Obrázky stránek

congenial spirits, and they became daily and inseparable companions. From the conversations of this learned man, and true friend, Jefferson confesses that he first imbibed his views of the expansion of science, and of the system of things in which we are placed.

Doctor Small returned to Europe in 1762, having first occupied the philosophical chair at the College, and filled up the measure of goodness to his young friend by procuring for him a reception as a student at law under the direction of the celebrated George Wythe, the most distinguished man of his age, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and afterwards Chancellor of the state of Virginia. With this gentleman he was also united not merely by the ties of professional connexion, but by a congeniality of feeling and similarity of views alike honorable to them both; the friendship formed in youth was cemented and strengthened by age, and when the venerable preceptor closed his life in 1806, he bequeathed his li. brary and philosophical apparatus to a pupil and friend who had already proved himself worthy of his instruction and regard.

In 1767 he was introduced to the practice of the law at the bar of the General Court of the colony, and at which he continued until the revolution. His legal career was not only pursued with zeal, but attended with overflowing success. In the short period he deyoted himself to it, he acquired an enviable reputation; and a monument of his professional labor and legal research still exists in a volume of reports of adjudged cases in the supreme courts of Virginia, compiled and digested amid the engagements of active occupation.


But his energy and talents were demanded by his fellow citizens for public life, and his country would not permit him to remain in a private station, or attend to ordinary affairs; their hopes and desires already pointed to him, and their interests directed his aim to higher objects and more extensive usefulness. As early as the year 1769 he was elected a member of the

provincial legislature from the county where he resided, and continued a member of that body until it was closed by the revolution. In consequence, he became associated with men who will always stand in bold relief

among the first, the most ardent, and most determined champions of our rights.

While here, he made one strenuous but fruitless effort for the emancipation of the slaves : so early had a love of liberty and a detestation of tyranny been imprinted on his mind. His failure is ascribed to the effect of the regal government, from which nothing liberal, or that innovated on established error, could expect success. The minds of the generality were fettered and circumscribed within narrow limits by an habitual belief that it was a duty to be subordinate to the mother country in all matters of government, to direct the colonial labors in subservience to her interests, and even to observe a bigoted intolerance for all religions, but her own. 66 The difficulties with our representatives," he writes, “were of habit and despair, not of reflection and conviction." And thus this noble attempt was considered as the attempt of rashness, and met the fate of folly. And that which has since im. mortalized its authors and promoters, was first conceived by the mind and enforced by the eloquence of

[ocr errors]

Jefferson, and adds no fluttering pinion to his deathless


Ever since the year 1763, a spirit of opposition to the British government had been gradually arising in the province of Virginia, and this spirit was rapidly increasing, owing to the arbitrary measures of the mother country, which seemed to be the result no less of mado ness than determined oppression. The attachment to England was great in all the colonies, and in Virginia it was more than usually strong; many of the princi. pal families, according to a popular writer, were connected with it by the closest ties of consanguinity; the young men of talent were sent thither to complete their education in its colleges; and by many, and those not the least patriotic, it was fondly looked to as their home. To sever so intimate a connexion could not be ån undertaking of ordinary facility; yet such was the rash course pursued by the British ministry, that a very brief space was sufficient to dissolve in every breast that glowed with national feeling, those ties which had been formed by blood, by time, and by policy. A very short experience and a slight converse with the political history of the world were sufficient to convince ev. ery mind that there were no hazards too great to be encountered for the establishment of institutions which would secure the country from a repetition of insults that could only end in abject slavery. It cannot be doubted that Mr. Jefferson was among the first to perceive and suggest the only course that could be adopted. The convictions of his mind, and ardor of his feelings, may, in some measure, be judged, from his recollections of the powerful efforts of the celebrated Patrick Henry,


and of which he was a witness. “When the famous re. solutions of 1765 against the stamp act were proposed, I was yet a student of law in Williamsburgh. I attend. ed the debate, however, at the door of the lobby of the House of Burgesses, and heard the splendid display of Mr. Henry's talents as a popular orator. They were great indeed ; such as I never heard from any other

He appeared to me to speak as Homer wrote." In Mr. Jefferson's opinion, Henry, one of the most eminent, but at the same time the most indolent of men, was the first who gave impetus to the ball of the revo. lution in the province of Virginia. Such are the effects of oratorial eloquence! Its power is almost irresistible; it penetrates, says one who seems to have been un. der the fascination of its influence, into the inmost rècesses of the soul. It is able to excite or to calm the passions of men at will; to drive the multitude forward to acts of rashness, or to say to the contending passions, • Peace, be still.” It changes the whole current of our ideas concerning the nature and importance of objects, and of our obligations and advantages respecting them. It rouses from pernicious indolence, and renders the sentiments and dispositions already formed most influential. In a word, it has made of the human species both angels and monsters; it has animated to the most noble and generous exertions, and it has impelled to deeds of horror.

It is in allusion to the events of the same period that Mr. Jefferson writes : “ The colonies were taxed internally and externally; their essential interests sacrificed to individuals in Great Britain ; their legislatures suspended ; charters annulled; trials by juries taken

[ocr errors]

away; their persons subjected to transportation across

; the Atlantic, and to trial by foreign judicatories; their supplications for redress thought beneath answer; themselves published as cowards in the councils of their mother country, and courts of Europe ; armed troops sent amongst them to enforce submission to these violences; and actual hostilities commenced against them. No alternative was presented but resistance or uncon. ditional submission. Between these, there could be no hesitation. They closed in an appeal to arms.”

In 1769, shortly after the election of Mr. Jefferson to the provincial legislature, these discontents arrived at their crisis. In May of that year, a meeting of the General Assembly was called by the Governor, Lord Botetourt. To that meeting was made known the joint resolutions and address of the British Lords and Commons of 1768–9, on the proceedings in Massachusetts. Counter resolutions, and an address to the King, by the House of Burgesses, were agreed to with little op. position; and a spirit manifestly displayed itself of considering the cause of Massachusetts as a common one. The Governor dissolved the General Assembly in consequence of the sympathy which was thus exhibited by a majority of its members; but they met the next day in the public room of the Raleigh Tavern, formed themselves into a convention, drew up articles of asso. ciation against the use of any merchandise from Great Britain, and signed and recommended them to the peo. ple. They then repaired to their respective counties; and were all re-elected except those few who had declined assenting to their proceedings.

Da the first of January, 1772, Mr. Jefferson married

« PředchozíPokračovat »