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By this harmony of the bold with the cautious, we advduced with our constituents in undivided mass, and with fewer examples of separation than, perhaps, existed in any other part of the Union.'
In 1776 Mr. Jefferson commenced keeping a minute record of his daily expenses, doings, observations, and reflections, by which be formed habits of economy and method, and treasured up a mass of meteorological, statistical, and scientific facts, to be classified and systematized afterward into available knowledge.
In this practice of taking notes—of observing, thinking, and acting with pen in hand, on the outer world, as Jonathan Edwards did on the inner, originated his Notes on Virginia—prepared in 1782, almost off hand, in answer to inquiries by the Marquis of BarbéMarbois, respecting the natural history, statistics, and institutions of his native State. It was first printed in Paris in 1794.
In 1772 (Jan. 1), Mr. Jefferson was married to Mrs. Martha Wayles Skelton, daughter of John Wayles and Martha Eppes— she was young, beautiful, and accomplished for the period, and their married life was eminently happy, founded on congenial tempers, and the practice of mutual help. This union added largely to his estate, and placed him among the wealthy planters of Virginia. His letters to his two daughters exhibit the domestic side of his character in the most amiable light.
Mr. Jefferson was introduced to the practice of the law at the bar of the General Court of Virginia by George Wythe, whom he styles 'the faithful and beloved master of his youth, and a most affectionate friend through life.” He at once secured a large and lucrative practice, which he justified by his diligent study of cases, as adjudicated by the highest courts of England, and of principles as discussed by the ablest authorities. His standard of professional qualification was high, as will be seen by the course of Legal Reading drawn up about this time for the use of a young friend, and his official papers, involving municipal, constitutional, and international law, show his mastery, not only of general principles, but of details.
* Mr. Jefferson thus draws the character of Judge Wythe, with whom he was associated as a student, as member of the Legislature, and in the revision of the statutes of Virginia:
No man ever left behind him a character more venerated than George Wythe. His virtue was of the purest tint; his integrity inflexible, and his justice exact; of warm patriotism, and devoted as he was to liberty, and the natural and equal rights of man, he might truly be called the Cato of his country, without the avarice of the Roman; for a more disinterested person never lived. Temperance and regularity in all his habits gave him general good health, and his unaffected modesty and suavity of manners endeared him to every one. He was of easy elocution, his langunge chaste, methodical in the arrangement of his matter, learned and logical in the use of it, and of great urbanity in debate; not quick of apprehension, but with a little time, profound in penetration and sound conclusion. In his philosophy he was firm, and neither troubling, nor perhaps trusting, any one with his religious creed, he left the world to the conclusion, that that religion must be good which could produce a life of exemplary virtue. His stature was of the middle size, well formed and proportioned, and the features of his face were manly, comely, and engaging. Such was George Wythe, the honor of his own, and the model of future times.
From May, 1769, as member of the House of Burgesses from Albemarle county, Jefferson participated directly in all the movements which severed the connection of the Colonies with Great Britain, and inaugurated for them and the world a new form of civil government. He signalized his entrance into public life by introducing a bill to authorize masters to manumit their slaves—the first step in the direction of emancipation, which was not actually taken by Virginia till 1782. A few years later, in the draft of instructions to govern the delegates to the first General Congress, he proclaims 'the abolition of slavery as the great object of desire in those Colonies, where it was unhappily introduced in their infant state ;' and all efforts to exclude all further importations from Africa have been defeated by his Majesty's negative in the interests of a few British corsairs, to the lasting injury of the American States, and to the rights of human nature, deeply wounded by this infamous practice. In the great measure to bring the Colonies into associated action through a Committee of Correspondence, Jefferson was one of the members who secured its adoption by the House of Burgesses in Virginia, in March, 1773, although the Massachusetts Assembly had appointed a similar committee in 1770. When the news of the Boston Port Bill reached Virginia, during the spring session of 1774, after the fashion of the Puritans of the English Commonwealth,' he was one of the originators of the legislative action by which a day of general fasting and prayer was appointed to implore Heaven to avert from us the evils of civil war, to inspire us with firmness in support of our rights, and to turn the hearts of the King and Parliament to moderation and justice.' For this action the House was dissolved, but its members at once met at the Apollo tavern, and entered into an association not to purchase tea and other commodities included in the Boston Port Bill, and resolved to consider an attack on one Colony an attack on all; and recommended the Committee of Correspondence to confer with other Colonies on the expediency of holding a general annual Congress. Before dispersing, they further agreed to call a convention of delegates from the several counties at Williamsburg on the first day of August, to take the situation of affairs into consideration, and, if the proposition for a General Congress was favorably received, to appoint delegates to the same. The Burgesses, on their return to their several counties, invited the clergy to meet in their respective parishes, conduct the devotions, and address the people. This was done; and Mr. Jefferson records that the effect of the day through
ont the whole Colony was like a shock of electricity, assuring every man, and placing bim erect and solidly on his center.'
The Freeholders of Albemarle met on the 26th day of July, 1774, and appointed Thomas Jefferson and James Walker deputies to the Convention at Williamsburg, and passed resolutions, which have the ring of the Declaration of '76. They affirm the constitutional right of all the Colonies to make laws by their respective legislatures, duly constituted and appointed by their own consent; that no other legislature whatever can rightly exercise anthority over them; that their natural and legal rights have in frequent instances been invaded by the Parliament of Great Britain, and particularly by an act which takes away the trade of the inhabitants of the town of Boston, in the province of Massachusetts Bay; which assumptions of unlawful power are dangerous to the rights of the British Empire in general, and should be considered as its common cause; and pledging themselves ready to join with their fellow-subjects in any part of the empire, in executing all their rightful powers which God has given us, for the reëstablishment and guaranteeing such their constitutional rights, when, where, and by whomsoever invaded.'
The Convention met on the first day of August, and at once inaugurated a revolutionary movement liy appointing delegates to a General Congress of all the Colonies, to be held in Philadelphia. Mr. Jefferson was prevented from attending the Convention by a severe attack of dysentery on the way, but his views were represented by a draft of instructions for the delegates to the General Congress, which was presented by Mr. Peyton Randolph. This paper was printed by order of the Convention, under the title of 'A Summary View of the Rights of British America. It was reprinted in England, 'interpolated by Edmund Burke,' as Mr. Jefferson writes, and secured for the author the distinction of having his name enrolled with those of Hancock, John and Samuel Adams, Peyton Randolph, and some twenty others, in a bill of attainder, as worthy of special proscription for their advocacy of the Colonial cause. The document is full of American ideas of government; and no one, on reading it in connection with the Declaration of Independence, drafted after two years more of discussion, and consolidation of thought and expression on the same themes, can doubt of their being the production of the same mind and pen, It was this Summary View,' and the Conciliatory Proposition of the House of Burgesses which he drafted, that introduced the author into the
second session of the General Congress at Philadelphia, in June, 1775, as the successor of Peyton Randolph, with the reputation of 'a happy talent of composition,' •a peculiar felicity of expression,' which at once placed him, the youngest member but one, on a footing of equality with the oldest and most distinguished members. Five days after he took his seat, he was placed on the committee to draw
up the · Address on the Causes of taking up Arms.' The Address was drawn by Mr. John Dickinson, the leader of the Conservative party, with a few paragraphs and the peroration from a first draft made by Mr. Jefferson, which was thought to be too strong and decisive for the occasion.' Acceptable as the whole Address was, those paragraphs and the peroration were the portions which found the warmest welcome in the public heart. On the 22d of July, Congress elected a Committee to consider and report on Lord North's Conciliatory Proposition and on this Committee Mr. Jefferson was placed, by the ballots of members, second only to Benjamin Franklin, and above Jobn Adams and Richard Henry Lee. He was designated by his colleagues to draft the paper, * which he did to their satisfaction, and it was adopted by Congress, July 31,—the last great measure of the session which closed the next day, August 1, 1775.
Mr. Jefferson was re-elected to the Congress of 1775–76, by the Virginia Convention, and took his seat on the 25th of September. Although absent for nearly four months of the Session (from December 18, 1775, to May, 1776), it was his privilege to be a member of the Committee, charged with the consideration of the Resolutions of the Colonial Conventions and Legislatures looking toward a separation from the mother country and a Declaration of Independence. This Committee, elected by ballot, stood in the following order :- Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston. To him was assigned the drafting of the Declaration--and of his work, Daniel Webster, in his Funeral Eulogy, remarks :
As a composition, the Declaration is Mr. Jefferson's. It is the production of lris mind, and the high honor of it belongs to him, clearly and absolutely. To say that he performed his work well, would be doing him injustice. To say that he did excellently well, admirably well, would be inadequate and halting praise. Let us rather say, that he so discharged the duty assigned him, that all Americans may well rejoice that the work of drawing the title-deed of their liberties devolved upon him.
* Mr. Jefferson's election to the exclusion of Richard Henry Lee, who moved the Resolution, was due to the fact that Mr. Lee had already been made Chairman of the Committee on Confederation, and on the day the ballot was taken, had obtained leave to absent himself on account of the dangerous illness of his wife.
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. Proceedings in the Congress of the United Colonies respecting “A Declara
tion of Independence, by the Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled.'
SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 1776. Resolved, That the resolution respecting independency (moved by the delegates from Virginia on the 7th]be referred to a committee of the whole Congress.
The Congress then resolved itself into a committee of the whole; and, after some time, the President resumed the chair, and Mr. Harrison reported, that the committee have taken into consideration the matter to them referred, but not having come to any resolution thereon, directed him to move for leave to sit again on Monday.
Resolred, That this Congress will, on Monday next, at 10 o'clock, resolve itself into a committee of the whole, to take into their farther consideration the resolutions referred to them.
MONDAY, JUNE 10, 1776. Agreeable to order, the Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole, to take into their further consideration the resolutions to them referred; and, after some time spent thereon, the President resumed the chair, and Mr. Harrison reported, that the committee have had under consideration the matters referred to them, and have come to a resolution thereon, which they directed him to report.
The resolution agreed to in committee of the whole being read,
Resolved, that the consideration of the first resolution be postponed to Monday, the first day of July next; and in the meanwhile, that no time be lost,
in case the Congress agree thereto, that a committee be appointed to prepare a Declaration to the effect of the said first resolution, which is in these words: “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
TUESDAY, JUNE 11, 1776. Resolved, That the committee for preparing the Declaration consist of five:The members chosen, Mr. Jefferson, Mr. John Adams, Mr. Franklin, Mr. Sherman, and Mr. R.'R. Livingston.' (The Declaration was drawn up by Mr. Jefferson, and, being approved by the committee, was reported by hím to the House on Friday, June 28th, when it was read and ordered to lie on the table.]
MONDAY, JULY 1, 1776. The order of the day being read,
Resolved, That this Congress will resolvo itself into a committeo of the whole, to take into consideration the resolution respecting independency.
That the Declaration be referred to said committee. The Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole. After some time the President resumed the chair, and Mr. Harrison reported that the committee had come to a resolution, which they desired him to report, and to move for leave to sit again.
The resolution agreed to by the committee of the whole being read, the determination thereof was, at the request of a colony, postponed until to-morrow.
Resolved, That this Congress will, to-morrow, resolve itself into a committee of the whole, to consider the Declaration respecting independence.
TUESDAY, JULY 2, 1776. The Congress resumed the consideration of the resolution reported from the committee of the whole, which was as follows:
Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and, of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to tie British crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
Agreeable to the order of the day, the Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole; and, after som3 time, the President resund tie clair, and Mr. Harrison reported, that the committee have had under cons deratini the Declaration to them referred; but, not having had time to go tirouri tie same, desired him to move for leave to sit again.
Resolved, That this Congress will, to-morrow, again resolve itself into a committee of the whole, to tako into their father consideration to Ducaltion respecting independence,