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the whole, they will destroy each other's influence, and keep the country in equilibrio. Be not surprised that I am turned politician; the whole town is immersed in politics. The interests of nations, and all the dira of war, make the subject of every conversation. I sit and hear, and, after having been led through a maze of sage observations, I sometimes retire, and, by laying things together, form some reflections pleasing to myself. The produce of one of these reveries you have read above."
Here we mark the political dawn of the mind of this great man. His country, her resources, her independence, her glory, were the first objects of his thoughts, as they were the last. Here, too, we see the earliest proof of that bold and adventurous turn for speculation, that sagacious flashing into futurity, and that sanguine anticipation, which became so conspicuous in his after life. He calls this letter a reverie; but, connecting it with his ardent character and his future career, there is reason to believe, that it was a reverie which produced in him all the effect of a prophetic vision, and opened to him a perspective which was never afterwards closed.
An incident soon occurred to give brighter tinting and stronger consistency to this dream of his youth; and this may be considered as among the most efficient of those means, devised by the wisdom of Providence, to shape the character and point the energies of this high-minded young man to the advancement of the great destiny that awaited his country. The famous question of writs of assistance was argued, in his presence, in Boston, in February, 1761. These writs were a kind of general search-warrants, transferrable by manual delivery from one low tool of power to another, and without any return; which put at the mercy of these vulgar wretches, for an indefinite period, the domestic privacy, the peace and comfort, of the most respectable inhabitants in the colony; and even the sanctuary of female delicacy and devotion. The authority of the British tribunals in the
province, themselves the instruments of a tyrant's will, to issue such writs, was the precise question to be discussed. The champion in opposition to the power was the great Otis. Of the character of his argument, and its effect upon Mr. Adams, we are not left to conjecture: he has given it to us, himself, in his own burning phraseology. “Otis was a flame of fire ! With a promptitude of classical allusion, a depth of research, a rapid summary of historical events and dates, a profusion of legal authorities, a prophetic glance of his eyes into futurity, and a rapid torrent of impetuous eloquence, he hurried away all before him. American Independence was then and there born.” And he adds—“Every man of an immense crowded audience appeared to me to go away, as I did, ready to take arms against writs of assistance.'
The “ immense crowded audience,” it is probable, left the hall with no impressions beyond the particular subject of debate. They were ready to take arms against writs of assistance. Not so with Mr. Adams. In him the “ splendid conflagration of Otis” had set fire to a mind whose action it was not easy to restrain within narrow limits; a mind already looking out on the wide expanse of the future, and apparently waiting only for the occasion, to hold up to his countrymen the great revolving light of Independence, above the darkness of the coming storm. In him American Independence was then and there born: and, appealing to his own bosom, he was justified in saying, as he has done, on another occasion, in the most solemn terms, " that James Otis, then and there, first breathed into this nation the breath of life.”
The flame thus given to his enthusiasm was never permitted to subside. The breach between the two countries grew wider and wider, until, from being an excited spectator, he soon became a vigorous and most efficient actor. In his thirtieth year, he gave to his country, that powerful work, “ The Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law.” It is but to read those extracts from this work which have been recently diffus. ed among us from the North, to see that it was not limited in its purpose to the specific questions which had then arisen. The discussion travels far beyond these questions, and bears all the marks of a profound and comprehensive design, to prepare the country for a separation from Great Britain. It is a review of the whole system of the British institutions, and a most powerful assault upon those heresies, civil and religious, which constituted the outposts of that system. Besides the solid instruction which it conveys on the true theory of government, and the deep and impressive exhortation with which it urges the necessity of correct information to the People, it seems to have been the leading object of the work to disenchant his countrymen of that reverence for the institutions of the parent country which still lingered around their hearts, and to teach them to look upon these institutions, not only with indifference, but with aversion and contempt. Hence those burning sarcasms which he flings into every story of the citadel, until the whole edifice is wrapped in flames. It is, indeed, a work eminently fitted for the speedy regeneration of the country. The whole tone of the essay is so raised and bold, that it sounds like a trumpet-call to arms.
. And the haughty defiance which he hurls into the face of the oppressors of his country, is so brave and uncompromising, as to leave no doubt that, whatever might be the temper of the rest of the community, the author had already laid his hand upon the altar, and sworn that his country should be free.
All this fire, however, was tempered with judgment, and guided by the keenest and most discriminating sagacity; and if his character was marked by the stubborn firmness of the Pilgrim. it was because he was supported by the Pilgrims' conscious integrity. Another incident soon occurred to place these qualities in high relief. In the progress of the quarrel, Great Britain had quartered an army in Boston, to supply the place of argument, and enforce that submission which she could not command. The immediate con
sequence was collision and affray between the soldiery and the citizens; and, in one of those affrays, on the 5th of March, 1770, the British captain, Preston, gave the fatal order to fire! Several were killed, and many more were wounded. It is easy to imagine the storm that instantly arose. The infuriated populace were, with great difficulty, restrained by the leading men of the town, from sating their vengeance upon the spot. Disappointed of this, they were loud, and even frantic, in their cry for the vengeance of law. Yet there was no murder in the case: for, in this instance it had happened that they were themselves the assailants. Preston was arrested for trial: and Mr. Adams then standing in the van of the profession, as well as that of the patriots, was called upon to undertake his defence. How was he to act? It is easy to know how a little, time-serving politician, or even a man of ordinary firmuess, would have acted: the one would have thrown himself on the popular current, and the other would have been swept along by it, and joined in the public cry for the victim. But Adams belonged to a higher order of character. He was formed not only to impel and guide the torrent; but to head that torrent too, when it had taken a wrong direction, and “to roll it back upon its source.” He was determined that the world should distinguish between a petty commotion of angry spirits, and the noble stand made by an enlightened nation in a just and noble cause. He was resolved that that pure and elevated cause should not be soiled and debased by an act of individual injustice. He undertook the defence, supported by his younger, but distinguished associate, Josiah Quincy; and, far from flattering the angry passions around him, he called upon the jury, in their presence, " to be deaf, deaf as adders, to the clamors of the populace;" and they were so. To their honor, a jury drawn from the excited people of Boston, acquitted the prisoner: and to their equal honor, that very populace, instead of resenting the language and conduct of his advocate, loaded him immediately with additional proofs of their
confidence. These were the people, who, according to some European notions, are incapable of any agency in their own government. By their systems, deliberately planned for the purpose, they first degrade and brutalize their people, and then descant on their unfitness for self-rule. The man of America, it seems, is the only man fit for republican government! But man is every where the same, and requires only to be enlightened, to assert the native dignity of his character.
Mr. Adams was now among the most conspicuous champions of the colonial cause in Massachusetts. In the same year to which we have just adverted, 1770, he had been elected a member of the Provincial Legislature; and he thenceforth took a high and commanding part in every public measure; displaying, on every occasion, the same consistent character; the same sagacity to pierce the night of the future; the same bold and dauntless front; the same nerve of the Nemean lion.
The time had now come for concerted action among the Colonies : and, accordingly, on the 5th September, 1774, the first Continental Congress met at Philadelphia. With what emotions Mr. Adams witnessed this great movement of the nation, it is easy for those who know his ardent character to imagine. Nor, are we left to our imaginations alone. He had been elected a member of that body; and immediately on his election, an incident occurred which relieves us from the necessity of conjecturing the state of his feelings. His friend Sewall, the Attorney General, hearing of his election, sent for him, and he came : when Sewall, with all the solicitude and importunity of friendship, sought to divert him from his purpose from taking his seat in Congress: he represented to him that Great Britain was determined on her purpose: that her power was irresistible, and would be destructive to him and all who should persevere in opposition to her designs. “ I know,” replied the dauntless and high-souled patriot, “ that Great Britain has determined on her system;