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mir ve orations we cannot which one is freedom
I will now quote some extracts from Jefferson's paragraphs. Remember, it was an address to be read at public gatherings and to our armies in the field, and it was written with a view to the uses which it should serve. I do not know whether you will agree with me or not, but I deem these to be noble words, eloquently and worthily clothing manly thought:
“We are reduced to the alternative of choosing an unconditional submission to the tyranny of irritable ministers, or resistance by force. The latter is our choice. We have counted the cost of this contest, and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary slavery. Honor, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy of resigning succeeding generations to the wretchedness, which inevitably awaits them, if we basely entail hereditary bondage upon them. Our cause is just. Our union is perfect — our internal resources are great, and, if necessary, foreign assistance is undoubtedly attainable. . . . With hearts fortified with these animating reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the world, declare, that, exerting the utmost energy of those powers which our beneficent Creator hath graciously bestowed upon us, the arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabated firmness and perseverance, employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die free men, rather than to live as slaves.
“Lest this declaration shall disquiet the minds of our friends and fellow subjects in any part of the empire, we assure them, that we mean not to dissolve that union which has so long and so happily subsisted between us, and which we sincerely wish to see restored. Necessity has not yet driven us into that desperate measure, or induced us to excite any other nation to war against them. ... We fight not for glory or for conquest. ...
"In our own native land, in defence of the freedom that is our birthright, and which we ever enjoyed until the late violation of it; for the protection of our property, acquired solely by the honest in
orice land, in defendintil the late via the honest i
dustry of our forefathers and ourselves, and against violen ce actually offered, we have taken up arms. We shall lay them down when hostility shall cease on the part of our aggressors and all danger of their being renewed shall be removed, and not before."
These resolutions were submitted to the Continental Congress on the 6th day of July, 1775, a year, lacking two days, prior to the Declaration of Independence. Sixteen days later, Congress selected as usual by ballot — the members selected taking priority in accordance with the number of votes received — a committee to consider and report on Lord North's “Conciliatory Proposal." Jefferson was second on the committee, the septuagenarian Benjamin Franklin alone receiving a higher vote. Mr. Jefferson was selected by the committee when it met, to draw up this paper. In his Memoir he says: “The answer of the Virginia Assembly on that subject having been approved, I was requested by the committee to prepare this report, which will account for the similarity of features in the two documents.” Yes, they were nearly alike, but the instrument had broadened and the words "walked statelier," to suit the new and broader stage.
John T. Morse, in his “Thomas Jefferson,” says of this paper as it passed the Virginia Convention, being substantially as it passed Congress later:
“This was laying the axe at the very root of the tree with tolerable force; and more blows of the same sort followed.
“These were revolutionary words, and fell short by ever so little of that direct declaration of independence which they anticipated by less than two years. They would have cost Jefferson his head had it been less inconvenient to bring him to Westminster Hall, and even that inconvenience would probably have been overcome had forcible opposition been a little longer deferred in the colonies."
That Jefferson had not surrendered all hope of a satisfactory reconciliation with Great Britain, although he had gone much further towards planting himself upon the solid ground of independency than threefourths of his colleagues, is witnessed by the language contained in a letter written by him to John Randolph (not he of Roanoke — “John The Eccentric" - of course, but an earlier and a nobler one), who, finding it impossible to take up arms against the King, and unthinkable to take up arms against his neighbors, had sacrificed everything he had in Virginia and gone to England — not to fight with her, but to live in peace — one of those noble souls willing and able to stand and suffer all things alone, rather than take a choice between two wrongs, as he saw them. That his conduct was mistaken, few can doubt. That it was noble and unselfish, his own sacrifices witness. Jefferson wrote to him a letter from Monticello, dated August 25, 1775. In this case, as in all others, Jefferson never permits his hatred of a course to alienate him from a friend. The letter to John Randolph, uncompromisingly, even aggressively patriotic, in every line of it, was also uncompromisingly friendly to the recipient of it.
I want you to read that letter. If you are both manly and kindly, it will do you good. It aims to get Randolph to use his influence to bring about in the mother country a juster appreciation of the rights and of the earnestness of the colonies.
Later, on November 25th, he wrote to the same Mr. Randolph, then in England, another letter, from which it appears that he had meantime gone several steps further towards irrevocable independency. In part it reads:
“In the early part of this contest, our petitions told him that from our King there was but one appeal. The admonition was despised, and that appeal forced on us. To undo his empire, he has but one truth more to learn; that after colonies have drawn the sword, there is but one step more they can take. That step is now pressed upon us by the measures adopted, as if they were afraid we would not take it. Believe me, dear sir, there is not in the British empire, a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain, than I do. But by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament proposes; and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America. We want neither inducement nor power, to declare and assert a separation. It is will, alone, which is wanting, and that is growing apace under the fostering hand of our King."
Fiske adds as a comment upon this: “Observe the historical accuracy of this wording. It was not a question of throwing off a yoke, but of refusing to yield to a connection on newfangled and degrading terms."
Jefferson, in his "Notes on Virginia,” says, “It is well known that in July, 1775, a separation from Great Britain and establishment of republican government had never yet entered into any person's mind. If any period can be fixed, when the idea of independence became any more than a thought, or ceased to become a mere thought and became in some lines a policy, it probably would be the date upon which the communication from Richard Penn and Arthur Lee, who
had been sent to Great Britain to deliver the second petition to the King, was received and read in Congress."
This communication from Penn and Lee stated that the reply of the King was, that “no answer would be given." This high-handed and contemptuous ignoring of a respectfully, even humbly, worded address, caused anger and resulted in the conclusion on the part of the bolder natures, that the step forward to independence must at once be taken.
Jefferson had long considered the possibility, as his pregnant “as yets” and very many other phrases demonstrate. But there is always a step, long or short, between considering a thing as a dernier resort, and embracing it as a present measure of redress.
Mr. Adams is simply mistaken when, writing in his old age, he says that he had been determined “from the first assembling of the Congress in 1775 upon independence,” and that “this was no secret in or out of Congress.” Old men are apt to get dates wrong. Adams and Jefferson both did it, when writing in their old age about things which occurred in their early manhood. ‘Adams' letters, like those of Jefferson, which I have quoted, show that, except in so far as it was a possibility to be contemplated, if the worst came to the worst, independence was not yet urged by any. John Jay's and Benjamin Franklin's memories accord with Jefferson's.
The truth is that Americans, as a rule, were almost as unwilling to tear themselves from governmental connection with the British Isles, as were the “Jackson Democrats” and the “Old Line Whigs” in the South,