Very popularly written, these lectures are seven in number, and treat respectively of Jefferson as revolutionist, democratizer of state institutions, diplomat, democratizer of federal institutions, and president, and of his influence upon freedom of religion in America and upon our educational institutions. Jefferson has not been entirely fortunate in his biographers, many of his points of view being so at odds with those of Europe that their effect has been distorted or minimized; but with Senator Williams his radical belief in democracy finds a sympathy rather whole-hearted than discriminating.
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HIS PERMANENT INFLUENCE ON AMERICAN INSTITUTIONS
Thomas Jefferson, J. S. Williams
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
CHAPTER I - INTRODUCTORY 1
CHAPTER II - JEFFERSON THE REVOLUTIONIST 4
CHAPTER III - JEFFERSON THE DEMOCRATIZER OF STATE INSTITUTIONS 38
CHAPTER IV - JEFFERSON'S INFLUENCE AS A DIPLOMAT 62
CHAPTER V - JEFFERSON THE DEMOCRATIZER OF FEDERAL INSTITUTIONS 82
CHAPTER VI -THE INFLUENCE OF JEFFERSON AS PRESIDENT 113
SOME MINOR MATTERS. 138
CHAPTER VII - JEFFERSON'S INFLUENCE ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION IN AMERICA 141
CHAPTER VIII - JEFFERSON'S INFLUENCE ON OUR EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS 154
In an article written by Andrew D. White, entitled, " Jefferson and Slavery," in the Atlantic Monthly for January, 1862, he says that "in the architecture" of our democratic republic, we find "the agency mainly of six men."
First, three men who "did most to found the Republic: and these three men are Washington, Adams and Jefferson."
" Secondly, two men who " . . . " did most to build the Republic: and these two men are Jefferson and Hamilton."
" Third, three men, who, having a clear theory in their heads, and a deep conviction in their hearts . . . did most to brace the Republic: and these three men are Franklin, Jefferson and Channing."
He continues: —
"So, rising above the dust raised in our old quarrels, and taking a broad view of this Democracy, we see Jefferson placed firmly in each of these groups.
"If we search in Jefferson's writings and in the contemporary records to ascertain what that power was which won him these positions, we find that it was no personal skill in cajoling friends or scaring enemies. . . .
"The real secret of his power was, first of all, that Jefferson saw infinitely deeper into the principles of the rising democracy, and infinitely farther into its future working, than any other man of his time. Those who earnestly read him will often halt astounded at proofs of a foresight in him almost miraculous."
The subject prescribed for me in these lectures is the permanent influence of Thomas Jefferson on American institutions. Who can say, with assurance, what feature in a nation's institutions is permanent, until its life has been lived out to its end? To delineate the birth principles of the American confederation is easy, but to tell how far these birth principles are permanently life principles, is not so. What Solon said to Croesus applies. What features seemingly essential to our institutions at any one particular time, are really so, is a question whose answer is colored by the time at which the question is asked. If such a question had been asked during and immediately after the Revolution, when the love of freedom was at high tide, the answer would have been one thing; if after Shay's Rebellion in Massachusetts and the general anarchic condition, leading to a great and general reaction against the principles of the American Revolution, it would have been another. If asked once more, after four years of Jefferson's administration had allayed the fear of democracy and of popular rule, the reply would have been still different. Then put yourselves back in the period of 1850-60, and again to the year 1866, and yet again to 1876, and get a different reply in each case.
Imagine the question asked and answered during reconstruction days, and again later on after sensible men had concluded with Tourgee, who called himself "One of the Fools," that reconstruction had been "A Fool's Errand." Again how essentially different the replies would be before and after we had "gone a world-powering" in the Philippines; — before, when all were agreed that we wanted no entanglements with the old world by interference, or possession; that we desired only "friendly commerce with all and entangling alliances with none," and after, when we stood amazed to find that somehow we had sillily drifted into becoming an Asiatic power, with Asiatic territorial and political interests and anxieties.
Not knowing what all this has made pregnant in the womb of the future, which of us can assert that any particular feature of our system now deemed fundamental, characteristic, permanent, shall be so ten years from now — whether, in any particular case, "having the wolf by the ears," we shall or shall not, or can or can not, "turn him loose"? All of which concludes in this; that for the purpose of the inquiry of these lectures, that is permanent which the inquirer in his horoscoping deems permanent, and, as the wish is so much the father of the thought, it will be largely that which he wishes and prays and hopes is so.
Next, in determining the scope of our work in these lectures: what are the "institutions" of a people? Are they simply constitutional forms? If so, these United States and Mexico and the Central American republics have the same institutions; and England and Italy and Germany, all being "limited monarchies" with so-called responsible parliamentary ministries," have the same institutions. Can either of these statements be true? No. Why not? Because just as a man has an outward body and an inner informing and directing soul, so a nation has a body-politic, about which we hear so much, and a soul-politic, about which we hear little, or nothing, under that name. L' Esprit des Lois — the spirit of the institution — that is, the thing vitalizing the words of constitutions and statutes — must be taken into consideration. Buckle's unfinished political novum organum — his " History of Civilization" — is only a historical analysis of the evolutionary development of the soul-politic of the peoples.
All considered, I shall then treat the subject in this full sense, and I shall exhibit the permanent, or thought-to-be-permanent, influence of Mr. Jefferson, not only on American visible institutions, but on American vitalizing thought and practice.
But again, how can one tell a man's political influence, without knowing at least enough of his heredity and environment to explain his words, theories, and acts in the light of them?
No man can escape altogether the impress of the form and color of his time and place, nor altogether ignore the blood which courses in his veins. Yet for all this, I shall have neither time nor space. The man, Jefferson, in his lovableness of disposition, his feminine cleanness of speech and thought and life, his almost infinite versatility, his noble optimism, his world-vision, I would literally love to describe. But all that I must ruthlessly forego, save for a sidelight here and there, while correcting some errors of others.
What was his environment? First, he was a Virginian and a planter. Secondly, he was a frontiersman, because Albemarle County, when he was growing up, was still a frontier country. The county settled very rapidly, but still, during the formative period of Thomas Jefferson's life, his environment was a frontier environment. The life he lived later was that of an independent country gentleman. Thus from both sources individuality was the first and necessary product of his life and of the lives of those about him; its chief and indispensable lesson being a reliance on one's own intellect, initiative, and resources; from which proceeded an absolute contempt for authority and precedent — merely as such.
Much has been said about Jefferson's being influenced by Rousseau's "Contrat Social." The idea of a social contract being at the base of government — a compact of the people amongst themselves — was ingrained in his thought and in the thought of all those around him, but it was not from reading. Jefferson never read Rousseau until long after his own political opinions had been formed. Indeed if he read him at all, I can find no trace of it. On the frontier people got this idea of government resting on compact because it was a fact of their fives. First one settler, then half a dozen, then a score would move into a neighborhood beyond the support of old settlements, and then naturally the neighbors would someday gather, and after they had chatted about the crops, about getting a teacher if they could, and about a place for the itinerant preacher to "hold forth" when he came, they would take up the question of the establishment of a practical local government; the selection of somebody before whom neighborhood differences should be argued and by whom they should be settled — by analogy of English law, a " justice of the peace" — the selection of somebody who should pursue horse thieves, or other criminals, arrest and bring them in for trial — by analogy of English law, a " constable" — the selection of somebody to correspond with the legislature to secure the organization of a new county, so that they might have a local board to lay out roads, designate ferries, etc., and so that they might have representation in the State legislative body; but preceding all, where and how and under what leadership they should meet for defense against the Indians, when needful. All of these things were done in America in each neighborhood, by a " compact" of the people with one another. This each frontiersman's son learned, with his other A B Cs, on his father's knee, as a part of the usual political experience of the American people.
1. IN AMERICA
I take it that the influence of our independence has permanently affected our institutions and that our revolutionary principles are the informing spirit of them; therefore, that Jefferson's acts and words as a revolutionist come within the scope of this inquiry.
Jefferson became of age in 1764. Before that, he had become attached to the cause of American freedom. Soon, nobody was more decided, none more radical, in opposition to the British policy towards the colonies than he.
In a letter to William Wirt, with his good sense and canny tact, he says: " Sensible, however, of the importance of unanimity among our constituents, although we often wished to go faster, we slackened our pace that our less ardent colleagues might keep up with us; and they, on their part, differing nothing from us in principle, quickened their gait somewhat beyond that which their prudence might of itself have advised, and thus consolidated the phalanx, which breasted the power of Britain. By this harmony of the bold with the cautious, we advanced with our constituents in undivided mass and with fewer examples" (in Virginia) "of separation than perhaps existed in any other part of the Union."
In his biography he uses this language, concerning the origin of the committees of correspondence: —
"We were all sensible that the most urgent of all measures was that of coming to an understanding with all the other colonies to consider the British claims as a common cause to all and to produce a unity of action; and for this purpose that a committee of correspondence in each colony would be the best instrument for intercommunication: and that their first measure would probably be to propose a meeting of deputies for every colony, at some central place, who should be charged with the direction of measures which should be taken by all. I, therefore, drew up the resolutions which may be seen in Wirt, page 67."
The resolutions to which he refers designate a standing committee of intercolonial correspondence and inquiry.
There has been some contention about which colony first organized the committees of correspondence. Bancroft has it about right when he says, " Massachusetts organized a province, Virginia promoted a confederacy. Were the several committees but to come together, the world would see an American Congress."
Senator Lodge, in the History of Nations Series, Volume 23, is one of the few historians who gives due weight to the committees of correspondence and safety, as provisional governments. He calls them very aptly, "a system of revolutionary machinery."
Much of this committee government was secret and constitutes lost pages of our history.
The real truth is that a Union for the colonies was effected with the inauguration of the intercolonial correspondence committees. They constituted as purely a revolutionary group of bodies as did the committees of public safety and the other committees, formed partially in imitation of them, during the French revolutionary period. It was the American committees of safety, which suggested an example for the Ku Klux Klan in the South later in its history — both acting with a perfect secrecy, which thus far even has never been fully unveiled. By virtue of this self-constituted authority, men threw the tea overboard in Boston harbor and persuaded, coerced, or intimidated consignees in other American ports to refuse to receive any such consignments.
A more perfectly enigmatic Ku Klux announcement was never made than that of John Rowe, when — the people of Boston having exhausted all peaceful and legal means to prevent the Governor from granting a pass, which would enable the ship laden with tea to clear the harbor under the guns of the castle — he asked: "Who knows how tea will mingle with salt water?" Then, Fiske recites that, "amidst profound stillness," Samuel Adams arose and said, quietly, but distinctly, "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country." This was the signal upon which the Massachusetts committees ceased by public utterance to direct the movement and when, in some agreed way, there came about the secret movement by disguised men. The "Mohawk Indians," hastening to the wharf, taking possession of the ship, unloaded its cargo into the sea.
Too much importance cannot be attached to the Revolutionary committees of correspondence; first, for making and keeping a united front between the towns in Massachusetts, upon the motion of Samuel Adams, and afterwards, for securing this same harmony of action and unity of purpose between the several colonies, upon the suggestion of Jefferson's resolution adopted by the band of patriots met in the Apollo Room in the Raleigh Tavern at Williamsburg. During the interregnum between recognized British authority and the newly organized American authority, these committees constituted the real government. Through them the American people learned, in nearly all of the colonies, the lesson of the capacity of the people. to govern themselves directly, even without regularly constituted over-lords or governors. It is no wonder that Daniel Leonard, the great Tory and British local leader, said of these committees, "This is the foulest, subtlest, and most venomous serpent ever issued from the egg of sedition. It is the source of the rebellion. I saw the small seed when it was planted; it was a grain of mustard. I have watched the plant until it has become a tree."
The resolution to make these committees of correspondence intercolonial was, at Jefferson's request, offered in the Assembly by Dabney Carr, the friend and later the brother-in-law of Jefferson, with whom Jefferson had so often sat upon the "Little Mountain," in closest political and intellectual communion, in a sweetness of friendship seldom rivaled between men.
Now comes another meeting of the members of the House of Burgesses at the Apollo Room in the Raleigh Tavern and the formation of another association, entered into by all of them, declaring it unpatriotic to buy British East Indian tea or other commodities; that "an attack upon one of the colonies was an attack upon all," and directing the Corresponding Committee of the State to devise with the other committees of the other colonies a general annual congress, and at the same time calling a Virginia convention to be held at Williamsburg on August 1st, to appoint delegates to this Congress. Thus was formally conceived our Union, destined to grow and strengthen, in due process of development, until it should become indissoluble.
Massachusetts, in this crisis of her history, would probably have stood alone but for the committees of correspondence — really revolutionary committees — which were keeping in elbow touch with one another from what is now Vermont down to what is now Georgia.
The action of the Government in closing the port of Boston constituted a declaration of war upon all America, although perhaps no man in the British ministry, or in the confidence of the King, so understood it.
It is wonderful how everything goes back to this Apollo Room in the Raleigh Tavern, where Jefferson was one of the ruling spirits. For example, the movement towards a Continental Congress came first from New York. Coming from that State, only partially loyal to the American cause — perhaps not at that time loyal by a majority vote — it would have died still-born, had it not been taken up by the members of the Legislature of Virginia — prorogued and adjourned — but still sitting in solemn voluntary session — in the Raleigh Tavern.
It was on the 14th day of May, 1776, that the self-reconstituted Legislature of Virginia unanimously voted these instructions to its delegates: "To propose to that respectable body" (meaning by that respectable body, the Continental Congress) "to declare the United Colonies free and independent States," and to "give the assent of this Colony to measures to form foreign alliances and a confederation, provided the power of forming government for the internal regulations of each colony be left to the colonial legislatures." Here is the germ of our dual system of government — federal in foreign and inter-state matters, state in domestic affairs. In all your study of American history, keep this italicized proviso in your minds. It will explain much.
Revolutionary intimidation, it must be confessed, reigned foot-loose throughout America. The bold, patriotic and liberty-loving were not everywhere in a majority. The conditions were such, as Fiske says, that "neither councillors, nor judges, neither sheriffs nor jurymen, could be found to serve under the royal commission" to "execute the Regulating Act in Massachusetts." He further adds that for nine months this state of seeming anarchy continued, and that "yet the affairs of every-day life had gone on without friction or disturbance."
This too recalls the condition of affairs in the South in '74 and '75, when, first in one place and then in another, all carpet-bag authority had been intimidated into flight or quiescence, and yet afterwards peace and law and order reigned. Both conditions, as well as what happened in the early history of California, are high tributes to the capacity of the American people for self-government.
The instructions of Albemarle County to Mr. Thomas Jefferson and Mr. John Walker, their two members of the House of Burgesses and their two deputies to the convention, are worth regarding, especially as from the style and the surroundings they were evidently written by Mr. Jefferson. They are as follows: —
"Resolved, That the several inhabitants of the several States of British America are subject to the laws which they adopted at their first settlement, and to such others as have been since made by their respective Legislatures, duly constituted and appointed with their own consent. That no other Legislature whatever can rightly exercise authority over them, and that these privileges they hold as common rights of mankind, confirmed by political constitutions they have respectfully assumed, and also by several charters of compact from the Crown."
Notice he goes back to the "common rights of mankind,'' which are " confirmed" — not created — by charters and " political constitutions."
The language, " these privileges they hold as common rights of mankind," is, so far as I can discover, the first basing of the American cause upon "the rights of man," rather than upon the inherited legal rights of Englishmen. This was to grow into an assertion of the inherent right of self-government vested in every community, and by logical consequence, into the claim of right upon the part of any community to throw off any government, which, in its opinion, had ceased to subserve the purpose of all government, to wit: securing and maintaining the happiness and the liberties of those governed.
Jefferson in his "Memoir" says, that these were his views from the very first dawn of the dispute, but that he had then "never been able to get anyone to agree with him except Mr. Wythe."
Patrick Henry, the controlling genius in Hanover County, and probably the dictator of its resolutions, did not go so far. We find these resolutions asserting only "the privileges and immunities of their fellow-subjects in England," etc.
The resolutions from Fairfax County, where George Washington presided over the meeting, used language not so strong as that of Hanover.
The Virginia Convention met at the prescribed time. Jefferson was prevented by illness from attending. He had prepared, to be offered to the Convention, a draft of instructions to the Virginia members of Congress. He had forwarded a copy to Peyton Randolph and one to Henry. The fate of these resolutions we will give in Mr. Jefferson's own language: —
"They were written in haste, with some uncertainties and inaccuracies about historical facts, which I neglected at the moment, because I thought they could be readily corrected at the convention. . . . Peyton Randolph informed the convention that he had received such a paper from a member, prevented by sickness from offering it in his place, and he laid it on the table for perusal. It was read generally by the members, approved by many, though thought too bold for the present state of things; but they printed it in pamphlet form, under the title of 'A Summary View of the Rights of British America/ It found its way to England and was taken up by the opposition, interpolated a little by Mr. Burke, so as to make it answer opposition purposes" (in England) "and in that form ran rapidly through several editions. ... I was informed afterwards by Peyton Randolph, that it had procured me the honor of having my name inserted in a long list of proscriptions, enrolled in a bill of attainder, which was commenced in one of the Houses of Parliament, but was suppressed in embryo by the hasty step of events, which warned them to be a little cautious. . . . Tamer sentiments were preferred, and, I believe, wisely preferred; the leap I proposed being too long, as yet, for the mass of our citizens. The distance between these and the instructions actually adopted, is of some curiosity, however, and it shows the inequality of pace with which we moved, and the prudence required to keep front and rear together. My creed had been formed on unsheathing the sword at Lexington." (Lexington here is a lapsus linguae, or "plumae"; Boston is meant.)
This "Summary View of the Rights of British America" became the mine into which many delved for ideas and phrases in presenting the American side of the dispute.
The Virginia State " Convention" is worthy of note in this; that it is, as far as I know, the first of those peculiarly characteristic American institutions. A "Convention" with us is considered superior to an ordinary representative assembly; so much so, that a state convention can adopt a new constitution, without even referring it back to the people for their approval, as has been done in my State two or three times. It is looked upon as "the body of the people representatively assembled" and possesses full powers for state purposes, as a national convention would have for the purpose of completely altering the Constitution of the United States.
Jefferson's argument in the "Summary View" is based very strongly upon the assertion of the right of expatriation. Hence his constant insistence through life on that right. It was, according to his view, at the very root of our contention in the Revolution. The right of expatriation was not then admitted by any nation of the earth. It is not admitted by Russia at all, nor fully by Prussia, nor Austria, to this good day, and was denied by Great Britain up to and even after the War of 1812. It has not been very long since we abrogated a treaty with Russia, growing out of differences between that Government and ours, based upon antagonistic views with regard to the doctrine of indefeasible allegiance. The " Summary View," however, takes the position that the American colonies expatriated themselves as fully as did the Angles and the Saxons from their old country, when they settled in England, and that except for their voluntary adhesion to the same crown, the independence between the two countries would have been as complete, as that between England and the old home of the race.
Jefferson had gone back to the Greek Republican conception of the status of colonies.
The assertion is made that Great Britain had rendered no assistance to the colonists until after they had established themselves on a firm and permanent footing, and had, therefore, become valuable as customers to the mother country; that we had submitted to trade regulations in our own interest, as long as they were not too restrictive to our own rights and were advantageous to the mother country, but that these had now become unbearable and too oppressive to be further permitted.
From the same instrument, I shall quote another sentence characteristically Jeffersonian, because it is a forerunner of what will later appear in the Declaration of Independence: —
"Scarcely have our minds been able to emerge from the astonishment into which one stroke of Parliamentary thunder has involved us, before another, more heavy and more alarming, is fallen on us. Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systematical plan of reducing us to slavery."
It is not too much to say that the "Summary View of the Rights of British America" contained most of the essential ideas of the Declaration of Independence. It antedated that document by nearly two years; it complained of the same wrongs and set forth the same inherent and natural rights, and, in some respects, was more advanced in its views than the Declaration itself.
It was scarcely a subject of wonder that it led to Mr. Jefferson's being placed upon the proscribed list. Here, as elsewhere, the student of Jefferson's life will find him always in advance, even of the progressive wing of the party with which he is cooperating, and will also find an illustration of his readiness to yield and concede non-essentials in order that all might move along together.
One thing is most remarkable; the " Summary View " goes out of its way to refer justifyingly to the execution of Charles I. This was done in a paper proposed to be adopted by a Virginia convention, where men sat whose forefathers had resisted in the cause of the Stuart the utmost power of Oliver Cromwell, until, indeed, a formal treaty had been entered into between the great Lord Protector and the Old Dominion. In that body sat men, whose forefathers had been killed in the King's service, or had left England for Virginia rather than submit to the rule of the " Commonwealth."
A distinguished Ex-President speaks of Mr. Jefferson as being "timid" and "vacillating!" He was more nearly rash.
The reader of the " Summary View " will note the ground upon which Jefferson places his protest against closing the port of Boston. It is the punishment of the many innocent for the acts of the few guilty.
In this connection, it might be recalled that certain people in a Southern town, having signed a petition to a negro postmistress requesting her resignation, which was regarded by the Administration as a species of " intimidation," the post office was closed, by order of an American President, and all of the people in the town and adjacent territory put to the inconvenience and expense of getting their mail from a place a dozen miles or more away. The Federal Court was open, with Federal judge, marshal, grand juries and petty juries, and the federal law could have been vindicated by an exercise of the ordinary powers of the court. Even a little instance like this shows the importance of keeping general principles of justice and right government always in view, and illustrates the truth of the time-honored maxim that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."
Nobody in Virginia, or South Carolina, or New York, would have objected, or would have had any right to object, to the punishment by law of the men who unlawfully seized and threw the tea into the harbor, but the high-handed punishment of the whole people showed an absolute disregard of accepted rules of civilized government, and "an intention not to punish an act, but an opinion." Still more tyrannical was the act of Parliament providing for the trial in England for certain classes of offenders. The plea in both cases and in the Southern post office case, that "the juries will not convict" is one to which tyrants resort, but one which ought never to be entertained in a free country.
It is only needful to add that the ideas expressed in the " Summary View," in the latter part of which Jefferson adjures George III, "no longer to persevere in sacrificing the rights of one part of the empire to the inordinate desires of another, but to deal out to all equal and impartial right," and to "let no act be passed by one legislature which may infringe upon the rights and liberties of another," and reminds him that, "this is the important post in which fortune has placed you, holding the balance of a great, if a well-poised empire," now constitutes the principle underlying the practice of the British empire towards her white colonies. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the mother country are virtually held together only by the common kingship — the sole tie binding Virginia and England under Jefferson's theory. Each has its own admittedly independent legislative assembly, and the Parliament of Great Britain would no more think of legislating for Canada, in any really Canadian concern, than the Canadian Parliament would think of legislating for England or Wales. If the British Empire has become "a well-poised empire," with reciprocal advantages for all its connections, it has been because of the wise adoption of this salutary rule.
Again Jefferson says to the King: "Accept of every commercial preference it is within our power to give," etc. Today, if Canada, or any of the British colonies give trade preferences to Great Britain, it is because they choose to give them, and not because of any acknowledged right of the mother country to demand them, under the guise of regulating commerce. Thus this doctrine, which was thought to be too bold for adopt ion by the Virginia convention, even in the throes of a great revolution, is become the accepted doctrine of the "great" and "well-poised" empire, to whose king the propositions were addressed in reproof.
Jefferson was elected Chairman of the Albemarle County Committee of Safety — such being, I presume, the confidence of the boys, who had been raised with him. in his "timidity" and "vacillation!"
Girardin, in his "History of Virginia," page 6, says, that "the operations of these committees not being definite, were almost unlimited." Perhaps from them and Jefferson's recollection of them, the revolutionary committee system in France may have had its birth, though, of course, no man, who had experienced committee government among the free, politically-trained, and comparatively equal and well-to-do inhabitants of America, could have foreseen its destructiveness and folly in France.
Girardin says of these committees that they examined the hook of merchants to see if they imported the articles which were forbidden, or sold at higher prices than they should; that they examined all suspected persons, disarmed, fined, and punished them, and that, when necessary, they enlisted trained officers and armed independent companies — (the "minute men" of whom you read) — in each county, and that from their decision there was no appeal. Randall says that "it would be difficult to say where the power of these local tribunals stopped, except that they did not exercise the death penalty and the power to confiscate estates, which last powers were retained by the conventions of the colonies."
Jefferson was, throughout his life, radical in ends and conservative in means. It is not surprising, then, to find that the Committee of Safety in Albemarle County was less proscriptive in its conduct — more cautious and wise — than almost anywhere else.
Then Mr. Jefferson was chosen a member of the Continental Congress.
Meanwhile, Lord North's " Conciliatory Proposal," as it was called, had been received in the colonies and it was necessary that Virginia, among other colonies, should make reply. Jefferson says: —
"The tenor of this proposition, being generally known, as having been addressed to all the Governors, Peyton Randolph was anxious that the answer of our Assembly, likely to be the first, should harmonize with what he knew to be the sentiments and wishes of the body he had recently left. He feared that Mr. Nicholas, whose mind was not yet up to the mark of the times, would undertake the answer, and, therefore, pressed me to prepare it. I did so, and with his aid, carried it through the House, with long and doubtful scruples from Mr. Nicholas and James Mercer, and a dash of cold water on it here and there, enfeebling it somewhat, but finally with unanimity, or a vote approaching it."
The salient points of this document were, that the British Parliament, not being an American legislative assembly, had no right to interfere with civil government in any of the colonies; that Lord North's proposition involved the idea that the colonies, "in order to secure exemption from an unjust tax, must saddle themselves with a self-inflicted perpetual tax," "adequate to the expectations and subject to the disposal of Parliament alone;" that "many of the American grievances previously stated were taken no note of in the proposal, because the ministry were then making disposition to invade the colonies;" that the ministry did not propose to lay open to them "a free trade with all the world; ,; and significantly that the proposition made to Virginia involved the interest of all the other colonies, and that all the colonies were represented in a general congress, and that "no partial obligation should -produce a disunion from the common cause; " that Virginia considered herself in honor bound to "share whatever general fate might betide her sister colonies." Thus Virginia acknowledged and emphasized our Union.
The conclusion was the expression of a final determination to leave the question to the disposition of the general Congress, before whom the House of Burgesses would lay the papers. Then speaking for Virginia alone occurs this language:
"For ourselves, we have exhausted every mode of application, which our invention could suggest as proper and promising. We have decently remonstrated with Parliament — they have added new injuries to the old; we have wearied our king with supplications — he has not dared to answer us; we have appealed to the native honor and justice of the British nation — their efforts in our behalf have hitherto been ineffectual; what then remains to be done? That we commit our injuries to the even-handed justice of that Being, who doeth no wrong, earnestly beseeching Him to illuminate the councils and prosper the endeavors of those to whom America hath confided her hopes, that through their wise discretion we may again see reunited the blessings of liberty, prosperity and harmony with Great Britain."
A similar arraignment of the justice of the British people, in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence, was stricken out by the Continental Congress!
Jefferson carried Virginia's reply to Lord North with him to the Congress at Philadelphia, where we now take up the thread of our story.
John Adams afterwards said that, although Jefferson was not a public speaker, owing to his voice (or rather lack of voice), he (Adams) found that, "though a silent member of 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."
This language of a contemporary is recommended to the perusal of so-called historians, rough-riding over facts. He never " vacillated," nor was " timid," nor showed "a sluggish mind" in "the times that tried men's souls," nor in the face of any crisis at any time, though in non-essentials he was always the most yielding of all sweet natures.
Virginia's answer to Lord North's "Conciliatory Proposal," as drawn by Jefferson, "met the views of the more advanced members of the Whig party in Congress," and "the importance of it was fully measured by all," because, if adopted, it would have the effect of "closing the door to argument with the mother country." It was adopted by Congress. It left us two alternatives; a successful redress of grievances by arms on the one hand, or subjugation on the other.
Five days after he took his seat in Congress, Jefferson was placed on an existing committee to make a statement, or declaration, of "the causes of the colonies taking up arms." The committee had already made a report, of which the Congress had disapproved; therefore the two Dew members — Mr. Jefferson of Virginia, and Mr. Dickinson of Pennsylvania. Jefferson's pen was again called into requisition. He prepared a draft for the declaration, but it was too strong for Mr. Dickinson, who still retained the hope of reconciliation. Jefferson says that Dickinson was "so honest a man and so able," that he "was requested to take the paper and put it into a form that he could approve;" that Dickinson did it, preserving of Jefferson's declaration "only the last four paragraphs and a half;'; that the committee approved and reported the declaration, as thus framed, to Congress, which accepted it.
Mr. Dickinson belonged to that class of people to which Alexander Stephens belonged in the South, at the outbreak of the War between the States; men who wanted to hang back, who saw the brink before them, who feared the jump, but who were so loyal and true to their neighbors and friends and states, that when the latter once took a stand, they moved up, in shoulder to shoulder touch, to stand, until success, or defeat, or death should come.
There was about Jefferson no vanity of authorship. This was an illustration of it. It was years after Dickinson's "Address on the Cause of Taking up Arms" had been welcomed with the huzzahs of the American people, before anybody, outside of Congress, knew that Jefferson had had any hand in it — indeed, it was only after Jefferson's death that his original draft was found, and the knowledge became general that the last four and a half paragraphs of Dickinson's paper wore Jefferson's. This address owed its popularity chiefly to the last four and a half paragraphs.
I will now quote some extracts from Jefferson's paragraphs. Remember, it was an address to be read at public gatherings and to our armies in the field, and it was written with a view to the uses which it should serve. I do not know whether you will agree with me or not, but I deem these to be noble words, eloquently and worthily clothing manly thought: —
"We are reduced to the alternative of choosing an unconditional submission to the tyranny of irritable ministers, or resistance by force. The latter is our choice. We have counted the cost of this contest, and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary slavery. Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy of resigning succeeding generations to the wretchedness, which inevitably awaits them, if we basely entail hereditary bondage upon them. Our cause is just. Our union is perfect — our internal resources are great, and, if necessary, foreign assistance is undoubtedly attainable. . . . With hearts fortified with these animating reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the world, declare, that, exerting the utmost energy of those powers which our beneficent Creator hath graciously bestowed upon us, the arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabated firmness and perseverance, employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die free men, rather than to live as slaves.
"Lest this declaration shall disquiet the minds of our friends and fellow subjects in any part of the empire, we assure them, that we mean not to dissolve that union which has so long and so happily subsisted between us, and which we sincerely wish to see restored. Necessity has not yet driven us into that desperate measure, or induced us to excite any other nation to war against them. . . . We fight not for glory or for conquest. . . .
"In our own native land, in defense of the freedom that is our birthright, and which we ever enjoyed until the late violation of it; for the protection of our property, acquired solely by the honest industry of our forefathers and ourselves, and against violence actually offered, we have taken up arms. We shall lay them down when hostility shall cease on the part of our aggressors and all danger of their being renewed shall be removed, and not before."
These resolutions were submitted to the Continental Congress on the 6th day of July, 1775, a year, lacking two days, prior to the Declaration of Independence. Sixteen days later, Congress selected as usual by ballot — the members selected taking priority in accordance with the number of votes received — a committee to consider and report on -Lord North's " Conciliatory Proposal. " Jefferson was second on the committee, the septuagenarian Benjamin Franklin alone receiving a higher vote. Mr. Jefferson was selected by the committee when it met, to draw up this paper. In his Memoir he says: "The answer of the Virginia Assembly on that subject having been approved, I was requested by the committee to prepare this report, which will account for the similarity of features in the two documents." Yes, they were nearly alike, but the instrument had broadened and the words "walked statelier," to suit the new and broader stage.
John T. Morse, in his "Thomas Jefferson," says of this paper as it passed the Virginia Convention, being substantially as it passed Congress later: —
"This was laying the axe at the very root of the tree with tolerable force; and more blows of the same sort followed.
"These were revolutionary words, and fell short by ever so little of that direct declaration of independence which they anticipated by less than two years. They would have cost Jefferson his head had it been less inconvenient to bring him to Westminster Hall, and even that inconvenience would probably have been overcome had forcible opposition been a little longer deferred in the colonies."
That Jefferson had not surrendered all hope of a satisfactory reconciliation with Great Britain, although he had gone much further towards planting himself upon the solid ground of independency than three fourths of his colleagues, is witnessed by the language contained in a letter written by him to John Randolph (not he of Roanoke — "John The Eccentric" — of course, but an earlier and a nobler one), who, finding it impossible to take up arms against the King, and unthinkable to take up arms against his neighbors, had sacrificed everything he had in Virginia and gone to England — not to fight with her, but to live in peace — one of those noble souls willing and able to stand and suffer all things alone, rather than take a choice between two wrongs, as he saw them. That his conduct was mistaken, few can doubt. That it was noble and unselfish, his own sacrifices witness. Jefferson wrote to him a letter from Monticello, dated August 25, 1775. In this case, as in all others, Jefferson never permits his hatred of a course to alienate him from a friend. The letter to John Randolph, uncompromisingly, even aggressively patriotic, in every line of it, was also uncompromisingly friendly to the recipient of it.
I want you to read that letter. If you are both manly and kindly, it will do you good. It aims to get Randolph to use his influence to bring about in the mother country a juster appreciation of the rights and of the earnestness of the colonies.
Later, on November 25th, he wrote to the same Mr. Randolph, then in England, another letter, from which it appears that he had meantime gone several steps further towards irrevocable independency. In part it reads: —
"In the early part of this contest, our petitions told him that from our King there was but one appeal. The admonition was despised, and that appeal forced on us. To undo his empire, he has but one truth more to learn; that after colonies have drawn the sword, there is but one step more they can take. That step is now pressed upon us by the measures adopted, as if they were afraid we would not take it. Believe me, dear sir, there is not in the British empire, a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain, than I do. But by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament proposes; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America. We want neither inducement nor power, to declare and assert a separation. It is will, alone, which is wanting, and that is growing apace under the fostering hand of our King."
Fiske adds as a comment upon this: " Observe the historical accuracy of this wording. It was not a question of throwing off a yoke, but of refusing to yield to a connection on newfangled and degrading terms."
Jefferson, in his " Notes on Virginia," says, "It is well known that in July, 1775, a separation from Great Britain and establishment of republican government had never yet entered into any person's mind. If any period can be fixed, when the idea of independence became any more than a thought, or ceased to become a mere thought and became in some lines a policy, it probably would be the date upon which the communication from Richard Penn and Arthur Lee, who had been sent to Great Britain to deliver the second petition to the King, was received and read in Congress."
This communication from Penn and Lee stated that the reply of the King was, that "no answer would be given." This high-handed and contemptuous ignoring of a respectfully, even humbly, worded address, caused anger and resulted in the conclusion on the part of the bolder natures, that the step forward to independence must at once be taken.
Jefferson had long considered the possibility, as his pregnant "as yets" and very many other phrases demonstrate. But there is always a step, long or short, between considering a thing as a dernier resort, and embracing it as a present measure of redress.
Mr. Adams is simply mistaken when, writing in his old age, he says that he had been determined "from the first assembling of the Congress in 1775 upon independence," and that "this was no secret in or out of Congress." Old men are apt to get dates wrong. Adams and Jefferson both did it, when writing in their old age about things which occurred in their early manhood. Adams' letters, like those of Jefferson, which I have quoted, show that, except in so far as it was a possibility to be contemplated, if the worst came to the worst, independence was not yet urged by any. John Jay's and Benjamin Franklin's memories accord with Jefferson's.
The truth is that Americans, as a rule, were almost as unwilling to tear themselves from governmental connection with the British Isles, as were the "Jackson Democrats" and the "Old Line Whigs" in the South, at the beginning of The War between the States to "dissolve the bonds that bound" them to the Union, and in each case there was an idea of fighting, even if bloodshed came, "under the old flag," as abused subjects, or citizens, of the old government, rather than as citizens of an independent country.
Indeed, on November 29, 1775, the date of Jefferson's second letter to Randolph, Congress itself used this language; "that they should rely to the last on heaven and their own virtues for security against the abusive system pressed by the administration for the ruin of America," and that "there is nothing more ardently desired by North America than a lasting union with Great Britain, on terms of justice and equal liberty"
As late as December, 1775, the Continental Congress speaks of the British constitution as "our best inheritance."
Remember all this, when we come to discuss the American Counter-Revolution, in the lecture, "Jefferson the Democratizer of National Administration."
What Adams in his old age wrote about the circumstances attending the writing of the Declaration of Independence was equally inaccurate.
On August 30, 1823, what Adams wrote having been printed, Mr. Jefferson made the following correction: —
"Mr. Adams' memory has led him into unquestionable error. At the age of eighty-eight, and forty-seven years after the transactions of independence, this is not wonderful. Nor should I, at the age of eighty, on the small advantage of that difference only, venture to oppose my memory to his, were it not supported by written notes taken by myself at the moment and on the spot. . . . Now these details are quite incorrect. The Committee of Five met; no such thing as a subcommittee was proposed, but they unanimously pressed on myself alone to undertake the draft. I consented; I drew it; but before I reported it to the committee, I communicated it separately to Doctor Franklin and Mr. Adams, requesting their corrections, because they were the two members of whose judgments and amendments I wished most to have the benefit, before presenting it to the Committee; and you have seen the original paper now in my hands, with the corrections of Doctor Franklin and Mr. Adams interlined in their own handwritings. Their alterations were two or three only, and merely verbal. I then wrote a fair copy, reported it to the Committee, and from them, unaltered, to Congress. This personal communication and consultation with Mr. Adams he has misremembered into the actings of a sub-committee."
Jefferson gratefully says that Adams was "the colossus of that debate."
From November, 1775, on, the number of those, who had decided upon independence, as the only satisfactory issue out of the contest, increased. It is wonderful even then how few of our people based their contention upon anything more than English statutes and customs and traditions — all of doubtful application. Few of them, except Jefferson, went as far as Johan Derk van Capellen went in his reply to George III, who, having asked the states of Overyssel for troops, was answered that Johan Derk thought, "the Americans worthy of every man's esteem," and looked upon them as "a brave people, defending in a becoming, manly, and religious manner those rights, which, as men, they derived from God; not from the legislature of Great Britain."
Thus, though Mr. Jefferson had a hard time at home in keeping his phrases "natural rights," and "inherent rights," and "rights derived from God," and all that, from being stricken out of his public papers as too rhetorical, or too abstract, old Johan Derk van Capellen, away over in Overyssel, had the American idea and expressed it.
On May 15, 1776, Virginia, where the King's name had been already legislated out of the prayer book and the Continental Congress substituted for it, adopted her resolutions instructing her representatives in the Continental Congress to take the initiative and to move independence. Moreover, the House of Burgesses passed a " declaration of rights," and ordered "a plan of government" to be prepared; in other words, a written constitution for Virginia. Significantly American this written Constitution! The thing had gone out of use since the times of the Greek Republics.
Mr. Jefferson's absence early in May from Philadelphia and his stay in Virginia for nearly four months were due to a desire to prepare the public mind in Virginia for this step. He remained in Virginia nearly four months, at any rate, and then immediately upon his return to Congress, was made chairman of the committee to consider and report a declaration of independence.
Richard Henry Lee, on Friday, June 7th, being "Dean of the Virginia Delegation in Congress," called up the resolutions, which the Virginia House of Burgesses had instructed the delegates from Virginia to present. Their consideration was postponed until the next day. They were debated in committee of the whole, throughout Saturday and the succeeding Monday, and then this resolution was passed: —
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