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elected, by the provincial congress, a member of the committee of safety, for the district of Newbern. At various periods of the war he served in the army, generally as a surgeon, and once in the spring of 1776) as captain of a volunteer band, that marched to the aid of Wilmington, on the approach of the armament of Sir Henry Clinton. By his zealous and ardent support of the cause of freedom, he acquired the confidence of the popular authorities, and was distinguished by the bitter hatred of the loyalists, who, though in a minority, were still numerous in that section of the state.
In the month of August, 1781, Major Craig, of the British army, whose head-quarters were at Wilmington, advanced at the head of a small detachment of regular troops, and a gang of tories, towards Newbern, with a view of occupying that city. The tories were several miles in the advance, and rapidly entered the town on the 20th of August. The whigs, thus surprised, had but little opportunity to make a regular stand, and after an ineffectual resistance gave up the contest. Dr. Gaston, however, knew too well the hatred and ferocity of his foes, to surrender himself into their hands, and hurrying off his wife and children, endeavored to escape across the river Trent, and thus retire to his plantation on Bryce's creek.
He reached the wharf, accompanied by his family, but before he could embark them in the light scow which he had seized, the tories in a body came galloping down, in their eager and bloody pursuit, and forced him to push off in the stream, leaving his wife and children unprotected on the shore. He was standing erect in the boat, which floated about forty yards from the shore, watching the situation of his wife, and while she, at the feet of his pursuers, with all the agony of anticipated bereavement, was imploring mercy for herself and life for her husband, a musket, levelled over her shoulder, was discharged and the victim sacrificed.
Mrs. Gaston was thus left alone in America. Her two brothers had died, and the inhuman murder of her husband left her no other objects of affection, save her son and an infant daughter. But she did not shrink nor despair amidst these multiplied disasters. Supported by her high sense of religion, and an admirable energy of character, she sedulously devoted herself to the arduous duties which now devolved upon her. The education and proper training up of her son, became the grand object of her existence, and whatever of good there is in him must be ascribed to the affectionate tuition and admonitions of maternal solicitude. Her strong feelings, her exquisite sensibility, her high integrity, and above all, her religion, she
indelibly stamped upon his mind, and even at this advanced period of his life, his character, admirable as it is, is nothing more than the maturity of the efforts of his mother.
While a school boy in Newbern, he is represented as having been very quick, and apt to learn ; of an affectionate temper, but yet volatile and irritable. His mother used every means to correct his infirmities of disposition, and to give an aim to his pursuits sometimes employing kindness, or mild but solemn admonition, and occasionally still stricter discipline. He continued under her guardianship and strict observation, until the fall of the year 1791, when he was sent to the college at Georgetown. The course of studies, though not very extensive, were rigorously enforced, and, as in all other catholic colleges, the ancient classics were long and painfully studied. In the spring of 1793 it was apprehended that the constitution of our student was sinking under a consumption. Accordingly he returned to his native climate, and there soon recovered his health, and renewed his studies. Determined to give her son every advantage of education which America afforded, Mrs. Gaston placed him under the direction of the Rev. Thomas P. Irwing, and after a few months of preparatory instruction, he entered the junior class of Princeton college, in the autumn of 1794. In 1796 he was graduated with the first honors of the institution; and he has been frequently heard to say, that it was the proudest moment of his life when he communicated the fact to his mother.
On his return from college he commenced the study of the law, in the office of François Xavier Martin, now a judge of the supreme court of Louisiana. In 1798, when he was only twenty years of age, he was admitted to the bar, and in August, 1800, the first year after his coming of age, he was elected a member of the senate of North Carolina. In 1808 he was chosen by the Newbern district an elector of president and vice-president, and in the same year he drew up the act of the assembly regulating the descent of inherit
In 1813 he was elected a member of congress, and continued in that body until 1817, when he retired to the more agreeable pursuits of domestic and professional life.
Judge Gaston carried into congress the zeal and independence of an upright politician, as well as the learning of a jurist; and on reviewing his congressional career, his friends will find no cause for chagrin or mortification, whilst those who differed from him in opinions, will at least acknowledge the invariable rectitude of his political course.
His first great effort on the floor of congress, was his celebrated speech in opposition to the loan bill, and on that occasion he appears to have acted as the acknowledged leader of the federal party.
In the early part of the year 1815, a bill was introduced to authorize a loan of twenty-five millions of dollars to the government of the United States. In opposing this bill, Mr. Gaston declared that if it could be shewn necessary to accomplish any purposes demanded by the honor and welfare of the country, it assuredly should meet with no opposition from him. It was, he said, avowedly not necessary, except to carry on the scheme of invasion and conquest against the Canadas; and to that scheme he had never been a friend, and to its prosecution at that time he had invincible objections, founded on considerations of justice, humanity, and national policy. In the course of this speech he took a very extensive view of the causes of the war, as well as the manner in which it had been conducted.
There is one sentence in this speech which we shall extract as a fair specimen of Judge Gaston's style of oratory. Mr. Calhoun had, in the course of his remarks, spoken with much warmth of the factious opposition to the administration, which he was pleased to say might be salutary in a monarchy, but was highly dangerous in a government so republican as ours. Judge GASTON concluded his reply to this remark in the following eloquent peroration.
" If this doctrine were then to be collected from the histories of the world, can it now be doubted, since the experience of the last twentyfive years. Go to France-once revolutionary, now imperial France--and ask her whether factious power or intemperate opposition be the more fatal to freedom and happiness. Perhaps at some moment, when the eagle eye of her master is turned away, she may whisper to you to behold the demolition of Lyons, or the devastation of La Vendee. Perhaps she will give you a written answer. Draw near the fatal lamp post, and by its flickering light read it as traced in characters of blood that flowed from the guillotine —'Faction is a demon-faction out of power is a demon enchained — faction vested with the attributes of rule, is a Moloch of destruction.”
In 1816, Mr. Stanford, of North Carolina, moved to expunge " the previous question" from the rules of the house; and this motion, which was opposed by Mr. Clay, Judge GASTON supported in one of the ablest speeches ever delivered by him in the hall of the representatives. It contained more learning than we thought existed on the subject, and we doubt whether, at the present day, its history in the English parliament, or the American congress, is any where so accurately and ingeniously discussed, as in this speech. It was entirely a new field, and we shall venture to ascribe as much genius in the ingenuity which selected such an occasion for display, as in the eloquent and vivid manner in which the orator set forth his store of learning. It is a studied and richly carved work, and had obviously occupied his attention for a long time. We have not space for more than a short extract from this speech, but commend the whole of it to the perusal of all politicians and statesmen. After a few introductory remarks, Mr. Gaston said :
" And, sir, I rejoice equally at the opposition which the motion of my colleague has encountered. If this hideous rule could have been vindicated, we should have received that vindication from the gentleman who has just resumed his seat. (Mr. Clay.) If his ingenuity and real combined, could form for the previous question no other defence than that which we have heard, the previous question cannot be defended. If beneath his shield it finds so slight a shelter, it must fall a victim to the just, though long delayed vengeance of awakened and indignant freedom. If Hector cannot defend his Troy, the doom of Troy is fixed by fate. It is indispensable, before we proceed further in the consideration of this subject, that we should perfectly understand what is our previous question. Gentlemen may incautiously suppose that it is the same with what has been called the previous question elsewhere. This would be a most fatal mistake.
Our previous question is altogether sui generis, the only one of its kind; and to know it we must consider not merely what is written of it in our code, but what it has been rendered by exposition and construction. Our previous question 'can only be admitted when demanded by a majority of the members present.' It is a question, 'whether the question under debate should now be put.' On the previous question there shall be no debate;' until it is decided, it shall preclude all amendment and debate of the main question. If it be decided negatively, viz., that the main question shall not now be put, the main question is of course superseded; but if it be decided affirmatively that the main question shall now be put, the main question is to be put instantaneously, and no member can be allowed to amend or discuss it. The previous question is entitled to precedence over motions to amend, commit, or postpone the main question, and therefore, when admitted, puts these entirely aside. This, according to the latest improvement, is now our rule of the previous question, and certainly in your patent office there is no model of a machine better fitted to its purposes, than this instrument for the ends of tyranny. It is a power vested in a majority, to forbid at their sovereign will and pleasure, every member, not of that majority, from making known either his own sentiments, or the wishes or complaints of his constituents, in relation to any subject under consideration, or from attempting to amend what is proposed as a law for the government of the whole nation.”
After detailing the history of the previous question in the British house of commons, and in the American congress, and shewing that it was not considered a machine to close debate, up to the year 1808, he proceeds to say, “It was impossible that any rule could be more completely settled, both by uninterrupted usage and solemn, deliberate adjudication, than was the rule of the previous question in this house. It was a rule perfectly consistent with good sense, with the requisite independence of the members of the house, and with the right of the free people whom they represented. It preserved decorum; it had a tendency to prevent unnecessary discussions; it superseded unnecessary questions; while it left perfectly untouched the fundamental principles of parliamentary and political freedom. Thus, sir, it continued the more firm for the impotent attempt which had been made to prevent it, and the better understood from the blunders which its examination had exposed. Such was the state of things, when on the memorable night of the 27th of February, 1811, the monster which we now call the previous question, was ushered into existence, and utterly supplanted the harmless, useless being whose name it usurped."
This speech, so profound and so violent in its character, was received by the house with astonishment and admiration.
There is always something remarkable in the speeches of southern orators. A striking similarity of manner and of language, which shews at once the "latitude" of the orator. Vehement whenever they condemn, enthusiastic whenever they applaud, they carry into political strife “the rancor of opposition, or the idolatry of love."
Something of this feeling may be observed in the speeches of Mr. Gaston, which we have noticed, and which are among the finest specimens of southern eloquence. They contain a great deal of calm, weighty argument, but it is only when the orator turns to watch the position of his antagonist, that his language is fired by passion, and his denunciations are sent forth burning, and blazing, and “withering as they go.”