Samuel G. (Samuel Griswold) Goodrich.

Lives of benefactors; online

. (page 4 of 21)
Online LibrarySamuel G. (Samuel Griswold) GoodrichLives of benefactors; → online text (page 4 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

his character in the master spirits of another hejni-
sphere, — yet the children loved him, and played confi-
dently around his tent I

In an oration, pronounced on the 17th of June,
D VI — 5


1843, occasioned by the completion of the Bunker Hill
Monument, Mr. Webster alludes to "Washington in
a strain of eloquence which will connect his name
forever with the immortal subject of his eulogy.

"America," says he, " has furnished to the world
the character of Washington. And if our Ameri-
can institutions had done nothing else, that alone
would have entitled them to the respect of mankind.

" Washington ! ' First in war, first in peace, and
first in the hearts of his countrymen ! ' Washington
is all our own! The enthusiastic veneration and
regard in which the people of the United States hold
him, prove them to be worthy of such a countryman ;
while his reputation abroad reflects the highest honor
on his country and its institvUions. I would cheer-
fully put the question to-day to the intelligence of
Europe, and the world, what character of the cen-
tury, upon the whole, stands out in the relief of
history most pure, most respectable, most sublime;
and I doubt not, that by a suffrage approaching to
unanimity the answer would be, Washington !

" This structure, by its uprightness, its solidity, its
durability, is no unfit emblem of his character. His
public virtues and public principles were as firm as
the earth on Avhich it stands ; his personal motives
as pure as the serene heaven in which its summit is
lost. But, indeed, though a fit, it is an inadequate
emblem. Towering high above the column which
our hands have builded, — beheld, not by the inhabitants
of a single city or a single state, — ascends the colossal
grandeur of his character and his life. In all the
constituents of the one, — in all the acts of the other, —



in all its titles to immortal love, admiration and
renown — it is an American production. It is the em-
bodiment and vindication of our transatlantic liberty.
Born upon our soil — of parents also born upon it —
never for a moment having had a sight of the old
world — instructed, according to the modes of his time,
only in the spare, plain, but wholesome elementary
knowledge which our institutions provide for the
children of the people — growing up beneath, and
penetrated by the genuine influences of American
society — growing up amidst our expanding, but not
luxurious civilization — partaking in our great destiny
of labor, our long contest with unreclaimed nature
and uncivilized man; our agony of glory, the war of
independence — our gTeat victory of peace, the forma-
tion of the union, and the establishment of the consti-
tution — he is all — all our own ! That crowded and
glorious life —

'Where multitudes of virtues passed along,
Eacli pressing foremost in the mighty throng,
Contending to be seen, then making room
For greater multitudes that were to come ;' —

that life was the life of an American citizen.

" I claim him for America. In all the perils, in
every darkened moment of the state, in the midst of
the reproaches of enemies and misgiving of friends,
I turn to that transcendent name for courage and for
consolation. To him who denies or doubts whether
our fervid liberty can be combined with law, v/ith
order, with the security of property, with the pursuits
and advancement of happiness — to him who denie<)


that our institutions are capable of producing exalta-
tion of soul, and the passion of true glory — to him
who denies that we have contributed anything to the
stock of great lessons and great examples — to all
these, I reply by pointing to Washington."

In the admirable Life of Washington, by Mr.
Sparks, from which we have chiefly drawn the pre-
ceding sketch, we find the following summary :

" The character of his mind was unfolded in the
public and private acts of his life ; and the proofs of
his greatness are seen almost as much in one as the
other. The same qualities which raised him to the
ascendency he possessed over the will of the nation,
as the commander of armies and chief magistrate,
caused him to be loved and respected as an individual.
Wisdom, judgment, prudence and firmness, were his
predominant traits. No man ever saw more clearly
the relative importance of things and actions, or
divested himself more entirely of the bias of personal
interest, partiality and prejudice, in discriminating
between the true and the false, the right and the wrong,
in all questions and subjects that were presented to
him. He deliberated slowly, but decided surely ; and
when his decision was once formed, he seldom
reversed it ; and never relaxed from the execution of a
measure till it was completed. Courage, physical and
moral, was a part of his nature ; and whether in battle,
or in the midst of popular excitement, he was fearless
of danger and regardless of consequences to himself.

" His ambition was of that noble kind Avhich aims
to excel in whatever it undertakes, and to acquire a
power over the hearts of men, by promoting their


happiness and winning their afTcctions, Sensitive to
the approbation of others, and solicitous to deserve it, he
made no concessions to gain their applause, either by
flattering their vanity or yielding to their caprices.
Cautious without timidity, bold without rashness, cool
in counsel, deliberate but firm in action, clear in fore-
sight, patient under reverses, steady, persevering and
self-possessed, he met and conquered every obstacle
that obstructed his path to honor, renown and success.
More confident in the uprightness of his intentions
than in his resources, he sought knowledge. He
chose his counsellors with unerring sagacity, and his
quick perception of the soundness of an opinion, and
of the strong points of an argument, enabled him to
draw, to his aid the best fruits of their talents, and the
light of their collected wisdom.

" His moral qualities were in perfect harm.ony with
those of his intellect. Duty was the ruling principle
of his conduct; and the rare endowments of his under-
standing were not more constantly tasked to devise
the best methods of effecting an object, than they
were to guard the sanctity of conscience. No in-
stance can be adduced, in which he was actuated by
a sinister motive, or endeavored to attain an end by
unworthy means. Truth, integrity and justice were
deeply rooted in his mind ; and nothing could rouse
his indignation so soon, or so utterly destroy his con-
fidence, as the discovery of the want of these virtues in
any one whom he had trusted. Weaknesses, follies,
indiscretions he could forgive ; but subterfuge and
dishonesty he never forgot, and rarely pardoned. He
was candid and sincere, true to his friends and faith-


ml to all ; neither practising dissimulation, descending
10 artifice, nor holding out expectations ■which he did
not intend should be realized. His passions were
strong, and sometimes they broke out with vehe-
mence, but he had the power of checking them in an
iiistant. Perhaps self-control was the most remarka-
ble trait of his character. It was in part the effect of
discipline ; yet he seems by nature to have possessed
this power to a degree which has been denied to
other men.

" A Christian in faith and practice, he was habitu-
ally devout. His reverence for religion is seen in his
example, his public communications, and his private
writings. He uniformly ascribed his successes to the
beneficent agency of the Supreme Being. Charitable
and humane, he was liberal to the poor, and kind to
those in distress. As a husband, son and brother, he
was tender and affectionate. Without vanity, osten-
tation and pride, he never spoke of himself or his
actions, unless required by circumstances which con-
cerned the public interests. As he v.'as free from
envy, so he had the good fortune to escape the envy
of others, by standing on an elevation that none could
hope to attain. If he had one passion more strong
than another, it was the love of his country. The
purity and ardor of his patriotism were commensurate
with the greatness of its object. Love of country in
him was invested with the sacred obligation of a
duty ; and from the faithful discharge of this duty, he
never swerved for a moment, either in thought or
deed, through the whole period of his eventful career.

" Such are some of the traits in the character of


Washington, which have acquired for him the love
and veneration of mankind. If they are not marked
with the brilliancy, extravagance and eccentricity,
which in other men have excited the astonishment of
the world, so, neither are they tarnished by the follies
nor disgraced by the crimes of those men. It is the
happy combination of rare talents and qualities, the
harmonious union of the intellectual and moral
powers, rather than the dazzling splendor of any
one trait, which constitute the grandeur of his charac-
ter. If the title of a great man ought to be reserved for
him who cannot be charged with an indiscretion or a
vice, who spent his life in establishing the independ-
ence, the glory and durable prosperity of his country,
who succeeded in all that he undertook, and whose suc-
cesses were never won at the expense of honor, jus-
tice or integrity, or by the sacrifice of a single princi-
ple — this title will not be denied to Washington."

We cannot better close this brief notice, than by
recommending to the youth of our country the careful
study of Washington's life and character. He had
not endo^\Tnents beyond many others ; he enjoyed no
peculiar advantages of education or position ; he was
not elevated, therefore, beyond the reach of hopeful
emulation. There was no imapproachable superiority
in his nature or his early fortunes. His success was
his own work ; what he was, others may be. If we
consider the benefits he bestowed on our country by his
labors, his writings and his example — if Ave reckon
up the good he has done, and will still do to mankind
for ages to come, by demonstrating the possibility of
a virtuous and patriotic public and private career,


and if we consider that this vast scope of usefulness
was the result of powers and faculties common to our
race, we shall learn to estimate the dignity of human
nature and the value of human life — placed in the
hands of one who will use it for its highest purposes.

^:^r .::,::: ,:■:::::':


O', ~'

&; . '




c- - .^.-■-;








This man, who deSfexves a place by the side of
Washington, was born at New York, December 12th,
1745. His father, Peter Jay, was a wealthy mer-
chant, descended from a long line of worthy ancestors ;
his mother was Mary Van Courtlandt.* These
had ten children, of whom John Avas the eighth.

* The character of these parents is thus cli-awn in the work
entitled " The Life of John Jay," &c. ; by Wm. Jay, his son,
and from which we derive our sketch. '•' Both father and
mother were actuated by sincere and fervent piety ; both had
warm hearts and cheerful tempers ; and both possessed, under
varied and severe trials, a remarkable degi'ee of equanimity.
But, in other respects, they differed widely. He possessed
strong masculine sense, was a shrewd observer, and admirable
judge of men ; resolute, persevering and prudent; an affection-
ate father ; a kind master, but governing all under his control
with mild but absolute sway. She had a cultivated mind and
fine imagination ; mild and affectionate in her temper and
manners, she took delight in the duties as well as the pleasures
of domestic life ; while a cheerful resignation to the will of
Providence, during many years of sickness and suffering, bore
witness to the strength of her religious faith. So happily did
these various dispositions harmonize together, that the subject
of this memoir often declared that he had never, in a single
instance, heard either of his parents use toward each other an
angry or unkind word. Notwithstanding the cares of a large
family, the mother devoted much of her time to the instruction
of the two blind children, and of the little John. To the
former she read the best authors ; to the latter, she taught the
rudiments of English, and the Latin grammar."



While he Avas yet an infant, the family remoA ed to
Rye, twenty-eight miles northeast of New York,
partly that they might devote themselves with more
care to two of their children, rendered blind by the
small-pox. John's first instruction was from his
mother ; at the age of eight he was sent to the neigh-
boring village of New Rochelle, and placed under the
care of an eccentric Swiss clergyman, who had
charge of the French church in that place. This
person was a devoted student, and left his worldly
aiTairs to his wife, who was as penurious as she was
careless. The parsonage and everything about it were
suffered to go to decay, and the boys under the pastor's
charge were treated with much scolding and little food.
John, who had been accustomed to a luxurious mode
of life, was now driven to the necessity of taking
care of himself. The snow drifted upon his head
through the broken panes of his windows, but these
he closed with pieces of wood. The food was coarse,
but he learned to be content with it. His health was
good, and it is probable the privations he suffered,
were of advantage to him through life. He was
reduced to the simple, homely pursuits of other boys ;
he gathered nuts in the woods, and, stripping off a
stocking, brought them home in it. In his after
greatnesS; he used to speak of these days, as among
the happiest of his existence.

The inhabitants of New Rochelle were chiefly French
refugees, and John soon learned their language, for
which he had afterwards abundant use. He remained
at the school here three years, and, in 1760, was sent
to Columbia college, at New York, a respectable


seminary, but then in its infancy. Being now intro-
durcd into a new scene, and with new companions,
he soon remarked certain peculiarities and deficiencies
in himself, and the energy with which he set about
curing them shows great decision of character. His
articulation was indistinct, and his mode of pronounc-
ing the letter L exposed him to ridicule. He pur-
chased a book written by Sheridan, probably his
lectures on elocution, and, shutting himself up daily
in his room, studied it till his object was accomplished.
He had a habit of reading so rapidly, as to be under-
stood with difficulty. For the purpose of correcting
this fault, he read aloud to himself, making a full stop
after every word, until he acquired a complete control
of his voice ; and he thus became an excellent reader.
With the same energy, he pursued all his studies.
He paid particular attention to English composition,
and so intent was he on this, that, when about to write
an English exercise, he placed a piece of paper and
pencil by his bedside, that if, while meditating on his
subject in the night, a valuable idea occurred to him,
he might make some note of it, even in the dark, that
he might recall it in the morning.

His good conduct acquired for him the favor of the
president of the seminary ; but an incident occurred in
the last year of his college life, which threatened to
alter this state of feeling. A number of students being
assembled in the college hall, some of them, either
through a silly spirit of mischief, or in revenge for
some fault imputed to tire steward, began to break the
table. The president, attracted by the noise, entered
the room, but not so speedily as to find the offenders in


the act. He immediately ranged the students in a
line, and beginning at one end, asked, " Did you break
the table?" The answer Avas, "No," " Do you know
who did?" "No." Passing along the line, the aame
'[uestions and answers were asked and received, till he
came to young Jay, who was the last but one m the
line. To the first question he replied as the others
had done, and to the second he ansAvered, " Yes, sir."
"AVlio was it?" "I do not choose to tell you, sir,"
was the unexpected reply. The young gentleman
below him returned the same answers. The contu-
macious students Avere called before a board of the
professors, where Jay made their defence.

Each student, on his admission, had been required
to sign his name to a Avritten promise of obedience to
all the college statutes. Young Jay contended that he
had faithfully kept this promise, and that the pres-
ident had no right to exact from him anything not
required by the statutes ; that these statutes did not
require him to inform against his companions, and
that, therefore, his refusal to do so was not an act of
disobedience. The defence was overruled, and the
delinquents were sentenced to be suspended and
rusticated. Jay returned to college at the expiration
of his sentence, and Dr. Cooper, the president, by the
kindness of his reception, suffered him to perceive that
he had not forfeited any part of his good opinion.

Left to his own choice of a profession, young Jay
chose that of the law, and, immediately after taking
his degree, entered the office of Mr. Kissam, a lead-
ing lawyer in New York. It is interesting to remark
that he found in the same office, Lindley Murray,
VI. — 6


afterwards celebrated for his various works, especially
those for education. In one of these he speaks of
young Jay, referring to the time of their companionship
in the law office, in these words : " His talents and vir-
tues gave at that period pleasing indications of future
eminence ; he was remarkable for strong reasoning
powers, comprehensive views, indefatigable applica-
tion, and vincommon firmness of mind. With these
qualifications, added to a just taste in literature, and
ample stores of learning and knowledge, he was
happily prepared to enter on that career of public
virtue by which he was afterwards honorably dis-
tinguished, and made instrumental in promoting the
good of his country."

On commencing his clerkship, young Jay asked
his father's permission to keep a riding horse. His
prudent parent hesitated, and remarked that horses
were seldom elegible companions for young men;
adding, " John, why do you want a horse ? " " That I
may have the means, sir, of visiting you frequently,"
was the reply; and it removed every objection. The
horse was procured ; and during the three years of
his clerkship, he made it a rule to pass one day VAth
his parents at Rye, every fortnight. In 1768, Jay
was admitted to the bar, and, continuing his residence
in New York, almost immediately acquired an exten-
sive and lucrative practice. It now sometimes hap-
pened that he and his teacher, Mr. Kissam were
engaged on opposite sides in the same cause ; and on
one of these occasions, the latter being embarrassed
by some position taken by the other, pleasantly
remarked in court, that he had brought up a bird to


pick oui his own eyes. " Oh no," replied his oppo-
nent, " not to pick out, but to open your eyes."

Mr. Jay's devotion to his profession, at length
began to affect his health, and the physician advised
him to take exercise, as indispensable to its recovery.
This advice was followed with characteristic energy
and perseverance. He took lodgings six miles from
his office, and for a whole season came to town every
morning on horseback, ai>^ returned in the evening.
The experiment was attended with complete success.

In 1774, Mr. Jay was married to Sarah, the
youngest daughter of William Livingston, Esq., after-
wards for many years governor of New Jersey, and a
zealous and disting-uished patriot of the revolution.
His prospects of domestic happiness and professional
eminence were now unusually bright ; but they were
soon clouded by the claims of his country, which
called him from the bar and the endearments of home,
to defend her rights in the national councils and at
foreign courts.

The passage of the Boston Port Bill, on the 30th of
March, 1774, disclosed to the American people the
vindictive feelings of the British ministry, and taught
them that a prompt and vigorous resistance to oppres-
sion could alone preserve their freedom. The news
of this act excited universal alarm. A meeting of the
citizens of New York was assembled on the 16th of
May, " to consult on the measures proper to be pur-
sued in consequence of the late extraordinary advices
received from England." The meeting nominated a
committee of fifty to correspond with our sister colo-
nies on all matters of moment.


IMr. Jay was a member of this body, and the result
of their deliberations was the recommendation of a
congress of deputies from the several colonies, to take
into consideration the proper measures to be taken in
the pending crisis. This suggestion was adopted,
and l\Ir. Jay was chosen as one of the delegates from
New York. He took his seat in that body — the first
continental congress — which was to lay the foundation
of American independence, September 5th, 1774, this
being the first day of the session. He was in his 29th
year, and was the youngest member of the house.
He survived all his colleagues many years.

The first act of the new congress Avas to appoint a
committee to state the rights of the colonies in general;
the several instances in which those rights had been
violated and infringed; and the means most proper
to be pursued for obtaining a restoration of them.
Mr. Jay was placed on this committee and that for
drafting an address to the people of Great Britain and
a memorial to the people of British Amxerica. The
vriting of the address to the people of Great Britain
was assigned by the committee to him. The occa-
sion, the subject, his own youth, and this being his
first appearance in the national councils, all united
in demanding from him the utmost exertion of his
powers. To secure himself from interruption, he left
his lodgings, and shut himself up in a tavern, and
there composed that celebrated state paper, not less
distinguished for its lofty sentiments than for the
glowing language in which they are expressed. The
address was reported by the committee and adopted
by congress, and immediately led to much inquiry


and discussion respecting the author. Mr. Jcficrson,
while still ignorant of the author, declared it to be " a
production certainly of the finest pen in America."

After a session of six weeks, congress adjourned,
having, among other measures, provided for another
congress to be held at the same place, — Philadelphia.
Of this, also, Mr. Jay was a member. It met, May
10th, 1775, and such was now the serious aspect of
affairs, that it continued in session a whole year,
excepting a recess during the month of August.

On the 15th June, Washington was chosen com-
mander-in-chief of the army, and, a few days after-
wards, the subordinate generals Avere appointed.
These officers were selected from difTerent parts of
the continent, and it Avas thought expedient to take a
brigadier from New Hampshire ; but congress were
unacquainted with any military gentleman from that
colony fit for the station. In this dilemma, Mr. Jay
nominated Mr. John Sullivan, a delegate in congress
from NoAV Hampshire, — saying that his good sense
was known to the house, and as to his military talents,
he would take his chance for them. The nomination
was confirmed, and the discernment which prompted
it was abundantly justified by General Sullivan's active
and useful career.

The contest had now begun in earnest, though
independence was not yet avowed as its object.
Addresses to the people of Canada and of Ireland
were resolved upon, and they were drawn up by IMr.
Jay with his usual ability. He also moved a petition
to the king, to be signed by the members of congress,
which he carried acfainst great opposition. The
E ^ 6*


result was auspicous to the cause of liberty ; for, being
unheeded, it roused more deeply the indignation of
the country.

Congress having now taken all the measures which
human prudence could dictate, submitted their cause,
with prayer and fasting, to Him without whose bless-
ing the wisdom of man is folly, and his strength
weakness. The 20th of July, agreeably to a previous
recommendation of congress, was observed throughout

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibrarySamuel G. (Samuel Griswold) GoodrichLives of benefactors; → online text (page 4 of 21)