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to be a party in the organization and first operations of the new government, to preside in the councils of the state while those measures were in progress which were preliminaries to another war, and to participate in those of the nation, when war had again commenced under circumstances calculated to test the permanency of its institutions and the fidelity of the people, is to have engaged in a series of political measures which connect themselves with the fortune of no other individual.
To give some account of the life and character of one whose name is associated with these great events, is the object of the following pages. Embarrassments to this design have been severely felt in the progress of a work, which, occupying only the intervals of professional engagement, has been laid aside, resumed and interrupted again, as public and private avocations required or allowed.
To recount intelligibly the agency of any one in the time of the revolution requires some recapitulation of events, which have been too often and too well written to preserve any longer the interest of novelty. To present them, as far as might be, in an original form, recourse has been had to the epistolary correspondence of the times. This gives somewhat of an intimate and confidential picture of transactions in which the writers were engaged. “ The history of the revolution,” it has been said by the highest authority, “ is contained in the letters of the revolution.” Some of these are now made public. Written, calamo currente, with no view to publication, they are not subjects for exact criticism. They develope only the patriotism of the writers. Of those more recent events which occurred at and subsequent to the formation of the constitution of the United States, it is not easy to speak with sufficient impartiality at a time so near their accomplishment. The irritation they excited has not subsided. The storm of party violence may have ceased, but the waves are not yet calm. The traces of a consuming fire are still perceptible. The path lies
The prominent incidents in the life, which this volume is intended to illustrate, occurred in times of revolution, faction and party warfare. The whigs and tories were not more vindictive than the advocates and opponents of the constitution, or than the factions who quarrelled about the treaty
of London and the war with France, or than those who arranged themselves under party banners as republicans and federalists.
It was not possible that any man of decision of character and personal independence should stand
well with all these irritated adversaries. In such times every honourable man selects his side. The consequence of a choice is the favour of one and the enmity of the other.
The subject of this memoir enjoyed in a remarkable degree the support of his political friends, and had no patent of exemption from the fate, which impended over the statesmen of his age. Much of the malignity, with which he was assailed, may be justly ascribed to a vindictive and vulgar spirit, but it is not to be doubted that many measures of his public life seriously displeased the leaders of a strong and powerful party, and induced them to believe they “ did the state some service” by diminishing the influence of his name.
To discriminate between defamation intended merely to exasperate, and that estimate of conduct which speaks sincerely in the language of reproach ; or between adulation, designed to exalt the character of a leader, and praise which is the honest sentiment of a gratified community, is not always a practicable task. The duty of the biographer is doubtless to enable his readers to form their own judgment by an impartial and dispassionate narration of the facts that existed.
This and other considerations have induced the publication, at the present time, of so much only of the life proposed to be written as was passed during the revolution, a period about which, at this day, there is a correct standard of opinion. The residue is in progress, and may be given at some future time to the public. It is the more willingly deferred, because it is that part with which recent enquirers into American history are in some degree familiar.
Few of the reading population of the country are unacquainted with the storms and tempests, which shook the political atmosphere during the period when Mr. Gerry was the minister of his country near the directory of France, or was either governour of Massachusetts, or a candidate for the chair. None who have felt any interest in the history of the nation, are ignorant of the portentous events, which were connected with its administration when he was vice-president of the United States. His share in these scenes is in a good degree understood. His labours in the revolution are less extensively known. Hence his character is more generally considered than it ought to be, that of a party leader; and his claims to consideration are supposed to rest less on his services as a patriot, than his zeal as a partisan.
The events narrated in this volume may correct that impression and prove the validity of his title to those large honours which his country bestowed upon him. The period embraced in it is that which an American may contemplate with the highest feelings of national pride. Not only was a great revolution successfully accomplished, and those free institutions established whose effects on the moral condition of man no spirit of prophecy is yet competent to disclose, but the foundations of the republic were laid deep and strong in national and private virtue, the only adequate support for the pillars of a temple consecrated to liberty and the rights of man.