Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Of president Jefferson. On the same day, at one o'clock in the afternoon, Mr. Jefferson died at his seat at Monticello, Virginia, at the age of eighty-three years. For some months previous, his strength had been gradually wasting by a disorder, which, by its slow and.sure approaches, indicated the fatal result. He expressed a strong desire to see the jubilee of American independence, and that that might be the day of his departure. His wish was gratified.

Their characters. Mr. Jefferson was chairman of a com. mittee of congress, of which Mr. Adams was a member, which prepared and drafted the declaration of indepen. dence. That instrument was from the pen of the former, who always gave his colleague, Mr. Adams, the credit of being its ablest supporter. As well from their talents, as from the circumstance that they represented two of the most important colonies in different sections, they had a controlling influence in congress. They were united in the important and hazardous measures which terminated in the union of the colonies, and their separation from the parent state. Supported by a population but a little more nu. merous than the state of New York at the present day, and with far less ability to resist, they, with their compatriots, fearlessly braved the whole power of Britain, with a certainty that death in its most appalling forms awaited them in case of failure. The chances, calculating upon any

human means or probabilities, were all against them. They were both in the prime of life, one thirty-three, and the other forty, at the period of the declaration. Both were employed, and acted in perfect harmony in the highest political stations during the contest, and the fearful period which intervened between its close, and the commencement of the federal government. On the questions re. lating to the adoption of the constitution, and the leading measures of congress immediately thereafter, the people were divided into two great political parties, and nearly equally balanced; the one believing that too much of state sovereignty was yielded, and that the incipient measures were of too strong a character; the other, seeing no such imperfections in the system, were the advocates of an ener. getic course of conduct. Mr. Jefferson was the head of the former, and Mr. Adams, after the retirement of General Washington, of the latter. During the first two presiden tial terms, Mr. Adams held the second office in the government, by the national suffrage, and was himself president the third term. General Washington, with a liberality and

independence characteristic of that great man, appointed Mr. Jefferson to the first office in the gift of the executive. In the year 1800, Mr. Jefferson's party became the most numerous and by a closely contested election made him chief magistrate. During the long period in which party spirit prevailed with great asperity, these distinguished individuals at the head of each ever maintained great personal friendship. After the close of their political labors, they both enjoyed a long season of dignified retirement; Mr. Adam's a period of twenty-six, and Mr. Jefferson of eighteen years. Though feeling and ever manifesting a deep interest in the welfare of their country, they took no active part in the political contests of the day. Resident six hundred miles apart, they cultivated that intimacy which commenced in their early days by an interesting correspondence, evincing the happiness and tranquillity of mind, which a consciousness of a well spent life gives to its closing

scenes.

The nation mourned their loss. By an order of the president, through the war and navy departments, appropriate funeral honors were rendered at all the military and naval stations, and the officers directed to wear badges of mourning for six months. In the principal cities and towns throughout the union, days were set apart for the same purpose, and funeral processions and eulogiums manifested a universal sentiment of national sorrow.

Effects of the revolution. On this point the people rested, and in some degree divesting themselves of local and party prejudices, took a view of the great moral and political

consequences resulting from the revolution, in which these distinguished characters were among the most conspicuous agents. They have by no means been limited to the United States. The emancipation of the American continent from European colonization, now nearly accomplished, is to be attributed to this source. The bold and free discussions on the rights of man, flowing from the pens of these statesmen and their associates, have opened the eyes of politicians in other countries, have made impressions on the public mind never to be effaced, and have been felt and feared by every crowned head in Europe. During this half century, while most of the governments bottomed on what was supposed to be an immoveable basis, a heredi. ditary nobility and monarchy, have been shaken to their foundations, exhibiting an almost constant succession of wars and revolutions, the American republic, since tha

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

close of the contest which gave it birth, has enjoyed almost uninterrupted tranquillity. Two short domestic insurrections, which terminated without bloodshed, and a successful war of two years, in support of maritime rights, are the only exceptions.

Freedom of political discussion. One important principle, radically different from the European system, which has been carried into full effect in the United States, is, that perfect freedom of political discussion is not only consistent with, but highly promotive of, the stability of government. The leading maxims in monarchies are, that the king has a property in his subjects and their estates; hence the expressions so common in the royal dialect, my people, my parliament, my kingdom ; and that all the rights and privileges the subject enjoys, are derived from the free gift of the crown. These doctrines are so utterly without foundation, that a discussion of them cannot be admitted without hazarding the existence of the governments of which they form the basis. Hence sedition laws, prosecu. tions for libels, and restrictions on the press, are ever found as the concomitants of the monarchal system. On the other hand, the republican principle taught by Adams and Jefferson, that rulers under whatever denomination they are designated, are the servants of the people, deriving certain definite powers from them, and to be exercised for their good, invites popular discussion : and the public agent who would endeavor to conceal his acts from the view and ani. madversion of the people, must calculate upon a short dura. tion of his power. At a period of high party excitement, one attempt has been made to stifle inquiry into the proceedings of government, by a sedition law. This was in. dignantly frowned upon and put down by the voice of the whole people. It was one of the principal causes which produced the great political change in 1801. So jealous were the American people of this privilege of political discussion, that, immediately on the acceptance of the constitution, they provided an amendment, prohibiting congress from making any law "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assem. ble, and to petition the government for a redress of grie. vances.” To protect the citizens from constructive and political treason, the instrument itself provided that that crime should consist only “in levying war against the United States, or in adhering to their enemies. Publications, which in other countries would have brought upon their

[ocr errors]

authors heavy fines, imprisonment, or exile, are constantly issuing from the American press, and are attended with no other consequences than the salutary one of inducing the government carefully to review its measures, and correct those which are found to be wrong.

of religious opinion. Another new, and no less important principle has been settled by the experience of this half century in the American republic, to wit, that a great na. tion may be well governed, successful, and happy, without the aid of a religion supported by or connected with the government. A union of church and state, an expression often used, and almost as often misunderstood, the only legitimate application of which is to the case where the government ordains creeds, and forms of worship for its sub. jects, which it compels them to attend and support, has never existed in the American republic. The liberation of the human mind from the shackles imposed on it by rulers claiming to control the religious opinions of their subjects, is an effect of the American revolution, second in impor. tance, only to her political emancipation.

That man is a religious creature, disposed to pay homage in some form to an invisible being, who, he supposes, has an agency in human affairs, is a position, which all history and experience unite to establish. The solitary individuals who have at times been found to deny the existence of such a being, form but few exceptions. The principle may be said to be universal, as well among the most ignorant and barbarous, as among the most refined nations. Bottom. ing themselves on this ground, almost all governments have had religious establishments connected with their civil insti. tutions. At the commencement of the American revolution, the principle was universal in Europe. Every Chris. tian nation had its hierarchy, or religious establishment, the leading features of which were, that a tenth part of the prodactions of the earth, and of human labor, belonged of divine right to the church; that the monarch in protestant, and the pope in Roman catholic countries, was the head of the church, having power to dispose of its revenues; and to form creeds and modes of worship, and compel a conformity thereto, by pains and penalties extending even to death. The people of one governinent were subject to the severest penalties in this life, and doomed to everlasting punishment in the next, for opinions and conduct which in a neighboring state were deemed essential to salvation, and enjoined by the highest authority. None were permitted to

[ocr errors]

call in question the infallibility of the national church. The colonists, emigrating from countries where these principles were universal, though in many instances fleeing from the persecutions which they produced, were unable entirely to divest themselves of these deep-rooted prejudices. It seemed to have escaped their notice, that if persecution was wrong in one sect, when it had become dominant, it was equally so in all others, and that it was their duty to accord to their neighbors the same freedom of religious opinion, which they claimed for themselves. The first statutes of the colonial legislatures gave preferences to particular de. nominations. A liberal mode of thinking, however, diffused itself among a people collected from different quarters, and produced a great number of sects, but no one sufficiently numerous to contend with the united influence of all others in obtaining political preferences. In the conventions called to form the state constitutions, every variety of sect was found. It was in vain, that any dominant party endeavoured to obtain peculiar privileges for its own order, the invariable effect of such an attempt was, to bring upon it. self the united opposition of all others. This induced a recurrence to first principles, which, however plain and selfevident in themselves, had never been adopted in practice in any nation ; that all mankind have a natural, equal, and unalienable right to their religious opinions and modes of worship, and that no human tribunal has either the power or right to control them. Acting upon these principles, the framers of the state constitutions introduced into those instruments declarations, stating that “the exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, shall for ever be free to all persons, and it being the duty of all men to worship the Supreme Being, and their right to render that worship in the mode most consistent with the dictates of their consciences, no person shall by law be compelled to join or support any religious associations.” So jealous, indeed, were some of the states of ecclesiastical

that they provided in their constitutions, that no priest or religious teacher should be eligible to civil office, thereby disfranchising a respectable portion of their fellow-citizens. Municipal regulations not being within the scope of the general government, it had nothing to do with religions establishments. The federal compact, in accordance with the principles of the state constitutions, merely provides, that no religious test shall be required as a qualification for office. Jealous, however, that, at some future period, a do

power,

« ZurückWeiter »