Genuine moral courage is a sterling virtue--the motive power of the true dignity of man. It invigorates the mind like a refreshing dew falling gently on the flowers of spring. It is a heavenly spark--animating the immortal soul with the fire of purity that illuminates the path of rectitude. It is an attribute that opposes all wrong and propels its possessor right onward to the performance of all right.
Based on virtue and equity, it spurns vice in all its borrowed and delusive forms. It courts no servile favors--fears no earthly scrutiny. No flattery can seduce it--no eclat allure--no bribe purchase--no tyrant awe--no misfortune bend--no intrigue corrupt--no adversity crush--no tortures can subdue it. On its breastplate is inscribed in bold relievo--_Fiat justitia--ruat calum_. [Let justice be done though the heavens fall.] Without it, fame is ephemeral--renown transient. It is the saline basis of a good name that gives enduring richness to its memory. It is a pillar of light to revolving thought--the polar star that points to duty, secures merit and leads to victory. It is the soul of reason--the essence of wisdom--the crowning glory of mental power. It was this that nerved the leaders of the American Revolution to noble and god-like action.
In the front rank of this band of patriots stood Thomas Jefferson, who was born at Shadwell, Albemarle County, Virginia, on the 24th of April 1743. His ancestors were among the early pioneers of the Old Dominion and highly respectable. They were Republicans to the core--in affluent circumstances and exercised an extensive and happy influence.
Thomas was the son of Peter Jefferson, a man much esteemed in public and private life. The liberal feelings imbibed from him by this son were conspicuous at an early age. From his childhood the mind of Thomas Jefferson assumed a high elevation took a broad and expansive view of men and things.
He was educated at the college of William and Mary and was always found at the head of his class. Untiring industry in the exploration of the fields of science marked his collegiate career. He analyzed every subject he investigated, passing through the opening avenues of literature with astonishing celerity. His mind became enraptured with the history of classic Greece and republican Rome. Improving upon the suggestions of liberal principles found in the classics, he early matured his political creed and opposed every kind of government tinctured with the shadow of monarchy, hierarchy or aristocracy.
After completing his collegiate course he commenced the study of law under Chancellor Wythe, whose liberal views were calculated to mature and strengthen those already preponderating in the mind of Jefferson. With regard to the oppressions of the mother country--the justice and necessity of resistance by the Colonies, their kindred hearts beat in unison. By a thorough investigation of the principles of law and government, Jefferson became rapidly prepared to enter upon the great theatre of public life--the service of his injured country. Planting himself upon the broad basis of Magna Charta--encircling himself within the pale of the British Constitution--he demonstrated most clearly that the ministry of the crown had long been rapidly advancing beyond the bounds of their legitimate authority--exercising a tyranny over the Colonies not delegated to them by the constitution of the monarchy they represented. So luminous were his expositions of chartered rights on the one hand and accumulating wrongs on the other, that he became the nucleus of a band of patriots resolved on LIBERTY OR DEATH.
At the age of twenty-two he was elected to the legislature which enabled him to disseminate his liberal principles throughout the Colony. He proclaimed himself the unyielding advocate of equal rights and had engraved upon his watch seal--"Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God." By his eloquence and unanswerable arguments he kindled the flame of opposition in old Virginia which increased as tyranny advanced. In 1769 a resolution was passed by the legislature--_not to import a single article from Great Britain_. In the advocacy of this proposition by Mr. Jefferson, the adherents of the crown were astonished at the boldness and firmness with which he exposed and laid bare the venal corruption of the British cabinet. It gave a fresh impetus to the cause of Liberty just bursting into life.
With ample pecuniary means--with talents equal to the work he had undertaken, his soul illuminated with the fire of patriotism--his indignation roused against the hirelings of the king--his sympathies excited by the sufferings of his country--his moral courage raised to the zenith of its glory--Mr. Jefferson was amply armed for the conflict and became one of the master spirits of the Revolution--a gigantic champion of universal freedom--a pillar of fire, flashing terror and dismay into the ranks of the foe.
He wrote "A Summary View of the Rights of British America"--addressed it to the king respectfully but very plainly pointed to the true position of the two countries and the final result of the policy of ministers. The following is an extract. "Open your breast, sire, to liberal and expanded thought. It behooves you to think and act for your people. The great principles of right and wrong are legible to every reader. To perceive them needs not the aid of many counsellors. The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest." The art of being _honest_ in matters of government is a knotty problem for some modern politicians to solve. Were they all _honest_ a political millennium would illuminate our country--bring us back to primitive _tangible_ landmarks and unmask multitudes of political wolves cunningly dressed in sheep's clothing.
So exasperated was Lord Dunmore on perusing this article from the pen of Jefferson that he threatened to arrest him for high treason. Finding most of the members of the legislature, then in session, quite as treasonable in their views he at once dissolved that body.
The following year the British ministry, in answer to petitions for redress of grievances, sent to the legislature of the Old Dominion a series of propositions that _they_ termed conciliatory but which added insult to injury. Their fallacy was exposed by Mr. Jefferson in such a masterly strain of eloquent burning logic and sarcasm, that conviction was carried to a large majority of his colleagues. They were referred to a committee which reported an answer written by him and was very similar to the Declaration of Independence. This reply was immediately adopted. The ball of resistance was put in motion--the electric fluid of patriotism commenced its insulating powers in the north and south--extending from sire to son, from heart to heart, until the two streams of fire met in the centre--then rising in grandeur, formed the luminous arch of Freedom--its chord extending from Maine to Georgia--its versed sine resting on the city Penn.
Under its zenith at Philadelphia, Mr. Jefferson took his seat in the Continental Congress on the 21st of June 1775. Although one of the youngest members of that venerated assembly of patriotic sages, he was hailed as one of its main pillars. Known as a man of superior intelligence, liberal sentiments, strict integrity, stern republicanism and unbending patriotism--his influence was strongly felt and judiciously exercised.
From the beginning he advocated a separation from the mother country and ably met every objection urged against it. In his view, oppression, not recognised by Magna Charta, had dissolved all allegiance to the crown--that the original contract had been cancelled on the heights of Lexington by American blood. Submission was no longer a virtue--the measure of wrongs had been overflowing for years--public sentiment demanded the sundering of the Gordian knot--a voice from Heaven proclaimed in tones of thunder--"_Let my people go_."