necessary to call out the exertions of the people not merely by exhibiting the great objects for which they were contending, but the invaluable and imposing nature of the pledges which had been given for success. Hence all who were endeared to the affections of the community by their public or private virtues, they whose character or fortune or lives were preeminently hazarded in the struggle, were deputed to the dangerous duty of directing and maintaining measures, on which the ultimate success of the conflict would necessarily depend.

Accordingly the delegation to the first congress, in 1774, combined men highest in the esteem and confidence of their fellow-citizens. Massachusetts sent to that assembly Thomas Cushing, Samuel Adams, Robert Treat Paine, James Bowdoin, and John Adams, men whose weight of talent and character was suited to the arduous and responsible duties they were destined to perform. In 1775, Mr. Bowdoin declined a re-election, and John Hancock was appointed in his place. Mr. Cushing retired at the end of the same year, and was succeeded by Mr. Gerry.

The manner in which an office is sustained, rather than the favour by which it is acquired, is in general the criterion of character; but in the nearly unanimous appointment of Mr. Gerry, one of the youngest members of the provincial congress, with his proscribed and honourable col

« PředchozíPokračovat »