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The unqualified and unrestrained oppressions emanating from crowned heads and exercised with impunity in former times, have been shorn of half their terrors by modern light and intelligence. As the genial rays of liberty illuminate the minds of the human family, thrones will be held by a more slender tenure, and monarchies will become more limited if not completely annihilated. In Europe, kingly power has been vibrating for the last century, as if shaken by an earthquake. The love of freedom has never been extinguished in the old world; the same feelings that prompted the pilgrim fathers to tempt the dangers of this western hemisphere, still pervade the bosoms of millions who are writhing under the goring lash of potent sceptres.
When our forefathers planted themselves upon the shores of America many of them appear to have understood clearly the principles of a republican government, as appears from the articles of association entered into by several and distinct settlements. Among those who commenced their superstructure upon the foundation of equal rights, the name of Wolcott stands conspicuous. It is closely associated with the history of New England for the last two centuries. Henry Wolcott, the patriarch ancestor of this eminent family, was a native of England, and settled in Dorchester, Massachusetts, as early as 1630. In 1636, he, with several others, founded the town of Windsor, in Connecticut, and established a commonwealth, based on republican principles, consisting of Windsor, Hartford, and Weathersfield.
The revised constitution of Connecticut is substantially the same as the one penned by Roger Ludlow, and adopted by this infant colony; a high compliment to the pilgrim fathers--a proud memorial of their virtue and intelligence.
During the perils of the Indian wars, during the difficulties with the Canadian French, and through all the various vicissitudes that have pervaded New England down to the present time, the descendants of Henry Wolcott have acted a conspicuous part in the field and in the legislative hall.
OLIVER WOLcott, the subject of this brief sketch, was the youngest son of Roger Wolcott, who was appointed governor of Connecticut in 1751. Oliver was born the 26th of November, 1726, and graduated at Yale College at the age of twenty-one years. The same year he was commissioned to command a company which he raised and marched to the defence of the northern frontier, where he remained until the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. He then returned, applied himself to the study of medicine, until he was appointed the first sheriff of the county of Litchfield, formed in 1751. In 1755 he married Laura Collins, an amiable and discreet woman of great merit.
1774 he was appointed counsellor, which station he filled for twelve succcessive
years. He was also chief judge of the common plea court, and, for a long time, a judge of the court of probate. As a military officer he rose from the grade of captain to that of major-general. In the summer of 1776, he commanded the fourteen regiments raised by Governor Trumbull to act with the army in New York. He headed his brigade at the memorable battle that resulted in the capture of Burgoyne and revived the drooping cause of the bleeding colonies. He was uniformly consulted on important military movements, and was listened to with great confidence and respect. From its commencement he was a zealous and ardent supporter of the revolution.
In 1775 he was appointed by congress a commissioner of Indian affairs for the northern department, a trust of high importance at that time. During the same year his influence was happily exerted in reconciling disputes between the neighbouring colonies relative to their respective boundaries. Amiable and persuasive in his manners, aided by a sound discretion and a correct sense of justice, he was well calculated to be a mediator between contending parties.
In 1776 he took his seat in congress, and remained until he affixed his signature to that Declaration which burst the chains of slavery, gave birth to a nation in a day, astonished gazing millions, made the British king tremble on his throne, and stamped the names of its signers with a fame that will endure, unimpaired, through the rolling ages
of time. He then returned and took his station in the field, and on all occasions proved himself a brave, skilful, and prudent officer. When he deemed his services more useful in congress, he occasionally took his seat in that body until 1783.
In 1785. he was associated with Arthur Lee and Richard Butler to conclude a peace with the Six Nations. The year following he was elected lieutenant-governor, which station he filled for ten years, when he was chosen
governor, the dignified duties of which station he performed until death closed his mortal career on the first of December, 1797, in the seventy-first year of his age, regretted by all, and most by those who knew him best.
In addition to his numerous public services, always performed with out pomp or noise, his private character shone with peculiar lustre. He possessed all the sterling virtues, was a devout and consistent christian, an honourable and honest man.
When an individual is placed upon the horns of a dilemma, involving personal liberty, property or safety, his intellectual and physical powers are at once roused to action. He does not stop to explore the regions of obtuse metaphysics, speculative philosophy, or of fastidious etiquette. He flies to first principles, and strains his reason and understanding to their utmost tension to aid him. He puts forth his mightiest efforts, bis boldest exertions, and his strongest energies, in order to extricate himself from surrounding difficulties and impending dangers. In this way he performs astonishing feats, and surmounts the cloud capt summit of an Alpine barrier, that, under ordinary circumstances, he would never reach.
The same course is pursued by a nation when placed in a similar situation. The history of the American revolution demonstrates, most clearly, the position here laid down. The colonists were placed upon the piercing points of the horns of an awful dilemma, and were apparently doomed to slavery or death: yet by their unparalleled efforts, aided by Heaven, they were ultimately delivered from their perilous situation, and, although badly gored, survived their wounds. This was effected by men of strong intellect, clear heads, good hearts, and sound judgments; men who could reason, plan and execute. The flowers of literature were not culled for use; plain common sense, sterling worth, useful and practical knowledge, honesty of purpose, and persevering energy of action, all based upon pure patriotism and love of liberty, were the grand requisites to ensure popular favour.
All these were possessed by GEORGE READ, whose public career I will briefly trace. He was the eldest son of John Read, a wealthy and respectable planter, who emigrated from Dublin, Ireland, and located in Cecil county, Maryland, where George Read was born, in 1734. John Read subsequently removed to Newcastle county, Delaware,' and placed this son in a respectable school at Chester, Pennsylvania, where he made good proficiency in the first rudiments of his education. From there he was transferred to the seminary of the Rev. Dr. Allison, at New London, who was eminently qualified to mould the young mind for usefulness, by imparting correct principles, practical knowledge, and general intelligence, fit for every day use, combined with refined classics and polite literature. Under this accomplished teacher, Mr. Read completed his education, preparatory to his professional studies. At the age of seventeen, he commenced reading law with John Moland Esq., a distinguished member of the Philadelphia bar. His proficiency was so great that in two years he was admitted to the practical honours of his profession. He was well qualified to enter the field of competition, having taken the entire
charge of the docket of Mr. Moland for some time previous to his admission.
He commenced business in Newcastle, in 1754, and at once grappled successfully with the old and experienced counsellors around him, whose number and talents were neither few nor small. By his acuteness in pleading, and thorough knowledge of the primary principles of his profession, he soon gained the esteem of the courts, the admiration of his.senior brethren, the confidence of the community, and obtained a lucrative practice. His forte consisted not in flowery show, but in that deep toned and grave forensic eloquence, that informs the understanding and carries conviction to the mind. He seldom appealed to the passions of the court or jury, preferring to stand upon the firm basis of the law and testimony, clearly expounded and truly exhibited.
On the 13th of April, 1763, he was appointed attorney-general for the three lower counties of Delaware, and continued in that office until he was called to the higher duties of legislation. The same year he led to the hymeneal altar, an amiable, pious, and accomplished daughter of the Rev. George Ross, of Newcastle: thus adding largely to the stake he held in the welfare of his country, enhancing his earthly joys, and giving him an influence and rank in society never acquired by lonely bachelors. She fully supplied the vacuum abhorred by nature, and proved a valuable partner of his toils and perils, his pains and pleasures, through subsequent life.
Mr. Read was a republican to the core, and from the commencement to the close of the revolution, was a bold and unyielding advocate of equal rights and liberal principles. When the question of rights and wrongs became a subject of investigation between the two countries, he resigned the commission of attorney-general held under the crown, that he might enter the arena of discussion free and unshackled. In 1765 he was elected a member of the Assembly of the state of Delaware, and was instrumental in laying deep the foundations of the superstructure of liberty. He was prudent, calm, and discreet in all his actions; but firm, bold and resolute. He was a member of the Committee of the Delaware Assembly that so ably addressed the king upon the subject of grievances and redress. He was in favour of exhausting the magazine of petition and remonstrance, and if to no purpose, then to replenish with powder and ball. He did not, nor did any of the signers of the declaration, at the commencement of British oppression, contemplate a dissolution of the ties that bound the colonies to the mother country. But he understood well the rights secured to them by magna charta and the constitution of Great Britain; and he knew that those rights were trampled upon by the hirelings of the crown. To vindicate them he was firmly resolved. He opposed the principle of taxation without representation, and of raising a revenue in America to pamper royalty in England. He knew and weighed well the superior physical powers of his opposers; but he believed the majesty of eternal justice and the kind aid of Heaven, would sustain the patriots in their glorious cause. Nor did he reckon in vain. His written appeal to his con
stituents of the 17th of August, 1769, calling upon them to resist the encroachments of tyranny, was couched in bold and forcible language, portraying, in colours deep and strong, their rights and their wrongs, making the path of duty plain before them.
He sanctioned the various non-importation resolutions, passed by his own and other colonies; the first prominent mode adopted to thwart the designs and impositions of the British ministry after finding that petitions and remonstrances were treated with contumely. He was chairman of the committee of the Delaware patriots, appointed for the purpose of carrying these resolutions into effect. He was also chairman of the committee of twelve, appointed by the people of Newcastle, on the 29th of June, 1774, to obtain subscriptions for the Boston sufferers, who were writhing under the lash of the infamous port bill, passed by parliament, for the purpose of properly chastising the refractory inhabitants of that patriotic city. In February following, he remitted to the Boston committee, nine hundred dollars, money received from his constituents, which was eloquently acknowledged by Samuel Adams, who was one of his faithful correspondents.
Mr. Read was a member of the congress of 1774, and retained that elevated station during the revolution. He was also president of the convention that formed the first constitution of Delaware in 1776, and a member of her assembly constantly for twelve successive years, after his first election. A part of this time he was also vice president of his state, and in the autumn of 1777, when president M-Kinley fell into the hands of the enemy, Mr. Read was called from congress
to perform the more arduous, because undivided duties of a chief magistrate. On his way home with his family, he was compelled to pass through Jersey, and in crossing the Delaware from Salem, his boat was discovered by the British feet then lying just below. An armed barge was sent in pursuit. Mr. Read's boat stuck fast in the mud, and was soon come up to. By effacing the marks upon his baggage during a few brief moments before he was boarded, and having with him his wife and children, he convinced those from the fleet that he was a country gentleman on his way to his farm, and solicited their assistance to put him and his family on shore. They promptly af. forded their aid, took his boat out of the mud, and landed him and his precious charge safely on the Delaware side of the river. The perfect calmness of himself and lady, and their open frankness, saved them from the horrors of a prison ship, and probably him from an exhibition upon the yard arm of a man-of-war.
His duties now assumed an onerous character. Internal dissentions among his own people were to be reconciled; an intercourse by many
of the inhabitants with the British fleet was to be broken up; ways and means for his own and the general government claimed his attention; his mind was burdened by an extreme anxiety to procure the exchange of the president; and a conquering foe was triumphing in victory in almost every direction. In the midst of all these perils, he stood firmly at the helm and rode out every storm. He proved equal to every emergency, and added new lustre to his growing fame. When the Declaration of Independence was under discussion, he be