BLTC Press Titles


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The Bhagavad Gita

Anonymous


The Characters of Theophrastus

Theophrastus


The Souls of Black Folk

W. E. B. DuBois


Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Life of Thomas Jefferson

by B. L. Rayner

Excerpt:

* William Wirt.

which seems to have prevailed. It has been thought that Mr Jefferson made no figure at the bar: but the case was far otherwise. There are still extant, in his own fair and neat hand, in the manner of his master, a number of arguments which were delivered by him at the bar upon some of the most intricate questions of the law; which, if they shall ever see the light, will vindicate his claims to the first honors of the profession.'

Again, we have the authority of the same gentleman upon another interesting point. It will be new to the reader to learn that Mr Jefferson was any thing of a popular orator. 'It is true,' continues the writer, ' he was not distinguished in popular debate; why he was not so, has often been matter of surprise to those who have seen his eloquence on paper, and heard it in conversation. He had all the attributes of the mind, and the heart, and the soul, which are essential to eloquence of the highest order. The only defect was a physical one: he wanted volume and compass of voice for a large deliberative assembly; and his voice, from the excess of his sensibility, instead of rising with his feelings and conceptions, sunk under their pressure, and became gutteral and inarticulate. The consciousness of this infirmity repressed any attempt in a large body, in which he knew he must fail. But his voice was all sufficient for the purposes of judicial debate; and there is no reason to doubt, that if the services of his country had not called him away so soon from his profession, his fame as a lawyer, would now have stood upon the same distinguished ground which he confessedly occupies as a statesman, an author, and a scholar.'

CHAPTER II.

Mr Jefferson came of age in 1764. He had scarcely arrived at his majority, when he was placed in the nomination of Justices for the county in which he lived; and at the first election following, was chosen one of its Representatives to the Legislature.

He took his seat in that body in May, 1769, and distinguished himself at once by an effort of philanthropy, to which the steady process of liberal opinions for sixty years has not brought the tone of public sentiment; at least, so far as to reconcile the majority to the personal sacrifices which it involves. The moral intrepidity that could prompt him, a new member, and one of the youngest in the House, to rise from his seat with the composure of a martyr, and propose amidst a body of inexorable planters, a bill 'for the permission of the Emancipation of Slaves,' gave an unequivocal earnest of his future career. He was himself a slave holder, and from the immense inheritance to which he had succeeded, probably one of the largest in the House. He knew too, that it was a measure of peculiar odium, running counter to the strongest interests, and most intractable prejudices of the ruling population; that it would draw upon him the keen resentments of the wealthy and the great, who alone held the keys of honor and preferment at home, besides banishing forever all hope of a favorable consideration with the government. In return for this array of sacrifices, he saw nothing await him but the satisfaction of an approving conscience, and the distant commendation of an impartial posterity. He could have no possible motive but the honor of his country, and the gratification of his own benevolence.

The announcement of the proposition gave a shock to the aristocracy of the House. It touched their sensibilities at a most irritable point, and was rejected by a suden and overwhelming vote. Yet the courteous and conciliatory account which Mr Jefferson has left of the transaction, ascribes the failure of the bill to the vicious and despotic influence of the government, which, by its unceasing frown, overawed every attempt at reform,— rather than to any moral depravation of the members themselves. 'Our minds,' says he,' were circumscribed within narrow limits, by an habitual belief that it was our duty to be subordinate to the mother country in all matters of government, to direct all our labors in subservience to her interests, and even to observe a bigoted intolerance for all religions but hers. The difficulties with our Representatives were of habit and despair, not of reflection and conviction. Experience soon proved that they could bring their minds to rights, on the first summons of their attention.'


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