Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

consoling to his friends and beneficial to his country. His usefulness only ended with his life; his fame is untarnished with error; his examples are worthy of imitation, and his life without a blank.

By his first wife, Harriet, daughter of Henry Middleton, one of his colleagues in congress, he had a son and daughter, the latter of whom remained in Charleston, the former, Major Henry M. Rutledge, became one of the pioneers of Tennessee. God grant that he

may

imitate the virtues of his venerable father, and fill the blank our country experienced in the death of the wise, the judicious, the benevolent, the philanthropic, the patriotic, and the high minded Edward Rut

LEDGE.

THOMAS M'KEAN.

But few men have contributed more to fill the measure of the glory and prosperity of their country, than the subject of this brief sketch. He was a native of Chester county, Pennsylvania, and born on the 19th day of March, 1734. He was the son of William M.Kean, who immigrated from Ireland when quite young. He placed Thomas, at an early age, under the tuition of the Rev. Francis Allison, then principal of one of the most celebrated Seminaries of the Province, and gentleman of profound science and erudition. The talents of Thomas soon budded and blossomed like the early rose of spring. His mind was moulded for close application to study; his proficiency was truly gratifying to his teachers and friends, and gave high promise of unusual attainments. He became a thorough linguist, a practical mathematician, and a moral philosopher. He was a faithful student, and left the seminary, a finished scholar and an accomplished gentleman, esteemed and respected by his numerous acquaintances.

He then commenced the study of law under David Kinney, Esquire, at New Castle, Delaware. He explored the vast field of this science with astonishing and unusual success, and was admitted to the bar under the most favourable auspices. He commenced practice at the same place, and soon acquired a lucrative business and a proud reputation. He extended his operations into the province of his nativity, and was admitted in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in 1757. His strict attention to business and his superior legal acquirements, obtained for him an extensive and just celebrity. Although he had become the eloquent advocate and able lawyer, he was still a close and industrious student. He continued to add to his large stock of knowledge, with the same avidity and to greater advantage, than when he commenced his scientific career. He did not fall into the error that has prevented some lawyers of strong native talent from rising above mediocrity: that when their practice begins their studies end. This is a rock on which many have been shipwrecked in all the learned professions. The laws of nature demand a constant supply of food in

the intellectual as well as in the physical world. The corroding rust of forgetfulness will mar the most brilliant acquirements of literature, unless kept bright by use; and much study is requisite to keep pace with the march of mind and the ever varying changes in the field of science, constantly under the cultivation of the soaring intellect of

It

may be said, that the grand basis of the law is as unchanging as the rock of adamant. To this I answer: its superstructure is an increasing labyrinth, and, unless the progress of the work is kept constantly in view, those who enter, strangers to its meanderings, will find themselves in a perplexing situation.

man.

In 1762, Mr. M.Kean was elected a member of the Delaware assembly from New Castle county, and was continued in that station for eleven successive years, when he removed to the city of Philadelphia. So much attached to him were the people of that county, that they continued to elect him for six succeeding years after his removal, although he necessarily declined the honour of serving. He was claimed by Delaware and Pennsylvania as a favourite son of each, under the old regimen, and did, in fact, serve both after changing his residence, by being elected to the continental congress from the state of Delaware, being then Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, the former state claiming him, probably, because he still retained his mansion, furnished by himself, in New Castle, where his business frequently called him.

In 1779, he attempted to take final leave of his constituents in Delaware, and on that occasion, as a large meeting was convened for the purpose, made a most animating, patriotic and thrilling speech; portraying, in glowing colours, the bright prospects that were dawning upon the infant republic, and the certainty of being able to maintain the independence of the United States. After he retired, a committee waited upon him, with the novel request, that he would name seven gentlemen, suitable to be elected to the assembly. He desired them to report his thanks for the confidence they expressed in his judgment, and assured them there were not only seven but seventy then in the meeting, fully qualified to represent the people, and begged to be excused from naming any gentlemen, lest he should give offence. A second time the committee called and insisted on the selection by him, with the full assurance that he would give no offence. He then named seven candidates, and had the gratification to learn that they were all elected. An unlimited confidence in his abilities and integrity, was strongly felt by his constituents. He continued to represent them in congress during the eventful period of the war.

In 1765, he was a member of the Congress of New York, sent from Delaware. He was one of the committee that drafted the memorable address to the House of Commons of Great Britain. His patriotism, love of liberty, and unbending firmness of purpose; were fully demonstrated in that instrument, as well as in the acts of his subsequent life. He was a republican to the core, and despised the chains of political slavery, the baubles of monarchy, and the trappings of a crown. He was for LIBERTY or death, and scorned to be a slave.

On his return, the same year, he was appointed judge of the court

of common pleas, quarter sessions, and orphans' court, of New Castle county. The stamp act was then in full life, but not in full force: Judge M.Kean directed the officers of the courts over which he presided not to use stamped paper, as had been ordered by the hirelings of the British ministers. He set their authority at utter defiance, and was the first Judge, in any of the colonies, who took this bold stand. That circumstance alone, trifling as it may now seem to some readers, was big with events, and was an important entering wedge to the revolution, and stamped his name, in bold relievo, on the tablet of enduring fame. He had talent to design and energy to execute. From that time forward, in all the leading measures of the struggle for liberty, he was among the leading patriots.

He was a prominent member of the congress of 1774, that convened at Philadelphia. From that time to the peace of 1783, he was a member of the continental congress, and the only one who served during the whole time. He was a strong advocate for the declaration of independence, and most willingly affixed his signature to that sacred instrument. When it came up for final action, so anxious was he that it should pass unanimously, that he sent an express after Cæsar Rodney, one of his colleagues, the other, Mr. Read, having manifested a disposition to vote against it. Mr. Rodney arrived on the 4th of July, just in time to give his vote in favour of the important measure, and thus secured its unanimous adoption. Notwithstanding the arduous duties that devolved on Mr. M.Kean, as member of congress, member of several committees, and chief justice of Pennsylvania, all of which he discharged satisfactorily—so ardent was his patriotism, so devoted was he to promote the cause he had nobly espoused, that he accepted a colonel's commission, and was appointed to the command of a regiment of associators, raised in the city of Philadelphia, and marched to the support of Gen. Washington, with whom he remained until a supply of new recruits was raised. During his absence, his Delaware constituents had elected him a member of the convention to form a constitution. On his return he proceeded to New Castle, and, in a tavern, without premeditation or consulting men or books, he hastily penned the constitution that was adopted by the delegates. Understanding the wants and feelings of the people, well versed in law and the principles of republicanism, and a ready writer, he was enabled to perform, in a few hours, a work that, in modern times, requires the labours of an expensive assembly for nearly a year. How changed are men and things since the glorious era of '76! How different the motives that now impel to action, and how different the amount of labour performed in the same time and for the same money.

Then all were anxious to listen! now nearly all are anxious to speak. Then, legislators loved their country more, and the loaves and fishes less, than at the present day.

On the 10th of July, 1781, Judge M Kean was elected president of congress, which honour

he was compelled to decline, because his duties as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania would necessarily require his absence some part of the time during the session. He was then urged to occupy the chair until the first Monday of November, when the court was to commence. To this he assented, and presided until that time, with great credit to himself and to the satisfaction of the members of that august body. On his retiring from the chair, the following resolution was unanimously passed on the 7th of November, 1781:

"Resolved, That the thanks of congress be given to the Honourable Thomas M Kean, late president of congress, in testimony of their approbation of his conduct in the chair, and in the execution of public business.”

His duties upon the bench of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which commenced in 1777, were often of the most responsible and arduous character. He did not recognise the power of the crown, and held himself amenable, in the discharge of his official functions, only to his country and his God. An able jurist and an unyielding patriot, he punished, at the hazard of his own life, all who were brought before him and convicted of violating the laws of the new dynasty. No threats could intimidate or influence reach him, when designed to divert him from the independent discharge of his duty. His profound legal acquirements, his ardent zeal, his equal justice, his vigorous energy and his noble patriotism, enabled him to outride every storm, and calm the raging billows that often surrounded him. He marched on triumphantly to the goal of LIBERTY, and hailed with joy the star spangled banner, as it waved in grandeur from the lofty spires of the temple of FREEDOM. He beheld, with the eye of a sage, a philosopher, and a philanthropist, the rising glory of Columbia's new world." He viewed, with emotions of pleasing confidence, the American eagle descend from etherial regions, beyond the altitude of a tyrant's breath, and pounce upon the British lion. With increasing vigour and redoubled fury, the mighty bird continued the awful conflict, until the king of beasts retreated to his lair, and proclaimed to a gazing and admiring world, AMERICA IS FREE!! Angels rejoiced, monarchs trembled, and patriots shouted aloud—AMEN!! The grand Rubicon was passed, the torch of England's power over the colonies had expired in its socket, and the birth of a new nation was celebrated by happy millions, basking beneath the luminous rays and refulgent glories of LIBERTY and FREEDOM! The harvest was past, the summer ended, and our country saved. The mighty work of political regeneration was accomplished, the independence of the United States acknowledged, and an honourable peace consummated.

Judge M-Kéan, in common with his fellow patriots, heroes and sages, then sat down under his own fig tree, to enjoy the full fruition of his long and faithful labours in the cause of equal rights. He continued to discharge the important duties of chief justice until 1799, illuminating his judicial path with profound learning, impartial decision, and sound discretion. His legal opinions, based as they gene, rally are, upon the firm pillars of equal justice, strict equity, and correct law; given, as they were, when our form of government was changing, the laws unsettled, our state constitution but just formed, and the federal constitution bursting from embryo-are

monuments of fame, enduring as social order, revered, respected, and canonized.

He was a member of the convention that formed the constitution of Pennsylvania adopted in 1790, and exercised an influence in that body that was of the most salutary kind. In 1799 he was elected governor of the key-stone state, and contributed largely in adding new strength and beauty to the grand arch of our union. For nine successive years he wielded the destinies of the land of Penn, commencing at a period when the mountain waves of party spirit were rolling over the United States with a fury before unknown. But amidst the foaming and conflicting elements, Governor M.Kean stood at the helm of state, calm as a summer morning, firm as a mountain of granite, and guided his noble ship through the raging storm, unscathed and unharmed. His annual messages to the legislature for elegance and force of language, correct and liberal views of policy, and a luminous exposition of law and rules of government, stand unrivalled and unsurpassed. The clamours of his political enemies he passed by as the idle wind; the suggestions of his friends he scanned with the most rigid scrutiny. Neither flattery or censure could drive him from the strong citadel of his own matured judgment. The good of his country and the glory of the American character, formed the grand basis of his actions.

The fawning sycophant and the brawling demagogue, he spurned with contempt. By honest means alone he desired the advancement of the party that had elevated him. Open and avowed principles, fully proclaimed and strictly carried out, were by him submitted to the people, frankly and cordially, without prevarication or disguise. He was a politician of the old school, when each party had plain and visible landmarks, distinctive names, and fixed principles. Political chemists had not then introduced the modern process of amalgamation, producing a heterogenous mass, that defies the power of analyzation, scientific arrangement, or classical separation.

Governor M.Kean respected those of his political opponents who opposed him from an honest difference of opinion, and numbered among

them many personal friends. He was free from that narrowminded policy, based upon self, that actuates too many of those of the present day, who assume the high responsibility of becoming the arbiters of the minds of their fellow men. His views were expansive and liberal, broad and charitable. He aimed at distributing equal justice to all, the rich and poor, the public officer and private citizen. He was free from that contracted selfishness that prefers present aggrandizement to future good. To lay deep the foundations of lasting and increasing prosperity for his own state and for our nation, was the object of this pure patriot, enlightened statesman, and able jurist. Her vast resources, her wide spread territory, her majestic rivers, her silvery lakes, her mineral mountains, her rich valleys, her rolling uplands, her beautiful prairies, her extensive seaboard, her enterprising sons and virtuous daughters, were arrayed before his gigantic mind, and passed him in grand review. He was firmly convinced that she had only to be wise and good to be great and happy. To

« AnteriorContinuar »