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Robert Treat Paine
Of the congress of l776, Mr. Paine was also a member; and to the Declaration of Independence, which that body published to the world, he gave his vote, and affixed his name. In the December following, the situation of Congress be came justly alarming. The British army were, at this time, making rapid advances through New-Jersey, towards Philadelphia. The troops of Washington, amounting to scarcely one third of the British force, it was thought would not be able to resist their progress, or prevent their taking possession of Philadelphia. During the alarm excited by an approaching foe, Congress adjourned to Baltimore. Of the state of Congress, at this time, the following letter of Mr. Paine gives an interesting account.
"Our public affairs have been exceedingly agitated since I wrote you last. The loss of fort Washington made way for that of fort Lee; and the dissolution of our army happening at the same time, threw us into a most disagreeable situation. The interception of an express gave the enemy full assurance of what they must have had some knowledge of before, the state of our army; and they took the advantage of it. In two days after the possession of fort Lee, on the 9th of November, where we lost much baggage, and the chief of our battering cannon, then marched to the Hackensack, and thence to Newark, driving General Washington before them, with his 3000 men thence to Elizabethtown. General Washington supposed, from the best information he could get, that they were 10,000 strong; marching with a large body of horse in front, and a very large train of artillery. We began to be apprehensive they were intended for Philadelphia; and Congress sat all Sunday in determining proper measures on the occasion. I cannot describe to you the situation of this city. The prospect was really alarming. Monday, 9th; yesterday, General Washington crossed the Delaware, and the enemy arrived at Trenton on this side, thirty miles from this place; close quarters for Congress! It obliges us to move; we have resolved to go to Baltimore."
For the years 1777 and 1778, Mr. Paine was a member of Congress, during the intervals of whose sessions, he filled several important offices in the state of Massachusetts. In 1780, he was called to take a part in the deliberations of the convention, which met for the purpose of forming a constitution for the commonwealth. Of the committee which framed that excellent instrument, he was a conspicuous member. Under the government organized according to this constitution, he was appointed attorney general, an office which he continued to hold until 1790, when he was transferred to a seat on the bench of the supreme judicial court. In this situation he remained till the year 1804, at which time he had attained to the advanced age of 73 years. As a lawyer, Mr. Paine ranked high among his professional brethren. His legal attainments were extensive. In the discharge of his duties as attorney general, he had the reputation of unnecessary severity; but fidelity in that station generally provokes the censure of the lawless and licentious. Towards the abandoned and incorrigible he was indeed severe, and was willing that the law in all its penalties should be visited upon them. But where crime was followed by repentance, he could be moved to tenderness; and while, in the discharge of his official duty, he took care that the law should not fall into disrespect through his inefficiency, he at the same time was ever ready to recommend such as might deserve it to executive clemency.
Designed and Edited by John Vinci