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He also favoured the instalment law, and used his best exertions to meliorate the condition of the poor as well as the rich, by the enactment of laws based upon humanity and justice. He took an active part in most of the legislation of the state, and when the federal constitution was presented for consideration, he was, taking it as a whole, its warm and zealous advocate. Purely republican in principle, he was always opposed to slavery, deeming it a national curse. He was untiring in his labour-emphatically a working man. Dr. Ramsay remarks of him, “For the good obtained and the evil prevented, his memory will be long respected by his countrymen.”
As I have before remarked, he was a friend to order and law, and when any measure was consummated by legislative action, or by any public functionary duly authorized to act, he delighted in seeing it fulfilled to the letter. Although he was in feeling with the French when difficulties arose between them and England, he reprobated strongly the conduct of M. Genet and the French Directory. He was not a party man, but was always actuated by a sense of duty, and a pure desire for the prosperity of his country. His was the stern, unflinching moderation, calculated to awe a mob, paralyze a faction, and preserve, pure and undefiled, that lofty patriotism which commands esteem and respect.
In 1798 he was elected governor of his native state. Soon after, disease fastened its relentless hands upon him, and handed him over to the king of terrors in the mid career of his term. During the legislative session of 1800, his illness increased so rapidly that he fest an assurance that his dissolution was rapidly approaching, and was desirous of returning to Charleston, that he might yield up his breath where he first inhaled the atmosphere. The constitution required the presence of the governor during the sitting of the legislature, and so scrupulous was he to fulfil its letter, that he determined to remain unless both branches passed a resolution sanctioning his absence. The subject was submitted, but on some debate arising from the partisan feeling then prevalent, the application was immediately withdrawn, and he remained until the legislature adjourned. He was barely able to reach his home, when he laid down upon the bed of death and yielded to the only tyrant that could conquer his patriotic spirit, on the 23d of January, 1800. The same fortitude that had characterized his whole life, was strongly exhibited during his last illness, and did not forsake him in his dying hours. His loss was severely felt and deeply lamented by his mourning fellow-citizens. In the death of this good man, his native state lost one of its brightest ornaments, one of its noblest sons.
Governor Rutledge stood high as an orator. He appears to have understood well the machinery of human nature, and knew well when to address the judgment and when the passions of his audience. exciting the sympathy of a jury, he had no equal at the Charleston bar. He also knew how, where, and when to be logical; and, what is all important in every man, either in the public or private walks of life, he knew how, when, and where to speak, and what to say. His private worth and public services were highly honourable to himself, consoling to his friends and beneficial to his country. His usefulness only ended with his life; his fame is untarnished with error; his examples are worthy of imitation, and his life without a blank.
By his first wife, Harriet, daughter of Henry Middleton, one of his colleagues in congress, he had a son and daughter, the latter of whom remained in Charleston, the former, Major Henry M. Rutledge, became one of the pioneers of Tennessee. God grant that he may
imitate the virtues of his venerable father, and fill the blank our country. experienced in the death of the wise, the judicious, the benevoleni, the philanthropic, the patriotic, and the high minded Edward Rut
But few men have contributed more to fill the measure of the glory and prosperity of their country, than the subject of this brief sketch. He was a native of Chester county, Pennsylvania, and born on the 19th day of March, 1734. He was the son of William M.Kean, who immigrated from Ireland when quite young. He placed Thomas, at an early age, under the tuition of the Rev. Francis Allison, then principal of one of the most celebrated Seminaries of the Province, and a gentleman of profound science and erudition. The talents of Thomas soon budded and blossomed like the early rose of spring.
His mind was moulded for close application to study; his proficiency was truly gratifying to his teachers and friends, and gave high promise of unusual attainments. He became a thorough linguist, a practical mathematician, and a moral philosopher. He was a faithful student, and left the seminary, a finished scholar and an accomplished gentleman, esteemed and respected by his numerous acquaintances.
He then commenced the study of law under David Kinney, Esquire, at New Castle, Delaware. He explored the vast field of this science with astonishing and unusual success, and was admitted to the bar under the most favourable auspices. He commenced practice at the same place, and soon acquired a lucrative business and a proud reputation. He extended his operations into the province of his nativity, and was admitted in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in 1757. His strict attention to business and his superior legal acquirements, obtained for him an extensive and just celebrity. Although he had become the eloquent advocate and able lawyer, he was still a close and industrious student. He continued to add to his large stock of knowledge, with the same avidity and to greater advantage, than when he commenced his scientific career. He did not fall into the error that has prevented some lawyers of strong native talent from rising above mediocrity: that when their practice begins their studies end. This is a rock on which many have been shipwrecked in all the learned professions. The laws of nature demand a constant supply of food in
the intellectual as well as in the physical world. The corroding rust of forgetfulness will mar the most brilliant acquirements of literature, unless kept bright by use; and much study is requisite to keep pace with the march of mind and the ever varying changes in the field of science, constantly under the cultivation of the soaring intellect of
It may be said, that the grand basis of the law is as unchanging as the rock of adamant. To this I answer: its superstructure is an increasing labyrinth, and, unless the progress of the work is kept constantly in view, those who enter, strangers to its meanderings, will find themselves in a perplexing situation.
In 1762, Mr. M.Kean was elected a member of the Delaware assembly from New Castle county, and was continued in that station for eleven successive years, when he removed to the city of Philadelphia. So much attached to him were the people of that county, that they continued to elect him for six succeeding years after his removal, although he necessarily declined the honour of serving. He was claimed by Delaware and Pennsylvania as a favourite son of each, under the old regimen, and did, in fact, serve both after changing bis residence, by being elected to the continental congress from the state of Delaware, being then Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, the former state claiming him, probably, because he still retained his mansion, furnished by himself, in New Castle, where his business frequently called him.
In 1779, he attempted to take final leave of his constituents in Delaware, and on that occasion, as a large meeting was convened for the purpose, made a most animating, patriotic and thrilling speech; portraying, in glowing colours, the bright prospects that were dawning upon the infant republic, and the certainty of being able to maintain the independence of the United States. After he retired, a committee waited upon him, with the novel request, that he would name seven gentlemen, suitable to be elected to the assembly. He desired them to report his thanks for the confidence they expressed in his judgment, and assured them there were not only seven but seventy then in the meeting, fully qualified to represent the people, and begged to be excused from naming any gentlemen, lest he should give offence. A second time the committee called and insisted on the selection by him, with the full assurance that he would give no offence. He then named seven candidates, and had the gratification to learn that they were all elected. An unlimited confidence in his abilities and integrity, was strongly felt by his constituents. He continued to represent thein in congress during the eventful period of the war.
In 1765, he was a member of the Congress of New York, sent from Delaware. He was one of the committee that drafted the memorable address to the House of Commons of Great Britain. His patriotism, love of liberty, and unbending firmness of purpose; were fully demonstrated in that instrument, as well as in the acts of his subsequent life. He was a republican to the core, and despised the chains of political slavery, the baubles of monarchy, and the trappings of a crown. He was for LIBERTY or death, and scorned to be a slave.
On his return, the same year, he was appointed judge of the court of common pleas, quarter sessions, and orphans' court, of New Castle county. The stamp act was then in full life, but not in full force: Judge M.Kean directed the officers of the courts over which he presided not to use stamped paper, as had been ordered by the hirelings of the British ministers. He set their authority at utter defiance, and was the first Judge, in any of the colonies, who took this bold stand. That circumstance alone, trifling as it may now seem to some readers, was big with events, and was an important entering wedge to the revolution, and stamped his name, in bold relievo, on the tablet of enduring fame. He had talent to design and energy to execute. From that time forward, in all the leading measures of the struggle for liberty, he was among the leading patriots.
He was a prominent member of the congress of 1774, that convened at Philadelphia. From that time to the peace of 1783, he was a member of the continental congress, and the only one who served during the whole time. He was a strong advocate for the declaration of independence, and most willingly affixed his signature to that sacred instrument. When it came up for final action, so anxious was he that it should pass unanimously, that he sent an express after Cæsar Rodney, one of his colleagues, the other, Mr. Read, having manifested a disposition to vote against it. Mr. Rodney arrived on the 4th of July, just in time to give his vote in favour of the important measure, and thus secured its unanimous adoption. Notwithstanding the arduous duties that devolved on Mr. M.Kean, as member of congress, member of several committees, and chief justice of Pennsylvania, all of which he discharged satisfactorily—so ardent was his patriotism, so devoted was he to promote the cause he had nobly espoused, that he accepted a colonel's commission, and was appointed to the command of a regiment of associators, raised in the city of Philadelphia, and marched to the support of Gen. Washington, with whom he remained until a supply of new recruits was raised. During his absence, his Delaware constituents had elected him a member of the convention to form a constitution. On his return he proceeded to New Castle, and, in a tavern, without premeditation or consulting men or books, he hastily penned the constitution that was adopted by the delegates. Understanding the wants and feelings of the people, well versed in law and the principles of republicanism, and a ready writer, he was enabled to perform, in a few hours, a work that, in modern times, requires the labours of an expensive assembly for nearly a year. How changed are men and things since the glorious era of '76! How different the motives that now impel to action, and how different the amount of labour performed in the same time and for the same money.
Then all were anxious to listen! now nearly all are anxious to speak. Then, legislators loved their country more, and the loaves and fishes less, than at the present day.
On the 10th of July, 1781, Judge M.Kean was elected president of congress, which honour he was compelled to decline, because his duties as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania would necessarily require his absence some part of the time during the session. He was then urged to occupy the chair until the first Monday of November, when the court was to commence. To this he assented, and presided until that time, with great credit to himself and to the satisfaction of the members of that august body. On his retiring from the chair, the following resolution was unanimously passed on the 7th of November, 1781:
“Resolved, That the thanks of congress be given to the Honourable Thomas M Kean, late president of congress, in testimony of their approbation of his conduct in the chair, and in the execution of public business."
His duties upon the bench of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which commenced in 1777, were often of the most responsible and arduous character. He did not recognise the power of the crown, and held himself amenable, in the discharge of his official functions, only to his country and his God. An able jurist and an unyielding patriot, he punished, at the hazard of his own life, all who were brought before him and convicted of violating the laws of the new dynasty. No threats could intimidate or influence reach him, when designed to divert him from the independent discharge of his duty. His profound legal acquirements, his ardent zeal, his equal justice, his vigorous energy and his noble patriotism, enabled him to outride every storm, and calm the raging billows that often surrounded him. He marched on triumphantly to the goal of LIBERTY, and hailed with joy the star spangled banner, as it waved in grandeur from the lofty spires of the temple of FREEDOM. He beheld, with the eye of a sage, a philosopher, and a philanthropist, the rising glory of Columbia's new world.' He viewed, with emotions of pleasing confidence, the American eagle descend from etherial regions, beyond the altitude of a tyrant's breath, and pounce upon the British lion. With increasing vigour and redoubled fury, ihe mighty bird continued the awful conflict, until the king of beasts retreated to his lair, and proclaimed to a gazing and admiring world, AMERICA IS FREE!! Angels rejoiced, monarchs trembled, and patriots shouted aloud-AMEN!! The grand Rubicon was passed, the torch of England's power over the colonies had expired in its socket, and the birth of a new nation was celebrated by happy millions, basking beneath the luminous rays and refulgent glories of LIBERTY and FREEDOM! The harvest was past, the summer ended, and our country saved. The mighty work of political regeneration was accomplished, the independence of the United States acknowledged, and an honourable peace consummated.
Judge M Kean, in common with his fellow patriots, heroes and sages, then sat down under his own fig tree, to enjoy the full fruition of his long and faithful labours in the cause of equal riglıts. He continued to discharge the important duties of chief justice until 1799, illuminating his judicial path with profound learning, impartial decision, and sound discretion. His legal opinions, based as they generally are, upon the firm pillars of equal justice, strict equity, and correct law; given, as they were, when our form of government was changing, the laws unsettled, our state constitution but just formed, and the federal constitution bursting from embryo-are