« AnteriorContinuar »
chartered rights were restored. The same members were elected to the next session, and, being aware of the kind of materials he had to manage, the smooth and shrewd governor lulled them into a more quiet mood by the syren song of promises, assuring them that at the next session of parliament the offensive revenue taxes would be removed. Still cherishing hopes that their rights would be recognised, they waited in respectful but watchful silence. Mr. Braxton was an active member of committees and an agreeable speaker. In the house of burgesses there were six standing committees, one on courts of justice, one on public claims, one on elections and privileges, one on trade, one on grievances and propositions, and one on religion. Of the three last, then by far the most important, Mr. Braxton was uniformly a member. In 1771, governor Bottetourt died, and was succeeded by Lord Dunmore, who, being fresh from the fountain of high notions and ministerial corruption, dissolved the turbulent assembly then in commission, and issued his proclamation for a new election. Mr. Braxton was then sheriff of his county, and could not serve in the house. The people continued to live on promises and hang on hope until the 27th of May, 1774, when the house of burgesses again took a bold stand against oppression, and was peremptorily dissolved by Lord Dunmore. He then dissolved the gordian knot virtually; the people became enraged; eighty-nine of the members, immediately after the dissolution, formed themselves, with many other patriots, into an association of resistance, and the fire of freedom began to rise in curling flames. In August, a convention of the friends of liberty met in Williamsburg, of which Mr. Braxton was an active member. They elected seven delegates to meet the Congress at Philadelphia, and bound themselves to act in concert with the people of Boston, in the common cause against the common enemy. Governor Dunmore had a new house of burgesses elected; not being pleased with their proceedings he prorogued it several times, until he prorogued himself, on the night of the 7th of June, 1775, on board the armed ship Fowey, never again to assume his power over the turbulent rebels of America. The Virginia convention met again in March, 1775, and took every precaution necessary to put their state in a condition of defence. In April following, Lord Dunmore had caused the powder to be removed from the magazine, under pretence that it would probably be needed in another part of the colony, to repel an expected insurrection of the blacks. This enraged the people, who assembled in large numbers, but were persuaded to return to their homes by Peyton Randolph. Not fully satisfied, a Spartan band soon after collected, headed by Patrick Henry, and proceeded towards Williamsburg, determined on having the powder or its equivalent. An armed force was sent from the Fowey to sustain the governor; this only enraged the patriots; the spilling of blood seemed inevitable. At that juncture Mr. Braxton and others interceded; the powder was paid for by the receiver-general; Mr. Henry gave a receipt for the money, and his troops returned home.
The flight of the governor was the dissolution of British power in Virginia. For a time the government was managed entirely by the
committee of safety, of which Mr. Braxton was a member. On the 15th of December, 1775, he was elected to the Continental Congress, and entered upon the duties of his new station with great zeal and vigour. He had already seen much public service, and was prepared to act well his part. He advocated, voted for, and signed the declaration, the instrument that formally dissolved the maternal ties that bound the pilgrim fathers to chains and slavery. On the return of Mr. Braxton from Congress the next autumn he took his seat in the first Virginia legislature convened under their republican constitution, having been elected the May previous. A formal vote of thanks to him and Thomas Jefferson, for their faithful services in Congress, is upon the records of that body, dated the 12th of October, 1776. From that time to his death, he was often a member of the legislature of his state, sometimes in one branch and sometimes in the other. He was a member of council when he died, and was in his seat only four days previous to his decease.
During the war, he had lost a large portion of his fortune by the British, and after its close he was extremely unfortunate, and was reduced to indigent and perplexing, circumstances. For a time, he led his friends into speculative projects in order to resuscitate his adverse circumstances, all of which proved abortive, injuring them without benefitting him, and he finally sunk under a load of affliction, which produced an excitement that was followed by paralysis, a second attack of which ended his useful and eventful career at Richmond, Virginia, on the 10th of October, 1797. Under all these trying circumstances, his reputation did not suffer, he lost none of his well earned fame as an able and faithful public servant, and an honest and worthy man. His private character was of the most amiable kind; he was a perfect gentleman and fulfilled all the relations of life with fidelity. His name is justly placed high upon the list of enduring fame, as a man who was a faithful sentinel in the cause of equal rights, who contributed largely in consummating that independence we now enjoy, that freedom of which we boast, that liberty which we are bound to cherish, protect, preserve, and perpetuate.
COURAGE and fortitude, unaided by wisdom, often lead men into unforeseen and unexpected difficulties. Combined, they form a power for action equal to the lever, the fulcrum and the screw.
Some men possess a brave and dauntless spirit that knows no fear, but not possessed of the helm of wisdom to plan and discretion to act, can never become successful leaders. Guided by a wise prudence, blended with a talent to conceive and a boldness to execute, the weak become strong and effect wonders, at which they themselves look with asto
nishment after the mighty work is completed. To the unparalleled wisdom of the sages of the American revolution we owe the blessings of the liberty we now enjoy, more than to the physical strength of our country at that time. Compared with the fleets and armies of the mother country at the eventful era of the birth of our nation, the available force of the colonies dwindles into significance. The one a Goliah clad in armour; the other, a boy with a puerile sling. The one, a giant in the vigour of his glory; the other, an infant bursting into life. To the wisdom of the revolutionary sages, then, under God, we must ascribe the success of the noble work they conceived, planned and executed.
As a cool, deliberate and prudent man, the name of John MORTON is memorable. He was born in Ridley, Delaware county, Pennsylvania, about four miles from Chester, in the year 1724. His ancestors immigrated from Sweden at an early period, and settled along the Delaware not far from Philadelphia. The father of John Morton, of the same christian name, married Mary Richards when he was very young, and died before his son was born, and before he arrived at his majority. The widow was subsequently married by John Sketchly, an intelligent Englishman, who proved a good husband and a kind stepfather. Mr. Morton was principally indebted to him for his education, having enjoyed the advantages of a school but three months. Himself a skilful surveyor and well versed in mathematics, he made his step-son master of that important science. No branch of education is as well calculated to lead the mind into the path of precision of thought and action as this. Based upon invariable truth and lucid demonstration, never resting on false premises, always arriving at incontrovertible conclusions, it gives a tone to the mental powers calculated to produce the most beneficial results.
Young Morton continued with his parental guardian until manhood dawned upon him, aiding in the management of the farm and in surveying, constantly storing his mind with useful and substantial knowledge, blending and testing theory with practice. In 1764, he was commissioned a justice of the peace, and shortly after was elected to the assembly of his native state. He soon became conspicuous, and was subsequently speaker of the house during several sessions. He took a deep interest in the welfare of his country, and was a member of the Congress assembled at New York in 1765 to concert measures for the repeal of the odious stamp act. He concurred in the strong and bold measure of that body, which virtually kindled the fire of the revolution, which, although smothered for a time, was never extinguished until it consumed the last vestige of British power in America. In 1767, he became the sheriff of his county, which station he ably filled for three years. He was then appointed president judge of his district, and rose rapidly in the estimation of his fellow citi
He also endeared himself to society by a matrimonial connection with Miss Anne Justis of the state of Delaware, an amiable and accomplished lady, who contributed largely to his happiness in life. Soon after the clarion of war was sounded from the heights of Lexing; ton, the indignation of the people in his neighbourhood was so roused
that they raised a battalion of volunteers and elected judge Morton colonel. He was under the necessity of declining the proffered honour, having recently been appointed a judge of the supreme court of Pennsylvania. In July, 1774, he was appointed by the assembly of that state a member of the Congress that convened in Philadelphia in September following. The object of that Congress was to effect peace and reconciliation between the two countries, and contract, instead of enlarging, the breach of amity. Men of wisdom and deep thought, fired by a holy patriotism, were selected for the all important deliberations on which depended the future destiny of themselves and unborn millions. When they assembled, a deep and awful solemnity pervaded every mind. The proceedings were opened by prayer, and every soul seemed to commune with the spirits of another world, as by vesper orisons. After the address to the throne of grace was closed, a protracted silence ensued; nought but the flitting of the purple stream and the throbbing of anxious hearts was heard. The trembling tears and quivering lip told the emotions of many a bosom, too strong to be endured, too full to be expressed, too deep to be fathomed. At length the mighty spirit of Henry burst forth in the majesty of its native glory, and broke the magic spell. In bold and glowing colours, strongly shaded with dignified sincerity, and painted upon the canvass of eternal justice and truth, he presented American rights and British wrongs. When he closed, every patriot responded a hearty -Amen. Their mouths were opened, their burdens lightened, and they could breathe more freely.
In May of the next year, judge Morton again took his seat in Congress, and in November following was re-elected, although then speaker of the assembly of his state. In July, 1776, he attended that august body for the last time, and placed an enduring seal upon the bright escutcheon of his name, by signing the chart of liberty, the manifesto of freemen against the usurpations of tyranny.
During the time he was in Congress, he rendered very efficient services, and was highly esteemed as a cool, deliberate, discerning man; purely patriotic, firm in his principles, and anxious to do all in his power to promote the righteous cause of his bleeding country. With all these feelings resting upon his mind, he was among those who weighed deeply the consequences of severing the bonds that bound the colonies to the mother country. Unsustained, the step was death or a more cruel slavery. To all human appearauce the patriots must be crushed by the physical force of their enemies then pouring in upon them. There were five delegates from his state, two of them had determined on going against the measure, which left him to give the casting vote. The responsibility he considered of the greatest magnitude. On it depended the enhanced misery or the happy deliverance of his country. The former he feared, the latter he hoped for. When the time arrived for final action, his patriotism preponderated over his doubts, and he cast his vote in favour of the important instrument that was to prove either the warrant of death or the diploma of freedom. Some of his old friends censured him strongly for the bold act, and would not be reconciled to him, even when he lay upon the
bed of death; so strong were the feelings of men during the revolution. His dying message to them showed that his conscience approved the work his hand had done. “Tell them that they will live to see the hours when they shall acknowledge it to have been the most glorious service that I have ever rendered to my country.” The truth of his prophecy has been most happily verified.
When the articles of confederation were under discussion by Congress, judge Morton was frequently chairman of the committee of the whole, and performed the duty with great dignity and ability.
In April, 1777, he was attacked with a violent fever, highly inflammatory, which terminated his life in a few days, in the midst of his usefulness, with fresh honours awaiting him as time advanced. His premature death was deeply mourned by his bereaved companion, eight children, a large concourse of intimate friends, by the members of the bar, by his associate judges, by the state legislature, by Congress, and by every patriot of his country.
As a private citizen, he possessed an unusual share of esteem. He was endowed with all the amiable qualities that enrich the domestic and social circle, and, as a crowning glory to his fair fame, he professed and adorned the christian religion, and died triumphing in faith. His dust reposes in the cemetery of St. James' church, in Chester; his name is recorded on the enduring tablet of fame. His examples are worthy of imitation; his brief career admonishes us of the uncertainty of life; his happy demise is an evidence of the truth of real piety.
RICHARD HENRY LEE.
A STRONG propensity exists in every investigating, reflecting mind, to explore the labyrinthian abysm of the past. The classic reader dwells with rapture upon oriental time. Its remoteness sheds around it a sacredness that increases veneration, and leaves the fancy to wonder and admire. Human foibles descend with the body to the tomb, and are covered by the mantle of oblivion. Human faults, not enrolled on the black catalogue of crime, are often eclipsed by transcendant virtues, find no place upon the historic page, and leave after generations to gaze at a picture of native beauty, which, as time rolls over it, assumes deeper and holier shades, until it commands the reverence of all who behold it. The names of Demosthenes, Cicero, Socrates, Solon, Cincinnatus, and many others, over whose dust centuries have rolled, are referred to with as profound respect as if angel purity had stamped their every action with the impress of divinity. The same bright portrait awaits the name of every good and great man. That of each of the signers of the declaration of inde