Page images
PDF
EPUB

people ; are, and of right ought to be, a sovereign and self-governing association, under the control of no power, other than that of our God, and the general government of Congress; to the maintenance of which independence, we solemnly pledge to each other, our mutual co-opera. tion, our lives, our fortunes, and our most sacred honor.

“ That as we acknowledge the existence and control of no law nor legal officer, civil or military, within this county, we do hereby ordain and adopt as a rule of life, all, each, and every of our former laws ; wherein, nevertheless, the crown of Great Britain never can be considered as holding rights, privileges, immunities, or authority therein.

* That it is further decreed, that all, each, and every military officer in this county, is hereby reinstated in his former command and authority, he acting conformably to the regulations. And that every member present of this delegation shall henceforth be a civil officer, viz., a justice of the peace, in the character of a committee man, to issue process, hear, and determine all matters of controversy, accord. ing to said adopted laws; and to preserve peace, union, and harmony in said county, and to use every exertion to spread the love of coun. try and fire of freedom throughout America, until a more general and organized government be established in this province.

ABRAHAM ALEXANDER, Chairman. John M KNITT ALEXANDER, Secretary.

Mr. Adams had found the document in the “ Essex Register," and that paper had reprinted it from the “ Raleigh Register."

In reply to this letter, Mr. Jefferson, in July, 1819, informed Mr. Adams that he doubted the authenticity of the paper, and thus expresses himself:

“ And you seem to think it genuine. I believe it spurious, I deem it a very unjustifiable quiz”—and after assigning his reasons for this belief he remarks, “nor do I affirm positively that this paper is a fabrication, because the proof of a negative can only be presumptive. But I shall believe it such until positive and solemn proof of its authenticity shall be produced." Vol. i. p. 413-14.

These letters being before the world, the legislature of North Carolina, influenced by a commendable state-pride, determined fully to investigate the facts connected with the Mecklenburg déclaration, and to perpetuate the testimony on which they rested. A committee was accordingly appointed for the purpose, and by them a very full report, embodying the certificates of many most respectable witnesses, was presented to the General Assembly; this report was published by the governor of the state, under a resolution of both Houses, and we shall have occasion presently to call the attention of our readers to the testimony it contains.

Professor Tucker could not leave unnoticed the remarkable coincidences between the Mecklenburg paper, and the national declaration, especially as they had, more than once, been brought into discussion before the public, and accordingly he thus speaks of them :

“ The only passages in the preceding paper, which coincide with that drawn by Mr. Jefferson, are to be found in the second and third resolves ; and we will readily concede that the coincidence here is such that we cannot suppose it to be the result of accident. Every one must be persuaded, at least all who have been minute observers of style, that one of these papers has borrowed from the other, for they are identical, not in one instance, but in several, and not in sin. gle words only, but in phrases composed of many, as in the following expressions : dissolve the political bands which have connected'• absolve from all allegiance to the British crown'—are, and of right ought to be pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.'

“ When it is considered how many ways each of these phrases could have been varied to express the same idea, and how much lati. tude there was for modifying the thought, the accidental agreement of two minds in thought and expression to the extent that appears, can scarcely be conceived ; and the improbability is increased when we advert to the fact that several of the phrases are somewhat peculiar.” Vol. ii. p. 417. .

Now herein we entirely agree with our author. One of these papers has undoubtedly borrowed from the other. There is a plagiarism in the case, and the professor very properly addresses himself to the question, “who was the plagiary?" Of course he decides in Mr. Jefferson's favor ; he could not possibly have borrowed from this humble Mecklenburg document; at " the boasted beauties” of which the professor unkindly sneers ; and he therefore reaches the conclusion, that, though a paper was drawn up by the citizens of Mecklenburg county on the 20th of may 1775, one year and more before the production of Mr. Jefferson saw the light, yet it was not in the words of the instrument as it now stands; and that the second and third paragraphs or resolves which it now contains, and in which alone the resemblances are found, are interpolations, and were copied from Mr. Jefferson's declaration, after the 4th of July, 1776.

This is our author's explanation of these resemblances, and it narrows the question to a single issue, viz: have

any altera. tions ever been made in the Mecklenburg paper ? Direct testimony in the affirmative, is not produced by the professor, and he therefore argues only upon the strong probability, that the paper has undergone changes.

First, it is said that Governor Martin, who presided over North Carolina in May 1775, and who issued his proclamation then,

against this Mecklenburg declaration, among certain other doings in the province; has so spoken of the instrument under consideration, that his language is applicable to the first, fourth and fifth resolutions only: therefore, the second and third had not

any existence. Our author has not furnished us with the language of Governor Martin, and therefore we give it, premising that the Mecklenburg document was first published in a newspaper of North Carolina, called “ The Cape Fear Mercury. The proclamation bears date August 1775, and these are its words : “ And whereas I have also seen, a most infamous publication in the Cape Fear Mercury importing to be resolves of a set of people styling themselves a Committee for the county of Mecklenburg, most traiterously declaring the entire dissolution of the laws, government, and constitution of this country, and setting up a system of rule and regulation repugnant to the laws and subversive of his Majesty's government,” &c. &.*

If the reader will but turn to the five resolves, as we have given them on a previous page, and carefully examine them, he will find, we think, that the governor had the whole paper, as it now stands, before him. He speaks of the resolves as doing three things, viz. first “ most traiterously declaring a dissolution of the" government—secondly, setting up a system of "rule,” and thirdly adopting certain " regulations.

Now it so happens, that the first of these things is done in the second and third resolves only, the “ rule of life” is ordained and adopted in the fourth, and the "regulations" specified in the fifth.

Another remark is to be made touching this paper. Governor Martin knew very well, it seems, where this treasonable document originated; its birthplace is designated by him as being the county of Mecklenburg. Strike out the second and third resolves as being interpolations, and there is not a syllable in the whole paper

to show from hat source it came. The body that passed the resolves is not once mentioned, except in the second resolution.

But, says the professor, the language of these resolves is different; there is more accuracy in the supposed interpolations than in the other three paragraphs: admit it, it only serves to justify as a presumption, what upon investigation, proved to be the fact; that the paper was prepared by a committee, and did not all proceed from the same pen.

Certain witnesses, however, as we shall presently see, have testified that they were present when the resolutions were passed, in the form which they now wear; and this is rather per

* Extracted from the proclamation book of Governors Tryon and Martin-deposited in the office of the Secretary of State, Raleigh, North Carolina.

plexing to the professor's argument on probabilities. Presumptive evidence is generally made to yield to direct and positive proof against it; there are but two grounds on which it can possibly stand successfully against such proof; these two are the perjury, or the mistake of the witness who swears directly against the presumption.

It would not be safe for our author, or any one else, to allege the first branch of this alternative, for the witnesses are among the most respectable citizens of North Carolina; resort is therefore had to the second, and, says our author:

“ The spurious resolves being thrust into the middle of those that were genuine were less likely to be remembered by the witnesses, who recollecting the first and the last parts, would feel no hesitation in tes. tifying to their identity.” Vol. ii. p. 420. .

Did it never occur to professor Tucker, that the memory which was accurate enough to remember the first and last parts, certainly less striking than the middle, would also have recollected, when that middle was first presented to the mind, that it was not in the original instrument ?

But Mr. Jefferson (says his partial friend) would not stoop to the meanness of plagiarism. This strikesus as a petitio principii. On that point men may differ in opinion ; how low he would stoop, we pretend not to say ; but that he did use other men's thoughts, and a little of their language too, may be seen in a comparison of the declaration of independence, with the Virginia declaration of rights, already brought in one view before our readers.

But had it been possible for his lofty mind to commit a petit larceny in literature, who will believe, says his biographer and friend, that with his refined taste, and cultivated intellect, he would have stolen from this miserable production, so deficient in grammatical accuracy? Now, we confess, we do not quite see the consistency or force of this the professor's theory is, that there is but one part from which Mr. Jefferson could have copied; that part is so very good too, that it must have been stolen from Mr. Jefferson himself; it is an interpolation, wrought in by a “patriotic fraud.” What presumption then arises, in favor of Mr. Jefferson, from the exquisite purity of his taste, if the passages were not there to copy from ? and if they were there, and if he did pilfer, he took something so much in accordance with his taste, that the professor thinks it good enough to have been Mr. Jefferson's. Now, it seems to us, that if these troublesome paragraphs were really in the instrument, (and we have a shrewd suspicion that our readers will be obliged to think so, before we have done,) then, Mr. Jefferson's good taste is rather a witness against him ; for he had taste enough to take only that which was worth taking ; none but a man of taste would have helped himself to these precise passages, and none other.

But we have been dealing long enough with presumptions and probabilities. Let us come to direct positive testimony on the subject, of which there is no deficiency.

1. John McKnitt Alexander, was the clerk of the meeting in Mecklenburg, by which the resolutions were adopted; his papers passed into the hands of John McKnitt, who testifies that he found, in Alexander's hand writing, a statement that he had sent a copy of the proceedings in Mecklenburg to General William R. Davie. Soon after the death of General Davie, Dr. Samuel Henderson testifies, that he was searching for a particular paper among the MSS. of Davie, and found one which he knew to be in the hand writing of John McKnitt Alexander. This circumstance induced him to examine it, and it proved to be a copy of the Mecklenburg proceedings, containing the five resolutions as we now have them. The son of General Davie gave the paper to Dr. Henderson, and it is now deposited in the office of the executive of North Carolina.

2. Mr. McKnitt also testifies that he found among the papers of Alexander, which came into his hands, a document drawn up by Alexander himself setting forth the proceedings, and purporting to be a copy from the papers which were made at the date of the transaction. The paper contains the five resolutions as we have presented them to our readers.

3. The Rev. Humphrey Hunter was, as he states, of the age of twenty years and fourteen days, when the meeting in Mecklenburg took place, and was present, a deeply interested spectator. He afterwards bore arms in the cause of the colonies, and was in the battle of Camden; he kept a manuscript account of the war in the South; and upon being applied to for information, copied from his MS. what relates to the Mecklenburg proceedings, and in that copy gives the five resolutions as we now have them.

4. General Joseph Graham, a soldier of the Revolution, and of unexceptionable character, was present at the meeting in Mecklenburg county when the resolutions were adopted, and testifies that the chief question discussed, was on the propriety of declaring themselves independent;" he states the argument urged against it by a single individual, to the great discontent of the rest of the meeting ; he testifies to the answer which was given to the argument, so singular and yet so striking, that it made (as well it might) an indelible impression on bis meVOL I.--NO. I.

8

« PreviousContinue »