Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

FRANCIS LIGHTFOOT LEE.

179 country, and was prolific in plans for the accomplishment of the desired object. As a member of committees he had no superior. An extensive reader, he had made himself acquainted with the principles of every form of government, and understood well the minutive of magna charta and the British constitution. He was prepared to act advisedly and safely, and determined to resist, even unto blood, all the illegal advances of a base, designing and avaricious ministry. He made no pretensions to oratory, seldom spoke in public, but when so highly excited as to rise, he poured upon his opponents a flood of keen and withering logic that often made them quail beneath its force.

On the 15th of August, 1775, Mr. Lee was elected a member of the Continental Congress. A more expansive field was then opened before him. To do or die, to live in chains or peril every thing for liberty had become the dilemma. Columbia's soil had been stained with the blood and serum of Americans, shed by the very men who had been cherished by their bounty and fed by the labour of their hands. The dim flickerings of the hope of redress and conciliation were fast expiring in the socket of forbearance. The great seal of the social compact had been broken by the British ministry, the last petitions, remonstrances and addresses to the king were to be prepared, and the final course to be pursued by the colonies, determined. Inglorious peace or honourable war were the two propositions. In favour of the last Mr. Lee put forth the strong energies of his mind. Eternal separation from England and independence for America could only satisfy and meet his views. Being appointed upon many important committees, his exertions to obtain this desideratum were unremitting, and his influence was strongly felt. So highly were his talents appreciated that he was often chairman of the committee of the whole. So convinced were his constituents of his ability to promote the best interests of the glorious cause of freedom, that they continued him in Congress until his retirement from the public arena in 1779 to scenes more congenial to his mind, but less beneficial to the deliberations of the august body he had so much benefitted.

When the proposition of final separation was submitted to Congress by his brother, his soul was animated to the zenith of patriotic feeling, and when the declaration of rights was adopted, his mind was in an ecstacy of delight. His influence, his vote and his signature, told how strong and pure were his desires in its favour. On that sacred instrument, the chart of freemen and an eye-sore to kings, the name of Francis Lightfoot Lee stands recorded—a lasting monument of his civic fame.

He rendered essential aid in framing the articles of confederation that carried the colonies through the revolution. This was a work of great labour, and underwent, besides the time bestowed upon it by the committee, thirty-nine distinct discussions in the house. He contended ardently that the rights of contiguous fisheries and the free navigation of the Mississippi river should be incorporated in the claims of the United States upon Great Britain in all propositions of peace. The wisdom and sagacity of his position is now fully demon

180

FRANCIS LIGHTFOOT LEE. strated although it then met with opposition by some, and was considered as a matter of secondary importance by others.

A late writer has charged the "Lees of Virginia” with hostility towards Washington, which, unqualified as it stands, includes Francis with the rest. This hostile feeling, he asserts, arose from the sentence of the court martial in 1778, that suspended General Charles Lee from holding any commission in the American army for one year. Had the writer consulted the records of Congress he might have avoided this error. Francis Lightfoot Lee was the only one of the name in Congress at that time. The sentence was acted upon and sanction by that body, and Mr. Lee voted in its favour. He was ever a warm friend of the illustrious Washington, and I have yet to learn that his brothers were not also. General Lee was a native of North Wales, and, excepting a short time during his youth, was not in America until 1773, and could not have had the same claims of friendship upon the “Lees of Virginia” as the father of our country. He was an accomplished and brave officer, having served in Portugal under Burgoyne, and in the army of Poland, and other places, from the time he was eleven years old until his unfortunate dereliction from orders at the battle of Monmouth. He died in Philadelphia in 1782. Another evidence that Mr. Lee held the hero of the revolution in veneration is of a later date. · After the adoption of the federal constitution he was asked his opinion upon it. He answered, with an air of seri. ousness, "I am old and do not pretend to judge these things now, but one thing satisfies me it is all right-General Washington is in favour of it and John Warden is opposed to it.” Mr. Warden was opposed to American independence.

After he retired from Congress he enjoyed the domestic circle but for a short season. He was elected to the legislature of his native dominion contrary to his wishes, but promptly repaired to the post of public duty. After aiding in the removal of the most perplexing difficulties that embarrassed the government of the state, he again retired to the peaceful shades of private life, where he remained until April, 1797, when, calm and resigned, he obeyed the summons of the messenger of death, bid an affectionate farewell to his friends and the world, and took his departure to that country from whose bourne no traveller returns," triumphing in faith, rejoicing in death, with the full assurance of a crown of glory in a brighter and better world,

In public life Mr. Lee was eminently useful; his private worth and excellence shone with equal brilliancy. Always cheerful, amusing and instructive, he was the delight of every circle in which he moved. Wealthy, liberal and benevolent, he was the orphan's father, the widow's solace and the poor man's friend. Kind, affectionate and intelligent, he was a good husband, a faithful companion, and a safe counsellor. Polished, urbane and gentlemanly, his examples were calculated to refine the manners of those around him. Moral, discreet and pious, his precepts had a salutary influence upon the minds of all who heard them and were not callous to good advice. He died of pleurisy, resulting from a heavy cold, and, within a few days of each other, himself and wife were both laid beneath the clods of the valley.

They had no children to mourn their loss, but their graves were moistened by the tears of numerous relatives and friends. Let the shining examples of this good man be reflected forcibly upon our minds, that our country may be benefitted by us in time, and that our final exit from earth may be peaceful and happy.

THOMAS STONE.

A Man who has a just sense of the responsibilities of a high public office, will seldom seek one, unless impelled by impending dangers that threaten to injure or destroy the best interests of his country. The more clearly a modest unassuming man perceives the magnitude of a public trust, the more he distrusts his own capacity to discharge its duties, yet such a man is the very one to be safely trusted. It was with great diffidence that Washington undertook the command of the American armies, yet no one can be pointed out who possessed as fully all the requisites to meet “the times that tried men's souls.” John Hancock quailed under his appointment as president of the Continental Congress, yet no one could have manifested more firmness in the cause of liberty, or have presided with more dignity.

It is only in times of danger that men of the greatest worth become most conspicuous. They are then sought out by the virtuous part of the community, and sometimes become prominent by throwing themselves in the breach of danger. In times of peace and prosperity, the same men may be called to the councils of a nation without exciting astonishment or unusual applause, and the names of noisy political partisans may become more extensively known and be wider spread upon the wings of venal party newspapers than theirs. It is in such times that men of the greatest merit shrink from the public gaze, and it is in such times that the canker worm of political intrigue carries on the work of destruction in the body politic. It is in times of peril that men of deep thought, cool deliberation and sterling honesty, become most prominent and receive the full reward of merit. This fact was fully demonstrated during the American revolution. Many were then called to deliberate in the solemn assemblies of that eventful era who had not been previously known as public men, and who retired as soon as the mighty work of independence was completed. They were selected in consequence of their strict integrity and sound discretion.

Of this class was THOMAS STONE, a descendant of William Stone, who was governor of Maryland during the reign of Cromwell. He was born at Pointon Manor, Charles county, Maryland, in 1743. He was well educated under the liberal and classical instruction of a Scotch clergyman, and studied the profession of law with Thomas Johnson of Annapolis. He commenced a successful practice at that place, and was held in high estimation by the community in which he lived. Modest, retiring and unassuming in his manners, an industrious man of business, a close student, a safe and judicious counsellor, he was beloved and admired for his substantial worth and sterling merit. He possessed a clear head, a sound judgment, and a good heart.

His mind was vigorous, analyzing, investigating, and patriotic. He was a friend to equal rights, and delighted in seeing every person happy. He detested oppression in all its varied shades. He was kind, noble and benevolent. With feelings like these he was not a careless observer of the infringements of the Grenville administration upon the constitutional and chartered rights of his fellow citizens. When the stamp act was promulged, he was a youth in politics, but the discussions upon its odiousness deeply interested him. He was an attentive listener and a thorough investigator. His opposition to it became firm; a holy indignation pervaded his bosom and prepared him for future action. Still he avoided the public gaze. With his friends in the private circle he conversed freely, lucidly and understandingly upon the subject of American rights and British wrongs, but could not be induced to mount the rostrum of the forum and display his forensic powers until a short time before he was called by his country to deliberate in her national council.

When the Boston port bill was proclaimed, Mr. Stone surmounted the barriers of diffidence and rushed promptly to the rescue.

His example had a salutary influence upon those around him. All knew that something must be radically wrong, that some portentous danger hung over the colonies when Thomas Stone was roused to public action. The influence of such men as him, in times of peril, is of the highest value. The inan who is always or often a declaimer in popular meetings, must possess Demosthenean or Ciceronian powers to command attention for a long time. The cool, the reflecting, the calculating, the timid and the wavering, are operated upon as by magic, where they see such a man as was Mr. Stone go boldly forward and advocate, what to them seems a cause of doubtful expediency.

On the 8th of December, 1774, he was elected a member of the Continental Congress, and took his seat in that body on the 15th of the ensuing May. The meeting of that convention of sages had been deeply solemn and imposing the preceding year, but at that time an increased responsibility rested upon the members. The cry of blood from the heights of Lexington was ringing in their ears; the fury of the revolutionary storm was increasing; the clash of arms and mortal combat had already commenced; the vials of British wrath were unsealed, and the fabric of civil government was falling before a foreign military force. To meet such a crisis, it required the wisdom of Solomon, the patriotism of Cincinnatus, the acuteness of Locke, the eloquence of Cicero, the caution of Tacitus, the learning of Atticus and the energy of Virginius. All these qualities were combined in the Continental Congress to a degree before unknown. Mr. Stone commenced his duties with vigour and prosecuted them with zeal.

He was at first trammelled by the instructions of the provincial assembly of Maryland, that body being extremely anxious that peace should be restored without recourse to arms. But the increasing oppressions of the crown eventually removed this injunction and enabled him and his colleagues to join cheerfully in all measures calculated to promote the cause of independence. He was continued in Congress until 1777, when he declined a re-election. He had been a faithful labourer in the committee rooms, and an influential member in the house. He had bestowed much thought and time upon the articles of confederation, and felt bound to remain in the public service until they were fully formed and adopted. That important work completed, he retired from the halls of Congress, carrying with him the esteem and respect of that body, the approbation of a good conscience, and the unlimited gratitude of his constituents.

In 1778, he was elected a delegate of the Maryland legislature, where he became an important and influential member. During that session, the articles of confederation that he had aided in framing the preceding term in Congress, were submitted for consideration. They met with violent opposition at first, and were the subject of warm discussion. Having been present at their formation, Mr. Stone was prepared to answer the objections raised against them by lucid, clear, logical and convincing arguments. He contributed largely in gaining for them a majority of votes in the legislature of his state.

In 1783, he again took his seat in Congress and became a highly esteemed member. Devoted to the best interests of his country, free from political ambition, honest, frank, republican and sincere in his principles, he was safely entrusted with the responsibilities of every station he was called to fill. He was present when Washington resigned his commission and retired from the field of civic glory to the peaceful shades of Mount Vernon, amidst the loud plaudits of admiring millions, and the mingled tears of joy and gratitude that stood, like pearly dew drops, on the cheeks of his countrymen and compatriots in arms.

The ensuing year closed the labours of Mr. Stone in Congress, and completed his public career. During the last session in which he served, he presided, previous to its close, as president pro tempore, and, had he consented to a re-election, would, as a matter of course, been chosen

the next president of the national legislature. As a further mark of public esteem, he was elected a delegate to the convention of 1787 that framed the federal constitution, but having commenced a lucrative practice of law at Port Tobacco he declined the honour of serving. On the 5th of October of the same year, he was prematurely and suddenly called to the bar of God to render an account of his stewardship, and closed his eyes in death, deeply lamented by numerous friends, a grateful country, and millions of freemen. He was cut off in the prime of life, in the midst of usefulness, whilst the prospects of future honours were opening brightly before him. But he had already earned a rich and honourable fame, imperishable as the pages of history, lasting as human intelligence. From the time he was first known as a public man to the present, neither the tongue of slan

« PředchozíPokračovat »