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John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and R. R. Livingston. It is an obvious enquiry why Mr. Lee, the mover of the resolution, was not on the committee? It has been answered that he was obliged to leave Philadelphia in consequence of the indisposition of his family, but another cause has been suggested more honourable to his disinterestedness, and which there is reason to believe the true one.
Mr. Jefferson had on his first introduction to congress brought with him a high reputation for elegant literature and classic taste, and it was desirable that the councils of patriotism should receive the aid of the learned, as they would encounter the opposition of the powerful. In the selection of a committee, two members could not properly be taken from the same state, and the place was yielded to Mr. Jefferson by the courtesy of Mr. Lee.
It was agreed in committee that each member should prepare
such notes as occurred to him, with a view of compiling from their joint contribution, a memorial suited to the subject. Mr. Jefferson's was first read, and was found in the main so perfectly to answer the purpose, that after having undergone some amendments in committee, it was reported to congress.
* In this statement we have departed in some respects from the account given by Mr. Adams to colonel Pickering, and transcribed into “a discourse on the lives and services of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson,” which will become one of the classics in our literature. In so doing we have an equally high authority. If the statement in the text is right, Mr. Adams's draught may hereafter he found among his papers and given to the world. It would be a most interesting study, both for the scholar and the statesman, to examine the same great subject as it was evolved and brought out through the different alembics of such mighty minds.
Some alterations were made by congress, mostly in verbal amendments or by curtailment. In this operation it lost one splendid passage,* which, although it might have been politic to remove it from that particular instrument, proves how early even in Virginia, and how truly the evils of the slave system were ascribed to the councils of the mother country. The plan of the subject, the boldness and vigour of its sentiments, the strength and
energy of its language were not altered, and it now stands before the world substantially as it was prepared by its eminent author, who if he had not added to this splendid effort the devotion of a long life to the service of his country, would by that alone have acquired a glory coeval with the ages of the republic.
* The passage referred to is the following:
“ He has waged a cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of a christian king of Great Britain determined to keep open a market, where MEN should be bought and sold; he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce; and that this assemblage of horrours might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting these very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty, of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people among whom he also obtruded them, thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another."
The declaration of independence as a state paper has not often been the subject of criticism. There is an elevation, a dignity and a solemnity in its style suited to the greatness of the occasion. There is a tone of high and chivalrous feeling about it that so well accorded with the temper of the times and with the excitement which the enumeration of wrongs and grievances are calculated to produce, that its faults, if it have any, have contributed to its popularity.
In later time it has been considered too severe in its language; and the objection probably implies, that as we are further removed from the theatre of the revolution, the grandeur and peril of its scenes strike us with less force. We do not feel as our fathers felt.
A state paper prepared for posterity is to deal only with principles as immutable as human nature, and none other have a place in this elaborate exposition. The proper style of their enunciation is a question of taste, but it partakes more of refinement than strength of mind to take offence at the bold language in which an oppressed people would enumerate their wrongs.
In the cotempo
raneous commentaries made on it by the friends of the ministry at home and abroad, there was much cavil at its doctrines and some question as to its facts, but no objection, that we have seen, to its high merits as an effort of intellectual skill. In a true republican spirit it places the objects of government in the good of the governed, and its right on their will ; and as a corollary therefrom asserts the
power of the people to abolish one government and institute another, “ lying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
This was a doctrine to be sure, which had for many years been familiar to the patriots of the American congress.
In the controversy between the governour and house of representatives in Massachusetts, it had been the theme of many an able harangue and eloquent state paper; and to illustrate and enforce it, and to bring the public mind to admit it and to feel its weight and importance, and its inseparable connexion with public liberty, had been the unceasing effort of the republican advocates throughout the continent. The declaration did indeed contain nothing new, but the occasion was not one which demanded new truth or new argument; it required a solemn, forcible, impressive recognition of truth that was familiar. This the declaration contains. “ To say of the author that he performed his great work well,