« AnteriorContinuar »
ON THE LIVES AND CHARACTERS OF
THOMAS JEFFERSON AND JOHN ADAMS,
WHO BOTH DIED ON THE FOURTH OF JULY, 1826: DE
LIVERED, AT THE REQUEST OF THE CITIZENS OF WASHINGTON, IN THE HALL OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE USITED STATES, ON THE NINETEENTH OCTOBER, 1826 :
BY WILLIAM WIRT.
which this mes!ately passing
are full of
The scenes which have been lately passing in our country, and of which this meeting is a continuance, are full of moral instruction. They hold up to the world a lesson of wisdom by which all may profit, if Heaven shall grant them the discretion to turn it to its use. The spectacle, in all its parts, has, indeed, been most solemn and impressive; and, though the first impulse be now past, the time has not yet come, and never will it come, when we can contemplate it without renewed emotion.
In the structure of their characters; in the course of their action; in the striking coincidences which marked their high career; in the lives and in the deaths of the illustrious men, whose virtues and services we have met to commemorate—and in that voice of admiration and gratitude which has since burst, with one accord, from the twelve millions of freemen who people these States, there is a moral sublimity which overwhelms the mind, and hushes all its powers into silent amazement !
The European, who should have heard the sound without apprehending the cause, would be apt to inquire, “What is the meaning of all this? what had these men done to elicit this unanimous and splendid acclamation? Why has the whole American nation risen up, as one man, to do them honor, and offer to them this enthusiastic homage of the heart? Were they mighty warriors, and was the peal that we have heard, the shout of victory? Were they great commanders, returning from their distant conquests, surrounded with the spoils of war, and was this the sound of their triumphal procession ? Were they covered with martial glory in any form, and was this « the noisy. wave of the multitude rolling back at their approach?" Nothing of all this: No; they were peaceful and aged patriots, who, having served their country together, through their long and useful lives, had now sunk together to the tomb. They had not fought battles; but they had formed and moved the great machinery of which battles were only a small, and, comparatively, trivial consequence. They had not commanded armies; but they had commanded the master springs of the nation, on which all its great political, as well as military movements depended. By the wisdom and energy of their counsels, and by the potent mastery of their spirits, they had contributed pre-eminently to produce a mighty Revolution which has changed the aspect of the world. A Revolution which, in one half of that world, has already restored man to his " long lost liberty,” and government to its only legitimate object, the happiness of the People: and, on the other hemisphere, has thrown a light so strong, that even the darkness of despotism is beginning to recede. Compared with the solid glory of an achievement like this, what are battles, and what the pomp of war, but the poor and fleeting pageants of a theatre? What were the selfish and petty strides of Alexander, to conquer a little section of a savage world, compared with this generous, this magnificent advance towards the emancipation of the entire world!
And this, be it remembered, has been the fruit of intellectual exertion! the triumph of mind! What a
proud testimony does it bear to the character of our nation, that they are able to make a proper estimate of services like these! That while, in other countries, the senseless mob fall down, in stupid admiration, before the bloody wheels of the conqueror-even of the conqueror by accident-in this, our People rise, with one accord, to pay their homage to intellect and virtue! What a cheering pledge does it give of the stability of our institutions, that while abroad, the yet benighted multitude are prostrating themselves before the idols which their own hands have fashioned into Kings, here, in this land of the free, our People are every where starting up, with one impulse, to follow with their acclamations the ascending spirits of the great Fathers of the Republic! This is a spectacle of which we may be permitted to be proud. It honors our country no less than the illustrious dead. And could those great Patriots speak to us from the tomb, they would tell us that they have more pleasure in the testimony which these honors bear to the character of their country, than in that which they bear to their individual services. They now see as they were seen, while in the body, and know the nature of the feeling from which these honors flow. It is love for love. It is the gratitude of an enlightened nation to the noblest order of benefactors. It is the only glory worth the aspiration of a generous spirit. Who would not prefer this living tomb in the hearts of his countrymen, to the proudest mausoleum that the Genius of Sculpture could erect!
Man has been said to be the creature of accidental position. The cast of his character has been thought to depend, materially, on the age, the country, and the circumstances, in which he has lived. To a considerable extent, the remark is, no doubt, true. Cromwell, had he been born in a Republic, might have been 66 guiltless of his country's blood ;” and, but for those civil commotions which had wrought his great mind into tempest, even Milton might have rested - mute and inglorious." The occasion is, doubtless, necessary to develope the talent, whatsoever it may be ; but the talent must exist, in embryo at least, or no occasion can quicken it into life. And it must exist, too, under the check of strong virtues; or the same occasion that quickens it into life, will be extremely apt to urge it on to crime. The hero who finished his career at St. Helena, extraordinary as he was, is a far more common character in the history of the world, than he who sleeps in our neighborhood, embalmed in his country's tears—or than those whom we have now met to mourn and to honor.
Jefferson and Adams were great men by nature. Not great and eccentric minds “ shot madly from their spheres” to affright the world and scatter pestilence in their course; but minds whose strong and steady light, restrained within their proper orbits by the happy poise of their characters, came to cheer and to gladden a world that had been buried for ages in political night. They were heaven-called avengers of degraded man. They came to lift him to the station for which God had formed him, and to put to flight those idiot superstitions with which tyrants had contrived to inthral his reason and his liberty. And that Being who had sent them upon this mission, had fitted them, pre-eminently, for his glorious work. He filled their hearts with a love of country which burned strong within them, even in death. He gave them a power of understanding which no sophistry could baffle, no art elude; and a moral heroism which no dangers could appal. Careless of themselves, reckless of all personal consequences, trampling under foot that petty ambition of office and honor which constitutes the master passion of little minds, they bent all their mighty powers to the task for which they had been delegated—the freedom of their beloved country, and the restoration of fallen man. They felt that they were Apostles of human liberty; and well did they fulfil their high commission. They rested not until they had accomplished their work at home, and given such an impulse to the great ocean of mind, that they saw the waves rolling on to the farthest shore, before they were called to their reward. And then left the world, hand in hand, exulting, as they rose, in the success of their labors.
From this glance at the consummation of their lives, it falls within the purpose that has drawn us together, to look back at the incidents by which these great men were prepared and led on to their destiny. The field is wide and tempting; and, in this rich field, there is a double harvest to be gathered. But the occasion is limited in point of time. With all the brevity, therefore, compatible with the subject, let us proceed to recall the more prominent incidents, leaving to their bi. ographers those which we must reluctantly omit. And let me hope that the recapitulation, however devoid of interest in itself, will be endured, if not enjoyed, for the sake of those to whom it relates. The review will unavoidably carry us back to scenes of no pleasant nature, which once occurred between our country and a foreign nation with which we now maintain the happiest relations of peace and amity; towards which, at This day, we cherish no other feelings than those of the sincerest respect and good will; and with whose national glory, indeed, as the land of our forefathers, we feel ourselves, in a great measure, identified. If, therefore, there should be any one within the sound of my voice, to whom the language of this retrospect might otherwise seem harsh,* I trust it will be borne in mind that we are Americans, assembled on a purely American occasion, and that we are speaking of things as they were, not as they are: for, in the language of one of our departed fathers, “ though enemies in war, in peace we are friends.”
The hand of Heaven was kindly manifested even in the place of birth assigned to our departed fathers. Their lots were cast in two distant States, forming links in the same extended chain of colonies. The one, to borrow the language of Isaiah, was called
* The British Minister was present.