Page images

passage of this resolution. And the next day the members met at the Apollo hall and talked freely of English tyranny and what should be done about it; and they talked of a congress of the colonies for mutual consultation. They further agreed that a convention should be held at Williamsburg, August 1, to learn the result of the proposed colonial congress, and if such a congress shall be held, to appoint delegates to it. Here was the spirit and intelligence of Massachusetts in the Old Dominion.

When the members of the assembly returned to their homes they invited the clergy to address the people in all their churches on fast day; and they generally did so, awakening a profound interest. Mr. Jefferson said: "The effect of the day through the whole colony was like a shock of electricity, arousing every man and placing him erect and solidly on his center."

The freeholders in all the counties held meetings to appoint delegates to the coming convention and express their views in resolutions.

Mr. Jefferson, on account of sickness, was unable to attend the August convention, but sent in "a summary view" of the situation in a long document, which Edmund Burke, in England, styled "A Summary View of the Rights of British America." It contained the most of the statements afterward put into the Declaration of Independence, only more radically stated; and denied that the British crown had any rights on American soil, because the people of America, without the king's help, have made it what it is. It was a document probably more radical than anything Otis, Adams, or Henry had ever said. In it, he said: "The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them."

The Colonial Congress met in Philadelphia on the fourth of September. Peyton Randolph, one of Virginia's most accomplished and honored citizens, was made its president.

In the mean time nearly all the counties of Virginia organized committees of safety. On the twentieth of March, 1775, a second Virginia convention was held at Richmond. Mr. Jefferson was a member from his county. This was one of the most

memorable assemblies ever held on this continent. It had many of Virginia's best men, such as Richard H. Lee, Pendleton, Bland, Wythe, Nicholas, Harrison, Mason, Page, Henry, Jefferson. It was composed of the conservatives and radicals. The old men of wealth and dignity were there, and the young men who were for forward movements. The old men spoke softly of England, praised the British constitution, and talked in conciliatory words, which were as "wormwood and gall" to Patrick Henry, who rose and moved that "the colony be immediately put in a state of defense, and that * * * be a committee to prepare a plan for embodying, arming and disciplining such a number of men as may be sufficient for that purpose." This startling proposition was most painful to the old conservative members. It sounded like rebellion. The young members, Lee, Jefferson, Mason, Page, were quick in its support. It was on this occasion. that Patrick Henry made the flaming speech which has immortalized him. It was in support of his resolution. He said, "war is inevitable; we must fight." The story of that speech has thrilled Americans for a hundred years. Wirt, in his life of Henry, has given a graphic picture of the scene and the speech. Many eye-and-ear witnesses have described it. Mr. Randall, in his life of Jefferson, gives this account as related to him by an old Baptist clergyman who heard it. "Henry rose with an unearthly fire burning in his eye. He commenced somewhat calmly—but the smothered excitement began more and more to play upon his features and thrill in the tones of his voice. The tendons of his neck stood out white and rigid 'like whipcord.' His voice rose louder and louder, until the walls of the building and all within them, seemed to shake and rock in its tremendous vibrations. Finally his pale face and glaring eye became terrible to look upon. Men leaned forward in their seats, with their heads strained forward, their faces pale and their eyes glaring like the speaker's. His last exclamation, Give me liberty or give me death,' was like the shout of a leader which turns back the rout of battle!"

The old clergyman said when Mr. Henry sat down, "he (the auditor) 'felt sick with excitement.' Every eye gazed entranced

on Henry. It seemed as if a word from him would have led to any wild explosion of violence. Men looked beside themselves." Wirt in his account of it, says: "Richard H. Lee arose and supported Mr. Henry with his usual spirit and elegance. But his melody was lost amid the agitations of that ocean which the master spirit of the storm had lifted upon high. That supernatural voice still sounded in their ears and shivered along their arteries. They heard in every pause the cry of liberty or death. They became impatient of speech. Their souls were on fire for action."

Mr. Henry's resolution for arming the colony was passed by a decided majority; and he, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were put on the committee, with others, to carry out its provisions. The committee reported a plan on the twentyfifth of March, and the convention accepted it.

The convention chose Mr. Jefferson to fill the place of Peyton Randolph in the next Colonial Congress.

On the night of the twentieth of April, 1775, a British armed vessel lying in the James river, by order of Governor Dunmore, entered Williamsburg and carried off all the powder in the magazine. This awakened much feeling. It was done two days after the battle of Lexington, the news of which soon came, to verify Henry's speech and to call many Virginians to arms.

On the first of June, the House of Burgesses was convened to consider Lord North's "conciliatory proposition." Peyton Randolph returned from the Colonial Congress to preside, and Mr. Jefferson had been elected to supply his place; but Mr. Randolph was anxious that Mr. Jefferson should draft a reply to Lord North. This reply rings with the spirit of all Mr. Jefferson's great state papers of that great period.

The eleventh of June, 1775, Mr. Jefferson took his seat in Congress. He was greeted with great cordiality. He was then but little past thirty-two years of age. His fame as a writer had gone before him. His "Summary of the Rights of British America," the "Albemarle Resolutions," and other convention papers, had stirred the whole country; and now he brought with him his reply to Lord North, more full than anything he had

written. All the most advanced members received him with open arms. John Adams said of him: "Mr. Jefferson had the reputation of a masterly pen"; and again, "he brought with him a reputation for literature, science, and a happy talent for composition." Of him, as a member, Mr. Adams says: "Though a silent member in Congress, he was so prompt, frank, explicit, and decisive upon committees and in conversation-not even Samuel Adams was more so-that he soon seized upon my heart."

Five days after Mr. Jefferson took his seat, he was appointed on a committee to draft a declaration of the causes of taking up arms. He made a draft, but it was too radical to please John Dickinson, also a member of the committee. So Mr. Dickinson recast it, making it new with the exception of the last four paragraphs. Mr. Jefferson was one of the most advanced thinkers and actors, while Mr. Dickinson was very conservative; and yet they were intimate friends to the close of their lives.

Lord North's "conciliatory proposition" came before Congress for its answer. A committee was appointed to draft an answer July 22. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Richard H. Lee were made that committee. The committee chose Jefferson to draft the answer. It constitutes another of his great state papers, and was the last great statement of the differences between America and England by way of conciliation. Up to this time, and after, all the great leaders, the Adamses, Jay, Washington, Jefferson, desired to remain in union with England. They craved for England a great empire, and wanted to be a part of that empire. They saw, far better than English statesmen, the possibilities of that empire, and yielded this dream of British greatness, only from stern necessity. They regarded themselves as forced to an unnatural and cruel divorce.

On the ninth of November, 1775, a letter was received in Congress from Richard Penn and Arthur Lee, who had carried the second petition to the king, that "no answer would be given to it." This made the prospect of conciliation most dark. From this time the leaders were compelled to face the probability of a final separation. The dream of a great British empire

must vanish. Little by little they began to talk about the almost certain separation.

The king opened the next Parliament with bitter denunciation of the colonists as rebels, and determinatoin to punish them into submission. News of this reached America in the spring of 1776. From this time it became a question of whether the colonists could stand more punishing than the irate mother could give.

About this time Paine's "Common Sense" was published, and did much to convince many that separation and war for independence were absolute necessities. Public sentiment began to set strongly in this direction. Congress kept up with public sentiment.

On the tenth of May, John Adams offered, and on the fifteenth Congress passed, a resolution advising all the colonies to form governments for themselves. On the eleventh of June, 1776, congress resolved to appoint a committee of five to prepare a declaration of independence. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston were that committee, chosen by ballot. John Adams says Jefferson had one more vote than any of the rest, and on that account, he thought, he was made chairman of the committee.

Mr. Jefferson, at the instance of the committee, and, as Adams suggests, because he was the best writer, and probably because he had written several papers covering the general subject; and, still further, because he was connected with no clique, wrote the declaration. Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams made a few verbal changes; and it was read in Congress June 28. July 2, it was taken up for discussion, and two days were spent over it, according to Randall, Jefferson's biographer. The censure of the people of England and the rebuke of slavery were taken from it; and it was passed on the evening of July 4. Mr. Bancroft says the vote on it was taken July 2. At any rate, July 4 has been fixed upon as the day of its passage.

On the day of the passage of the declaration, Franklin, Adams and Jefferson were appointed to prepare a seal for THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

« PreviousContinue »