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of the impolitic and unconstitutional revenue system, and by the nature of his mind, he was impelled to meet oppression at the threshold. A man of deep reflection and investigation, he examined closely the nature and extent of chartered rights and of British wrongs. He made himself acquainted with the structure and principles of government, law, political economy, and national policy. No one understood better than him, the natural, legal and practical relations between the mother country and the colonies. He was therefore prepared to act advisedly and disposed to act firmly. His extensive influence, his decision of character, his sound discretion and his exalted patriotism, pointed him out as one of the master spirits to guide the public mind and aid in the public affairs of the people. He at once became a participant in all the popular movements in favour of liberty. On the 26th of May, 1773, he commenced his official career as a member of the legislative body of Massachusetts Bay, then called “the general court.” That assembly and the royal governor took a bold issue upon rights and wrongs. The unconstitutional acts of parliament were sanctioned by the latter, and fearlessly censured by the former. The general court, moved by Samuel Adams, appointed a standing committee of inquiry for the purpose of watching closely the proceedings of ministers and parliament, and of corresponding with the other colonies upon the important subjects then under national consideration. This committee was appointed two days after Mr. Gerry had taken his seat for the first time in a legislative body, of which he was made a member. From that time forward he was a conspicuous actor upon the tragic stage of the revolution, in the drama of peace and in the construction of the federal government. He walked shoulder to shoulder with Adams and Hancock in the adoption of the bold measures that roused the lion from his lair and the people to their duty. At the Boston tea-party, the opposition to the port bill, the impeachment of the crown judges, the controversy with Governor Hutchinson and the establishment of non-intercourse with Great Britain, Mr. Gerry stood firmly at his post. Completely prostrated in his influence, and driven from every position assumed, Governor Hutchinson retired and was succeeded by General Gage. This change was of no advantage to the royal cause. The blending of military and civil power was an unpopular measure. He issued a commission for a new general court, but finding it would be composed of members inimical to his views he countermanded the order. The sovereign people, however, elected delegates, who assembled in October at Salem, an unusual place of meeting, to do the business of their constituents. The governor and council not appearing to administer the oath of office, they adjourned to Concord and organized a provincial Congress, of which År. Gerry was a leading member. They prepared an address to the governor in respectful but firm language, declaring their attachment to the mother country, and their willingness to obey all laws of parliament and the mandates of the king that came within the sacred pale of the British constitution and the well defined charters which had emanated from it. They pointed out the violations of right, the perversions of justice, the military array of foreign
soldiers, all tending to reduce the people to slavery. They reasoned, they explained, they remonstrated, but all in vain. These appeals to Governor Gage fell upon his adamantine soul as the morning dew upon the desert of Sahara. The delegates then appealed to the legitimate source of a righteous government–THE PEOPLE-who nobly responded and sustained them in the hour of peril. They then proceeded to adopt measures for the vindication of their inalienable rights, and whilst they presented the olive branch of peace they prepared for
Severe measures were adopted by parliament, the charter of Massachusetts was altered by exparte legislation under the crown, illegal taxes were imposed, the hirelings of the king became more insolent, the indignation of the people rose like a tornado, colonial blood began to flow, the tocsin of war was sounded, the clash of arms and fury of battle commenced, the struggle was terrific, the lion was conquered-AMERICA WAS FREE!!
During all the thrilling scenes that passed in Massachusetts previous to his election to Congress, Mr. Gerry was a leading member of the legislative body from its aurelia form to its more perfect growth. He was an active and efficient member of the two great committees that were for some time virtually the government–the committee of safety and that of supplies.
In April, 1775, he narrowly escaped the grasp of his foes. The night previous to the battle of Lexington, Messrs. Gerry, Lee and Orne were at Cambridge, through which the British passed on their way to the opening scene of hostilities. When they arrived opposite the house where these gentlemen were in bed, a file of soldiers suddenly separated from the main body and approached it rapidly. The patriots barely escaped by the back way in their linen as the enemy entered, not having time to put on a single article of their over-dress. After the military passed on they returned for their wardrobe, and immediately rallied the people to prepare for resistance.
The night previous to the fall of his intimate friend, the brave Warren, Mr. Gerry lodged in the same bed with him. The anxiety they felt for their country drove sleep from them, and their time was spent in concerting plans for future action. The lamented hero of Bunker Hill appears to have had a presentiment of his premature fate. The last words he uttered to Mr. Gerry as they parted were,
“Dulce et decorum est,
Pro patria mori."* In the month of July, 1775, the government of Massachusetts assumed a systematic form. A legislature was chosen and organized, and in a few months a judiciary was established upon the basis of the new arrangement. Mr. Gerry was immediately appointed to the responsible post of judge of the admiralty court, but declined serving, preferring more active and exciting duties. He desired to be where he could render the most important services.
On the 18th of January, 1776, he was elected to the Continental Congress, a situation he was well calculated to fill. Bold and fearless, yet cautious and prudent, he was admirably adapted to meet the awful crisis of that eventful era. His public reputation already established on a lofty eminence, he was placed upon the most important committees, and among others upon the one sent to head-quarters to consult with Washington and mature plans of supplies for the army and for its augmentation. To the speculating sutlers and to peculating contractors, he was a terror during the war. He introduced in Congress many salutary guards against dishonest men, who, during a war more especially, always hang about every department of government like vultures. Even now, in a time of profound peace, they occasionally tap the jugular vein of our republic, and produce a laxity of the sinews of power.
* It is sweet and glorious to die for one's country.
When the declaration of independence was proposed in Congress, the soul of Mr. Gerry was enraptured in its favour.
He had long been prepared for the measure and gave it his ardent support. When the thrilling moment arrived for final action upon this important question his vote was recorded in favour of equal rights, and his signature affixed to that venerated instrument which verified the truth of divine prophecy—“A nation shall be born in a day.”
In 1777, he was still continued a member of the national council, and continued to discharge his duty with unabated zeal. The committee rooms and the house were alike benefitted by his intelligence and extensive experience in general business. He was called to aid in the arrangement of the military hospitals, the discipline and regulations of the army, the commissary department, foreign commerce, and other branches of the new government, requiring the soundest discretion to place them on a firm basis. He was also associated with Messrs. Clymer and Livingston on their mission to the army to arrange existing difficulties. He took a conspicuous part in the debates upon the articles of confederation, and was listened to with great attention. He spoke well, reasoned closely and demonstrated clearly.
Like Mr. Clymer, he was truly republican in all his ideas and opposed to every thing that did not bear upon its face sound sense, practical usefulness and equality of operation. Hence he opposed a resolution of thanks proposed in Congress to his bosom friend, Mr. Hancock, for his services when he resigned the presidential chair. He contended that the president had done no more than to ably perform his duty, the rest of the members had done the same, and it would be a singular entry upon the journals of Congress to record a vote of thanks to each. tiquette, however, prevailed over his logic and the usual vote of thanks was passed, thus introducing a custom in the new government that has long since lost its original importance by too frequent use on occasions of minor interest.
Mr. Gerry was also upon the committee that devised the plan of operations for the northern army that effectuated the capture of Burgoyne, and upon the one to obtain supplies for the American troops during the winter of 1777, which took him again to the camp of Washington. These multiform and arduous duties, so constantly imposed upon him, are stronger encomiums upon his talents, perseverance, patriotism, and activity, than a volume of panegyric from the most enlivening pen that was ever wielded by mortal hand.
I have repeatedly referred to the religious and moral characters of the members of the Continental Congress as remarkable for purity. As a proof of the assertion, the records of that body of the proceed ings of the session of 1778, show a resolution passed recommending the several states to adopt decisive measures against “theatrical entertainments, horse-racing, gaming, and such other diversions as are productive of idleness, dissipation, and a general depravity of principles and manners.” Another resolution strictly enjoins upon the officers of the army "to see that the good and wholesome rules provided for the discountenancing of profaneness and vice, and the preservation of morals among the soldiers, are duly and punctually preserved."
A third one was passed, which would be a sweeper if revived at the present day. It arose from a disposition on the part of some officers to disregard the first one above cited. It reads as follows.
“Resolved, that any person holding an office under the United States, who shall act, promote, encourage, or attend such plays, shall be deemed unworthy to hold such office, and shall be accordingly dismissed.”
Mr. Gerry voted for these resolutions, which were passed by a large majority. He was upon the grand committee of one from each state, appointed during that session, to examine closely foreign affairs and the conduct of the foreign commissioners, about which considerable difficulty then existed, particularly relative to Mr. Deane. The committee used the probe freely, and recommended to Congress to use the amputating knife upon every limb affected by the gangrene of political corruption. The report of the committee was an able document and produced a warm debate, in which Mr. Gerry participated and supported it with great eloquence and force.
On the 14th of October, 1779, he proposed to Congress the expedition against the Indians, which was successfully executed by General Sullivan. He also proposed a resolution designed to guard against inducements to corrupt influence, that "no candidates for public office shall vote in, or otherwise influence their own elections; that Congress will not appoint any member thereof during its time of sitting, or within six months after he shall have been in Congress, to any
office under the said states, for which he, or any other for his benefit, may receive any salary, fees, or other emolument.” He urged it strongly but was unsuccessful. As a member of the committee of finance Mr. Gerry stood next in rank to Robert Morris.
In 1787, he retired from Congress after five years arduous and faithful service. In all situations and at all times, he was energetic, zealous and active in the cause of liberty. When his duties called him to the army, if any fighting was on the tapis whilst he was in camp, he always insisted upon taking an active part. When the affair occurred with General Howe at Chestnut Hill, he actually shouldered a musket and entered the ranks; and when General Kniphausen engaged the American army at Springville, he took his station by the side of Washington, who invested him with a volunteer command during his stay. On both of these occasions he was one of the visiting committee from Congress.
The second year after his retirement, he was again induced to become a member of the national legislature and commenced his duties with the same zeal that had marked his whole career. The business of the nation was at that time more perplexing than when in the heat of the revolution. An empty treasury, a prostrate credit and a mammoth debt, presented a fearful contrast.' To aid in settling the derangement in public affairs, he was an important member. Committee labours were heaped upon his shoulders as though he was an Atlas and could carry the world, or an Atalanta in the celerity of business. The local feelings and interests of the states began to be perplexing, and the half pay for life guaranteed by Congress to all officers who remained in the army during the war, was a source of dissatisfaction with many. This was finally settled by compounding the annuity for the full pay of five years.
In 1784, he was chairman of the important committee on foreign relations, and of the one to perform the onerous task of revising the treasury department. He also brought forward a resolution for the compensation of Baron Steuben, who had rendered immense service by introducing a system of military tactics and discipline, by which the armies of the United States were entirely governed, and which were strictly adhered to long after the revolution by the military throughout the union. This resolution was warmly supported by Mr. Jefferson, but owing, as I fondly hope, to the embarrassed situation of the financial department, it was lost. He also took a deep interest in the commerce of the republic, a subject which he understood well.
In 1785, Mr. Gerry closed his services in the Continental Congress. During that year he was arduously employed upon the committee on accounts. He also obtained the passage of his former resolution relative to public officers and elections and the appointment of members of Congress to office. At the close of the session he retired from public life for a season and settled at Cambridge, not far from Boston, with all the honours of a pure patriot and an able statesman resting upon him—crowned with the sincere and lively gratitude of a nation of freemen.
Time soon developed to the sages of the revolution that the articles of confederation which bound the colonies together when one common interest and impending dangers created a natural cement, were not sufficient to secure permanently the liberty they had achieved. Local interests engendered jealousies, these produced dissatisfaction, and this threatened to involve the government in anarchy. To remedy these evils, a motion was made by Mr. Madison, for each state to send delegates to a national convention for the purpose of forming a constitution. The proposition was sanctioned, and in May, 1787, the convention commenced its herculean task at the city of Philadelphia, in the accomplishment of which Mr. Gerry took an active and useful part. He was among those who did not sanction or sign the