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David J. (David Josiah) Brewer.

Crowned masterpieces of eloquence, representing the advance of civilization, as collected in The world's best orations, from the earliest period to the present time (Volume 10) online

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tical, as not to feel the hand and hear the voice of heaven in
this wonderful dispensation! And may we not, with reverence,
interpret its language ? Is it not this ? ^' These are my beloved
servants in whom I am well pleased. They have finished the
work for which I sent them into the world, and are now called
to their reward. Go, ye, and do likewise ! *^

One circumstance, alone, remains to be noticed. In a private
memorandum found among some other obituary papers and relics
of Mr. Jefferson is a suggestion, in case a memorial over him
should ever be thought of, that a granite obelisk, of small dimen-
sions, should be erected, with the following inscription: —

HERE LIES BURIED

THOMAS JEFFERSON.

Author of the Declaration of Independence,

,0f the Statutes of Virginia, for Religious Freedom,

And Father of the University of Virginia.

All the long catalogue of his great and splendid and glorious
services redticed to this brief and modest summary!

Thus lived and thus died our sainted patriots! May their
spirits still continue to hover over their countrymen, inspire all
their counsels, and guide them in the same virtuous and noble
path! And may that God, in whose hands are the issues of all
things, confirm and perpetuate to us the inestimable boon, which
through their agency he has bestowed; and make our Columbia
the bright exemplar for all the struggling sons of liberty around
the globe!



262



WILLIAM WIRT



BURR AND BLENNERHASSET
(From the Speech at the Trial of Burr in Richmond, Virginia, May 1807)

LET US put the case between Burr and Blennerhassett. Let us
compare the two men and settle this question of precedence
between them. It may save a good deal of troublesome
ceremony hereafter.

Who Aaron Burr is we have seen in part already. I will add
that beginning his operations in New York, he associates with
him men whose wealth is to supply the necessary funds. Pos-
sessed of the mainspring, his personal labor contrives all the
machinery. Pervading the continent from New York to New
Orleans, he draws into his plan, by every allurement which he
can contrive, men of all ranks and descriptions. To youthful ar-
dor he presents danger and glory; to ambition, rank and titles
and honors; to avarice the mines of Mexico. To each person
whom he addresses he presents the object adapted to his taste.
His recruiting officers are appointed. Men are engaged through-
out the continent. Civil life is indeed quiet upon its surface, but
in its bosom this man has contrived to deposit the materials
which, with the slightest touch of his match, produce an explo-
sion to shake the continent. All this his restless ambition has
contrived, and in the autumn of 1806 he goes forth for the last
time to apply this match. On this occasion he meets with Blen-
nerhassett.

Who is Blennerhassett ? A native of Ireland, a man of let-
ters who fled from the storms of his own country to find quiet
in ours. His history shows that w^ar is not the natural element
of his mind. If it had been, he never would have exchanged
Ireland for America. So far is an army from furnishing the so-
ciety natural and proper to Mr. Blennerhassett's character, that
on his arrival in America he retired even from the population of
the Atlantic States, and sought quiet and solitude in the bosom
of our Western forests. But he carried with him taste, and sci-
ence, and wealth; and lo, the desert smiled! Possessing himself
of a beautiful island in the Ohio, he rears upon it a palace, and
decorates it with every romantic embellishment of fancy. A
shrubbery that Shenstone might have envied blooms around him.
Music that might have charmed Calypso and her nymphs is his.
An extensive library spreads its treasures before him. A philo-



WILLIAM WIRT 263

sophical apparatus offers to him all the secrets and mysteries of
nature. Peace, tranquillity, and innocence shed their mingled de-
lights around him. And to crown the enchantment of the scene,
a wife, who is said to be lovely even beyond her sex, and graced
with every accomplishment that can render it irresistible, had
blessed him with her love, and made him the father of several
children. The evidence would convince you that this is but a
faint picture of the real life. In the midst of all this peace, this
innocent simplicity, and this tranquillity, this feast of the mind,
this pure banquet of the heart, the destroyer comes; he comes to
change this paradise into a hell. Yet the flowers do not wither
at his approach. No monitory shuddering through the bosom of
their unfortunate possessor warns him of the ruin that is coming
upon him. A stranger presents himself. Introduced to their
civilities by the high rank which he had lately held in his coun-
try, he soon finds his way to their hearts by the dignity and ele-
gance of his demeanor, the light and beauty of his conversation,
and the seductive and fascinating power of his address. The con-
quest was not difficult. Innocence is ever simple and credulous.
Conscious of no design itself, it suspects none in others. It wears
no guard before its breast. Every door, and portal, and avenue
of the heart is thrown open, and all who choose it enter. Such
was the state of Eden when the serpent entered its bowers. The
prisoner, in a more engaging form, winding himself into the open
and unpracticed heart of the unfortunate Blennerhassett, found
but little difficulty in changing the native character of that heart
and the objects of its affection. By degrees he infuses into it
the poison of his own ambition. He breathes into it the fire of
his own courage; a daring and desperate thirst for glory; an ar-
dor panting for great enterprises, for all the storm, and bustle ;
and hurricane of life. In a short time, the whole man is changed,
and every object of his former delight is relinquished. No more
he enjoys the tranquil scene; it has become flat and insipid to
his taste. His books are abandoned. His retort and crucible are
thrown aside. His shrubbery blooms and breathes its fragrance
upon the air in vain; he likes it not. His ear no longer drinks
the rich melody of music; it longs for the trumpet's clangor and
the cannon's roar. Even the prattle of his babes, once so sweet,
no longer affects him; and the angel smile of his wife, which
hitherto touched his bosom with ecstasy so unspeakable, is now
unseen and unfelt. Greater objects have taken possession of his?



25^ WILLIAM WIRT

soul. His imagination has been dazzled by visions of diadems,
of stars, and garters, and titles of nobility. He has been taught
to burn with restless emulation at the names of great heroes and
conquerors. His enchanted island is destined soon to relapse into
a wilderness; and in a few months we find the beautiful and
tender partner of his bosom, whom he lately *^ permitted not the
winds of " summer *^ to visit too roughly, * we find her shivering
at midnight on the wintry banks of the Ohio, and mingling her
tears with the torrents that froze as they fell. Yet this unfor-
tunate man, thus deluded from his interest and his happiness,
thus seduced from the paths of innocence and peace, thus con-
founded in the toils that were deliberately spread for him and
overwhelmed by the mastering spirit and genius of another —
this man thus ruined and undone and made to play a subordi-
nate part in this grand drama of guilt and treason, this man is
to be called the principal offender, while he, by whom he was
thus pliinged in misery, is comparatively innocent, a mere acces-
sory ! Is this reason ? Is it law ? Is it humanity ? Sir, neither
the human heart nor the human understanding will bear a per-
version so monstrous and absurd! so shocking to the soul! so re-
volting to reason! Let Aaron Burr, then, not shrink from the
high destination which he has courted, and, having already ruined
Blannerhassett in fortune, character, and happiness, forever, let
him not attempt to finish the tragedy by thrusting that ill-fated
man between himself and punishment.



GENIUS AS THE CAPACITY FOR WORK

THE education, gentlemen, moral and intellectual, of every in-
dividual, must be, chiefly, his own work. How else could
it happen that young men, who have had precisely the same
opportunities, should be continually presenting us with such dif-
ferent results, and rushing to such opposite destinies? Difference
of talent will not solve it, because that difference is very often
in favor of the disappointed candidate.

You will see issuing from the walls of the same college — nay,
sometimes from the bosom of the same family, two young men,
of whom the one shall be admitted to be a genius of high order,
the other scarcely above the point of mediocrity; yet you shall
see the genius sinking and perishing in poverty, obscurity, and



WILLIAM WIRT



265



wretchedness, while, on the other hand, you shall observe the
mediocre plodding his slow, but sure way, up the hill of life, gain-
ing steadfast footing at every step, and mounting, at length, to
eminence and distinction, an ornament to his family, a blessing
to his country.

Now, whose work is this ? Manifestly their own. Men are
the architects of their respective fortunes. It is the fiat of fate
from which no power of genius can absolve you. Genius, unex-
erted, is like the poor moth that flutters around a candle till it
scorches itself to death. If genius be desirable at all, it is only
of that gfreat and magnanimous kind, which, like the condor of
South America, pitches from the summit of Chimborazo, above
the clouds, and sustains itself, at pleasure, in that empyreal re-
gion, with an energy rather invigorated than weakened by the
effort.

It is this capacity for high and long-continued exertion, this
vigorous power of profound and searching investigation, this
careering and widespreading comprehension of mind, and those
long reaches of thought, that —

*^ Pluck bright honor from the pale-faced moon,
Or dive into the bottom of the deep,
Where fathom line could never touch the ground,
And drag up drowned honor by the locks. ^*

This is the prowess, and these the hardy achievements, which
are to enroll your names among the great men of the earth.




JOHN WITHERSPOON

(1722- I 794)

'opiN WiTHERSPOON^ President of Princeton College and Mem-
ber of the Continental Congress during the American Rev-
olution, put posterity under obligation by reporting a num-
ber of his own speeches made in Congress between 1776 and 1782.
These are valuable because they are among the very few speeches made
in the Congress of that period which were reported at all, and because
Witherspoon's interest in finance makes them frequently suggestive of
the desperate straits to which Congress was put for resources. He was
born in Scotland, February 5th, 1722, and educated at the University of
Edinburgh. Beginning life as pastor of Presbyterian churches at Beith
and Paisley, in vScotland, he published a number of works which at-
tracted such attention that in November, 1766, the trustees of Prince-
ton College elected him to the presidency of that institution and sent a
representative to Paisley to ask his acceptance. He came to America
accordingly and was inaugurated August 17th, 1768. During the Rev-
olution he took the side of the Colonists and was elected to the Con-
tinental Congress in June, 1776, serving in various Congresses until
1792. He was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence
and was the author of 'Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the
Legislative Authority of the British Parliament.' His theological
works and essays on various subjects were collected and published after
his death, which occurred September 15th, 1794.

PUBLIC CREDIT UNDER THE CONFEDERATION
(From a Speech in the Continental Congress, 1780)

I CANNOT help requesting Congress to attend to the state of those
persons who held the loan-office certificates which drew inter-
est on France; they are all, without exception, the firmest and
fastest friends to the cause of America ; they were in general the
most firm and active and generous friends. Many of them ad-
vanced large sums in hard money to assist you in carrying on
the war in Canada. None of them at all put away even the loan-

266



JOHN WITHERSPOON 267

office certificates on speculation, but either from a generous inten-
tion of serving the public, or from an entire confidence in the
public credit. There is one circumstance which ought to be at-
tended to, namely, the promise of interest — bills on Europe were
not made till the tenth of September, 1777. It was said a day or
two ago, that those who sent in cash a little before March ist,
1778, had, by the depreciated state of the money, received almost
their principal; but this makes but a small part of the money, for
there were but six months for the people to put in the money,
after the promise was made; only the most apparent justice
obliged Congress to extend the privilege to those who had put in
their money before. Besides nothing can be more unequal and
injurious than reckoning the money by the depreciation, either
before or after the first of March, 1778, for a great part of the
money in all the loan offices was such as had been paid up in its
nominal value, in consequence of the Tender laws.

This points you, sir, to another class of people, from whom
money was taken, namely, widows and orphans, corporations and
public bodies. How many guardians were actually led, or, indeed,
were obliged to put their depreciated and depreciating money in
the funds — I speak from good knowledge. The trustees of the
College of New Jersey, in June 1777, directed a committee of
theirs to put all the money that should be paid up to them, in
the loan office, so that they have now nearly invested all. Some
put in before March 1778, and a greater part subsequent to that
date. Now it must be known to everybody, that since the pay-
ment of the interest bills gave a value to these early loans, many
have continued their interest in them, and rested in a manner
wholly on them for support. Had they entertained the slightest
suspicion that they would be cut off, they could have sold them
for something, and applied themselves to other means of subsist-
ence; but as the case now stands, you are reducing not an incon-
siderable number of your very best friends to absolute beggary.
During the whole period, and through the whole system of Con-
tinental money, your friends have suffered alone; the disaffected
and lukewarm have always evaded the burden — have in many
instances turned the sufferings of the country to their own ac-
count — have triumphed over the Whigs — and if the whole shall
be crowned with this last stroke, it seems but reasonable that
they should treat us with insult and derision. And what faith do
you expect the public creditors should place in your promise of



268



JOHN WITHERSPOON



ever paying them at all ? What reason, after what is past, have
they to dread that you will divert the fund which is now men-
tioned as a distant source of payment ? If a future Congress
should do this, it would not be one whit worse than what has
been already done.

I wish, sir, this House would weigh a little the public conse-
quences that will immediately follow this resolution. The grief,
disappointment, and sufferings of your best friends have been al-
ready mentioned — then prepare yourselves to hear from your
enemies the most insulting abuse. You will be accused of the
most oppressive tyranny and the grossest fraud. If it be possi-
ble to poison the minds of the public by making this body ridic-
ulous or contemptible, they will have the fairest opportunity of
doing so that ever was put in their hands; but I m.ust return to
our plundered, long-ruined friends; we cannot say to what their
rage and disappointment may bring them, we know that nothing
on earth is so deeply resentful as despised or rejected love —
whether they may proceed to any violent or disorderly measures,
it is impossible to know. We have an old proverb, that the eyes
will break through stone walls, and for my own part I should
very much dread the furious and violent efforts of despair. Would
to God that the independence of America was once established
by a treaty of peace in Europe, for we know that in all great
and fierce political contentions, the effect of power and circum-
stances is very great, and that if the tide has run long with great
violence one way, if it does not fully reach its purpose and is by
any means brought to a stand, it is apt to take a direction and
return with the same, or greater, violence than it advanced. Must
this be risked at a crisis when the people begin to be fatigued
with the war; to feel the heavy expense of it by paying taxes,
and when the enemy, convinced of their folly in their former
severities, are doing everything they can to ingratiate themselves
with the public at large ? But though our friends should not be
induced to take violent and seditious measures all at once, I am
almost certain it will produce a particular hatred and contempt
of Congress, the representative body of the Union, and still a
greater hatred of the individuals who compose the body at this
time. One thing will undoubtedly happen, that it will greatly
abate the respect which is due from the public to this body, and,
therefore, weaken their authority in all other parts of their pro-
ceedings.



JOHN WITHERSPOON 269

I beg leave to say, sir, that in all probability it will lay the
foundation for other greater and more scandalous steps of the
same kind. You will say : What greater can there be ? Look back
a little to your history. The first great and deliberate breach of
public faith was the Act of March i8th, 1780, reducing the money
to forty for one, which was declaring you would pay your debt
at sixpence in the pound. But did it not turn ? No ! by and by
it was set in this State, and others, at seventy-five, and finally set
one hundred and fifty for one, in new paper, in State paper,
which in six months rose to four for one. Now, sir, what will be
the case with these certificates ? Before this proposal was known,
their fixed price was about half a crown for a dollar, of the es-
timated depreciated value; when this resolution is fairly fixed,
they will immediately fall in value, perhaps to a shilling the dol-
lar, probably less. Multitudes of people in despair and absolute
necessity will sell them for next to nothing, and when the hold-
ers come at last to apply for their money, I think it highly prob-
able you will give them a scale of depreciation, and tell them
they cost so little that it would be an injury to the public to pay
the full value. And in truth, sir, supposing you finally to pay the
full value of the certificates to the holders, the original and most
meritorious proprietors will, in many, perhaps in most, cases, lose
the whole.

It will be very proper to consider what effect this will have
upon foreign nations; certainly it will set us in a most contempt-
ible light. We are just beginning to appear among the powers
of the earth, and it may be said of national, as of private, char-
acters, they soon begin to form, and when disadvantageous ideas
are formed, they are not easily altered or destroyed. In the very
instance before us, many of these certificates are possessed by
the subjects of foreign princes, and, indeed, are in foreign parts.
We must not think that other sovereigns will suffer their subjects
to be plundered in so wanton and extravagant a manner. You
have on your files letters from the Count de Vergennes, on the
subject of your former depreciation, in which he tells you that
whatever liberty you take with your own subjects, you must not
think of treating the subjects of France in the same way, and it
is not impossible that you may hear upon this subject what you
little expect, when the terms of peace are to be settled. I do
not, in the least, doubt that it may be demanded that you should
pay to the full of its nominal value, all the money, as well as



^-Q JOHN WITHERSPOON

loan-office certificates, which shall be found in the hands of the
subjects of France, Spain, or Holland, and it would be perfectly
just. I have mentioned France, etc., but it is not only impossi-
ble, but highly probable, that by accident or design, or both,
many of these loan-office certificates may be in the hands of
English subjects. Do you think they will not demand payment ?
Do you think they will make any difference between their being
before or after March ist, 1778? And will you present them
with a scale of depreciation ? Remember the affair of the Can-
ada bills, in the last peace between England and France. I wish
we could take example from our enemies. How many fine dis-
sertations have we upon the merit of national truth and honor in
Great Britain. Can we think, without blushing, upon our con-
trary conduct in the matter of finance ? By their punctuality in
fulfilling their engagements as to interest, they have been able
to support a load of debt, altogether enormous. Be pleased to
observe, sir, that they are not wholly without experience of de-
preciation: navy debentures and sailors' tickets have been fre-
quently sold at a half, and sometimes even at a third of their
value; by that means they seem to be held by that class of men
called by us ^^ speculators. '* Did that Government ever think of
presenting the holders of them, when they came to be paid,
with a scale of depreciation ? The very idea of it would knock
the whole system of public credit to pieces.

But the importance of this matter will be felt before the end
of the war. We are at this time earnestly soliciting foreign loans.
With what face can we expect to have credit in foreign parts,
and in future loans, after we have so notoriously broken every
engagement which we have hitherto made ? A disposition to pay,
and visible, probable means of payment, are absolutely necessary
to credit; and where that is once established, it is not difficult to
borrow. If it may be a means of turning the attention of Con-
gress to this subject, I beg of them to observe that if they could
but lay down a foundation of credit, they would get money
enough to borrow in this country where we are. There is prop-
erty enough here; and, comparatively speaking, there is a greater
number of persons here who would prefer money at interest to
purchasing and holding real estate. The ideas of all old-country
people are high in favor of real estate. Though the interest of
money, even upon the very best security there, is from four to
four and a-half, four and three-quarters, and five per centum, yet



JOHN WITHERSPOON 271

when any real estate is to be sold, there will be ten purchasers
where one only can obtain it, and it will cost so much as not to
bring more than two, two and a-half, and at most three per
centum.

It is quite otherwise in this country, and, indeed, it ought to
be otherwise. To purchase an estate in the cultivated parts of
the country, except what a man possesses himself, will not be
near so profitable as the interest of money; and in many cases
where it is rented out, it is so wasted and worn by the tenant
that it would be a greater profit at the end of seven years that
the land had been left to itself, to bear woods and bushes that
should rot upon the ground, without any rent at all. Anybody
also may see that it is almost universal in this country when a
man dies leaving infant children, that the executors sell all his
property to turn it into money, and put it in securities for easy
and equal division.

All these things, Mr. President, proceed upon certain and in-
dubitable principles which never fail of their effect. Therefore,
you have only to make your payments as soon, as regular, and
as profitable as other borrowers, and you will get all the money
you want, and by a small advantage over others, it will be poured
in upon you, so that you shall not need to go to the lenders, for
they will come to you.




JOHN WYCKLIFFE

{c. 1 324-1 384)

foHN Wyckliffe, who was called for his eloquence the << Morn-
ing Star of the Reformation,'^ made about 1382 the first
complete translation of the Bible ever made into English.
He may be called the father of English prose in a more literal sense
than that in which Chaucer is usually spoken of as the father of
English poetry, for it is through his translation of the Bible that
modern English became fixed and distinct from the Anglo-Norman
court dialect on the one hand, and the Anglo-Saxon ^< Middle Eng-
lish '^ dialects of the common people on the other. He was born near



Online LibraryDavid J. (David Josiah) BrewerCrowned masterpieces of eloquence, representing the advance of civilization, as collected in The world's best orations, from the earliest period to the present time (Volume 10) → online text (page 26 of 56)