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Liberty. His learning, piety, honesty of urpose, energy of action and large experience-combined to give great weight to his character. He was an active member of the council of safety and on the second Thursday of October 1775, was appointed a delegate to the Continental Congress. He entered zealously into the deliberations of that revered body and made himself truly useful. He was ever ready to go as far as any one to obtain the liberation of his suffering country from the serpentine coils of tyranny. He was in favor of bold and vigorous measures and advocated the Declaration of Rights from its incipient conception to its final adoption. He was greatly instrumental in dispelling the doubts of many whose motives and desires were as pure but whose moral courage was less than his. He was well versed in the different forms of government, international law and the routine of legislation. When he spoke in public he was listened to with profound attention. He was a member of Congress in 1776–7 and when the final vote was taken upon the Magna Charta of our Liberty William Williams responded a thundering-AYE-that told his boldness and his zeal. That vote stands confirmed by his signature-a proud memento of his unalloyed patriotism-a conclusive proof of his moral firmness.
He was free from that aspiring ambition that is based on self and nurtured by intrigue. His motives emanated from the pure fountain of an honest heart. To promote the glory of his country was the ultimatum of his earthly desires. Upon the altar of Liberty he was willing to sacrifice his property and life. To vindicate the cause of Freedom he was willing to spend his latest breath. He used every honorable exertion to rouse his fellow citizens to a sense of danger and induce them to enlist in the common cause against the common enemy. At the time Congress.was compelled to flee from Philadelphia he risked his life to rescue Colonel Dyer from the fangs of the British who had planned his arrest. They both made a hair-breadth escape. When the government treasury was drained of its last dollar, Mr. Williams threw in what he termed a mite of hard money, being over two thousand dollars for which he took continental money only to die in his hands. How emphatically things are changed. Now the public treasury distributes mint drops profusely upon many whose pretended services are as worthless as continental rags-in some instances absolutely injurious.
He was remarkably active and fortunate in obtaining private donations and necessaries for the army. He went from house to house, receiving small parcels of any and every article that would alleviate he wants of the destitute soldiers. At different times he forwarded to
them more than a thousand blankets. During the winter of 1781 he gave up his own house for the accommodation of the officers of the legion of Col. Laurens and did all in his power to render officers and soldiers comfortable. His industry was equal to his patriotism seldom retiring until after twelve and up again by the dawn of day.
Mr. Williams was a member of the convention of his state when the Federal Constitution was adopted and gave it his hearty sanction. He was never permitted to retire from the public arena until prostrated by disease which terminated his useful career on the 2d of August 1811. He had lived the life of a good man-his end was peaceful, calm and happy.
He was a fine figure of the middle size, dark complexion and hair, piercing black eyes, an aquiline nose, an open and ingenuous countenance, a stentorian voice and strong physical powers. He was blessed with a clear head, a noble heart, a sound judgment, an acute perception and a logical mind. Not a blot could be found upon the fair fame of his public or private character. During the latter part of his life he was troubled with an increasing aeafness and spent much of his time in Christian devotion. But few men have served their country as much and no one more faithfully than did William Williams.
The history of party spirit is red with blood. Its career has been marked with desolation and ruin. It often rides on the whirlwind of faction or on the more dreadful tornado of fanaticism. It has blotted kingdoms and empires from existence, consumed nations, blighted the fairest portions of creation and sacrificed millions upon its sanguinary altar. Confined to no time or place-it has taken deep root in our own country. Its poison has contaminated our political and religious atmosphere most fearfully. It has had its victims of blood in this land of republican and Christian professions. Its miasma has reached our ba? lot boxes, violated the peaceful fireside, traduced private character, invaded patriotism, induced perjury, countenanced forgery, corrupted our elective franchise and produced mobocracy in its most direful aspect. Great and good men have been victimized by reckless partisans who stop at nothing and stoop to everything to accomplish their purposesright or wrong. They look at the end regardless of means.
In recurring to the eventful period of the American Revolution those who are not familiar with the history oi the local politics of that day
may naturally conclude that party spirit found no place in the bosoms of those who were engaged in a common cause against a common enemy. Far different was the fact. Many of the best men of tnat trying period were scourged, lacerated and for a time paralyzed by reckless party spirit.
Among its victims was James Wilson, born of respectable parents near St. Andrews, Scotland, in 1742. His father was a farmer in moderate circumstances which he moderated still more by rushing into the whirlpool of speculation-an unfortunate propensity that adhered to this son.
He graduated at St. Andrews, Edinburgh. This done he took lessons in rhetoric under Dr. Blair and in logic under Dr. Watts. He then came to Philadelphia and obtained the situation of usher in the college of that city. His moral worth, strong talents and high literary a tainments gained for him the esteem and marked respect of Dr. Richard Peters, Bishop White and many others whose friendship and influence were most desirable. Those who knew him best admired him most.
He subsequently studied law under John Dickinson and settled at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he rose rapidly to the head of the Bar. A powerful exhibition of Ciceronian eloquence and legal acumen at the trial of an important land case between the Proprietaries and Samuel Wallace gained for him an early professional celebrity. The Attorney General, Mr. Chew, fixed his eyes upon him soon after he commenced his argument and gazed at him with admiring astonishment until he closed his lucid speech. He was immediately retained in another important land cause and was considered equal to any member of the Pennsylvania Bar. He removed ultimately to Annapolis, Maryland and at the end of a year to Philadelphia where he was liberally patronised but rushing occasionally into the whirlpool of speculation his circumstances were uniformly embarrassed. As an evidence of his good. ness of heart, amidst the most keen reverses he remitted money regularly to his poor widowed mother in Scotland to the day of her death using every means in his power to smooth her path to the tomb.
With the intolerant commencement of British oppression the political career of Mr. Wilson began. He boldly spoke and ably wrote in favor of equal rights and liberal principles. He was an early and zealous advocate of the American cause. Of a consistent and reflecting mind he sometimes censured the rashness of others which brought upon him malicious slanders which enabled his enemies several times to envelope him so completely in the dark fog of party spirit as to partially
paralyze his exertions until the sun of truth would rise and dispel the vapors of calumny.
He was a member of the Provincial Convention of 1774, convened for the purpose of devising plans for the redress of grievances imposed by England. During the session he was nominated to the Congress soon to meet. He was bitterly opposed by Mr. Galloway but was elected by a handsome majority. He was continued a member of Congress until 1777 when his enemies succeeded in their long nursed machinations against him. At the commencement of hostilities he was commissioned colonel and appointed a commissioner to treat with the Indians. On the 4th of July 1776 he proved his sincerity in the cause of Liberty by a fearless vote and a bold signature in favor of the Declaration of Independence. In the minds of all who were not blinded by party spirit his action on that day refuted the base slanders that had been promulged against him. At the shrine of this dread monster the brightest subjects of purity have often been sacrificed. No goodness of heart-no brilliancy of talent-no exalted worth-no sanctity of character can shield a public man from the base assaults of party spirit-be he benefactor, philanthropist, saint, sage or hero. Even Washington writhed under the ostracism of this withering scourge. Some men are born demi-gogs and live under the influence of Gog and Magog during their deleterious existence.
Mr. Wilson was an esteemed and active member of the Continental Congress. Born a Scot he would not have exemplified the marked trait of his nation had he not been cool and cautious in everything. He, with many others, opposed the immediate adoption of the Declaration of Independence-not because they doubted its justice but because they believed the Colonies were not in a physical condition to sustain it. His patriotism and republicanism both stood forth in bold relievo when the question was finally put. He venerated the instrument and was bound by principle to submit to the will of the majority in what he believed to be clearly right although he believed it premature. His opposition was based upon the single fact of the physical weakness of the Colonies clearly expressed, yet his partisan enemies branded him with a want of patriotism. The people were not long deceived and esteemed him the more for his candor.
In 1782 he was again elected to Congress and was hailed as one of its most efficient members. The same year he was appointed one of the counsellors and agents of Pennsylvania to meet the commissioners who convened at Trenton, New Jersey, for the final settlement of the protracted controversy between Connecticut and that commonwealth relative to certain lands in the Wyoming Valley. The luminous and unanswerable arguments of Mr. Wilson had a controlling influence over the commissioners who decided in favor of Pennsylvania and closed an unpleasant litigation of years.
During the interim when he was not in Congress he held the office of advocate-general for the French which led him to a close investigation of national and maritime law. For this service the French king gave him 10,000 livres. He was at the same time a director in the Bank of North America and had the full confidence of Robert Morris as a safe and able financial adviser. As an active and discreet member of important committees he stood in the front rank. He traced the lines of every subject with the compass of wisdom and closed its bearings and measurement with mathematical precision. He arrived at the desired goal with less show but with more certainty than some whose zeal was more impetuous but not more pure than his. He sought more to bestow lasting benefits on his country than to elicit the huzzas of the multitude. He well knew that effervescent popularity was not an index of that substantial usefulness which lives long after that transient vapor consigns its ephemeral subjects to the mellow repose of peaceful oblivion. Balloon politicians may become inflated by the hydrogen of party spirit and rise in the political atmosphere followed by the eyes and elated by the shouts of thousands. A single spark of fire from the furnace that created the gas will show most of them to be treacherous and unsafe gasometers. Modest worth avoids ethereal excursions. It stands like a rock of granite on the terra firma of deep thought, calm reflection and sound discretion. Nothing but a sense of imperious duty can induce the very men who should be there to enter the whirling vortex and thorny arena of politics. How many such men are now in public stations guarding the rights and directing the proper destiny of our nation is a subject worthy of careful and anxious inquiry. If the people in mass are not true to themselves demagogues will not be true to them.
Mr. Wilson was one of the most useful members of the Convention that formed the Federal Constitution. He strongly opposed the popular project of the appointment of members of Congress by the legislatures of the States and was mainly instrumental in placing their election in the hands of the people. This principle should have been applied to every office named in that instrument not subject to the control and supervision of the President and Senate. Mr. Wilson was one of the committee that put the Constitution in form and reported it to the Convention. When completed by amendments and presented to his own