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Thomas Jefferson


The talents of Mr. Jefferson, which were early well known, permitted him not long to remain in a private station, or to pursue the ordinary routine of his profession. A career of more extensive usefulness, and objects of greater importance, were now presented to him. His country demanded his services; and at the early age of twenty-five, that is, in the year 1769, he entered the house of burgesses in Virginia, and then first inscribed his name as a champion of his country's rights.

At a former period, the attachment of the American colonies to England was like that of an affectionate child towards a venerable parent. In Virginia, this attachment was unusually strong. Various circumstances combined to render it so. Many of the families of that province were allied to distinguished families in England, and the sons of the former sought their education in the universities of the mother country; It was not singular, therefore, that a strong affection should exist, on the part of this colony, for the people in England, nor that the people of the colonies generally should have come to the severance of these ties with peculiar reluctance. Resistance, however, was at length forced upon them, by the rash course pursued by the British ministry. The rights of the colonies were invaded; their choicest privileges were taken away, and loudly were the patriots of America called upon, by the sufferings of the country, to awake to a strong and effectual resistance. At this time, Mr. Jefferson commenced his political career, and has himself given us, in few words, an outline of the reasons which powerfully impelled him to enter the lists, with other American patriots, against the parent country.

"The colonies," says he, "were taxed internally and externally; their essential interests sacrificed to individuals in Great Britain; their legislatures suspended; charters annulled; trials by jurors taken away; their persons subjected to transportation across the Atlantic, and to trial by foreign judicatories; their supplications for redress thought beneath answer, themselves published as cowards in the councils of their mother country, and courts of Europe; armed troops sent amongst them, to enforce submission to these violences; and actual hostilities commenced against them. No alternative was presented, but resistance or unconditional submision. Between these there could be no hesitation. They closed in the appeal to arms."

In the year 1773, Mr. Jefferson became a member of the first committee of correspondence, established by the provincial assemblies. We have already noticed the claim which Virginia and Massachusetts have respectively urged, to the honor of having first suggested this important measure in the revolution. Both, probably, in respect to this, are entitled to equal credit; but to whomsoever the honor belongs, that honor is, indeed, great, since this measure, more than most others, contributed to that union of action and sentiment, which characterized the proceedings of the several colonies, and which was the foundation of their final triumph over an ancient and powerful kingdom.

In 1774, Mr. Jefferson published a "Summary View of the Rights of British America," a valuable production among those intended to show the dangers which threatened the liberties of the country, and to encourage the people in their defense. This pamphlet was addressed to the king, whom, in language respectful but bold, it reminded that America was settled by British freemen, whose rights had been violated, upon whom the hand of tyranny was thus heavily lying, and from the sufferings which they were experiencing, they must be, and they would be, free.

The bold and independent language of this pamphlet gave great umbrage to Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of the province. Mr. Jefferson, on avowing himself the author of the pamphlet, was threatened with a prosecution for high treason by the governor; a threat, which he probably would have carried into effect, could he have hoped that the vindictive measure would succeed.

In the following year, 1775, Mr. Jefferson was selected by the Virginia legislature to answer Lord North's famous "Conciliatory proposition," called, in the language of the day, his "Olive branch ;" but it was an olive branch that concealed a serpent; or, as the former President Adams observed, "it was an asp, in a basket of flowers." The task assigned him, was performed by Mr. Jefferson in a manner the most happy and satisfactory. The reply was cool and calm and close--marked with uncommon energy and keen sagacity. The document may be found in most of the histories of that period, and is manifestly one of the most nervous and manly productions of that day. It concluded with the following strong and independent language:

"These, my lord, are our sentiments, on this important subject, which we offer only as an individual part of the whole empire. Final determination we leave to the general congress, now sitting, before whom we shall lay the papers your lordship has communicated to us. 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 deigned to answer us; we have appealed to the native honour and justice of the British nation—their efforts in our favour have hitherto been ineffectual. What then remains to be done? That we commit our injuries to the even handed justice of that Being, who doth no wrong, earnestly beseeching Him to illuminate the councils, and prosper the endeavours of those to whom America hath confided her hopes; that through their wise directions, we may again see reunited the blessings of liberty, prosperity, and harmony with Great Britain."

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Last modified January 2, 2004