Obrázky stránek
[ocr errors]

from Virginia under it. He retained the office until the infirmities of age compelled him to retire from public life, and he there enjoyed, amid the quietude of domestic retirement, the fruits of a well-spent existence.

His last days were crowned with all the honor and reverence which a grateful people could bestow upon a benefactor, and when death cut his thread of life, a nation truly mourned. He sunk to his final rest on the nineteenth day of June, 1794, in the sixty-fourth year of his age.

Mr. Lee was a sincere practical Christian, a kind and affectionate husband and parent, a generous neighbor, a constant friend, and in all the relations of life, he maintained a character above reproach. “His hospitable door," says Sanderson,

was open to all; the poor and destitute frequented it for relief, and consolation; the young for instruction; the old for happiness; while a numerous family of children, the offspring of two marriages, clustered around and clung to each other in fond affection, 'imbibing the wisdom of their father, while they were animated and delighted by the amiable serenity and captivating graces of his conversation. The necessities of his country occasioned frequent absence; but every return to his home was celebrated by the people as a festival ; for he was their physician, their counsellor, and the arbiter of their differences. The medicines which he imported were carefully and judiciously dispensed; and the equity of his decision was never controverted by a court of law.”




MERICAN history presents few names to its students more attractive and distinguished than that of Thomas JefFERSON, and rarely has a single individual, in civil station, acquired such

an ascendency over the feelings and actions of a people, as was possessed by the subject of this brief memoir. To trace the lines of his character and career, is a pleasing task for every American whose mind is fixed upon the political destiny of his country, and we regret the narrow limits to which our pen is confined.


[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Mr. Jefferson's family were among the early British emigrants to Virginia. His ancestors came from Wales, from near the


Snowdon mountain. His grandfather settled in Chesterfield, and had three sons, Thomas, Field, and Peter. The latter married Jane, daughter of Isham Randolph, of Goochland, of Scotch descent; and on the thirteenth of April, 1743, she became the mother of the subject of this sketch. They resided at that time at Shadwell, in Albermarle county, Virginia. Thomas was the eldest child. His father died when he was fourteen years old, leaving a widow and eight children-two sons, and six daughters. He left a handsome estate to his family; and the lands, which he called Monticello, fell to Thomas, where the latter always resided when not engaged in public duty, and where he lived at the time of his death.

Thomas entered a grammar school at the age of five years, and when nine years old he commenced the study of the classics with a Scotch clergyman named Douglas. On the death of his father, the Reverend Mr. Maury became his preceptor; and in the spring of 1760, he entered William and Mary College, where he remained two years. From Doctor William Small, a professor of mathematics in the college, he received his first philosophical teachings, and the bias of his mind concerning subjects of scientific investigation seemed to have received its initial impetus from that gentleman. Through his influence, in 1762, young Jefferson was admitted as a student-at-law in the office of George Wythe, the intimate friend of Governor Fauquier, at whose table our subject became a welcome guest.

In 1765, while yet a student, Jefferson heard the celebrated speech of Patrick Henry against the Stamp Act; and fired by its doctrines, he at once stood forth the avowed champion of American freedom. So manifest were his talents, that in 1769 he was elected a member of the Vir

ginia Legislature, and became at once active and popular there.* He filled that station until the period of the Revolution, when he was called to the performance of more exalted duties in the national council.

He was married in January, 1772, to Mrs. Martha Skelton, a wealthy widow of twenty-three, who was the daughter of John Wales, an eminent Virginia lawyer.

When the system of committees of correspondence was established in 1773, Mr. Jefferson was a member of the first committee in Virginia, and was very active with his pen. "In 1774, his powerfully written pamphlet was published, called “ A Summary View of the Rights of British America.” It was addressed to the king, and was published in England, under the auspices of Edmund Burke.t

He was elected a delegate to represent Virginia in the Continental Congress of 1775, and for several years he was one of the most efficient members of that body. He soon became distinguished among the men of talents there, although comparatively young; and when, in the succeeding year, a committee was appointed to draught a DeclaRATION OF INDEPENDENCE, he was chosen one of the members. Although the youngest member of the committee, he was appointed chairman, and was requested by the others to draw up the instrument, which he did, and his draught was adopted, with a very few verbal amendments, on the fourth of July, 1776. This instrument forms an everlasting monument to his memory, and gives, by far, a wider range to the fame of his talents and patriotism, than eloquent panegyric or sculptured epitaph.

* He made strong but unsuccessful efforts in the Virginia Assembly for the emancipation of the slaves.

† This pamphlet gave great offence to Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, who threatened to prosecute him for high treason. And because his as. sociates in the Virginia Assembly sustained Jefferson, Dunmore dissolved it. They assembled in a private capacity, and drew up a remonstrance, which had a pow. erful effect upon the people. The governor perceived that his acts were futile, and he allowed the matter to rest.

During the summer of 1776, he was elected to a seat in the Virginia Assembly, and, desirous of serving his own State, he resigned his seat in Congress and returned to Virginia. He was soon afterward appointed a joint commissioner with Dr. Franklin and Silas Deane, for negotiating treaties with France, but circumstances caused him to decline the acceptance of the proffered honor, and he continued in Virginia during the remaining period of the Revolution, actively engaged in the service of his State. He received a third election to Congress, but declined it, and was succeeded by Benjamin Harrison, the father of the late President.

From the early part of 1777 to the middle of 1779, Mr. Jefferson was assiduously employed, conjointly with George Wythe and Edmund Pendleton, on a commission for revising the laws of Virginia. The duty was a most arduous one; and to Mr. Jefferson belongs the imperishable honor of being the first to propose, in the Legislature of Virginia, the laws forbidding the importation of slaves; converting estates tail* into fee simple; annulling the rights of primogeniture ;t establishing schools for general education; and confirming the rights of freedom in religious opinion.

Congress having resolved not to suffer the prisoners captured at Saratoga, under Burgoyne, to leave the United States until the convention, entered into by Gates and Burgoyne, should be ratified by the British government, they were divided, and sent to the different States, to be provided for during the interval. A division of them was

* A law entitled fee tail was adopted in the time of Edward I. of England, and at the period in question extended to all the English colonies. It restrained the alienation of lands and tenements by one to whom they had been given, with a limitation to a particular class of heirs. A fee-simple estate is one in which the owner has absolute power to dispose of it as he pleases; and if in his possession when he dies, it descends to his heirs general.

† This right belonged to the eldest son, who succeeded to the estate of his ancestor, to the exclusion of his brothers and sisters. This is still the law in England.

« PředchozíPokračovat »