Графични страници
PDF файл

State Department and read over again the rude manuscript, in the handwriting of Mr. Jefferson, of the original draft of the Declaration of Independence, with its curious erasures and interlineations. In the same case, right by the side of it, also in the handwriting of Jefferson, is a clumsy drawing of the monument which he desired to have erected to his memory, together with the inscription which he would have written upon it. He wished to be remembered as the author of the Declaration of Independence, of the statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and as the father of the University of Virginia. But most of all he desired posterity to know him as the author of the Declaration of Independence—a title surely to an immortality such as belongs to only a few of the great names of history.

It would be an idle thing for anybody to try to take away from Jefferson the renown of that handwriting. It certainly would be a grievous offense against the truth to try to take it away from Jefferson, as a famous orator of our times, now dead and gone, has sought to do, and give it to Thomas Paine or to any other man. Yet there is a grim significance in the fact that time in dealing with the engrossed copy of the Declaration of Independence has carefully preserved every letter in every line of the instrument itself, and at the same time with a gentle hand has rubbed out the name of every one of the illustrious group of statesmen whose signatures authenticated the instrument in the archives of the Continental Congress. Even the name of John Hancock, which scrawled across the page so that the King's ministers might not fail to see it, has faded to an indistinct impression upon the parchment, while not even a slender outline is visible of the hardly less noted name of that delegate from the province of Maryland who was supposed, until the higher critics got hold of his biography, to have added to his signature his post-office address, so that the King's hangmen should not get hold of the wrong member of the Carroll family.

S. Doc. 13-3

It may be an idle fancy, but I have sometimes thought that this strange disappearance of these historic names illustrates in a mysterious sort of way the real origin of the Declaration, not in the signature of a few men, but in the minds and hearts and united purposes of the people of all the colonies. It ought to be remembered that the war for independence was well under way before the Congress which framed the Declaration of Independence had fairly entered upon its work. Many of the colonies, like Maryland, under the leadership her HANSONS and her CARROLLS, had long before declared their independence. Concord, and Lexington, and Bunker Hill had all been fought; Charlestown and Norfolk had been burned to ashes by the British troops; the startled garrisons of the Canada frontier, whatever their opinions of the Continental Congress, had gracefully acquiesced in the will of the Great Jehovah as interpreted by the Green Mountain Boys; Washington had been appointed commander in chief of all the American forces, and Lord Howe, correctly measuring the genius of the great soldier, had already evacuated Boston. So that the Declaration of Independence was in no sense a declaration of war and hardly even a proclamation of hostilities already begun. It was an instrument which simply put down in writing what for generations had been taking shape and gathering force about quiet firesides throughout the British possessions.

The colonies were one hundred and fifty years old, and while they were English in name and never ashamed of their heritage, there was not in them any deep-seated attachment to the British Crown. Indeed, there never had been any such attachment among those classes of the English people out of which the most of the American immigration had come. The distinguished Senator from Maryland (Mr. McComas] has referred to the speech of the Earl of Rosebery at the time of his inauguration as the lord rector of the University of Glasgow, when he took occasion to say that an enlightened colonial policy in the eighteenth century would have prevented the dismemberment of the British Empire. There may be possibly a sense in which this is true. It is at least certain that such a colonial policy as prevailed in England in the eighteenth century, and in Spain up to the end of the nineteenth, would have left the British throne without the loyalty of a commonwealth of Englishmen anywhere in the world. If I correctly remember Lord Rosebery's words on that occasion, he suggested that if the elder Pitt had remained in the House of Commons and had kept the counsel of the King, a way would have been found to make a settlement of the problem consistent with the integrity of the Kingdom.

Possibly that would have been so; at any rate, it is certain that our fathers could speak no such words for themselves as were spoken for them in the Parliament of England by Edmund Burke and the Earl of Chatham. I have no lack of appreciation of the enchanting dream, to which the Senator has referred, in which Lord Rosebery relates what might have happened if the King's subjects in America had held fast to their allegiance. In his vision he sees them increasing and multiplying as the United States has increased and multiplied, their representation in the House of Commons gradually outnumbering the membership at home, until at last there would have appeared a strange spectacle--the Queen, led by her ministers and followed by both. Houses of Parliament, with pomp and ceremony, transferring the capital of the Empire from London to New York or Chicago, leaving the old capital only a museum of political antiquities, a mere military outpost in a · world-wide British Empire.

It may be an ungracious thing to disturb an hallucination so splendid, but for all that it is a vision of the day, for it is impossible to imagine a parliamentary wisdom able to prevent a free English race from taking possession in their own name of the continent they had won from the wilderness; and it is harder still to conceive of a statesmanship equal to the task of turning aside the purpose of God in ordering the destiny of the New World. I have said that the independence of America originated not with the leaders of the people, but with the people themselves. So that it is literally true that members of the Continental Congress, who, like CHARLES CARROLL, shared in the proceedings only long enough to sign the Declaration, weeks after it had been framed and passed, lose nothing of their claim on the gratitude of mankind from the fact that their participation in the national movement was mainly in the quiet neighborhoods where they lived and among the people with whom they conversed from day to day.

American independence was first of all declared in the churches, in the newspapers, in the courts of law—in the churches in 10,000 sermons based upon texts taken from the militant literature of the old Jews; in the newspapers wherever a free press had been set up, as it had been in Maryland from the first settlement of the province down to the time when CHARLES CARROLL, under an assumed name, leaped into distinction as an advocate of the national cause in a series of controversial letters; in the courts of law wherever the obnoxious acts of Parliament were brought in controversy. Indeed, there is a sense in which the independence of America may be said to have originated in the court-houses of Massachusetts and Virginia and to have been first declared by the attorneys at law in the ordinary practice of their profession. It is interesting if not instructive, in view of the manifold popular prejudices which have beset the learned occupations of the bar in after generations, to recall the beautiful harmony which once existed between the embattled farmers and the lawyers of that day with their quillets, their cases, their tenures, and their tricks.

John Hancock was an important citizen of Boston, possibly the most important, and just after the passage of the stamp act he imported into that town a cargo of Madeira wine, of which, it would appear from the record, our fathers were accustomed to take a little for their stomach's sake and their often infirmities; and owing to the universal feeling which everywhere prevailed against the stamp act, Mr. Hancock felt at liberty to unload his cargo in the night without going through the formality of paying the duties required by law. But as soon as the revenue officers found it out they brought an action against him to recover the delinquent taxes, and he hired a Boston lawyer by the name of John Adams to defend him. Now, Mr. Adams, according to the custom of the day, was keeping a diary, and his entries in the little book about this time are very entertaining. For example, "Sunday, at home with my family, thinking."

If Mr. Adams, after the manner of the riodern practitioner, had charged Mr. Hancock for lying awake at nights thinking about his case, the latter patriot would not have had money enough left to reach the Philadelphia Congress, of which he had already been elected a member, for a similar entry repeatedly appears in the diary. For example: “Christmas; at home; thinking, reading, searching concerning taxation without consent." It was an epoch-making case, and John Adams went into it like Peter the Hermit preaching the first crusade. It was not a question of fact; it was a grim and momentous question of law. What Mr. Adams said is fortunately preserved. “My client, Mr. Hancock,'' said he never consented to it.

He never voted for it hiniself and he never voted for any man to make such a law for him.'' There is the first half of the American Revolution in one sentence. That case never came to trial. They took a good deal of testimony, and it was continued from time to time, but never brought to a final judgment, because the next spring, along about the middle of April, it was settled out of court by the battle of Lexington.

In the meantime some curious litigation was going on in one of the Southern colonies. By the original charter of Virginia the established Church of England was made a part of the civil establishment of the colony, and the salaries of the parsons, as in the case of other public officials, were paid out of the public treasury, in tobacco, which was the standard of

« ПредишнаНапред »