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Many gravely contend that there should be at least two political parties to insure the safety of our Republic that one may watch and detect the corrupt designs of the other. If this position is sound we are pre-eminently safe for we have some half dozen distinct organizations besides remnants of old ones and guerrilla squads that plunder from each. The argument would have force if the people would fix political landmarks as distinctive as those of 1800--banish demagogue leaders--revive the patriotism of '76--be guided entirely by love of country, prudence, strict justice and the fear of God which is the beginning of all wisdom. As now constituted, for one to correct the faults of the other would be like Satan rebuking sin. There are good men under the banners of each party but they have neither brass or intrigue enough to become leaders. According to modern political tactics as _practised_, a successful party leader must unite an oily tongue with a gum elastic conscience, a grain of truth with a pound of falsehood, a spark of honesty with any quantity of deception circumstances may require and be ready to sacrifice honor, integrity and friends to carry out party plans--ever pressing toward the end with the force of a locomotive regardless of the means put in requisition. Merit is not sought for by demagogues. _Available_ is the omnipotent word--the grand countersign--the magic passport to a nomination and _when_ nominated the candidate _must_ be voted for although destitute of capacity, moral virtue and every requisite of a statesman. The sad consequences are more fearfully demonstrated as time rolls onward. Dignity, decorum, common courtesy are often banished from our legislative halls. Crimination and recrimination usurp the place of sound logic--reason is dethroned, common decency outraged, the business of our country neglected, our national character disgraced--all because the people do not rise in their majesty and do their duty. We have an abundance of men in the back ground as pure as the patriots of '76. Let them be brought forward and put to work. The few of this kind who are in the public arena cannot long stem and never roll back the mighty torrent of political corruption now sweeping over this land of boasted freedom. To render our UNION safe our political leaders and public functionaries must be men who are influenced alone by an ardent desire to promote the general good of our whole country--aiming at holy ends to be accomplished by righteous means. Such were the sages of the American Revolution.

The patriarch Stephen Hopkins stood among them in all the dignity of an honest man. He was born at Scituate, Rhode Island, on the 7th of March 1707. He was the son of William Hopkins a thorough farmer whose father, Thomas Hopkins, was one of the pioneers of that province. The school advantages of Stephen were limited to the elementary branches of an English education, then very superficially taught. By the force of his own exertions he perfected this embryo basis and reared upon it a magnificent superstructure. He spent all his leisure hours in exploring the fields of science. At his majority he was a farmer in easy circumstances and devoted a portion of the day and his quiet evenings to the acquisition of useful knowledge. No profession not literary affords so much facility for mental improvement as that of agriculture. Independent tillers of the soil--if you are not intelligent the fault is your own. The time was when ignorance was winked at. That dark age has passed away. Now common sense and reason command all to drink at the scholastic fountain.

Mr. Hopkins acquired a thorough knowledge of mathematics at an early age and became an expert surveyor. At the age of nineteen he was placed in the ranks of men by marrying Sarah Scott whose paternal great grandfather was the first Quaker who settled in Providence. She died the mother of seven children. In 1755 he married the widow Anna Smith a pious member of the Society of Friends. In 1731 he was appointed Town Clerk and Clerk of the Court and Proprietaries of the county. The next year he was elected to the General Assembly where he continued for six consecutive years. In 1735 he was elected to the Town Council and for six years was President of that body. In 1736 he was appointed a Justice of the Peace and a Judge of the Common Pleas Court. In 1739 he was elevated to the seat of Chief Justice of that branch of the judiciary. During the intervals of these public duties he spent much of his time in surveying. He regulated the streets of his native town and those of Providence and made a projected map of each. He was the Proprietary surveyor for the county of Providence and prepared a laborious index of returns of all land west of the seven mile line, which still continues to be a document of useful reference. Beauty and precision marked all his draughts and calculations.

In 1741 he was again elected to the assembly. The next year he removed to Providence where he was elected to the same body and became Speaker of the House. In 1744 he filled the same station and was appointed a Justice of the Peace for that town. In 1751 he was appointed Chief Justice of the Superior Court and for the fourteenth time elected to the assembly. In 1754 he was a delegate to the Colonial Congress held at Albany, N. Y. for the purpose of effecting a treaty with the Five Nations of Indians in order to gain their aid or neutrality in the French war. A system of union was then and there drawn up by the delegates similar to the Articles of Confederation that governed the Continental Congress which was vetoed by England.

In 1755 the Earl of Loudoun in command of the English forces made a requisition for troops upon several colonies and on Rhode Island for four hundred and fifty men to check the triumphant career of the French and Indians then devastating the frontier settlements. Mr. Hopkins rendered efficient aid in this service and had the pleasure of seeing the complement promptly made up. In 1756 he was elected Chief Magistrate of the colony and was found fully competent to perform the duties of the office. In 1757 the loss of Fort William Henry and the sad reverses of the English army made it necessary that the colonies should raise an efficient force for self-protection. A company of volunteers was raised in Providence composed of the first gentlemen of the town and Mr. Hopkins put in command over it. The timely arrival of troops from England deprived them of their anticipated epic laurels. The next year this useful man was again elected Chief Magistrate and served seven of the eleven following years.

In 1767 party spirit was rolling its mountain waves over Rhode Island so fearfully that it threatened the prostration of social order and civil law. Anxious for the welfare of the colony this patriotic Roman put forth his noblest efforts to check its bold career. In his message to the Assembly he expressed his deep solicitude for the restoration of harmony and proposed retiring at once from the public service if it would contribute in the slightest degree to heal the political breach. To prove his sincerity he shortly after left the public arena contrary to the wishes of his friends. His picture of that era so much resembles the political map of our country at the present time that an extract may be excused.

"When we draw aside the veil of words and professions--when we attend to what is _done_ and what is _said_--we shall find that Liberty is a cant term of faction and freedom of speaking and acting, used only to serve the private interests of a party. What else can be the cause of our unhappy disputes? What other reason for the continual struggle for superiority and office? What other motive for the flood of calumny and reproach cast upon each other? Behold the leading men meeting in cabals [caucusses] and from thence dispersing themselves to the several quarters to delude the people. The people are called together in tippling houses, their business neglected, their morals corrupted, themselves deluded--some promised offices for which they are unfit and those with whom these arts will not prevail are tempted with the wages of unrighteousness and are offered a bribe to falsify their oath and betray their country. By these scandalous practices elections are carried and officers appointed. It makes little difference whether the officer who obtains his place in this manner is otherwise a good man--put in by a _party_ he must do what _they_ order without being permitted to examine the rectitude even of his _own_ actions. The unhappy malady runs through the whole body politic. Men in authority are not revered and lose all power to do good. The courts of judicature catch the infection and the sacred balance of justice does not hang even. All complain of the present administration and hard times and wish they might grow better. But complaints are weak, wishes are idle, cries are vain--even _prayers_ will be ineffectual if we do not universally amend."

This catalogue of evils is followed by a strain of paternal advice that should come home to the reader like a voice from the tomb.

"My countrymen permit me to remind you of the blood, the suffering, the hardships and labors of our ancestors in purchasing the Liberty and privileges we might peaceably enjoy. How can you answer it to fame, to honor, to honesty, to posterity if you do not possess these inestimable blessings with grateful hearts, with purity of morals and transmit them with safety to the next generation. Nothing is desired but that every man in community act up to the dignity of his own proper character. Let every freeman carefully consider the particular duty allotted to him as such by the constitution. Let him give his suffrage with candor for the person he sincerely thinks _best_ qualified. Let him shun the man who would persuade him _how_ to vote. Let him despise the man who offers him an office and spurn the sordid wretch who would give him a bribe. Let him think it his duty to give his vote according to his conscience and not depend on others to do his duty for him. * * * * Officers and magistrates I would humbly entreat to consider that your turn has come to serve the _commonwealth_ and not yourselves. Your own discreet and exemplary behavior is your best authority to do good. It is vain to command others to practice what we ourselves omit or to abstain from what they see us do. When moderation and example are insufficient to suppress vice, power ought to be used even to its utmost severity if necessary and above all--that in all cases and under all circumstances--_justice should be equally, impartially and expeditiously administered_."

This plain lucid exposition of the duties of freemen merits the highest consideration of every private citizen and public officer. It is the inspired effusion of a clear head, a good heart and a noble soul. In language of sublime simplicity it exhibits laconically the only sure foundation of a republican government. It strikes at the very root of alarming evils that are now hanging over our beloved country like an incubus. It is plain truth plainly told and should be strongly felt and implicitly obeyed by all who desire the perpetuity of our glorious UNION.

In June 1769 Mr. Hopkins was called to aid in taking observations upon the transit of Venus over the disk of the sun. So highly were his services prized on that occasion that the pamphlet published on the subject was dedicated to him. This rare phenomenon occurred in 1739--61--69 and will occur again in 1874 and 1996 if the planetary system continues its usual revolutions--of which no man knoweth--not even the angels in Heaven.

Previous to the American Revolution Governor Hopkins had incurred the displeasure of the British ministry by licensing vessels from his province to trade with the French and Spanish Colonies. In this he did not violate the constitution or any law of England. He continued to grant the privilege regardless of the authority illegally assumed by Great Britain to direct the local concerns of the Colony. He had long been convinced that the mother country cared more for the _fleece_ than the _flock_ she claimed in America which had been often left to contend alone against a merciless foe. With such convictions on his mind, a republican to the core and valuing liberty above life--he was prepared to resist the first scintillations of the unconstitutional claims made by corrupt and corrupting ministers. When the Stamp Act was passed his voice and pen were arrayed against it. He showed clearly that this and other Acts of parliament had no foundation in justice and were in violation of the British constitution.

In 1772 the mountain waves of local party spirit having subsided in Rhode Island and its effervescence calmed by the absorbing question of British oppression Mr. Hopkins again took his seat in the Assembly and was continued for three years. In 1774 this patriarch statesman was elected to the Continental Congress and entered with a calm determined zeal upon the responsible duties of that august Convention. The same year he proposed and obtained the passage of a bill prohibiting the slave trade in his Colony which greatly incensed the crown officers. To show that he strongly felt what he earnestly advocated--he emancipated all his negroes--the descendants of whom still reside in Providence. He had incorporated their freedom in his will dated some time previous.

In 1775 he was appointed Chief Justice of his Colony--was a member of her Assembly and member of Congress. The ensuing year he was one of the immortalized band of patriots by whose exertions a nation was born in a day and who signed and delivered the certificate of legitimacy to their grateful constituency. The same year he was President of the board of commissioners of the New England States who convened at Providence to devise plans for the promotion of the glorious cause of freedom. The next year he presided over a similar board at Springfield, Mass. In 1778 he was a member of Congress for the last time. The next year he closed his long, useful and arduous public career in the Assembly of his native state and retired crowned with the rich foliage of unfading honors--the growth of near half a century. The pure escutcheon of his public fame and private worth was without a spot to obscure its brilliant lustre. As a municipal officer, judge on the bench, legislator, Chief Magistrate of the Colony and member of the Continental Congress--he discharged his duties faithfully, honestly and ably--with an eye single to the glory of his country.

As a public speaker Mr. Hopkins made no pretensions to elocution but was ever listened to with profound attention. His reasoning was strong--always to the point and his speeches short. His was a vigorous, clear, inquiring, analyzing mind, that surmounted every barrier with the same fortitude, energy and determined resolution that carried Bonaparte over the Alps, Roger Sherman to the pinnacle of fame, Franklin to the summit of science. He was a laborious and extensive leader and a friend to education. He was the principal founder of the Providence library in 1750 and when it was destroyed by fire in 1760--contributed largely towards the purchase of a new supply of books. He was the father of the free school system still in successful operation in Rhode Island. He was a friend to unshackled religion--breathing charity for all whose deportment gave them the impress of divine grace--the only genuine touchstone of true piety. He admired most the creed of the Society of Friends who frequently held meetings at his house. All gospel ministers were made welcome to his hospitable mansion which many called the ministers tavern. He was plain in everything and deprecated pomp and vain show in others.

In addition to his multifarious public duties he was extensively engaged in agriculture, manufactures and commerce. He was a systematic and thorough business man--scrupulously honest, honorable and liberal. He never became wealthy but enjoyed a competence through life. He was repeatedly placed in the crucible of domestic affliction. Of the seven children by his first wife not one survived him. One son was murdered by the Indians, another died in Spain--the youngest, who was the fourth sea captain of the brothers, was presumed to have been lost at sea as his vessel was never heard from after leaving the port of Providence.

The eventful career of patriarch Hopkins was closed on the 13th of July 1785 after enduring the course of a lingering fever with the same calm fortitude that had marked his whole life. He had lived respected and esteemed--he died peaceful and happy. To the last moments of his life he retained full possession of his mental powers and approached the confines of eternity with a seraphic smile that augured heaven. He had long labored under physical infirmities of a nervous nature. For many years it had been difficult for him to write his name in consequence of an attack of paralysis. His ashes rest peacefully in the city of Providence in his native state. His death produced a mournful sensation over the whole country.

In the relations of husband, father, kinsman, friend, gentleman, citizen, benefactor, philanthropist, neighbor and Christian--this public spirited man and pure patriot was a model of human excellence. By the force of his own exertions be made himself one of the most useful men on record in our history. Let us all imitate his bright examples that we may do our duty in life, be triumphant in death and happy through the rolling ages of eternity.

Source: Sages and Heroes of the American Revolution, by L. Carroll Judson: Copyright, 1854 Available for download at the Project Gutenberg website.