Imágenes de páginas

when, suddenly impressed with the conviction, that they had left the most important points untouched, this unknown stripling of seventeen presented himself to the assembly, and proceeded to address them in a strain of unpremeditated eloquence. For a short time, he seemed to be somewhat embarrassed by his novel situation; but, rising gradually with his theme, he astonished his audience by the originality of his views, the cogency of his arguments, and the manly style of his oratory. Not long after, an attack appeared upon Congress, under the signature of a Westchester Farmer, and in answer to this and a subsequent publication, Hamilton (now just eighteen) wrote two pamphlets of such remarkable power, that they were at once ascribed to some of the leading men in the colonies, and people long refused to believe, that works of so much merit were the unaided productions of the young inexperienced West Indian. Yet, decided as were his opinions, and strenuous his exertions, on the side of the revolutionary movement, he had already learned to temper his zeal with a wise forbearance, and never to lose sight of the paramount duties of humanity and justice. When an excited mob attempted to seize the person of Dr. Cooper, the loyal president of King's College,


Hamilton threw himself between them and their intended victim, and gave the worthy clergyman time to escape; and when the house of a Tory printer had been assailed and rifled, it was Hamilton who first denounced this outrage on the liberty of the press, and called on the citizens to pursue and arrest the plunderers. It would have been well for America, if her advocates of popular rights had always been equally fearless in resisting popular violence.

As the prospect of war became more imminent, the young orator and pamphleteer determined to fit himself for a soldier. In him there was none of that idle kind of enthusiasm, which thinks to attain the end while neglecting the means. He at once set resolutely to work to study fortification, gunnery, and the various branches of the military art, besides devoting much time to martial exercises and the practice of arms; so that, when a volunteer force was raised at New York, he readily obtained the command of a company of artillery. It was here, that, as before mentioned, he attracted the attention of General Greene, who invited him to his quarters, treated him with marked kindness, and soon recommended him to the notice of Washington. But some little time elapsed before he was brought into personal relations with his illustrious chief.

Meanwhile, the Congress had taken the final step in the process of separating from England. Even after the war had begun, many had continued to believe in the possibility of an accommodation, and it was only after long debate and doubt, that the representatives of America determined to commit themselves irrevocably to the policy of independence. It was Thomas Jefferson, of Virginia, who was commissioned to prepare the important document, that was to proclaim to the world the termination of the old sovereignty. “When,” runs this celebrated manifesto, “in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station, to which the laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires, that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” It then proceeds to enumerate the rights, which it supposes Great Britain to have violated, and to describe the fruitless endeavours of the colonies to obtain redress; and it concludes by solemnly declaring “that


these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES ; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connexion between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved ; and that, as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract

, alliances, establish commerce, and do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.”

The Declaration of Independence was adopted on the 4th of July, 1776, and the anniversary has ever since been commemorated by Americans with great rejoicings in all parts of the world. They have more than fulfilled the prediction of John Adams, who believed that it would be solemnized “with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forth for evermore.” Unhappily, they have too often forgotten, in the hour of prosperity and success, the sober and earnest spirit with which their fathers devoted to the common cause “their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honour.” They have needed the calm self-control of a Washington to restrain the exuberance of their exultation ; even as, on the first appearance of that world-famous document, he rebuked his soldiers for indulging in unseemly and riotous demonstrations. “The General hopes and trusts,” he wrote, “that every officer and man will endeavour so to live and act, as becomes a Christian soldier, defending the dearest rights and liberties of his country.”

And, indeed, it was no time for any kind of rejoicing. Scarcely had the Declaration of Independence been published, when the storm of war burst with redoubled violence on the shores of America. A British fleet forced the entrance of the Hudson, a British army landed on Long Island, and, after a disastrous battle, and a retreat under cover of á fog, Washington was compelled to abandon New York, and to fall back upon the heights of Harlem. It was there that, while fortifying his camp and going his round of inspection, he was struck with the skilful construction of some earthworks by a young officer of artillery. He entered into conversation with him, and found it was the same Alexander Hamilton, to whom General Greene had already directed his attention. The chief invited the youthful engineer to his tent, and soon discovered how many rare qualities were united in his person. From

« AnteriorContinuar »