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knowledged right of the mother country to demand them, under the guise of regulating commerce. Thus this doctrine, which was thought to be too bold for adoption by the Virginia convention, even in the throes of a great revolution, is become the accepted doctrine of the “great” and “well-poised” empire, to whose king the propositions were addressed in reproof.
Jefferson was elected Chairman of the Albemarle County Committee of Safety — such being, I presume, the confidence of the boys, who had been raised with him, in his “timidity” and “vacillation!”
Girardin, in his “History of Virginia,” page 6, says, that “the operations of these committees not being definite, were almost unlimited.” Perhaps from them and Jefferson's recollection of them, the revolutionary committee system in France may have had its birth, though, of course, no man, who had experienced committee government among the free, politically-trained, and comparatively equal and well-to-do inhabitants of America, could have foreseen its destructiveness and folly in France.
Girardin says of these committees that they examined the books of merchants to see if they imported the articles which were forbidden, or sold at higher prices than they should; that they examined all suspected persons, disarmed, fined, and punished them, and that, when necessary, they enlisted trained officers and armed independent companies — (the "minute men" of whom you read) — in each county, and that from their decision there was no appeal. Randall says that “it would be difficult to say where the power of these local tribunals stopped, except that they did not
and they should; that ther, or sold at higher exercise the death penalty and the power to confiscate estates, which last powers were retained by the conventions of the colonies.”
Jefferson was, throughout his life, radical in ends and conservative in means. It is not surprising, then, to find that the Committee of Safety in Albemarle County was less proscriptive in its conduct — more cautious and wise — than almost anywhere else.
Then Mr. Jefferson was chosen a member of the Continental Congress.
Meanwhile, Lord North’s “Conciliatory Proposal," as it was called, had been received in the colonies and it was necessary that Virginia, among other colonies, should make reply. Jefferson says: —
“The tenor of this proposition, being generally known, as having been addressed to all the Governors, Peyton Randolph was anxious that the answer of our Assembly, likely to be the first, should harmonize with what he knew to be the sentiments and wishes of the body he had recently left. He feared that Mr. Nicholas, whose mind was not yet up to the mark of the times, would undertake the answer, and, therefore, pressed me to prepare it. I did so, and with his aid, carried it through the House, with long and doubtful scruples from Mr. Nicholas and James Mercer, and a dash of cold water on it here and there, enfeebling it somewhat, but finally with unanimity, or a vote approaching it.”
The salient points of this document were, that the British Parliament, not being an American legislative assembly, had no right to interfere with civil government in any of the colonies; that Lord North's proposition involved the idea that the colonies, "in order to secure exemption from an unjust tax, must saddle themselves with a self-inflicted perpetual tax," "adequate to the expectations and subject to the disposal of Parliament alone;" that “many of the American grievances previously stated were taken no note of in the proposal, because the ministry were then making disposition to invade the colonies;" that the ministry did not propose to lay open to them “a free trade with all the world;" and significantly that the proposition made to Virginia involved the interest of all the other colonies, and that all the colonies were represented in a general congress, and that "no partial obligation should produce a disunion from the common cause;" that Virginia considered herself in honor bound to "share whatever general fate might betido her sister colonies.” Thus Virginia acknowledged and emphasized our Union.
The conclusion was the expression of a final determination to leave the question to the disposition of the general Congress, before whom the House of Burgesses would lay the papers. Then speaking for Virginia alone occurs this language:
“For ourselves, we have exhausted every mode of application, which our invention could suggest as proper and promising. We have decently remonstrated with Parliament - they have added new injuries to the old; we have wearied our king with supplications — he has not dared to answer us; we have appealed to the native honor and justice of the British nation — their efforts in our behalf have hitherto been ineffectual; what then remains to be done? That we commit our injuries to the even-handed justice of that Being, who doeth no wrong, earnestly beseeching Him to illuminate the councils and prosper the endeavors of those to whom America hath confided her hopes, that through their wise discretion we may again see reunited the blessings of liberty, prosperity and harmony with Great Britain.”
A similar arraignment of the justice of the British people, in the original draft of the Declaration of
That Being, whepimait our injuriecual; what then *
Independence, was stricken out by the Continental Congress!
Jefferson carried Virginia's reply to Lord North with him to the Congress at Philadelphia, where we now take up the thread of our story.
John Adams afterwards said that, although Jefferson was not a public speaker, owing to his voice (or rather lack of voice), he (Adams) found that, “though a silent member of Congress, he was so prompt, frank, explicit and decisive upon committees and in conversation (not even Samuel Adams was more so), that he soon seized upon my heart.”
This language of a contemporary is recommended to the perusal of so-called historians, rough-riding over facts. He never “vacillated,” nor was “timid,” nor showed “a sluggish mind” in “the times that tried men's souls," nor in the face of any crisis at any time, though in non-essentials he was always the most yielding of all sweet natures.
Virginia's answer to Lord North's “Conciliatory Proposal," as drawn by Jefferson, “met the views of the more advanced members of the Whig party in Congress,” and “the importance of it was fully measured by all,” because, if adopted, it would have the effect of “closing the door to argument with the mother country.” It was adopted by Congress. It left us two alternatives; a successful redress of grievances by arms on the one hand, or subjugation on the other.
Five days after he took his seat in Congress, Jefferson was placed on an existing committee to make a statement, or declaration, of "the causes of the colonies taking up arms." The committee had already made a
report, of which the Congress had disapproved; therefore the two new members — Mr. Jefferson of Virginia, and Mr. Dickinson of Pennsylvania. Jefferson's pen was again called into requisition. He prepared a draft for the declaration, but it was too strong for Mr. Dickinson, who still retained the hope of reconciliation. Jefferson says that Dickinson was “so honest a man and so able," that he "was requested to take the paper and put it into a form that he could approve;" that Dickinson did it, preserving of Jefferson's declaration “only the last four paragraphs and a half;" that the committee approved and reported the declaration, as thus framed, to Congress, which accepted it.
Mr. Dickinson belonged to that class of people to which Alexander Stephens belonged in the South, at the outbreak of the War between the States; men who wanted to hang back, who saw the brink before them, who feared the jump, but who were so loyal and true to their neighbors and friends and states, that when the latter once took a stand, they moved up, in shoulder to shoulder touch, to stand, until success, or defeat, or death should come.
There was about Jefferson no vanity of authorship. This was an illustration of it. It was years after Dickinson's "Address on the Cause of Taking up Arms” had been welcomed with the huzzahs of the American people, before anybody, outside of Congress, knew that Jefferson had had any hand in it — indeed, it was only after Jefferson's death that his original draft was found, and the knowledge became general that the last four and a half paragraphs of Dickinson's paper were Jefferson's. This address owed its popularity chiefly to the last four and a half paragraphs.