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holder in the house. It is a remarkable evidence of his foresight, his moral courage, and the love of liberty which then inspired him, that he introduced a bill empowering slaveholders to manumit their slaves if they wished to do so. Slavery caught the alarm. The proposition was rejected by an overwhelming vote.
In 1770, Mr. Jefferson's house at Shadwell was burned to the ground; and his valuable library, consisting of two thousand volumes, disappeared in the flames. He was absent from home at the time. A slave came to him with the appalling news. "But were none of my books saved?" exclaimed Mr. Jefferson. "None," was the reply; and then the face of the music-loving negro grew radiant as he added, "But, massa, we saved the fiddle." In afteryears, when the grief of the irreparable loss was somewhat assuaged, Mr. Jefferson was in the habit of relating this anecdote with much glee.
He had inherited an estate of nearly two thousand acres of land, which he soon increased to five thousand acres. His income from this land, tilled by about fifty slaves, and from his practice at the bar, amounted to five thousand dollars a year, sum in those times.
In 1772, he married Mrs. Martha Skelton, a very beautiful, wealthy, and highly accomplished young widow. She brought to him, as her munificent dowry, forty thousand acres of land, and one hundred and thirty-five slaves. He thus became one of the largest slaveholders in Virginia: and yet he labored with all his energies for the abolition of slavery; declaring the institution to be a curse to the master, a curse to the slave, and an offence in the sight of God.
Upon Mr. Jefferson's large estate at Shadwell, there was a majestic swell of land, called Monticello, which commanded a prospect of wonderful extent and beauty. This spot Mr. Jefferson selected for his new home; and here he reared a mansion of modest yet elegant architecture, which, next to Mount Vernon, became the most distinguished resort in our land. His wedding, which took place at the house of John Wayles, the father of the bride, who resided at a seat called "The Forest," in Charles-city County, was celebrated with much splendor. It was a long ride in their carriage, along the Valley of the James, to their secluded home among the mountains of Albemarle County. It was the month of January. As they drew near the hills, the ground was whitened
with snow, which increased in depth as they advanced, until, when in the evening they were entering the mountains, they found the road so obstructed, that they were compelled to leave their carriage at a dilapidated house, and mount their horses. It was a cold winter's night. The snow was two feet deep along the mountain-track which they were now threading. Late at night, shivering and weary, they reached the summit of the hill, nearly six hundred feet above the level of the stream at its base.
Here a gloomy reception awaited them. There were no lights in the house: all the fires were out. The slaves were soundly asleep in their cabins. But youth and prosperity and love could convert this "horrible dreariness" into an occasion of mirth and fun and laughter.
With his large estates, and his re of servants, Mr. Jeffer son could afford to indulge in the luxury of magnificent horses. He usually kept half a dozen high-blooded brood-mares. He was very particular about his saddle-horse. It is said that, when quite a young man, if there was a spot on the horse, when led out, which would soil a linen handkerchief, the groom was sure of a severe reprimand.
There was, about this time, a British vessel, "The Gaspee," stationed in Narragansett Bay to enforce the revenue-laws. The insolence of its officers had led, in June, 1772, to its being decoyed aground, and burned. The British Government retaliated by passing a law that the wilful destruction of the least thing belonging to the navy should be punishable with death. At the same time, a court of inquiry was sent over to try those implicated in the "Gaspee" affair, or to send them to England for trial should they choose to do so.
Some very spirited resolutions were immediately drawn up by Thomas Jefferson, appointing a standing committee to obtain the carliest intelligence of all proceedings in England with regard to the colonies, and by communicating this knowledge, in correspondence with the sister colonies, to prepare for united action in opposing any infringement of colonial rights. This was the intent of the resolutions. They were so skilfully worded, that even the moderate party could not refuse to vote for them. But the then governor, the Earl of Dunmore, manifested his displeasure by immediately dissolving the house. The committee, however, met the next day, sent a copy of the resolutions to the other colonies,
and requested them to appoint a committee to correspond with the Virginia committee. Though Massachusetts had two years before made a similar movement, for some unexplained reason the measure did not go into action; and Jefferson is justly entitled to the honor of having put into operation the "Committees of Correspondence," which afterwards became so potent in resisting the encroachments of the British crown.
When the British cabinet, in 1774, enacted the Boston Port Bill, shutting up the harbor, and thus dooming Boston to ruin, Mr. Jefferson and a few of his associates met, and, as a measure to rouse the people of all the colonies to sympathetic action with Massachusetts, drew up some resolutions, appointing a day of fasting and prayer "t implore Heaven to avert from us the evil of civil war, to inspire u ch firmness in support of our rights, and to turn the hearts of the king and parliament to moderation and justice." Mr. Nichols, a man of grave and religious character, moved the resolutions; and they were adopted without opposition. The governor was so irritated, that he dissolved the house, declaring that the measure "was a high reflection upon his Majesty and the Parliament of Great Britain."
The members of the Colonial Court, after the dissolution, met in association, received into their number several clergymen and private citizens, denounced the course of England, declared it unpatriotic to purchase any of the articles which she had taxed, avowed that they considered an attack on one colony an attack on all, and recommended a General Annual Congress. This was in the spring of 1774. Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and the two Lees, were the active agents in this important movement. The clergy entered into the measures with earnest patriotism. The day of prayer was almost universally observed with appropriate discourses. Mr. Jefferson writes, "The effect of the day through the whole colony was like a shock of electricity, arousing every man, and placing him erect and solidly on his centre."
Mr. Jefferson was now very thoroughly aroused; and he was busy with voice and pen in the assertion, that the American colonies had a right to govern themselves through their own legislatures. He wrote a pamphlet entitled "A Summary View of the Rights of British America." It attracted so much attention, that it was published in several editions in England. The British had now unsheathed the sword at Lexington, and Jefferson was in
favor of decisive measures.
His pen was ever active, and every
line that came from it was marked with power.
At the meeting of the second convention of Virginia, in March, 1775, the resolution was adopted, earnestly advocated by Jefferson, to put the colony into a state of defence by embodying, arming, and disciplining a sufficient number of men. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were on the committee to carry these resolutions into effect.
On the 11th of June, 1775, Mr. Jefferson left Williamsburg to take his seat in the Colonial Congress at Philadelphia. He travelled in a phaeton, leading two spare horses; and was ten days in making a journey which can now be accomplished in as many hours. The roads were so intricate and unfrequented, that, at times, he had to hire guides. Congress had been in session six weeks when he arrived; and he was the youngest member in the body but one. His reputation as a writer had preceded him; and he immediately took a conspicuous stand, though he seldom spoke. John Adams, in his autobiography, alluding to the favorable impression which Mr. Jefferson made, writes,
"Though a silent member in Congress, he was so prompt, frank, explicit, and decisive upon committees and in conversation (not even Samuel Adams was more so), that he soon seized upon my heart."
Blunt, brave-hearted, magnanimous, John Adams could not brook opposition, and he was ever involved in quarrels. The impetuous, fiery debater, is, of course, more exposed to this than the careful writer who ponders the significance of every word. The native suavity of Jefferson, his modesty, and the frankness and force with which he expressed his views, captivated his opponents. It is said that he had not an enemy in Congress. In five days after he had taken his seat, he was appointed on a committee to prepare an address on the causes of taking up arms. The produc tion was mainly from his pen. It was one of the most popular documents ever written, and was greeted with enthusiasm from the pulpit and in the market-place. It was read at the head of the armies amidst the booming of cannon and the huzzas of the soldiers. Yet Thomas Jefferson suffered the reputation of the authorship to rest with one of his associates on the committee all his life long. It was only after the death of both Jefferson and Dickinson that the real author of the document was publicly
known. These traits of character which are thus developed, one after another, surely indicate a very noble and extraordinary man. \ It is a remarkable fact, that decided as he was in his views, never in the slightest degree a trimmer, he won the confidence and the affection both of the most radical men of the progressive party, and the most cautious of the conservatives. John Adams on the one side, and John Dickinson on the other, were warm personal friends of Thomas Jefferson.
Soon after this, on the 22d of July, a committee, consisting of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Richard H. Lee, were appointed to report on Lord North's "conciliatory proposition." Jefferson, the youngest member in the house, was chosen by these illustrious colleagues to draught the paper.
Even as late as the autumn of 1775, Mr. Jefferson was hoping for reconciliation with England. In a letter to Mr. Randolph, who had sided with the British, and was about to sail for England, he wrote,
"I am sincerely one of those who still wish for re-union with the parent country; and would rather be in dependence on Great Britain, properly limited, than on any nation upon earth, or than on no nation. But I am one of those too, who, rather than submit to the rights of legislating for us assumed by the British Parliament, and which late experience has shown they will so cruelly exercise, would lend my hand to sink the whole island in the ocean."
Three months after this, roused by the ferocity which the British ministry were displaying, he wrote to the same man, then in England, in tones of almost prophetic solemnity and indigna tion:
"Believe me, dear sir, there is not in the British Empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do : but, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this I think I speak the sentiments of America."
At length, the hour came for draughting the "Declaration of Independence." The responsible task was committed to the pen of Jefferson. Franklin and Adams suggested a few verbal corrections before it was submitted to Congress. The immortal document was presented to the Congress on the 28th of June, 1776, and was adopted and signed on the 4th of July. The Declaration