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passed a fiery ordeal of criticism. For three days, the debate continued. Mr. Jefferson opened not his lips. "John Adams," it has been said, "was the great champion of the Declaration on the floor, fighting fearlessly for every word of it, and with a power to which a mind masculine and impassioned in its conceptions, a will of torrent-like force, a heroism which only glared forth more luridly at the approach of danger, and a patriotism whose burning throb was rather akin to the feeling of a parent fighting over his offspring than to the colder sentiment of tamer minds, lent resistless sway."
The comic and the tragic, the sublime and the ridiculous, are ever blended in this world. One may search all the ages to find a more solemn, momentous event than the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It was accompanied with prayer to Almighty God. Silence pervaded the room as one after another affixed his name to that document, which brought down upon him the implacable hate of the mightiest power upon the globe, and which doomed him inevitably to the scaffold, should the feeble colonies fail in the unequal struggle. In the midst of this scene, Benjamin Harrison, a Virginia grandee of immense corpulence, weighing something like a third of a ton, looked down upon Mr. Gerry, a small, fragile, slender man, whom a breath of wind would almost blow away, and remarked, with a characteristic chuckle,
Gerry, when the hanging comes, I shall have the advantage. You'll kick in the air half an hour after it is all over with me."
The colonies were now independent States. Jefferson resigned for a time his seat in Congress to aid in organizing the government of Virginia. Here we first meet in public with a young man-James Madison-of refined culture, of polished address, of keen powers of reasoning, of spotless purity of character, with whose name the future of the nation became intimately blended.
In 1779, Mr. Jefferson was chosen Governor of Virginia. He was then thirty-six years of age. The British were now preparing to strike their heaviest blows upon Georgia and the Carolinas. Establishing themselves in those thinly populated States, they intended thence to march resistlessly towards the North. A proclamation was also issued declaring the intention of Great Britain to devastate the colonies as utterly as possible, that, in the event of the success of the Revolution, they might prove value
less to France, who had become our ally. When Jefferson took the chair of state, Georgia had fallen helpless into the hands of the foe; South Carolina was invaded, and Charleston threatened; the savages on the Ohio and the Mississippi, provided with British arms, and often led by British officers, were perpetrating horrid outrages on our frontiers.
In these trying hours, Mr. Jefferson, with all the energies of his mind and heart, sustained Gen. Washington, ever ready to sacrifice all local interests for the general cause. At one time, the British officer, Tarleton, sent a secret expedition to Monticello to capture the governor. Scarcely five minutes elapsed, after the hurried escape of Mr. Jefferson and his family, ere his mansion was in the possession of the British troops. Mr. Jefferson had a plantation at Elk Hill, opposite Elk Island, on the James River. A detachment of the army of Cornwallis, in their march north from the Carolinas, seized it. The foe destroyed all his crops, burnt his barns and fences, drove off the cattle, seized the serviceable horses, cut the throats of the colts, and left the whole plantation a smouldering, blackened waste. Twenty-seven slaves were also carried off. "Had he carried off the slaves," says Jefferson with characteristic magnanimity, "to give them freedom, he would have done right." A large number of these slaves died of putrid fever, then raging in the British camp. Of all this, Mr. Jefferson never uttered a complaint.
In September, 1776, Congress had chosen Franklin, Jefferson, and Silas Deane, commissioners to negotiate treaties of alliance and commerce with France. Jefferson declined the appointment, as he deemed it necessary that he should remain at home to assist in the organization of the State Government of Virginia. As governor, he had rendered invaluable service to the common cause. He was now, in June, 1781, again appointed to co-operate with Adams, Franklin, Jay, and Laurens, in Europe, as ministers plenipotentiary to treat for peace; but the exceedingly delicate state of Mrs. Jefferson's health, who had suffered terribly from anxiety, exposure, and grief, and who was so frail that it would have been the extreme of cruelty to expose her and her two surviving chil dren to the peril of capture by British ships then covering the ocean, or to leave her at home separated from her husband, while Tarleton, with savage ferocity, was sweeping the State in all directions, rendered it clearly his duty again to decline.
About this time he was thrown from his horse, and quite seri ously injured. This accident, and the sickness of his wife, confined .him to his secluded forest home for several months. He improved the hours in writing his celebrated "Notes on Virginia." The work attracted much attention; was republished in England and France, and introduced his name favorably to the philosophers of the Continent. It is still a perplexing question how it was possible for Mr. Jefferson, in those days when Virginia was in many parts almost an unexplored wilderness, ranged by Indians, with scarcely any roads, to have obtained the vast amount of minute and accurate information which he has presented in these Notes. The whole is written in a glowing style of pure and undefiled English, which often soars to the eloquent.
But man is born to mourn. In every life, there come days which are "cold and dark and dreary." It was now the latter part of the year 1781. Jefferson, like Washington, was excessively sensitive to reproach; while at the same time both of these illustrious men possessed that noble nature which induced them to persevere in the course which seemed to be right, notwithstanding all the sufferings which calumny could heap upon them. A party rose in Virginia, dissatisfied with the course Jefferson had pursued in his attempt to repel the invaders of the State. They tried to drive him from his office, crush his reputation, and raise a dictator to occupy his place. The indignity pierced him to the quick. He was too proud to enter upon a defence of himself. His wife, one of the most lovely and loving of Christian ladies, and to whom he was attached with a romance of affection never exceeded, was sinking away in lingering death. There was no hope of her recovery. The double calamity of a pitiless storm of vituperation out of doors, and a dying wife within, so affected his spirits, that he resolved to retire from public life, and to spend the remainder of his days in the quietude of his desolated home. It was indeed a gloomy day which was now settling down around him.
He had been pursued like a felon, from place to place, by the British soldiery. His property had been wantonly and brutally destroyed. Many of his slaves whom he loved, and whose freedom he was laboring to secure, had perished miserably. He was suf fering from severe personal injuries caused by the fall from his horse. His wife was dying, and his good name was fiercely assailed.
Mrs. Jefferson was a Christian, a loving disciple of the Redeemer. But there were no cheering Christian hopes to sustain the sinking heart of her husband; for he had many doubts respecting the truth of Christianity. He must often have exclaimed in anguish of spirit, "Oh that I could believe!" The poison of scepticism had been early instilled into his nature; and in these hours of earthly gloom he had no faith, no hope, to support him. Happy is he, who, in such seasons of sorrow, can by faith hear a Saviour's voice whispering to him, "Let not your heart be troubled." Beautifully has Jefferson's biographer, Mr. Randall, said, in describing these scenes,
"The faithful daughter of the Church had no dread of the hereafter; but she yearned to remain with her husband, with that yearning which seems to have power to retard even the approaches of death. Her eyes were rested on him, ever followed him. When he spoke, no other sound could reach her ear or attract her attention. When she waked from slumber, she looked momentarily alarmed and distressed, and even appeared to be frightened, if the customary form was not bending over her, the customary look upon her."
For weeks, Mr. Jefferson sat lovingly, but with a crushed heart, at that bedside. Unfeeling letters were sent to him, accusing him of weakness, of unfaithfulness to duty, in thus secluding himself at home, and urging him again to come forth to life's great battle. For four months, Jefferson was never beyond the call of his dying wife. No woman could have proved a more tender nurse. He seemed unwilling that any one else should administer to her medicine and drink. When not at her bedside, he was writing in a closet which opened at the head of her bed. She died on the 6th of September, 1782. Who can imagine the anguish which a warmhearted man must feel in witnessing the death of a wife whom he loved almost to adoration, and unsustained by that hope of re-union in heaven which a belief in Christianity confers? His distress was so terrible, that his friends were compelled to lead him from the room, almost in a state of insensibility, before the scene was closed. With difficulty they conveyed him into the library. He fainted entirely away, and remained so long insensible, that it was feared he never would recover. His eldest daughter, Mrs. Randolph, writes,
"The violence of his emotion, when almost by stealth I entered
his room at night, to this day I dare not trust myself to describe. He kept his room three weeks, and I was never a moment from his side. He walked almost incessantly night and day; only lying down occasionally, when nature was completely exhausted, on a pallet which had been brought in during his long fainting-fit. When, at last, he left his room, he rode out; and from that time he was incessantly on horseback, rambling about the mountain, in the least-frequented roads, and just as often through the woods. In those melancholy rambles, I was his constant companion; a solitary witness to many violent bursts of grief, the remembrance of which has consecrated particular scenes of that lost home beyond the power of time to obliterate."
The inscription which the philosopher, uncheered by Christian faith, placed upon the gravestone of his companion, one cannot but read with sadness. It was a quotation, in Greek, from the "Iliad," of the apostrophe of Achilles over the dead body of Hector. The lines are thus freely translated by Pope:
"If, in the melancholy shades below,
The flames of friends and lovers cease to glow,
Without the light which Christianity gives, death is, indeed, the king of terrors, and the grave retains its victory. Forty-four years after the death of Mrs. Jefferson, there were found in a secret drawer in a private cabinet, to which he frequently resorted, locks of hair, and various other little souvenirs of his wife, with words of endearment upon the envelopes. He never married again. This tenderness of affection in this man of imperial mind and inflexible resolve is one of the most marked traits of his character.
The English ministry were now getting tired of the war. opposition in Parliament had succeeded in carrying a resolution on the 4th of March, 1782, "That all those who should advise, or by any means attempt, the further prosecution of offensive war in America, should be considered as enemies to their king and country." This popular decision overcame the obstinacy of the king, and he was compelled to make overtures for peace. Mr. Jefferson was re-appointed on the 12th of November by Congress, unanimously, and without a single adverse remark, minister plenipotentiary to negotiate a treaty.