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promise themselves was, that, having cast forth the seed of liberty; having shielded its tender germe from the stern blasts that beat upon it; having watered it with the tears of waiting eyes, and the blood of brave hearts; their children might gather the fruit of its branches, while those who planted it should moulder in peace beneath its shade.
Nor was it only in this, that we discern their disinterestedness, their heroic forgetfulness of self. Not only was the independence, for which they struggled, a great and arduous adventure, of which they were to encounter the risk, and others to enjoy the benefits; but the oppressions, which roused them, had assumed, in their day, no worse form than that of a pernicious principle. No intolerable acts of oppression had ground them to the dust. They were not slaves, rising in desperation from beneath the agonies of the lash; but free men, snuffing from afar “ the tainted gale of tyranny.” The worst encroachments, on which the British ministry had ventured, might have been borne, consistently with the practical enjoyment of many of the advantages resulting from good government. On the score of calculation alone, that generation had much better have paid the duties on glass, painter's colors, stamped paper, and tea, than have plunged into the expenses of the Revolutionary
But they thought not of shuffling off upon posterity the burden of resistance. They well understood the part, which Providence had assigned to them. They perceived that they were called to discharge a high and perilous office to the cause of Freedom; that their hands were elected to strike the blow, for which near two centuries of preparation-never remitted, though often unconscious-had been
making, on one side or the other, of the Atlantic. They felt that the colonies had now reached that stage in their growth, when the difficult problen of colonial government must be solved; difficult, I call it, for such it is, to the statesman, whose mind is not sufficiently enlarged for the idea, that a wise colonial government must
naturally and rightfully end in independence; that even a mild and prudent sway, on the part of the mother country, furnishes no reason for not severing the bands of the colonial subjection; and that when the rising state has passed the period of adolescence, the only alternative which remains, is that of a peaceable separation, or a convulsive rupture.
The British ministry, at that time weaker than it had ever been since the infatuated reign of James II. had no knowledge of political science, but that which they derived from the text of official records. They drew their maxims, as it was happily said of one of them, that he did his measures, from the file. They heard that a distant province had resisted the execution of an act of parliament. Indeed, and what is the specific, in cases of resistance ?-a military force;and two more regiments are ordered to Boston. Again they hear, that the General Court of Massachusetts Bay has taken counsels subversive of the allegiance due to the crown. A case of a refractory corporation ;-what is to be done? First try a mandamus ; and if that fails, seize the franchises into his Majesty's hands. They never asked the great questions, whether nations, like man, have not their principles of growth; whether Providence has assigned no laws to regulate the changes in the condition of that most astonishing of human things, a nation of kindred men. They did not inquire, I will not say whether it were rightful and expedient, but whether it were practicable, to give law across the Atlantic, to a people who possessed within themselves every imaginable element of self-government;-a people rocked in the cradle of liberty, brought up to hardship, inheriting nothing but their rights on earth, and their hopes in heaven.
But though the rulers of Britain appear not to have caught a glimpse of the great principles involved in these questions, our fathers had asked and answered them. They perceived, with the rapidity of intuition, that the hour of separation had come; because a principle was assumed by the British government, which put an instantaneous check to the further growth of liberty. Either the race of civilized man happily planted on our shores, at first slowly and painfully reared, but at length auspiciously multiplying in America, is destined never to constitute a free and independent state; or these measures must be resisted, which go to bind it in a mild but abject colonial vassalage. Either the hope must be forever abandoned, the hope that had been brightening and kindling toward assurance, like the glowing skies of the morning,—the hope that a new centre of civilization was to be planted on the new continent, at which the social and political institutions of the world may be brought to the standard of reason and truth, after thousands of years of degeneracy,—either this hope must be abandoned, and forever, or the battle was now to be fought, first in the political assemblies, and then, if need be, in the field.
In the halls of legislation, scarcely can it be said that the battle was fought. A spectacle indeed seemed to be promised to the civilized world, of breathless interest and uncalculated consequence. placed,” said the provincial Congress of Massachusetts, in their address to the inhabitants, of December 4th, 1774, an address promulgated at the close of a session held in this very house, where we are now convened, “ You are placed by Providence in a post of honor, because it is a post of danger ; and while struggling for the noblest objects, the liberties of our country, the happiness of posterity, and the rights of human nature, the eyes, not only of North America and the whole British empire, but of all Europe, are
A mighty question of political right was at issue, between the two hemispheres. Europe and America, in the face of mankind, are going to plead the great cause, on which the fate of popular government forever is suspended. One circumstance, and
66 You are
* Massachusetts State Papers, p. 416.
one alone exists, to diminish the interest of the contention—the perilous inequality of the parties—an inequality far exceeding that, which gives animation to a contest; and so great as to destroy the hope of an ably waged encounter.
On the one side, were arrayed the two houses of the British parliament, the modern school of political eloquence, the arena where great minds had for a century and a half strenuously wrestled themselves into strength and power, and in better days the common and upright chancery of an empire, on which the sun never set. Upon the other
. side, rose up the colonial assemblies of Massachusetts and Virginia, and the continental congress of Philadelphia, composed of men whose training had been within a small provincial circuit; who had never before felt the inspiration, which the consciousness of a station before the world imparts; who brought no power into the contest but that which they drew from their cause and their bosoms. It is by champions like these, that the great principles of representative government, of chartered rights, and constitutional liberty, are to be discussed; and surely never, in the annals of national controversy, was exhibited a triumph so complete of the seemingly weaker party, a rout so disastrous of the stronger. Often as it has been repeated, it will bear another repetition; it never ought to be omitted in the history of constitutional liberty; it ought especially to be repeated this day;—the various addresses, petitions, and appeals, the correspondence, the resolutions, the legislative and popular debates, from 1764, to the declaration of independence, present a maturity of political wisdom, a strength of argument, a gravity of style, a manly eloquence, and a moral courage, of which unquestionably the modern world affords no other example. This meed of praise, substantially accorded at the time by Chatham, in the British parliament, may well be repeated by us.
For most of the venerated men to whom it is paid, it is but a pious tribute to departed worth. The Lees and the llenrys, Otis, Quincv, Warren, and Samuel Adams, the men who spoke those words of thrilling power, which raised and ruled the storm of resistance, and rang like the voice of fate across the Atlantic, are beyond the reach of our praise. To most of them it was granted to witness some of the fruits of their labors; such fruit as revolutions do not often bear. Others departed at an untimely hour, or nobly fell in the onset; too soon for their country, too soon for liberty, too soon for every thing but their own undying fame. But all are not gone; some still survive among us; the favored, enviable men, to hail the jubilee of the independence they declared. Go back, fellow citizens, to that day, when Jefferson and Adams composed the sub-committee, who reported the Declaration of Independence. Think of the mingled sensations of that proud but anxious day, compared to the joy of this. What honor, what crown, what treasure, could the world and all its kingdoms afford, compared with the honor and happiness of having been united in that commission, and living to see its most wavering hopes turned into glorious reality. Venerable men! you have outlived the dark days, which followed your more than heroic deed; you have outlived your own strenuous contention, who should stand first among the people, whose liberty you vindicated. You have lived to bear to each other the respect, which the nation bears to you both; and each has been so happy as to exchange the honorable name of the leader of a party, for that more honorable one, the Father of his Country. While this our tribute of respect, on the jubilee of our independence, is paid to the gray hairs of the venerable survivor in our neighborhood; let it not less heartily be sped to him, whose hand traced the lines of that sacred charter, which, to the end of time, has made this day illustrious. And is an empty profession of respect all that we owe to the man, who can show the original draught of the Declaration of the Independence of the United States of America, in his own handwriting ? Ought not a title-deed like this to become the acquisition of the nation ?