Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Beacon Lights of History, Volume XI by John Lord

Part 3 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

government; and that there is not in the Constitution of the United
States an element of order, or force, or duration which he did not
powerfully contribute to secure." This is the tribute of that great and
learned statesman and historian to the genius and services of Hamilton.
What an exalted praise! To be the maker of a constitution requires the
highest maturity of reason. It was the peculiar glory of Moses,--the
ablest man ever born among the Jews, and the greatest benefactor his
nation ever had. How much prouder the fame of a beneficent and
enlightened legislator than that of a conqueror! The code which Napoleon
gave to France partially rescues his name from the infamy that his
injuries inflicted on mankind. Who are the greatest men of the present
day, and the most beneficent? Such men as Gladstone and Bright, who are
seeking by wise legislation to remove or meliorate the evils of
centuries of injustice. Who have earned the proudest national fame in
the history of America since the Constitution was made? Such men as
Webster, Clay, Seward, Sumner, who devoted their genius to the
elucidation of fundamental principles of government and political
economy. The sphere of a great lawyer may bring more personal gains, but
it is comparatively narrow to that of a legislator who originates
important measures for the relief or prosperity of a whole country.

The Constitution when completed was not altogether such as Hamilton
would have made, but he accepted it cordially as the best which could be
had. It was not perfect, but probably the best ever devised by human
genius, with its checks and balances, "like one of those rocking-stones
reared by the Druids," as Winthrop beautifully said, "which the finger
of a child may vibrate to its centre, yet which the might of an army
cannot move from its place."

The next thing to be done was to secure its ratification by the several
States,--a more difficult thing than at first sight would be supposed;
for the State legislatures were mainly composed of mere politicians,
without experience or broad views, and animated by popular passions. So
the States were tardy in accepting it, especially the larger ones, like
Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts. And it may reasonably be doubted
whether it would have been accepted at all, had it not been for the able
papers which Hamilton, Madison, and Jay wrote and published in a leading
New York paper,--essays which go under the name of "The Federalist,"
long a text-book in our colleges, and which is the best interpreter of
the Constitution itself. It is everywhere quoted; and if those able
papers may have been surpassed in eloquence by some of the speeches of
our political orators, they have never been equalled in calm reasoning.
They appealed to the intelligence of the age,--an age which loved to
read Butler's "Analogy," and Edwards "On the Will;" an age not yet
engrossed in business and pleasure, when people had time to ponder on
what is profound and lofty; an age not so brilliant as our own in
mechanical inventions and scientific researches, but more contemplative,
and more impressible by grand sentiments. I do not say that the former
times were better than these, as old men have talked for two thousand
years, for those times were hard, and the struggles of life were
great,--without facilities of travel, without luxuries, without even
comforts, as they seem to us; but there was doubtless then a loftier
spiritual life, and fewer distractions in the pursuit of solid
knowledge; people then could live in the country all the year round
without complaint, or that restless craving for novelties which
demoralizes and undermines the moral health. Hamilton wrote sixty-three
of the eighty-five (more than half) of these celebrated papers which had
a great influence on public opinion,--clear, logical, concise, masterly
in statement, and in the elucidation of fundamental principles of
government. Probably no series of political essays has done so much to
mould the opinions of American statesmen as those of "The
Federalist,"--a thesaurus of political wisdom, as much admired in Europe
as in America. It was translated into most of the European languages,
and in France placed side by side with Montesquieu's "Spirit of Laws" in
genius and ability. It was not written for money or fame, but from
patriotism, to enlighten the minds of the people, and prepare them for
the reception of the Constitution.

In this great work Hamilton rendered a mighty service to his country.
Nothing but the conclusive arguments which he made, assisted by Jay and
Madison, aroused the people fully to a sense of the danger attending an
imperfect union of States. By the efforts of Hamilton outside the
convention, more even than in the convention, the Constitution was
finally adopted,--first by Delaware and last by Rhode Island, in 1790,
and then only by one majority in the legislature. So difficult was the
work of construction. We forget the obstacles and the anxieties and
labors of our early statesmen, in the enjoyment of our present

But the public services of Hamilton do not end here. To him
pre-eminently belongs the glory of restoring or creating our national
credit, and relieving universal financial embarrassments. The
Constitution was the work of many men. Our financial system was the work
of one, who worked alone, as Michael Angelo worked on the ceiling of the
Sistine Chapel.

When Washington became President, he at once made choice of Hamilton as
his Secretary of the Treasury, at the recommendation of Robert Morris,
_the_ financier of the Revolution, who not only acknowledged his own
obligations to him, but declared that he was the only man in the United
States who could settle the difficulty about the public debt. In
finance, Hamilton, it is generally conceded, had an original and
creative genius. "He smote the rock of the national resources," said
Webster, "and abundant streams of revenue gushed forth. He touched the
dead corpse of the public credit, and it sprang upon its feet. The
fabled birth of Minerva from the brain of Jupiter was hardly more sudden
than the financial system of the United States as it burst from the
conception of Alexander Hamilton."

When he assumed the office of Secretary of the Treasury there were five
forms of public indebtedness for which he was required to provide,--the
foreign debt; debts of the Government to States; the army debt; the debt
for supplies in the various departments during the war; and the old
Continental issues. There was no question about the foreign debt. The
assumption of the State debts incurred for the war was identical with
the debts of the Union, since they were incurred for the same object. In
fact, all the various obligations had to be discharged, and there was
neither money nor credit. Hamilton proposed a foreign loan, to be raised
in Europe; but the old financiers had sought foreign loans and failed.
How was the new Congress likely to succeed any better? Only by creating
confidence; making it certain that the interest of the loan would be
paid, and paid in specie. In other words, they were to raise a revenue
to pay this interest. This simple thing the old Congress had not thought
of, or had neglected, or found impracticable. And how should the
required revenue be raised? Direct taxation was odious and unreliable.
Hamilton would raise it by duties on imports. But how was an
impoverished country to raise money to pay the duties when there was no
money? How was the dead corpse to be revived? He would develop the
various industries of the nation, all in their infancy, by protecting
them, so that the merchants and the manufacturers could compete with
foreigners; so that foreign goods could be brought to our seaports in
our own ships, and our own raw materials exchanged for articles we could
not produce ourselves, and be subject to duties,--chiefly on articles of
luxury, which some were rich enough to pay for. And he would offer
inducements for foreigners to settle in the country, by the sale of
public lands at a nominal sum,--men who had a little money, and not
absolute paupers; men who could part with their superfluities for either
goods manufactured or imported, and especially for some things they must
have, on which light duties would be imposed, like tea and coffee; and
heavy duties for things which the rich would have, like broadcloths,
wines, brandies, silks, and carpets. Thus a revenue could be raised more
than sufficient to pay the interest on the debt. He made this so clear
by his luminous statements, going into all details, that confidence
gradually was established both as to our ability and also our honesty;
and money flowed in easily and plentifully from Europe, since foreigners
felt certain that the interest on their loans would be paid.

Thus in all his demonstrations he appealed to common-sense, not
theories. He took into consideration the necessities of his own country,
not the interests of other countries. He would legislate for America,
not universal humanity. The one great national necessity was protection,
and this he made as clear as the light of the sun. "One of our errors,"
said he, "is that of judging things by abstract calculations, which
though geometrically true, are practically false." It was clear that the
Government must have a revenue, and that revenue could only be raised by
direct or indirect taxation; and he preferred, under the circumstances
of the country, indirect taxes, which the people did not feel, and were
not compelled to pay unless they liked; for the poor were not compelled
to buy foreign imports, but if they bought them they must pay a tax to
government. And he based his calculations that people could afford to
purchase foreign articles, of necessity and luxury, on the enormous
resources of the country,--then undeveloped, indeed, but which would be
developed by increasing settlements, increasing industries, and
increasing exports; and his predictions were soon fulfilled. In a few
years the debt disappeared altogether, or was felt to be no burden. The
country grew rich as its industries were developed; and its industries
were developed by protection.

I will not enter upon that unsettled question of political economy.
There are two sides to it. What is adapted to the circumstances of one
country may not be adapted to another; what will do for England may not
do practically for Russia; and what may be adapted to the condition of a
country at one period may not be adapted at another period. When a
country has the monopoly of a certain manufacture, then that country
can dispense with protection. Before manufactures were developed in
England by the aid of steam and improved machinery, the principles of
free-trade would not have been adopted by the nation. The landed
interests of Great Britain required no protection forty years ago, since
there was wheat enough raised in the country to supply demands. So the
landed aristocracy accepted free-trade, because their interests were not
jeopardized, and the interests of the manufacturers were greatly
promoted. Now that the landed interests are in jeopardy from a
diminished rental, they must either be protected, or the lands must be
cut up into small patches and farms, as they are in France. Farmers must
raise fruit and vegetables instead of wheat.

When Hamilton proposed protection for our infant manufactures, they
never could have grown unless they had been assisted; we should have
been utterly dependent on Europe. That is just what Europe would have
liked. But he did not legislate for Europe, but for America. He
considered its necessities, not abstract theories, nor even the
interests of other nations. How hypocritical the cant in England about
free-trade! There never was free-trade in that country, except in
reference to some things it must have, and some things it could
monopolize. Why did Parliament retain the duty on tobacco and wines and
other things? Because England must have a revenue. Hamilton did the
same. He would raise a revenue, just as Great Britain raises a revenue
to-day, in spite of free-trade, by taxing certain imports. And if the
manufactures of England to-day should be in danger of being swamped by
foreign successful competition, the Government would change its policy,
and protect the manufactures. Better protect them than allow them to
perish, even at the expense of national pride.

But the manufactures of this country at the close of the Revolutionary
War were too insignificant to expect much immediate advantage from
protection. It was Hamilton's policy chiefly to raise a revenue, and to
raise it by duties on imports, as the simplest and easiest and surest
way, when people were poor and money was scarce. Had he lived in these
days, he might have modified his views, and raised revenue in other
ways. But he labored for his time and circumstances. He took into
consideration the best way to raise a revenue for his day; for this he
must have, somehow or other, to secure confidence and credit. He was
most eminently practical. He hated visionary ideas and abstract
theories; he had no faith in them at all. You can push any theory, any
abstract truth even, into absurdity, as the theologians of the Middle
Ages carried out their doctrines to their logical sequence. You cannot
settle the complicated relations of governments by deductions. At best
you can only approximate to the truth by induction, by a due
consideration of conflicting questions and issues and interests.

The next important measure of Hamilton was the recommendation of a
National Bank, in order to facilitate the collection of the revenue.
Here he encountered great opposition. Many politicians of the school of
Jefferson were jealous of moneyed institutions, but Hamilton succeeded
in having a hank established though not with so large a capital as
he desired.

It need not he told that the various debates in Congress on the funding
of the national debt, on tariffs, on the bank, and other financial
measures, led to the formation of two great political parties, which
divided the nation for more than twenty years,--parties of which
Hamilton and Jefferson were the respective leaders. Madison now left the
support of Hamilton, and joined hands with the party of Jefferson, which
took the name of Republican, or Democratic-Republican. The Federal
party, which Hamilton headed, had the support of Washington, Adams, Jay,
Pinckney, and Morris. It was composed of the most memorable names of the
Revolution and, it may be added, of the more wealthy, learned, and
conservative classes: some would stigmatize it as being the most
aristocratic. The colleges, the courts of law, and the fashionable
churches were generally presided over by Federalists. Old gentlemen of
social position and stable religious opinions belonged to this party.
But ambitious young men, chafing under the restraints of consecrated
respectability, popular politicians, or as we might almost say the
demagogues, the progressive and restless people and liberal thinkers
enamored of French philosophy and theories and abstractions, were
inclined to be Republicans. There were exceptions, of course. I only
speak in a general way; nor would I give the impression that there were
not many distinguished, able, and patriotic men enlisted in the party of
Jefferson, especially in the Southern States, in Pennsylvania, and New
York. Jefferson himself was, next to Hamilton, the ablest statesman of
the country,--upright, sincere, patriotic, contemplative; simple in
taste, yet aristocratic in habits; a writer rather than an orator,
ignorant of finance, but versed in history and general knowledge,
devoted to State rights, and bitterly opposed to a strong central power.
He hated titles, trappings of rank and of distinction, ostentatious
dress, shoe-buckles, hair-powder, pig-tails, and everything English,
while he loved France and the philosophy of liberal thinkers; not a
religious man, but an honest and true man. And when he became President,
on the breaking up of the Federal party, partly from the indiscretions
of Adams and the intrigues of Burr, and hostility to the intellectual
supremacy of Hamilton,--who was never truly popular, any more than
Webster and Burke were, since intellectual arrogance and superiority
are offensive to fortunate or ambitious nobodies,--Jefferson's prudence
and modesty kept him from meddling with the funded debt and from
entangling alliances with the nation he admired. Jefferson was not
sweeping in his removals from office, although he unfortunately
inaugurated that fatal policy consummated by Jackson, which has since
been the policy of the Government,--that spoils belong to victors. This
policy has done more to demoralize the politics of the country than all
other causes combined; yet it is now the aim of patriotic and
enlightened men to destroy its power and re-introduce that of Washington
and Hamilton, and of all nations of political experience. The
civil-service reform is now one of the main questions and issues of
American legislation; but so bitterly is it opposed by venal politicians
that I fear it cannot be made fully operative until the country demands
it as imperatively as the English did the passage of their Reform Bill.
However, it has gained so much popular strength that both of the
prominent political parties of the present time profess to favor it, and
promise to make it effective.

It would be interesting to describe the animosities of the Federal and
Republican parties, which have since never been equalled in bitterness
and rancor and fierceness, but I have not time. I am old enough to
remember them, until they passed away with the administration of
General Jackson, when other questions arose. With the struggle for
ascendency between these political parties, the public services of
Hamilton closed. He resumed the practice of the law in New York, even
before the close of Washington's administration. He became the leader of
the Bar, without making a fortune; for in those times lawyers did not
know how to charge, any more than city doctors. I doubt if his income as
a lawyer ever reached $10,000 a year; but he lived well, as most lawyers
do, even if they die poor. His house was the centre of hospitalities,
and thither resorted the best society of the city, as well as
distinguished people from all parts of the country.

Nor did his political influence decline after he had parted with power.
He was a rare exception to most public men after their official life is
ended; and nothing so peculiarly marks a great man as the continuance of
influence with the absence of power; for influence and power are
distinct. Influence, in fact, never passes away, but power is ephemeral.
Theologians, poets, philosophers, great writers, have influence and no
power; railroad kings and bank presidents have power but not necessarily
influence. Saint Augustine, in a little African town, had more influence
than the bishop of Rome. Rousseau had no power, but he created the
French Revolution. Socrates revolutionized Greek philosophy, but had
not power enough to save his life from unjust accusations. What an
influence a great editor wields in these times, yet how little power he
has, unless he owns the journal he directs! What an influence was
enjoyed by a wise and able clergyman in New England one hundred years
ago, and which was impossible without force of character and great
wisdom! Hamilton had wisdom and force of character, and therefore had
great influence with his party after he retired from office. Most of our
public men retire to utter obscurity when they have lost office, but
Hamilton was as prominent in private life as in his official duties. He
was the oracle of his party, a great political sage, whose utterances
had the moral force of law. He never lost the leadership of his party,
even when he retired from public life. His political influence lasted
till he died. He had no rewards to give, no office to fill, but he still
ruled like a chieftain. It was he who defeated by his quiet influence
the political aspirations of Burr, when Burr was the most popular man in
the country,--a great wire-puller, a prince of politicians, a great
organizer of political forces, like Van Buren and Thurlow Weed,--whose
eloquent conversation and fascinating manner few men could resist, to
say nothing of women. But for Hamilton, he would in all probability have
been President of the United States, at a time when individual genius
and ability might not unreasonably aspire to that high office. He was
the rival of Jefferson, and lost the election by only one vote, after
the equality of candidates had thrown the election into the House of
Representatives. Hamilton did not like Jefferson, but he preferred
Jefferson to Burr, since he knew that the country would be safe under
his guidance, and would not be safe with so unscrupulous a man as Burr.
He distrusted and disliked Burr; not because he was his rival at the
Bar,--for great rival lawyers may personally be good friends, like
Brougham and Lyndhurst, like Mason and Webster,--but because his
political integrity was not to be trusted; because he was a selfish and
scheming politician, bent on personal advancement rather than the public
good. And this hostility was returned with an unrelenting and savage
fierceness, which culminated in deadly wrath when Burr found that
Hamilton's influence prevented his election as Governor of New
York,--which office, it seems, he preferred to the Vice-presidency,
which had dignity but no power. Burr wanted power rather than influence.
In his bitter disappointment and remorseless rage, nothing would satisfy
him but the blood of Hamilton. He picked a quarrel, and would accept
neither apology nor reconciliation; he wanted revenge.

Hamilton knew he could not escape Burr's vengeance; that he must fight
the fatal duel, in obedience to that "code of honor" which had
tyrannically bound gentlemen since the feudal ages, though unknown to
Pagan Greece and Rome. There was no law or custom which would have
warranted a challenge from Aeschines to Demosthenes, when the former was
defeated in the forensic and oratorical contest and sent into
banishment. But the necessity for Hamilton to fight his antagonist was
such as he had not the moral power to resist, and that few other men in
his circumstances would have resisted. In the eyes of public men there
was no honorable way of escape. Life or death turned on his skill with
the pistol; and he knew that Burr, here, was his superior. So he made
his will, settled his affairs, and offered up his precious life; not to
his country, not to a great cause, not for great ideas and interests,
but to avoid the stigma of society,--a martyr to a feudal
conventionality. Such a man ought not to have fought; he should have
been above a wicked social law. But why expect perfection? Who has not
infirmities, defects, and weaknesses? How few are beyond their age in
its ideas; how few can resist the pressure of social despotism! Hamilton
erred by our highest standard, but not when judged by the circumstances
that surrounded him. The greatest living American died really by an
assassin's hand, since the murderer was animated with revenge and
hatred. The greatest of our statesmen passed away in a miserable duel;
yet ever to be venerated for his services and respected for his general
character, for his integrity, patriotism, every gentlemanly
quality,--brave, generous, frank, dignified, sincere, and affectionate
in his domestic relations.

His death, on the 11th of July, 1804, at the early age of
forty-seven,--the age when Bacon was made Lord Chancellor, the age when
most public men are just beginning to achieve fame,--was justly and
universally regarded as a murder; not by the hand of a fanatic or
lunatic, but by the deliberately malicious hand of the Vice-President of
the United States, and a most accomplished man. It was a cold, intended,
and atrocious murder, which the pulpit and the press equally denounced
in most unmeasured terms of reprobation, and with mingled grief and
wrath. It created so profound an impression on the public mind that
duelling as a custom could no longer stand so severe a rebuke, and it
practically passed away,--at least at the North.

And public indignation pursued the murderer, though occupying the second
highest political office in the country. He paid no insignificant
penalty for his crime. He never anticipated such a retribution. He was
obliged to flee; he became an exile and a wanderer in foreign
lands,--poor, isolated, shunned. He was doomed to eternal ignominy; he
never recovered even political power and influence; he did not receive
even adequate patronage as a lawyer. He never again reigned in society,
though he never lost his fascination as a talker. He was a ruined man,
in spite of services and talents and social advantages; and no
whitewashing can ever change the verdict of good men in this country.
Aaron Burr fell,--like Lucifer, like a star from heaven,--and never can
rise again in the esteem of his countrymen; no time can wipe away his
disgrace. His is a blasted name, like that of Benedict Arnold. And here
let me say, that great men, although they do not commit crimes, cannot
escape the penalty of even defects and vices that some consider venial.
No position however lofty, no services however great, no talents however
brilliant, will enable a man to secure lasting popularity and influence
when respect for his moral character is undermined; ultimately he will
fall. He may have defects, he may have offensive peculiarities, and
retain position and respect, for everybody has faults; but if his moral
character is bad, nothing can keep him long on the elevation to which he
has climbed,--no political friendships, no remembrance of services and
deeds. If such a man as Bacon fell from his high estate for taking
bribes,--although bribery was a common vice among the public characters
of his day,--how could Burr escape ignominy for the murder of the
greatest statesman of his age?

Yet Hamilton lives, although the victim of his rival. He lives in the
nation's heart, which cannot forget his matchless services. He is still
the admiration of our greatest statesmen; he is revered, as Webster is,
by jurists and enlightened patriots. _No_ statesman superior to him has
lived in this great country. He was a man who lived in the pursuit of
truth, and in the realm of great ideas; who hated sophistries and lies,
and sought to base government on experience and wisdom.

"Great were the boons which this pure patriot gave,
Doomed by his rival to an early grave;
A nation's tears upon that grave were shed.
Oh, could the nation by his truths be led!
Then of a land, enriched from sea to sea,
Would other realms its earnest following be,
And the lost ages of the world restore
Those golden ages which the bards adore."


Hamilton's Works; Life of Alexander Hamilton, by J. T. Morse, Jr.; Life
and Times of Hamilton, by S. M. Smucker; W. Coleman's Collection of
Facts on the Death of Hamilton; J. G. Baldwin's Party Leaders; Dawson's
Correspondence with Jay; Bancroft's History of the United States;
Parton's Life and Times of Aaron Burr; Eulogies, by H. G. Otis and Dr.
Nott; The Federalist; Lives of Contemporaneous Statesmen; Sparks's Life
of Washington.




The Adams family--on the whole the most illustrious in New England, if
we take into view the ability, the patriotism, and the high offices
which it has held from the Revolutionary period--cannot be called of
patrician descent, neither can it viewed as peculiarly plebeian. The
founder was a small farmer in the town of Braintree, of the
Massachusetts Colony, as far back as 1636, whose whole property did not
amount to L100. His immediate descendants were famous and sturdy
Puritans, characterized by their thrift and force of character.

The father of John Adams, who died in 1761, had an estate amounting to
nearly L1,500, and could afford to give a college education at Harvard
to his eldest son, John, who was graduated in 1755, at the age of
twenty, with the reputation of being a good scholar, but by no means
distinguished in his class of twenty-four members. He cared more for
rural sports than for books. Following the custom of farmers' sons, on
leaving college he kept a school at Worcester before he began his
professional studies. His parents wished him to become a minister, but
he had no taste for theology, and selected the profession of law.

At that period there were few eminent lawyers in New England, nor was
there much need of them, their main business being the collection of
debts. They were scarcely politicians, since few political questions
were agitated outside of parish disputes. Nor had lawyers opportunities
of making fortunes when there were no merchant-princes, no grinding
monopolies or large corporations, and no great interest outside of
agricultural life; when riches were about equally distributed among
farmers, mechanics, sailors, and small traders. Young men contemplating
a profession generally studied privately with those who were prominent
in their respective callings for two or three years after leaving
college, and were easily admitted to the bar, or obtained a license to
preach, with little expectation of ever becoming rich except by
parsimonious saving.

With our modern views, life in Colonial times naturally seems to have
been dull and monotonous, with few amusements and almost no travel, no
art, not many luxuries, and the utter absence of what are called
"modern improvements." But if life at that time is more closely
scrutinized we find in it all the elements of ordinary pleasure,--the
same family ties, the same "loves and wassellings," the same convivial
circles, the same aspirations for distinction, as in more favored
civilizations. If luxuries were limited, people lived in comfortable
houses, sat around their big wood-fires, kept up at small cost, and had
all the necessities of life,--warm clothing, even if spun and woven and
dyed at home, linen in abundance, fresh meat at most seasons of the
year, with the unstinted products of the farm at all seasons, and even
tea and coffee, wines and spirits, at moderate cost; so that the New
Englanders of the eighteenth century could look back with complacency
and gratitude on the days when the Pilgrim Fathers first landed and
settled in the dreary wilderness, feeling that the "lines had fallen to
them in pleasant places," and yet be unmindful that even the original
settlers, with all their discomforts and dangers and privations, enjoyed
that inward peace and lofty spiritual life in comparison with which all
material luxuries are transient and worthless. It is only the divine
certitudes, which can exist under any external circumstances, that are
of much account in our estimate of human happiness, and it is these
which ordinarily escape the attention of historians when they paint the
condition of society. Our admiration and our pity are alike wasted when
we turn our eyes to the outward condition of our rural ancestors, so
long as we have reason to believe that their souls were jubilant with
the benedictions of Heaven; and this joy of theirs is especially
noticeable when they are surrounded with perils and hardships.

Such was the state of society when John Adams appeared on the political
stage. There were but few rich men in New England,--like John Hancock
and John Langdon, both merchants,--and not many who were very poor. The
population consisted generally of well-to-do farmers, shopkeepers,
mechanics, and fishermen, with a sprinkling of lawyers and doctors and
ministers, most of whom were compelled to practise the severest economy,
and all of whom were tolerably educated and familiar with the principles
on which their rights and liberties rested. Usually they were
law-abiding, liberty-loving citizens, with a profound veneration for
religious institutions, and contentment with their lot. There was no
hankering for privileges or luxuries which were never enjoyed, and of
which they never heard. As we read the histories of cities or states, in
antiquity or in modern times, we are struck with their similarity, in
all ages and countries, in everything which pertains to domestic
pleasures, to religious life, to ordinary passions and interests, and
the joys and sorrows of the soul. Homer and Horace, Chaucer and
Shakespeare, dwell on the same things, and appeal to the same

So John Adams the orator worked on the same material, substantially,
that our orators and statesmen do at the present day, and that all
future orators will work upon to the end of time,--on the passions, the
interests, and the aspirations which are eternally the same, unless kept
down by grinding despotism or besotted ignorance, as in Egypt or
mediaeval Europe, and even then the voice of humanity finds entrance to
the heart and soul. "All men," said Rousseau, "are born equal;" and both
Adams and Jefferson built up their system of government upon this
equality of rights, if not of condition, and defended it by an appeal to
human consciousness,--the same in all ages and countries. In regard to
these elemental rights we are no more enlightened now than our fathers
were a hundred years ago, except as they were involved in the question
of negro slavery. When, therefore, Adams began his career as a political
orator, it was of no consequence whether men were rich or poor, or
whether the country was advanced or backward in material civilization.
He spoke to the heart and the soul of man, as Garrison and Sumner and
Lincoln spoke on other issues, but involving the same established

Little could John Adams have divined his own future influence and fame
when, as a boy on his father's farm in Braintree, he toiled in rural and
commonplace drudgeries, or when he was an undistinguished student at
Harvard or a schoolmaster in a country village. It was not until
political agitations aroused the public mind that a new field was open
to him, congenial to his genius.

Still, even when he boarded with his father, a sturdy Puritan, at the
time he began the practice of the law at the age of twenty-three, he had
his aspirations. Writes he in his diary, "Chores, chat, tobacco, apples,
tea, steal away my time, but I am resolved to translate Justinian;" and
yet on his first legal writ he made a failure for lack of concentrated
effort. "My thoughts," he said, "are roving from girls to friends, from
friends to court, and from court to Greece and Rome,"--showing that
enthusiastic, versatile temperament which then and afterwards
characterized him.

Not long after that, he had given up Justinian. "You may get more by
studying town-meetings and training-days," he writes. "Popularity is the
way to gain and figure." These extracts give no indication of
legal ambition.

But in 1761 the political horizon was overcast. There were difficulties
with Great Britain. James Otis had made a great speech, which Adams
heard, on what were called "writs of assistance," giving power to the
English officers of customs in the Colony to enter houses and stores to
search for smuggled goods. This remarkable speech made a deep impression
on the young lawyer, and kindled fires which were never extinguished. He
saw injustice, and a violation of the rights of English subjects, as all
the Colonists acknowledged themselves to be, and he revolted from
injustice and tyranny. This was the turning-point of his life; he became
a patriot and politician. This, however, was without neglecting his law
business, which soon grew upon his hands, for he could make a speech and
address juries. Eloquence was his gift. He was a born orator, like
Patrick Henry.

In 1765 Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which produced great agitation
in New England, and Adams was fired with the prevailing indignation. His
whole soul went forth in angry protest. He argued its injustice before
Governor Bernard, who, however, was resolved to execute it as the law.
Adams was equally resolved to prevent its execution, and appealed to the
people in burning words of wrath. Chief-Justice Hutchinson sided with
the Governor, and prevented the opening of the courts and all business
transactions without stamps. This decision crippled business, and there
was great distress on account of it; but Adams cared less for the
injury to people's pockets than for the violation of rights,--_taxation
without representation;_ and in his voice and that of other impassioned
orators this phrase became the key-note of the Revolution.

English taxation of the Colonies was not oppressive, but was felt to be
unjust and unconstitutional,--an entering-wedge to future exactions, to
which the people were resolved not to submit. They had no idea of
separation from England, but, like John Hampden, they would resist an
unlawful tax, no matter what the consequences. Fortunately, these
consequences were not then foreseen. The opposition of the Colonies to
taxation without their own consent was a pure outburst of that spirit of
liberty which was born in German forests, and in England grew into Magna
Charta, and ripened into the English Revolution. It was a turbulent
popular protest. That was all, at first, and John Adams fanned the
discontent, with his cousin, Samuel Adams, a greater agitator even than
he, resembling Wendell Phillips in his acrimony, boldness, and power of
denunciation. The country was aroused from end to end. The "Sons of
Liberty" societies of Massachusetts spread to Maryland; the Virginians
boldly passed declarations of rights; the merchants of New York,
Philadelphia, and Boston resolved to import no English goods; and nine
of the Colonies sent delegates to a protesting Convention in New York.
In 1766 the Stamp Act was repealed because it could not be enforced; but
Parliament refused to concede its right of taxation, and there was a
prospect of more trouble.

John Adams soon passed to the front rank of the patriotic party in
Massachusetts. He was eloquent and he was honest. His popularity in
Massachusetts Bay was nearly equal to that of Patrick Henry in Virginia,
who was even more vehement. The Tories looked upon Adams pretty much as
the descendants of the old Federalists looked upon William Lloyd
Garrison when he began the anti-slavery agitation,--as a dangerous man,
a fanatical reformer. The presence of such a leader was now needed in
Boston, and in 1768 Adams removed to that excitable town, which was
always ready to adopt progressive views. Soon after, two British
regiments landed in the town, and occupied the public buildings with the
view of overawing and restraining the citizens, especially in the
enforcement of customs duties on certain imported articles. This was a
new and worse outrage, but no collision took place between the troops
and the people till the memorable "Boston Massacre" on the 5th of March,
1770, when several people were killed and wounded, which increased the
popular indignation. It now looked as if the English government
intended to treat the Bostonians as rebels, to coerce them by armed men,
to frighten them into submission to all its unwise measures. What a
fortunate thing was that infatuation on the part of English ministers!
The independence of the Colonies might have been delayed for
half-a-century but for the stupidity and obstinacy of George III and
his advisers.

By this time John Adams began to see the logical issue of English
persistency in taxation. He saw that it would lead to war, and he
trembled in view of the tremendous consequences of a war with the
mother-country, from which the Colonies had not yet sought a separation.

Adams was now not only in the front rank of the patriotic party, a
leader of the people, but had reached eminence as a lawyer. He was at
the head of the Massachusetts bar. In addition he had become a member of
the legislature, second to no one in influence. But his arduous labors
told upon his health, and he removed to Braintree, where he lived for
some months, riding into Boston every day. With restored health from
out-door exercise, he returned again to Boston in 1772, purchased a
house in Queen Street, opposite the court-house, and renewed his law
business, now grown so large that he resigned his seat in the
legislature. Politics, however, absorbed his soul, and stirring times
were at hand.

In every seaport--Charleston, Annapolis, Philadelphia, New York,
Boston--the people were refusing to receive the newly-taxed tea. On the
17th of December, 1773, three shiploads of tea were destroyed in Boston
harbor by a number of men dressed as Indians. Adams approved of this
bold and defiant act, sure to complicate the relations with Great
Britain. In his heart Adams now desired this, as tending to bring about
the independence of the Colonies. He believed that the Americans, after
ten years of agitation, were strong enough to fight; he wanted no
further conciliation. But he did not as yet openly declare his views. In
1774 General Gage was placed at the head of the British military force
in Boston, and the port was closed. The legislature, overawed by the
troops, removed to Salem, and then chose five men as delegates to the
General Congress about to assemble in Philadelphia. John Adams was one
of these delegates, and associated with him were Samuel Adams, Thomas
Cushing, James Bowdoin, and Robert Treat Paine.

All historians unite in their praises of this memorable assembly, as
composed of the picked men of the country. At the meeting of this
Congress began the career of John Adams as a statesman. Until then he
had been a mere politician, but honest, bold, and talented, in abilities
second to no one in the country, ranking alone with Jefferson in
general influence,--certainly the foremost man in Massachusetts.

But it was the vehemence of his patriotism and his inspiring eloquence
which brought Adams to the front, rather than his legal reputation. He
was not universally admired or loved. He had no tact. His temper was
irascible, jealous, and impatient; his manners were cold, like those of
all his descendants, and his vanity was inordinate. Every biographer has
admitted his egotism, and jealousy even of Franklin and Washington.
Everybody had confidence in his honesty, his integrity, his private
virtues, his abilities, and patriotism. These exalted traits were no
more doubted than the same in Washington. But if he had more brain-power
than Washington he had not that great leader's prudence, nor good sense,
nor patience, nor self-command, nor unerring instinct in judging men and
power of guiding them.

One reason, perhaps, why Adams was not so conciliatory as Jefferson was
inclined to be toward England was that he had gone too far to be
pardoned. He was the most outspoken and violent of all the early leaders
of rebellion except his cousin, Samuel Adams. He was detested by royal
governors and the English government. But his ardent temperament and his
profound convictions furnish a better reason for his course. All the
popular leaders were of course alive to the probable personal
consequences if their cause should not succeed; but fear of personal
consequences was the feeblest of their motives in persistent efforts for
independence. They were inspired by a loftier sentiment than that, even
an exalted patriotism. It burned in every speech they made, and in every
conversation in which they took part. If they had not the spirit of
martyrdom, they had the spirit of self-devotion to a noble cause. They
saw clearly enough the sacrifices they would be required to make, and
the calamities which would overwhelm the land. But these were nothing to
the triumph of their cause. Of this final triumph none of the great
leaders of the Revolution doubted. They felt the impossibility of
subduing a nation determined to be free, by such forces as England could
send across the ocean. Battles might be lost, like those of William the
Silent, but if the Dutch could overflow their dikes, the Americans, as a
last resort, could seek shelter in their forests. The Americans were
surely not behind the Dutch in the capacity of suffering, although to my
mind their cause was not so precious as that of the Hollanders, who had
not only to fight against overwhelming forces, but to preserve religious
as well as civil liberties. The Dutch fought for religion and
self-preservation; the Americans, to resist a tax which nearly all
England thought it had a right to impose, and which was by no means
burdensome,--a mooted question in the highest courts of law; at bottom,
however, it was not so much to resist a tax as to gain national
independence that the Americans fought. It was the Anglo-Saxon love of

And who could blame them for resisting foreign claims to the boundless
territories and undeveloped resources of the great country in which they
had settled forever? The real motive of the enlightened statesmen of the
day was to make the Colonies free from English legislation, English
armies, and English governors, that they might develop their
civilization in their own way. The people whom they led may have justly
feared the suppression of their rights and liberties; but far-sighted
statesmen had also other ends in view, not to be talked about in
town-meetings or even legislative halls. As Abraham of old cast his
inspired vision down the vista of ages and saw his seed multiplying like
the sands of the sea, and all the countries and nations of the world
gradually blest by the fulfilment of the promise made to him, so the
founders of our republic looked beyond the transient sufferings and
miseries of a conflict with their mother-country, to the unbounded
resources which were sure to be developed on every river and in every
valley of the vast wilderness yet to be explored, and to the teeming
populations which were to arise and to be blessed by the enjoyment of
those precious privileges and rights for which they were about to take
up the sword. They may not have anticipated so rapid a progress in
agriculture, in wealth, in manufactures, in science, in literature and
art, as has taken place within one hundred years, to the astonishment
and admiration of all mankind; but they saw that American progress would
be steady, incalculable, immeasurable, unchecked and ever advancing,
until their infant country should number more favored people than any
nation which history records, unconquerable by any foreign power, and
never to pass away except through the prevalence of such vices as
destroyed the old Roman world.

With this encouragement, statesmen like Franklin, Washington, Adams,
Jefferson, Hamilton, were ready to risk everything and make any
sacrifice to bring about the triumph of their cause,--a cause infinitely
greater than that which was advocated by Pitt, or fought for by
Wellington. Their eyes rested on the future of America, and the great
men who were yet to be born. They well could say, in the language of an
orator more eloquent than any of them, as he stood on Plymouth Rock
in 1820:--

"Advance, then, ye future generations! We would hail you, as you rise in
your long succession to fill the places which we now fill.... We bid you
welcome to the healthy skies and the verdant fields of New England. We
greet your accession to the great inheritance which we have enjoyed. We
welcome you to the blessings of good government and religious liberty.
We welcome you to the treasures of science, and the delights of
learning. We welcome you to the transcendent sweets of domestic life, to
the happiness of kindred, and parents, and children. We welcome you to
the immeasurable blessings of rational existence, the immortal hope of
Christianity, and the light of everlasting truth!"

John Adams, whose worth and services Daniel Webster, six years after
uttering those words, pointed out in Fanueil Hall when the old statesman
died, was probably the most influential member of the Continental
Congress, after Washington, since he was its greatest orator and its
most impassioned character. He led the Assembly, as Henry Clay
afterwards led the Senate, and Canning led the House of Commons, by that
inspired logic which few could resist. Jefferson spoke of him as "the
colossus of debate." It is the fashion in these prosaic times to
undervalue congressional and parliamentary eloquence, as a vain
oratorical display; but it is this which has given power to the greatest
leaders of mankind in all free governments,--as illustrated by the
career of such men as Demosthenes, Pericles, Cicero, Chatham, Fox,
Mirabeau, Webster, and Clay; and it is rarely called out except in great
national crises, amid the storms of passion and agitating ideas.
Jefferson affected to sneer at it, as exhibited by Patrick Henry; but
take away eloquence from his own writings and they would be commonplace.
All productions of the human intellect are soon forgotten unless infused
with sentiments which reach the heart, or excite attention by vividness
of description, or the brilliancy which comes from art or imagination or
passion. Who reads a prosaic novel, or a history of dry details, if ever
so accurate? How few can listen with interest to a speech of statistical
information, if ever so useful,--unless illuminated by the oratorical
genius of a Gladstone! True eloquence is a gift, as rare as poetry; an
inspiration allied with genius; an electrical power without which few
people can be roused, either to reflection or action. This electrical
power both the Adamses had, as remarkably as Whitefield or Beecher. No
one can tell exactly what it is, whether it is physical, or spiritual,
or intellectual; but certain it is that a speaker will not be listened
to without it, either in a legislative hall, or in the pulpit, or on the
platform. And hence eloquence, wherever displayed, is really a great
power, and will remain so to the end of time.

At the first session of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, in
1774, although it was composed of the foremost men in the country, very
little was done, except to recommend to the different provinces the
non-importation of British goods, with a view of forcing England into
conciliatory measures; at which British statesmen laughed. The only
result of this self-denying ordinance was to compel people to wear
homespun and forego tea and coffee and other luxuries, while little was
gained, except to excite the apprehension of English merchants. Yet this
was no small affair in America, for we infer from the letters of John
Adams to his wife that the habits of the wealthy citizens of
Philadelphia were even then luxurious, much more so than in Boston. We
read of a dinner given to Adams and other delegates by a young Quaker
lawyer, at which were served ducks, hams, chickens, beef, pig, tarts,
cream, custards, jellies, trifles, floating islands, beer, porter,
punch, wine, and a long list of other things. All such indulgences, and
many others, the earnest men and women of that day undertook cheerfully
to deny themselves.

Adams returned these civilities by dining a party on salt fish,--perhaps
as a rebuke to the costly entertainments with which he was surfeited,
and which seemed to him unseasonable in "times that tried men's souls."
But when have Philadelphia Quakers disdained what is called good living?

Adams, at first delighted with the superior men he met, before long was
impatient with the deliberations of the Congress, and severely
criticised the delegates. "Every man," wrote he, "upon every occasion
must show his oratory, his criticism, and his political abilities. The
consequence of this is that business is drawn and spun out to an
immeasurable length. I believe, if it was moved and seconded that we
should come to a resolution that three and two make five, we should be
entertained with logic and rhetoric, law, history, politics, and
mathematics; and then--we should pass the resolution unanimously in the
affirmative. These great wits, these subtle critics, these refined
geniuses, these learned lawyers, these wise statesmen, are so fond of
showing their parts and powers as to make their consultations very
tedious. Young Ned Rutledge is a perfect bob-o-lincoln,--a swallow, a
sparrow, a peacock; excessively vain, excessively weak, and excessively
variable and unsteady, jejune, inane, and puerile." Sharp words these!
This session of Congress resulted in little else than the interchange of
opinions between Northern and Southern statesmen. It was a mere advisory
body, useful, however, in preparing the way for a union of the Colonies
in the coming contest. It evidently did not "mean business," and
"business" was what Adams wanted, rather than a vain display of
abilities without any practical purpose.

The second session of the Congress was not much more satisfactory. It
did, however, issue a Declaration of Rights, a protest against a
standing army in the Colonies, a recommendation of commercial
non-intercourse with Great Britain, and, as a conciliatory measure, a
petition to the king, together with elaborate addresses to the people of
Canada, of Great Britain, and of the Colonies. All this talk was of
value as putting on record the reasonableness of the American position:
but practically it accomplished nothing, for, even during the session,
the political and military commotion in Massachusetts increased; the
patriotic stir of defence was evident all over the country; and in
April, 1775, before the second Continental Congress assembled (May 10)
Concord and Lexington had fired the mine, and America rushed to arms.
The other members were not as eager for war as Adams was. John Dickinson
of Pennsylvania--wealthy, educated moderate, conservative--was for
sending another petition to England, which utterly disgusted Adams, who
now had faith only in ball-cartridges, and all friendly intercourse
ended between the countries. But Dickinson's views prevailed by a small
majority, which chafed and hampered Adams, whose earnest preference was
for the most vigorous measures. He would seize all the officers of the
Crown; he would declare the Colonies free and independent at once; he
would frankly tell Great Britain that they were determined to seek
alliances with France and Spain if the war should be continued; he
would organize an army and appoint its generals. The Massachusetts
militia were already besieging the British in Boston; the war had
actually begun. Hence he moved in Congress the appointment of Colonel
George Washington, of Virginia, as commander-in-chief,--much to the
mortification of John Hancock, president of the Congress, whose vanity
led him to believe that he himself was the most fitting man for that
important post.

In moving for this appointment, Adams ran some risk that it would not be
agreeable to New England people, who knew very little of Washington
aside from his having been a military man, and one generally esteemed;
but Adams was willing to run the risk in order to precipitate the
contest which he knew to be inevitable. He knew further that if Congress
would but, as he phrased it, "adopt the army before Boston" and appoint
Colonel Washington commander of it, the appointment would cement the
union of the Colonies,--his supreme desire. New England and Virginia
were thus leagued in one, and that by the action of all the Colonies in
Congress assembled.

Although Mr. Adams had been elected chief-justice of Massachusetts, as
its ablest lawyer, he could not be spared from the labors of Congress.
He was placed on the most important committees, among others on one to
prepare a resolution in favor of instructing the Colonies to favor
State governments, and, later on, the one to draft the Declaration of
Independence, with Jefferson, Franklin, Sherman, and Livingston. The
special task was assigned to Jefferson, not only because he was able
with his pen, but because Adams was too outspoken, too imprudent, and
too violent to be trusted in framing such a document. Nothing could curb
his tongue. He severely criticised most every member of Congress, if not
openly, at least in his confidential letters; while in his public
efforts with tongue and pen he showed more power than discretion.

At that time Thomas Paine appeared in America as a political writer, and
his florid pamphlet on "Common Sense" was much applauded by the people.
Adams's opinion of this irreligious republican is not favorable: "That
part of 'Common Sense' which relates to independence is clearly written,
but I am bold enough to say there is not a fact nor a reason stated in
it which has not been frequently urged in Congress," while "his
arguments from the Old Testament to prove the unlawfulness of monarchy
are ridiculous."

The most noteworthy thing connected with Adams's career of four years in
Congress was his industry. During that time he served on at least one
hundred committees, and was always at the front in debating measures of
consequence. Perhaps his most memorable service was the share he had in
drawing the Articles of Confederation, although he left Philadelphia
before his signature could be attached. This instrument had great effect
in Europe, since the States proclaimed union as well as independence. It
was thenceforward easier for the States to borrow money, although the
Confederation was loose-jointed and essentially temporary; nationality
was not established until the Constitution was adopted. Adams not only
guided the earliest attempts at union at home, but was charged with
great labors in connection with foreign relations, while as head of the
War Board he had enough both of work and of worry to have broken down a
stronger man. Always and everywhere he was doing valuable work.

On the mismanagement of Silas Deane, as an American envoy in Paris, it
became necessary to send an abler man in his place, and John Adams was
selected, though he was not distinguished for diplomatic tact. Nor could
his mission be called in all respects a success. He was too imprudent in
speech, and was not, like Franklin, conciliatory with the French
minister of Foreign Affairs, who took a cordial dislike to him, and even
snubbed him. But then it was Adams who penetrated the secret motives of
the Count de Vergennes in rendering aid to America, which Franklin would
not believe, or could not see. Nor were the relations of Adams very
pleasant with the veteran Franklin himself, whose merits he conceived to
be exaggerated, and of whom it is generally believed he was envious. He
was as fussy in business details as Franklin was easy and careless. He
thought that Franklin lived too luxuriously and was too fond of the
praises of women.

In 1780 Adams transferred his residence to Amsterdam in order to secure
the recognition of independence, and to get loans from Dutch merchants;
but he did not meet with much success until the surrender of Lord
Cornwallis virtually closed the war. He then returned to Paris, in 1782,
to assist Franklin and Jay to arrange the treaty of peace with Great
Britain, and the acknowledgment of the independence of the States; and
here his steady persistency, united with the clear discernment of Jay,
obtained important concessions in reference to the fisheries, the
navigation of the Mississippi, and American commerce.

Adams never liked France, as Franklin and Jefferson did. The French
seemed to him shallow, insincere, egotistical, and swayed by fanciful
theories. Ardent as was his love of liberty, he distrusted the French
Revolution, and had no faith in its leaders. Nor was he a zealous
republican. He saw more in the English Constitution to admire than
Americans generally did; although, while he respected English
institutions, he had small liking for Englishmen, as they had for him.
In truth, he was a born grumbler, and a censorious critic. He did not
like anybody very much, except his wife, and, beyond his domestic
circle, saw more faults than virtues in those with whom he was
associated. Even with his ardent temperament he had not those warm
friendships which marked Franklin and Jefferson.

John Adams found his residence abroad rather irksome and unpleasant, and
he longed to return to his happy home. But his services as a diplomatist
were needed in England. No more suitable representative of the young
republic, it was thought, could be found, in spite of his impatience,
restlessness, pugnacity, imprudence, and want of self-control; for he
was intelligent, shrewd, high-spirited, and quick-sighted. The
diplomatists could not stand before his blunt directness, and he
generally carried his point by eloquence and audacity. His presence was
commanding, and he impressed everybody by his magnetism and brainpower.
So Congress, in 1785, appointed him minister to Great Britain. The King
forced himself to receive Adams graciously in his closet, but afterwards
he treated him even with rudeness; and of course the social circles of
London did the same. The minister soon found his position more
uncomfortable even than it had been in Paris. His salary, also, was too
small to support his rank like other ambassadors, and he was obliged to
economize. He represented a league rather than a nation,--a league too
poor and feeble to pay its debts, and he had to endure many insults on
that account. Nor could he understand the unfriendly spirit with which
he was received. He had hoped that England would have forgotten her
humiliation, but discovered his error when he learned that the States
were to be indirectly crushed and hampered by commercial restrictions
and open violations of the law of nations. England being still in a
state of irritation toward her former colonies, he was not treated with
becoming courtesy, and of course had no social triumphs such as Franklin
had enjoyed at Paris. Finding that he could not accomplish what he had
desired and hoped for, he became disgusted, possibly embittered, and
sent in his resignation, after a three years' residence in London, and
returned home. Altogether, his career as a diplomatist was not a great
success; his comparative failure, however, was caused rather by the
difficulties he had to surmount than by want of diplomatic skill. If he
was not as successful as had been hoped, he returned with unsullied
reputation. He had made no great mistakes, and had proved himself
honest, incorruptible, laborious, and patriotic. The country appreciated
his services, when, under the new Constitution, the consolidated Union
chose its rulers, and elevated him to the second office in the republic.

The only great flaw in Adams as Vice-President was his strange jealousy
of Washington,--a jealousy hardly to be credited were it not for the
uniform testimony of historians. But then in public estimation he stood
second only to the "Father of his Country." He stood even higher than
Hamilton, between whom and himself there were unpleasant relations.
Indeed, Adams's dislike of both Hamilton and Jefferson was to some
extent justified by unmistakable evidences of enmity on their part. The
rivalries and jealousies among the great leaders of the revolutionary
period are a blot on our history. But patriots and heroes as those men
were, they were all human; and Adams was peculiarly so. By universal
consent he is conceded to have been a prime factor in the success of the
Revolution. He held back Congress when reconciliation was in the air; he
committed the whole country to the support of New England, and gave to
the war its indispensable condition of success,--the leadership of
Washington; he was called by Jefferson "the Colossus of debate in
carrying the Declaration of Independence" and cutting loose from
England; he was wise and strong and indefatigable in governmental
construction, as well as in maintaining the armies in the field; he
accomplished vast labors affecting both the domestic and foreign
relations of the country, and, despite his unpleasant personal qualities
of conceit and irritability, his praise was in every mouth. He could
well afford to recognize the full worth of every one of his co-laborers.
But he did not. Magnanimity was certainly not his most prominent trait.

The duties of a vice-president hardly allow scope for great abilities.
The office is only a stepping-stone. There was little opportunity to
engage in the debates which agitated the country. The duties of
judicially presiding over the Senate are not congenial to a man of the
hot temper and ambition of Adams; and when party lines were drawn
between the Federalists and Republicans he earnestly espoused the
principles of the former. He was in no sense a democrat except in his
recognition of popular political rights. He believed in the rule of
character, as indicated by intellect and property. He had no great
sympathy with the people in their aspirations, although springing from
the people himself,--the son of a moderate farmer, no more distinguished
than ordinary farmers. He was the first one of his family to reach
eminence or wealth. The accusation against him of wishing to introduce a
king, lords, and commons was most unjust; but he was at heart an
aristocrat, as much as were Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris. And the more
his character was scrutinized after he had won distinction, the less
popular he was. His brightest days were when he was inspiring his
countrymen by his eloquence to achieve their independence.

In office Adams did not pre-eminently shine, notwithstanding his
executive ability and business habits. It is true, the equal division of
the Senate on some very important measures, such as the power of the
President to remove from office without the consent of the Senate, the
monetary policy proposed by Hamilton, and some others, gave him the
opportunity by his casting vote to sustain the administration, and thus
decide great principles with advantage to the country. And his eight
years of comparative quiet in that position were happy and restful ones.
But Adams loved praise, flattery, and social position. He was easily
piqued, and quickly showed it. He did not pass for what he was worth,
since he was apt to show his worst side first, without tact and without
policy. But no one ever doubted his devotion to the country any more
than his abilities. Moreover, he was too fond of titles, and the
trappings of office and the insignia of rank, to be a favorite with
plain people,--not from personal vanity, great as that was in him, but
from his notions of the dignities of high office, such as he had seen
abroad. Hence he recommended to Washington the etiquette of a court, and
kept it up himself when he became president. Against this must be
placed his fondness for leaving the capital and running off to make
little visits to his farm at Quincy, Massachusetts, where he was
always happiest.

I dwell briefly on his career as Vice-President because he had in it so
little to do. Nor was his presidency marked by great events, when, upon
the completion of Washington's second term, and the refusal of that
great man to enter upon a third, Adams was elevated in 1797 to the
highest position. The country had settled down to its normal pursuits.
There were few movements to arrest the attention of historians.

The most important event of the time was, doubtless, the formation of
the two great political parties which divided the nation, one led by
Hamilton and the other by Jefferson. They were the natural development
of the discussion on adopting the Federal Constitution. The Federalists,
composed chiefly of the professional classes, the men of wealth and of
social position, and the old officers of the army, wanted a strong
central government, protection to infant manufactures, banks and
tariffs,--in short, whatever would contribute to the ascendency of
intellect and property; the Republicans, largely made up of small
farmers, mechanics, and laboring people, desired the extension of the
right of suffrage, the prosperity of agriculturists, and State
ascendency, and were fearful of the encroachments of the general
government upon the reserved rights of the States and the people
at large.

But the leaders of this "people's party," men like the Clintons of the
State of New York, were sometimes as aristocratic in their social life
as the leaders of the Federalists. During the Revolutionary War the only
parties were those who aimed at national independence, and the
Royalists, or Tories, who did not wish to sever their connection with
the mother-country; but these Tories had no political influence when the
government was established under Washington. During his first term of
office there was ostensibly but one party. It was not until his second
term that there were marked divisions. Then public opinion was divided
between those who followed Hamilton, Jay, and Adams, and those who
looked up to Jefferson, and perhaps Madison, as leaders in the lines to
be pursued by the general government in reference to banks, internal
improvements, commercial tariffs, the extension of the suffrage, the
army and navy, and other subjects.

The quarrels and animosities between these two parties in that early day
have never been exceeded in bitterness. Ministers preached political
sermons; the newspapers indulged in unrestricted abuse of public men.
The air was full of political slanders, lies, and misrepresentations.
Family ties were sundered, and old friendships were broken. The
Federalists were distrustful of the French Revolution, and, finally,
hostile to it, while the Republican-Democrats were its violent
advocates. In New York nearly every Episcopalian was a Federalist, and
in Massachusetts and Connecticut nearly every Congregational minister.
Freethinkers in religion were generally Democrats, as the party
gradually came to be called. Farmers were pretty evenly divided; but
their "hired hands" were Democrats, and so were most immigrants.

Whatever the difference of opinion among the contending parties,
however, they were sincere and earnest, and equally patriotic. The
people selected for office those whom they deemed most capable, or those
who would be most useful to the parties representing their political
views. It never occurred to the people of either party to vote with the
view of advancing their own selfish and private interests. If it was
proposed to erect a public building, or dig a canal, or construct an
aqueduct, they would vote for or against it according to their notions
of public utility. They never dreamed of the spoils of jobbery. In other
words, the contractors and "bosses" did not say to the people, "If you
will vote for me as the superintendent of this public improvement, I
will employ you on the works, whether you are industrious and capable,
or idle and worthless." There were then no Tammany Hall politicians or
Philadelphia Republican ringsters. The spoils system was unknown. That
is an invention of later times. Politicians did not seek office with a
view of getting rich. Both Federalists and Democrats sought office to
secure either the ascendency of their party or what they deemed the
welfare of the country.

As the Democratic leaders made appeals to a larger constituency,
consisting of the laboring classes, than the Federalists did, they
gradually gained the ascendency. Moreover, they were more united. The
Federal leaders quarrelled among themselves. Adams and Hamilton were
accused of breaking up their party. Jefferson adhered to his early
principles, and looked upon the advance of democratic power as the
logical result of the principles of the Declaration of Independence. He
had unlimited faith in the instincts and aspirations of the people, and
in their ability to rule themselves, while Adams thought that the masses
were not able to select their wisest and greatest men for rulers. The
latter would therefore restrict the suffrage to men of property and
education, while Jefferson would give it to every citizen, whether poor
or rich, learned or ignorant.

With such conflicting views between these great undoubted patriots and
statesmen, there were increasing alienations, ripening into bitter
hostilities. If Adams was the more profound statesman, according to
old-fashioned ideas, basing government on the lessons of experience and
history, Jefferson was the more astute and far-reaching politician,
foreseeing the increasing ascendency of democratic principles. One would
suppose that Adams, born on a New England farm, and surrounded with
Puritan influences, would have had more sympathy with the people than
Jefferson, who was born on a Virginia plantation, and accustomed to
those social inequalities which slavery produces. But it seems that as
he advanced in years, in experience, and in honors, Adams became more
and more imbued with aristocratic ideas,--like Burke, whose early
career was marked for liberal and progressive views, but who became
finally the most conservative of English statesmen, and recoiled from
the logical sequence of the principles he originally advocated with such
transcendent eloquence and ability. And Adams, when he became president,
after rendering services to his country second only to those of
Washington, became saddened and embittered; and even as Burke raved over
the French Revolution, so did Adams grow morose in view of the triumphs
of the Democracy and the hopeless defeat of his party, which was
destined never again to rally except under another name, and then only
for a brief period. There was little of historic interest connected
with the administration of John Adams as President of the United States.
He held his exalted office only for one term, while his rivals were
re-elected during the twenty-four succeeding years of our national
history,--all disciples and friends of Jefferson, who followed out the
policy he had inaugurated. In general, Adams pursued the foreign policy
of Washington, which was that of peace and non-interference. In domestic
administration he made only ten removals from office, and kept up the
ceremonies which were then deemed essential to the dignity of president.

The interest in his administration centred in the foreign relations of
the government. It need not be added that he sympathized with Burke's
"Reflections on the French Revolution,"--that immortal document which
for rhetoric and passion has never been surpassed, and also for the
brilliancy with which reverence for established institutions is upheld,
and the disgust, hatred, and scorn uttered for the excesses which marked
the godless revolutionists of the age. It is singular that so
fair-minded a biographer as Parton could see nothing but rant and
nonsense in the most philosophical political essay ever penned by man.
It only shows that a partisan cannot be an historian any more than can a
laborious collector of details, like Freeman, accurate as he may be.
Adams, like Burke, abhorred the violence of those political demagogues
who massacred their king and turned their country into a vile shambles
of blood and crime; he equally detested the military despotism which
succeeded under Napoleon Bonaparte; and the Federalists generally agreed
with him,--even the farmers of New England, whose religious instincts
and love of rational liberty were equally shocked.

Affairs between France and the United States became then matters of
paramount importance. Adams, as minister to Paris, had perceived the
selfish designs of the Count de Vergennes, and saw that his object in
rendering aid to the new republic had been but to cripple England. And
the hollowness of French generosity was further seen when the government
of Napoleon looked with utter contempt on the United States, whose
poverty and feebleness provoked to spoliations as hard to bear as those
restrictions which England imposed on American commerce. It was the
object of Adams, in whose hands, as the highest executive officer, the
work of negotiation was placed, to remove the sources of national
grievances, and at the same time to maintain friendly relations with the
offending parties. And here he showed a degree of vigor and wisdom which
cannot be too highly commended.

The President was patient, reasonable, and patriotic. He curbed his hot
temper, and moderated his just wrath. He averted a war, and gained all
the diplomatic advantages that were possible. He selected for envoys
both Federalists and Democrats,--the ablest men of the nation. When
Hamilton and Jefferson declined diplomatic missions in order to further
their ambitious ends at home, who of the statesmen remaining were
superior to Marshall, Pinckney, and Gerry? How noble their disdain and
lofty their independence when Talleyrand sought from them a bribe of
millions to secure his influence with the First Consul! "Millions for
defence, not a cent for tribute," are immortal words. And when
negotiations failed, and there seemed to be no alternative but war,--and
that with the incarnate genius of war, Napoleon,--Adams, pacific as was
his policy, set about most promptly to meet the exigency, and
recommended the construction of a navy, and the mustering of an army of
sixteen thousand men, and even induced Washington to take the chief
command once more in defence of American institutions. Although at first
demurring to Washington's request, he finally appointed Hamilton, his
greatest political rival, to be the second general in command,--a man
who was eager for war, and who hoped, through war, to become the leader
of the nation, as well as leader of his party. When, seeing that the
Americans would fight rather than submit to insult and injustice, the
French government made overtures for peace, the army was disbanded. But
Adams never ceased his efforts to induce Congress to take measures for
national defence in the way of construction of forts on the coast, and
the building of ships-of-war to protect commerce and the fisheries.

In regard to the domestic matters which marked his administration the
most important was the enactment of the alien and sedition laws, now
generally regarded as Federal blunders. The historical importance of the
passage of these laws is that they contributed more than all other
things together to break up the Federal party, and throw political power
into the hands of the Republicans, as the Democrats were still called.
At that time there were over thirty thousand French exiles in the
country, generally discontented with the government. With them, liberty
meant license to do and say whatever they pleased. As they were not
naturalized, they were not citizens; and as they were not citizens, the
Federalists maintained that they could not claim the privileges which
citizens enjoyed to the full extent,--that they were in the country on
sufferance, and if they made mischief, if they fanned discontents, if
they abused the President or the members of Congress, they were liable
to punishment. It must be remembered that the government was not
settled on so firm foundations as at the present day; even Jefferson
wrought himself to believe that John Adams was aiming to make himself
king, and establish aristocratic institutions like those in England.
This assumption was indeed preposterous and ill-founded; nevertheless it
was credited by many Republicans. Moreover, the difficulties with France
seemed fraught with danger; there might be war, and these aliens might
prove public enemies. It was probably deemed by the Federalists,
governing under such dangers, to be a matter of public safety to put
these foreigners under the eyes of the Executive, as a body to be
watched, a body that might prove dangerous in the unsettled state of
the country.

The Federalists doubtless strained the Constitution, and put
interpretations upon it which would not bear the strictest scrutiny.
They were bitterly accused of acting against the Constitution. It was
averred that everybody who settled in the country was entitled to "life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," according to the doctrine taught
in the Declaration of Independence. And this was not denied by the
Federalists so long as the foreigners behaved themselves; but when they
gave vent to extreme liberal sentiments, like the French revolutionists,
and became a nuisance, it was deemed right, and a wise precaution, to
authorize the President to send them back to their own countries.

Now it is probable that these aliens were not as dangerous as they
seemed; they were ready to become citizens when the suffrage should be
enlarged; their discontent was magnified; they were mostly excitable but
harmless people, unreasonably feared. Jefferson looked upon them as
future citizens, trusted them with his unbounded faith in democratic
institutions, and thought that the treatment of them in the Alien Laws
was unjust, impolitic, and unkind.

The Sedition Laws were even more offensive, since under them citizens
could be fined and imprisoned if they wrote what were called "libels" on
men in power; and violent language against men in power was deemed a
libel. But all parties used violent language in that fermenting period.
It was an era of the bitterest party strife. Everybody was
misrepresented who even aimed at office. The newspapers were full of
slanders of the most eminent men, and neither Adams, nor Jefferson, nor
Hamilton, escaped unjust criminations and the malice of envenomed
tongues. All this embittered the Federalists, then in the height of
their power. In both houses of Congress the Federalists were in a
majority. The Executive, the judges, and educated men generally, were
Federalists. Men in power are apt to abuse it.

It is easy now to see that the Alien and Sedition Laws must have been
exceedingly unpopular; but the government was not then wise enough to
see the logical issue. Jefferson and his party saw it, and made the most
of it. In their appeals to the people they inflamed their prejudices and
excited their fears. They made a most successful handle of what they
called the violation of the Constitution and the rights of man; and the
current turned. From the day that the obnoxious and probably unnecessary
laws were passed, the Federal party was doomed. It lost its hold on the
people. The dissensions and rivalries of the Federal leaders added to
their discomfiture. What they lost they never could regain. Only war
would have put them on their feet again; and Adams, with true
patriotism, while ready for necessary combat, was opposed to a foreign
war for purposes of domestic policy.

Yet the ambitious statesman did not wish to be dethroned. He loved
office dearly, and hence he did not yield gracefully to the triumph of
the ascendent party, which grew stronger every day. And when their
victory was assured and his term of office was about to expire, he sat
up till twelve o'clock the last night of his term, signing appointments
that ought to have been left to his successors. Among these appointments
was that of John Marshall, his Secretary of State, to be Chief Justice
of the Supreme Court,--one that reflected great credit upon his
discernment, in spite of its impropriety, for Marshall's name is one of
the greatest in the annals of our judiciary. On the following morning,
before the sun had risen, the ex-president was on his way to Braintree,
not waiting even for the inauguration ceremonies that installed
Jefferson in the chair which he had left so unwillingly, and giving vent
to the bitterest feelings, alike unmanly and unreasonable.

I have not dwelt on the minor events of his presidency, such as his
appointments to foreign missions, since these did not seriously affect
the welfare of the country. I cannot go into unimportant events and
quarrels, as in the case of his dismissal of Pickering and other members
of his Cabinet. Such matters belong to the historians, especially those
who think it necessary to say everything they can,--to give minute
details of all events. These small details, appropriate enough in works
written for specialists, are commonly dry and uninteresting; they are
wearisome to the general reader, and are properly soon forgotten, as
mere lumber which confuses rather than instructs. No historian can go
successfully into minute details unless he has the genius of Macaulay.
On this rock Freeman, with all his accuracy, was wrecked; as an
historian he can claim only a secondary place, since he had no eye to
proportion,--in short, was no artist, like Froude. He was as heavy as
most German professors, to whom one thing is as important as another.
Accuracy on minute points is desirable and necessary, but this is not
the greatest element of success in an historian.

Some excellent writers of history think that the glory of Adams was
brightest in the period before he became president, when he was a
diplomatist,--that as president he made great mistakes, and had no
marked executive ability. I think otherwise. It seems to me that his
special claims to the gratitude of his country must include the wisdom
of his administration in averting an entangling war, and guiding the
ship of state creditably in perplexing dangers; that in most of his
acts, while filling the highest office in the gift of the people, he was
patient, patriotic, and wise. We forget the exceeding difficulties with
which he had to contend, and the virulence of his enemies. What if he
was personally vain, pompous, irritable, jealous, stubborn, and fond of
power? These traits did not swerve him from the path of duty and honor,
nor dim the lustre of his patriotism, nor make him blind to the great
interests of the country as he understood them,--the country whose
independence and organized national life he did so much to secure. All
cavils are wasted, and worse than wasted, on such a man. His fame will
shine forevermore, in undimmed lustre, to bless mankind. Small is that
critic who sees the defects, but has no eye for the splendors, of a
great career!

There is but little more to be said of Adams after the completion of his
term of office. He retired to his farm in Quincy, a part of Braintree,
for which he had the same love that Washington had for Mount Vernon, and
Jefferson for Monticello. In the placid rest of agricultural life, and
with a comfortable independence, his later days were spent. The kindly
sentiments of his heart grew warmer with leisure, study, and friendly
intercourse with his town's-people. He even renewed a pleasant
correspondence with Jefferson. He took the most interest, naturally, in
the political career of his son, John Quincy Adams, whom he persuaded to
avoid extremes, so that it is difficult to say with which political
party he sympathized the most. _In mediis tutissimus ibis_.

In tranquil serenity the ex-president pondered the past, and looked
forward to the future. His correspondence in the dignified retirement of
his later years is most instructive, showing great interest in education
and philanthropy. He was remarkably blessed in his family and in all his
domestic matters,--the founder of an illustrious house, eminent for four
successive generations. His wife, who died in 1818, was one of the most
remarkable women of the age,--his companion, his friend, and his
counsellor,--to whose influence the greatness of his son, John Quincy,
is in no small degree to be traced.

Adams lived twenty-five years after his final retirement from public
life, in 1801, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, dividing
his time between his farm, his garden, and his library. He lived to see
his son president of the United States. He lived to see the complete
triumph of the institutions he had helped to establish. He enjoyed the
possession of all his faculties to the last, and his love of reading
continued unabated to the age of ninety-one, when he quietly passed
away, July 4, 1826. His last prayer was for his country, and his last
words were,--"Independence forever!"


Life of John Adams, by J.T. Morse, Jr.; Life of Alexander Hamilton, by
Lodge; Parton's Life of Jefferson; Bancroft, United States; Daniel
Webster, Oration on the Death of Adams and Jefferson; Life of John Jay,
by Jay, Flanders, and Whitelocke; Fiske's Critical Period of American
History; Sparks' Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution;
Rives' Life of Madison; Curtis's History of the Constitution; Schouler's
History of the United States; McMaster's History of the People of the
United States; Von Holst's Constitutional History; Pitkin's History of
the United States; Horner's Life of Samuel Adams, Magruder's Marshall.




This illustrious statesman was born April 13, 1743, at "Shadwell," his
father's home, among the mountains of Central Virginia, about one
hundred and fifty miles from Williamsburg. His father, Peter Jefferson,
did not belong to the patrician class, as the great planters called
themselves, but he owned a farm of nineteen hundred acres, cultivated by
thirty slaves, and raised wheat. What aristocratic blood flowed in young
Jefferson's veins came from his mother, who was a Randolph, of fine
presence and noble character.

At seventeen, the youth entered the College of William and Mary at
Williamsburg, after having been imperfectly fitted at a school kept by a
Mr. Maury, an Episcopal clergyman. He was a fine-looking boy, ruddy and
healthy, with no bad habits, disposed to improve his mind, which was
naturally inquisitive, and having the _entree_ into the good society of
the college town. Williamsburg was also the seat of government for the
province, where were collected for a few months in the year the
prominent men of Virginia, as members of the House of Burgesses. In this
attractive town Jefferson spent seven years,--two in the college,
studying the classics, history, and mathematics (for which he had an
aptitude), and five in the law-office of George Wythe,--thus obtaining
as good an education as was possible in those times. He amused himself
by playing on a violin, dancing in gay society, riding fiery horses, and
going to the races. Although he was far from rich, he had as much money
as was good for him, and he turned it to good advantage,--laying the
foundation of an admirable library. He cultivated the society of the
brightest people. Among these were, John Page, afterwards governor of
Virginia; Dr. Small, the professor of mathematics at the college,
afterwards the friend of Darwin at Birmingham; Edmund Randolph, an
historic Virginian; Francis Fauquier, the lieutenant-governor of the
province, said to be a fine scholar and elegant gentleman of the French
school, who introduced into Virginia the writings of Voltaire, Rousseau,
and Diderot--as well as high play at cards; George Wythe, a rising
lawyer of great abilities; John Burk,--the historian of Virginia; and
lastly, Patrick Henry,--rough, jolly, and lazy. From such associates,
all distinguished sooner or later, Jefferson learned much of society,
of life, and literature. At college, as in after-life, his forte was
writing. Jefferson never, to his dying day, could make a speech. He
could talk well in a small circle of admirers and friends, and he held
the readiest pen in America, but he had no eloquence as a speaker,
which, I think, is a gift like poetry, seldom to be acquired; and yet he
was a great admirer of eloquence, without envy and without any attempts
at imitation. A constant reader, studious, reflective, inquisitive,
liberal-minded, slightly visionary, in love with novelties and theories,
the young man grew up,--a universal favorite, both for his
accomplishments, and his almost feminine gentleness of temper, which
made him averse to anything like personal quarrels. I do not read that
he ever persistently and cordially hated and abused but one man,--the
greatest political genius this country has ever known,--and hated even
him rather from divergence of political views than from personal

As Jefferson had no landed property sufficiently large to warrant his
leading the life of a leisurely country gentleman,--the highest
aspiration of a Virginian aristocrat in the period of entailed
estates,--it was necessary for him to choose a profession, and only that
of a lawyer could be thought of by a free-thinking politician,--for
such he was from first to last. Indeed, politics ever have been the
native air which Southern gentlemen have breathed for more than a
century. Since political power, amid such social distinctions and
inequalities as have existed in the Southern States, necessarily has
been confined to the small class, the Southern people have always been
ruled by a few political leaders,--more influential and perhaps more
accomplished than any corresponding class at the North. Certainly they
have made more pretensions, being more independent in their
circumstances, and many of them educated abroad, as are the leaders in
South American States at the present day. The heir to ten thousand or
twenty thousand acres, with two hundred negroes, in the last century,
naturally cultivated those sentiments which were common to great landed
proprietors in England, especially pride of birth.

It is remarkable that Jefferson, with his surroundings, should have been
so early and so far advanced in his opinions about the rights of man and
political equality; but then he was by birth only halfway between the
poor whites and the patrician planters; moreover, he was steeped in the
philosophy of Rousseau, having sentimental proclivities, and a leaning
to humanitarian theories, both political and social.

Jefferson was admitted to the bar in 1767, after five years in Wythe's
office. He commenced his practice at a favorable time for a lawyer, in a
period of great financial embarrassments on the part of the planters,
arising from their extravagant and ostentatious way of living. They
lived on their capital rather than on their earnings, and even their
broad domains were nearly exhausted by the culture of tobacco,--the
chief staple of Virginia, which also had declined in value. It was
almost impossible for an ordinary planter to make two ends meet, no
matter how many acres he cultivated and how many slaves he possessed;
for he had inherited expensive tastes, a liking for big houses and
costly furniture and blooded horses, and he knew not where to retrench.
His pride prevented him from economy, since he was socially compelled to
keep tavern for visitors and poor relations, without compensation.
Hence, nearly all the plantations were heavily encumbered, whether great
or small. The planter disdained manual labor, however poor he might be,
and every year added to his debts. He lived in comparative idleness,
amusing himself with horse-races, hunting, and other "manly sports,"
such as became country gentlemen in the "olden time." The real poverty
of Virginia was seen in the extreme difficulty of raising troops for
State or national defence in times of greatest peril. The calls of
patriotism were not unheeded by the "chivalry" of the South; but what
could patriotic gentlemen do when their estates were wasting away by
litigation and unsuccessful farming?

It was amid such surroundings that Jefferson began his career. Although
he could not make a speech, could hardly address a jury, he had
sixty-eight cases the first year of his practice, one hundred and
fifteen the second, one hundred and ninety-eight the third. He was,
doubtless, a good lawyer, but not a remarkable one, law business not
being to his taste. When he had practised seven years in the general
court his cases had dropped to twenty-nine, but his office business had
increased so as to give him an income of L400 from his profession, and
he received as much more from his estate, which had swelled to nearly
two thousand acres. His industry, his temperance, his methodical ways,
his frugality, and his legal research, had been well rewarded. While not
a great lawyer, he must have been a studious one, for his legal learning
was a large element in his future success. At the age of thirty-one he
was a prominent citizen, a good office lawyer, and a rising man, with
the confidence and respect of every one who knew him,--and withal,
exceedingly popular from his plain manners, his modest pretensions, and
patriotic zeal. He was not then a particularly marked man, but was on
the road to distinction, since a new field was open to him,--that of
politics, for which he had undoubted genius. The distracted state of the
country, on the verge of war with Great Britain, called out his best
energies. While yet but a boy in college he became deeply interested in
the murmurings of Virginia gentlemen against English misgovernment in
the Colonies, and early became known as a vigorous thinker and writer
with republican tendencies. William Wirt wrote of him that "he was a
republican and a philanthropist from the earliest dawn of his
character." He entered upon the stormy scene of politics with remarkable
zeal, and his great abilities for this arena were rapidly developed.

Jefferson's political career really dates from 1769, when he entered the
House of Burgesses as member for Albermarle County in the second year of
his practice as a lawyer, after a personal canvass of nearly every voter
in the county, and supplying to the voters, as was the custom, an
unlimited quantity of punch and lunch for three days. The Assembly was
composed of about one hundred members, "gentlemen" of course, among whom
was Colonel George Washington. The Speaker was Peyton Randolph, a most
courteous aristocrat, with great ability for the duties of a presiding
officer. Among other prominent members were Mr. Pendleton, Colonel
Bland, and Mr. Nicholas, leading lawyers of the province. Mr.
Jefferson, though still a young man, was put upon important committees,
for he had a good business head, and was ready with his pen.

In 1772 Mr. Jefferson married a rich widow, who brought him forty
thousand acres and one hundred and thirty-five slaves, so that he now
took his place among the wealthy planters, although, like Washington, he
was only a yeoman by birth. With increase of fortune he built
"Monticello," on the site of "Shadwell," which had been burned. It was
on the summit of a hill five hundred feet high, about three miles from
Charlottesville; but it was only by twenty-five years' ceaseless nursing
and improvement that this mansion became the finest residence in
Virginia, with its lawns, its flower-beds, its walks, and its groves,
adorned with perhaps the finest private library in America. No wonder he
loved this enchanting abode, where he led the life of a philosopher.

But stirring events soon called him from this retreat. A British war
vessel, in Narragansett Bay, in pursuit of a packet which had left
Newport for Providence without permission, ran aground about seventeen
miles from the latter town, and was burned by disguised Yankee citizens,
indignant at the outrages which had been perpetrated by this armed
schooner on American commerce. A reward of L500 was offered for the
discovery of the perpetrators; and the English government, pronouncing
this to be an act of high treason, passed an ordinance that the persons
implicated in the act should be transported to England for trial. This
decree struck at the root of American liberties, and aroused an
indignation which reached the Virginian legislature, then assembled at
Williamsburg. A committee was appointed to investigate the affair,
composed of Peyton Randolph, R.C. Nicholas, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin
Harrison, Edmund Pendleton, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson,--all
now historic names,--mostly lawyers, but representatives of the
prominent families of Virginia and leaders of the Assembly. Indignant
Resolutions were offered, and copies were sent to the various Colonial
legislatures. This is the first notice of Jefferson in his
political career.

In 1773, with Patrick Henry and some others, Jefferson originated the
Committee of Correspondence, which was the beginning of the intimate
relations in common political interest among the Colonies. In 1774 the
House of Burgesses was twice dissolved by the royal governor, and
Jefferson was a member of the convention to choose delegates to the
first Continental Congress; while in the same year he published a
"Summary View of the Rights of British America,"--a strong plea for the
right to resist English taxation.

In 1775 we find Jefferson a member of the Colonial Convention at which
Patrick Henry, also a member, made the renowned war speech: "Give me
liberty, or give me death." Those burning words of the Virginia orator
penetrated the heart of every farmer in Massachusetts, as they did the
souls of the Southern planters. In a few months the royal government
ceased to exist in Virginia, the governor, Dunmore, having retreated to
a man-of-war, and Jefferson had become a member of the Continental
Congress at its second session in Philadelphia, with the reputation of
being one of the best political writers of the day, and an ardent
patriot with very radical opinions.

Even then hopes had not entirely vanished of a reconciliation with Great
Britain, but before the close of the year the introduction of German
mercenaries to put down the growing insurrection satisfied everybody
that there was nothing left to the Colonies but to fight, or tamely
submit to royal tyranny. Preparations for military resistance were now
made everywhere, especially in Massachusetts, and in Virginia, where
Jefferson, who had been obliged by domestic afflictions to leave
Congress in December, was most active in raising money for defence, and
in inspiring the legislature to set up a State government. When
Jefferson again took his seat in Congress, May 13, 1776, he was put upon
the committee to draft a Declaration of Independence, composed, as
already noted, of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and
Robert R. Livingston, besides himself. To him, however, was intrusted by
the committee the labor and the honor of penning the draft, which was
adopted with trifling revision. He was always very proud of this famous
document, and it was certainly effective. Among the ordinary people of
America he is, perhaps, better known for this rather rhetorical piece of
composition than for all his other writings put together. It was one of
those happy hits of genius which make a man immortal,--owing, however,
no small measure of its fame to the historic importance of the occasion
that called it forth. It was publicly read on every Fourth-of-July
celebration for a hundred years. It embodied the sentiments of a great
people not disposed to criticism, but ready to interpret in a generous
spirit; it had, at the time, a most stimulating effect at home, and in
Europe was a revelation of the truth about the feeling in America.

From the 4th of July, 1776, Thomas Jefferson became one of the most
prominent figures identified with American Independence, by reason of
his patriotism, his abilities, and advanced views of political
principles, though as inferior to Hamilton in original and comprehensive
genius as he was superior to him in the arts and foresight of a
political leader. He better understood the people than did his great
political rival, and more warmly sympathized with their conditions and
aspirations. He became a typical American politician, not by force of
public speaking, but by dexterity in the formation and management of a
party. Both Patrick Henry and John Adams were immeasurably more eloquent
than he, but neither touched the springs of the American heart like this
quiet, modest, peace-loving, far-sighted politician, since he, more than
any other man of the Revolutionary period, was jealous of aristocratic
power. Hamilton, Jay, Gouverneur Morris, were aristocrats who admired
the English Constitution, and would have established a more vigorous
central government. Jefferson was jealous of central power in the hands
of aristocrats. So indeed was Patrick Henry, whose outbursts of
eloquence thrilled all audiences alike,--the greatest natural orator
this country has produced, if Henry Clay may be excepted; but he was
impractical, and would not even endorse the Constitution which was
afterwards adopted, as not guarding sufficiently what were called
natural rights and the independence of the States. This ultimately led
to an alienation between these great men, and to the disparagement of
Henry by Jefferson as a lawyer and statesman, when he was the most
admired and popular man in Virginia, and "had only to say 'Let this be
law,' and it was law,--when he ruled by his magical eloquence the
majority of the Assembly, and when his edicts were registered by that
body with less opposition than that of the Grand Monarque himself from
his subservient parliaments." Had he shown any fitness for military
life, Patrick Henry would doubtless have been intrusted with an
important command; but, like Jefferson, his talents were confined to
civic affairs alone. Moreover, it is said that he was lazy and fond of
leisure, and that it was only when he was roused by powerful passions or
a great occasion that his extraordinary powers bore all before him in an
irresistible torrent, as did the eloquence of Mirabeau in the National

Contemplative men of studious habits and a philosophical cast of mind
are apt to underrate the genius which sways a popular assembly. Hence,
Jefferson thought Henry superficial. But in spite of the defects of his
early education, Henry's attainments were considerable, and the
profoundest lawyers, like Wirt, Nicholas, and Jay, acknowledged his
great forensic ability. Washington always held him in great esteem and
affection; and certainly had Henry been a shallow lawyer, Washington,
whose judgment of men was notably good, would not have offered him the
post of Chief-Justice of the Supreme Court,--although, as Jefferson
sneeringly said, "he knew it would be refused."

Jefferson declined a re-election to the third Continental Congress, and
in September, 1776, retired to his farm; but only for a short time,
since in October we find him in the Virginia House of Delegates, and
chairman of the most important committees, especially that on the
revision of the laws of the State. His work in the State legislature was
more important than in Congress, since it was mainly through his
influence that entails were swept away, and even the law of
primogeniture. Instead of an aristocracy of birth and wealth, he would
build up one of virtue and talent. He also assaulted State support of
the Episcopal Church--which was in Virginia "the Established Church"--as
an engine of spiritual tyranny, and took great interest in all matters
of education, formulating a system of common schools, which, however,
was never put into practice. He was also opposed to slavery, having the
conviction that the day would come when the negroes would be
emancipated. He had before this tried to induce the Virginia law-makers
to legalize manumission, and in 1778 succeeded in having them forbid
importation of slaves. Dr. James Schouler's (1893) "Life of Jefferson"
says that the mitigation and final abolishment of slavery were among his
dearest ambitions, and adduces in illustration the failure of his plan
in 1784 for organizing the Western territories because it provided for
free States south as well as north of the Ohio River, and also his
successful efforts as President to get Congress to abolish slave
importation in 1806-7. His warnings as to what must happen if
emancipation were not in some way provided for are familiar, as
fulfilled prophecy.

After two years at State law-making Jefferson succeeded Patrick Henry as
governor of Virginia, in the summer of 1779. But although his
administration was popular, it was not marked as pre-eminently able. He
had no military abilities for such a crisis in American affairs, nor
even remarkable executive talent. He was a man of thought rather than of
action. His happiest hours were spent in his library. He did not succeed
in arousing the militia when the English were already marching to the
seat of government, and when the Cherokee Indians were threatening
hostilities on the southwestern border. Nor did he escape the censure of
members of the legislature, which greatly annoyed and embittered him, so
that he seriously thought of retiring from public life.

In 1782, on the death of his wife, whom he tenderly loved, we find him
again for a short time in Congress, which appointed him in 1784, as
additional agent to France with Franklin and Adams to negotiate
commercial treaties. On the return of Franklin he was accredited sole
minister to France, to succeed that great diplomatist. He remained in
France five years, much enamoured with French society, as was Franklin,
in spite of his republican sentiments. He hailed, with all the transport
his calm nature would allow, the French Revolution, and was ever after a
warm friend to France until the Genet affair, when his eyes were
partially opened to French intrigues and French arrogance. But the
principles which the early apostles of revolution advocated were always
near his heart. These he never repudiated. It was only the excesses of
the Revolution which filled him with distrust.

In regard to the Revolution on the whole, he took issue with Adams,
Hamilton, Jay, and Morris, and with the sober judgment of the New
England patriots. England he detested from first to last, and could see
no good in her institutions, whether social, political, or religious. He
hated the Established Church even more than royalty, as the nurse of
both superstition and spiritual tyranny. Even the Dissenters were not
liberal enough for him. He would have abolished if he could, all
religious denominations and organizations. Above all things he despised
the etiquette and pomp of the English Court, as relics of mediaeval
feudalism. To him there was nothing sacred in the person or majesty of a
king, who might be an idiot or a tyrant. He somewhere remarks that in
all Europe not one king in twenty has ordinary intelligence.

With such views, he was a favorite with the savants of the French
Revolution, as much because they were semi-infidels as because they were
opposed to feudal institutions. The great points of diplomacy had
already been settled by Franklin, and he had not much to do in France,
although his talents as a diplomatist were exceptional, owing to his
coolness, his sagacity, his learning, and his genial nature. There was
nothing austere about him, as there was in Adams. His manners, though
simple, were courteous and gentlemanly. He was diligent in business, and
was accessible to everybody. No American was more likely to successfully
follow Franklin than he, from his desire to avoid broils, and the
pacific turn of his mind. In this respect he was much better fitted to
deal with the Count de Vergennes than was John Adams, whose suspicious
and impetuous temper was always getting him into trouble, not merely
with the French government, but with his associates.

And yet Adams doubtless penetrated the ulterior designs of France with
more sagacity than either Franklin or Jefferson. They now appear, from
the concurrent views of historians, to have been to cripple England
rather than to help America. It cannot be denied that the French
government rendered timely and essential aid to the United States in
their struggle with Great Britain, for which Americans should be
grateful, whatever motives may have actuated it. Possibly Franklin, a
perfect man of the world as well as an adroit diplomatist, saw that the
French Government was not entirely disinterested; but he wisely held his
tongue, and gave no offence, feeling that half a loaf was better than no
loaf at all; but Adams could not hold his tongue for any length of time,
and gave vent to his feelings; so that in his mission he was continually
snubbed, and contrived to get himself hated both by Vergennes and
Franklin. "He split his beetle when he should have splitted the log." He
was honest and upright to an extraordinary degree; but a diplomatist
should have tact, discretion, and prudence. Nor is it necessary that he
should lie. Jefferson, like Franklin, had tact and discretion. It really
mattered nothing in the final result, even if Vergennes had in view only
the interests of France; it is enough that he did assist the Americans
to some extent. Adams was a grumbler, and looked at the motives of the
act rather than the act itself, and was disposed to forget the
obligation altogether, because it was conferred from other views than
pure generosity. Moreover, it is gratefully remembered that many persons
in France, like La Fayette, were generous and magnanimous toward
Americans, through genuine sympathy with a people struggling
for liberty.

In reference to the service that Jefferson rendered to his country as
minister to France we notice his persistent efforts to suppress the
piracy of the Barbary States on the Mediterranean. Although he loved
peace he preferred to wage an aggressive war on these pirates rather
than to submit to their insults and robberies, as most of the European
States did by giving them tribute. But the new American Confederation
was too weak financially to support his views, and the piracy and
tribute continued until Captain Decatur bombarded Tripoli and chastised
Algiers, during Jefferson's presidency, 1803-4. As minister, Jefferson
also attempted to remove the shackles on American trade; which, however,
did not meet the approval of the Morrises and other protectionists and
monopolists in the tobacco trade.

But it was by his unofficial labors at this time that Jefferson
benefited his country more than by his official acts as a negotiator.
These labors were great, and took up most of his time; they included
sending information to his countrymen of all that was going on of
importance in the realms of science, art, and literature, giving advice
and assistance to the unfortunate, sending seeds and machines and new
inventions to America, and acquainting himself with all improvements in
agriculture, especially in the culture of rice. He travelled extensively
in most of the countries of Europe, always with his eyes open to learn
something useful; one result of which was to deepen his disgust with the
institutions of the Old World, and increase his admiration for those of
his own country. He doubtless attached too much importance to the
political systems of Europe in producing the degradation he saw among
the various peoples, even as he too impulsively considered republicanism
the source of all good in governments. He was on pleasant terms with the
different diplomatic corps, and lived in the easy and profuse style of
Virginia planters,--giving few grand dinners, but dispensing a generous
hospitality to French visitors as well as to all Americans who called on
him. The letters he wrote were innumerable. No public man ever left to
posterity more of the results of his observations and thought.
Interesting himself in everything and everybody, and freely
communicating his ideas in correspondence, he had a wide influence while
living, and his ideas have been suggestive and fruitful to thoughtful
students of the public interest ever since.

After five years' residence in France, he returned home, a much more
intelligent and cultivated man than when he arrived in Paris, which
never lost its charm for him, in spite of its political convulsions, its
irreligion, and its social inequality. He came back to Monticello as on
a visit only, expecting to return to his post. But another destiny
awaited him. Washington required his services in the first Cabinet as
Secretary of State for foreign affairs,--a part for which his diplomatic
career had admirably qualified him, as well as his general abilities.

The seat of government was then at New York, and Jefferson occupied a
house in Maiden Lane, while Hamilton, as Secretary of the Treasury,
lived in Pine street. Jefferson's salary was $3,500 a year, five hundred
more than Hamilton received; but it is not to be supposed that either
lived on his official income. The population of the city was then but
thirty-five thousand, and only a few families--at the head of which were
the Schuylers, the Livingstons, the Van Rensselaers, and the
Morrises--constituted what is called "Society," which was much more
ceremonious than at the present day, and more exclusive. All the great
officers of the new government were aristocratic and stately, even
inaccessible, except Jefferson; and many of the fashions, titles, and
ceremonies of European courts were kept up. The factotum of the
President signed himself as "Steward of the Household," while Washington
himself rode to church in a coach and six, attended by outriders. Great
functionaries were called "Most Honorable," and their wives were
addressed as "Lady" So-and-So. The most confidential ministers dared
not assume any familiarity with the President. He was not addressed as
"Mr. President," but as "Your Excellency," and even that title was too
democratic for the taste of John Adams, who thought it lowered the
president to the level of a governor of Bermuda, or one of his own

Only four men constituted the Cabinet of Washington; but the public
business was inconsiderable compared with these times, and Jefferson in
the State Department had only four clerks under him. Still, he was a
very busy man, as many questions of importance had to be settled. "We
are in a wilderness without a footstep to guide us," wrote Madison to
Jefferson in reference to Congress. And it applied to the executive
government as well as to Congress. Neither the Executive nor the
Legislature had precedents to guide them, and everything was in a
tangle; there was scarcely any money in the country, and still less in
the treasury. Even the President, one of the richest men in the country,
if not the richest, had to raise money at two per cent a month to enable
his "steward of the household" to pay his grocer's bills,--and all the
members of his Cabinet had to sacrifice their private interests in
accepting their new positions.

The head of a department was not so great a personage, in reality, as at
the present day, and yet very few men were capable of performing the
duties of their position. Probably Alexander Hamilton was the only man
in the country then fit to be Secretary of the Treasury, and Jefferson
the only man available to be Secretary of State, since Adams was in the
vice-presidential chair; and these two men Washington was obliged to
retain, in spite of their mutual hostilities and total disagreement on
almost every subject presented to their consideration. In nothing were
the patience, the patriotism, and the magnanimity of Washington more
apparent than in his treatment of these two rival statesmen, perpetually
striving to conciliate them, hopelessly attempting to mix oil with
water,--the one an aristocratic financier, who saw national prosperity
in banks and money and central power; the other a democratic land-owner,
who looked upon agriculture as the highest interest, and universal
suffrage as the only safe policy for a republic. Between the theories of
these rivals, Washington had to steer the ship of state, originating
nothing himself, yet singularly clear in his judgment both of men and
measures. He was governed equally by the advice of both, since they
worked in different spheres, and were not rivals in the sense that Burr
and Jefferson were,--that is, leaders in the same party and competitors
for the same office.

In regard to the labors and services of Jefferson in the Department of
State, he was cautious, conciliatory, and peace-loving, "neither a
fanatic nor an enthusiast," enlightened by twenty-five years of
discussion on the principles of law and government, and a practical
business man. It required all his tact to prevent entangling foreign
alliances, and getting into hot water with both France and England; for
neither power had any respect for the new commonwealth, and each seemed
inclined to take all the advantage it could of American weakness and
inexperience. They were constantly guilty of such offences as the
impressment of our seamen, paper blockades, haughty dictation, and
insolent treatment of our envoys, having an eye all the while to the
future dismemberment of the States, and the rich slices of territory
both were likely to acquire in the South and West. At that time there
was no navy, no army to speak of, and no surplus revenue. There were
irritating questions to be settled with England about boundaries, and
the occupation of military posts which she had agreed to evacuate. There
were British intrigues with Indians in the interior to make disturbance,
while on the borders the fur-trade and fisheries were unsettled. There
were debts to be paid from American to English merchants, which were
disputed, and treaties to be made, involving all the unsettled
principles of political economy, as insoluble apparently to-day as they
were one hundred years ago. There were unjust restrictions on American
commerce of the most irritating nature, for American vessels were still
excluded from West India ports, and only such products were admitted as
could not be dispensed with. Such articles as whale oil, salt fish, salt
provisions, and grain itself, could not be exported to any town in
England. In France a new spirit seemed to animate the government against
America, a disposition to seize everything that was possible, and to
dictate in matters with which they had no concern,--even in relation to
our own internal affairs, as in the instructions furnished to Genet,
whose unscrupulous audacity and meddling intrigues at last exhausted the
patience of both Washington and Jefferson.

But the most important thing that happened, of historical interest, when
Jefferson was Secretary of State, was the origination of the Republican,
or Democratic party, as it was afterwards called, in opposition to the
Federal party, led by Hamilton, Jay, and Gouverneur Morris, Of this new
party Jefferson was the undisputed founder and life. He fancied he saw
in the measures of the Federal leaders a systematic attempt to
assimilate American institutions, as far as possible, to those of Great
Britain. He looked upon Hamilton as a royalist at heart, and upon his
bank, with other financial arrangements, only as an engine to control
votes and centralize power at the expense of the States. He entered
into the arena of controversial politics, wrote for the newspapers,
appealed to democratic passions, and set in motion a net-work of party
machinery to influence the votes of the people, foreseeing the future
triumph of his principles. He pulled political wires with as much
adroitness and effect as Van Buren in after-times, so that the statesman
was lost in the politician.

But Jefferson was not a vulgar, a selfish, or a scheming politician.
Though ambitious for the presidency, in his heart he preferred the quiet
of Monticello to any elevation to which the people could raise him. What
he desired supremely was the triumph of democratic principles, since he
saw in this triumph the welfare of the country,--the interests of the
many against the ascendency of the few,--the real reign of the people,
instead of the reign of an aristocracy of money or birth. Believing that
the people knew, or ought to know, their own interests, he was willing
to intrust them with unlimited political power. The Federalist leaders
saw in the ascendency of the people the triumphs of demagogy, the
ignoring of experience in government, the reign of passions,
unenlightened measures leading to financial and political ruin, and
would therefore restrict the privilege, or, as some would say, the
right, of suffrage.

In such a war of principles the most bitter animosities were to be
expected, and there has never been a time when such fierce party
contests disgraced the country as at the close of Washington's
administration, if we except the animosities attending the election of
General Jackson. It was really a war between aristocrats and plebeians,
as in ancient Rome; and, as at Rome, every succeeding battle ended in
the increase of power among the democracy. At the close of the
administration of President Adams the Federal party was destroyed
forever. It is useless to speculate as to which party was in the right.
Probably both parties were right in some things, and wrong in others.
The worth of a strong government in critical times has been proved by
the wholesome action of such an autocrat as Jackson in the Nullification
troubles with South Carolina, and the successful maintenance of the
Union by the power-assuming Congress during the Rebellion; while
Jackson's autocracy in general, and the centralizing tendency of
Congressional legislation since 1865, are instances of the complications
likely to arise from too strong a government in a country where the
people are the final source of power. The value of universal
suffrage--the logical result of Jefferson's views of government--is
still an open question, especially in cities. But whether good or bad in
its ultimate results, the victory was decisive on the part of the
democracy, whose main principle of "popular sovereignty" has become the
established law of the land, and will probably continue to rule as long
as American institutions last.

The questions since opened have been in regard to slavery,--in ways
which Jefferson never dreamed of,--the comparative power of the North
and South, matters of finance, tariffs, and internal improvements,
involving the deepest problems of political economy, education, and
constitutional law; and as time moves on, new questions will arise to
puzzle the profoundest intellects; but the question of the ascendency of
the people is settled beyond all human calculations. And it is in this
matter especially that Jefferson left his mark on the institutions of
his country,--as the champion of democracy, rather than as the champion
of the abstract rights of man which he and Patrick Henry and Samuel
Adams had asserted, in opposition to the tyranny of Great Britain in her
treatment of the Colonies. And here he went beyond Puritan New England,
which sought the ascendency of the wisest and the best, when the
aristocracy of intellect and virtue should bear sway instead of the
unenlightened masses. Historians talk about the aristocracy of the
Southern planters, but this was an offshoot of the aristocracy of
feudalism,--the dominion of favored classes over the enslaved, the poor,
and the miserable. New England aristocracy was the rule of the wisest
and the best, extending to the remotest hamlets, in which the people
discussed the elemental principles of Magna Charta and the liberties of
Saxon yeomen. This was the aristocracy which had for its defenders such

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest