Imatges de pÓgina
PDF
EPUB

at several periods since the year 1726, been the subject of town votes and resolves. It was by them foreseen that the local situation of Dedham, would in the formation of a new county, give it a decided recommendation for the shire town; although several other towns were proposed for that purpose, particularly Medfield, in which case several neighbouring towns in Middlesex county were to be united to this county. If Dedbam by becoming the seat of justice, had some burdens imposed on it, the inhabitants cannot with any propriety complain thereof, since for a long time they have advocated the measure, and have derived a great overbalancing advantage therefrom.

Political parties.—When political parties arose in the United States, under the name of federalists and republicans, a large majority of the inhabitants became attached to the latter party. This majority, generally as three to one, has continued to the present time. The propensity of the inhabitants to support the measures and maxims of the republican party, has at all times been strong, and has been strongly counteracted by the other party. Owing to particular local causes, party spirit has assumed in this town a degree of severity, much above the ordinary character of it in other places. The writings of the late honorable Fisher Ames, a native of Dedham, must be enumerated among the causes of these local excitements. Mr. Ames was an eloquent and ardent man, greatly admired by his friends when alive, and held up as a perfect modelafter his decease. He instructed his political friends in the modes of party warfare, in a publication in the year 1799. “Our government,” says he, “ has not armies, nor a hierarchy, nor an extensive patronage. Instead of these auxiliaries of other governments, let it have the sword of public opinion drawn in its defence, not only drawn but whetted by satire to an edge, to hew its adversaries down. Let jacobin vice be seen as a monster, and let not a mock candour pity, till we embrace it. Other governments may stand, though not very steadily, if public opinion be only neuter.

But our government has so little intrinsic energy, that this soul of the republic's soul must not only approve, but co-operate. The vain, the timid and trimming must be made by examples, to see that scorn smites, and blasts, and withers like lighting, the knaves that mislead them.”* When these sharp and dangerous weapons were put into the hands of his pupils and disciples, they mutually encouraged each other to use them with zeal and energy upon

their

opponents. Here where the oracle is first promulgated, let us, said they, show our devotion thereto, by a great example. Unfortunately for Dedham, there were men here who believed they should recommend themselves to higher powers, if they attempted to blast with scorn, the prospects of every man, who dared to act on his own opinion of right. How did the other party, the republican farmers, support their ground ? or make reprisals in this party contest? In this town they had no man to put forth in such encounters. They had not even a friend to make known abroad how intensely their political skirmishes were maintained. Our federal foes said they will not even condescend to treat us with dispassionate reason, or mild expostulation, they ridicule our pretensions to the right of self government, by scorn and sarcasm. They endeavour to teach us to laugh at and scorn each other, and thus persuade the many to yield quietly to the dictation of the few. If we cannot beat our opponents at their chosen

of hard words and satire, we can maintain our superiority of numbers at the polls. In this struggle we need not the assistance of any literary talents or advocate. Go to the polls, and remember that you are opposing the aristocrats. When parties are maintained by such means, they soon acquire the habit of treating each other as irreconcilable enemies, not as honest opponents whom they hope to gain by persuasion and fair means. Here we test the correctness of that doctrine which permits the use of such means as are above stated. From the first rise of parties to 1912, the struggle in this town continued between them without much variation as regards their relative numbers, or the means and modes of attack. What was at first an honest difference of opinion, degenerated into personal dislike and antipathy. Like that of York and Lancaster, like that of Guelf and Ghibeline. The leading partizans could not enjoy good fellowship in each others society, any more than the Hindoo can disregard his cast. If a young man came upon the stage of life, how difficult was his situation. . If he was neutral, he was condemned agreeably to the spirit of the Greek law, for indifference in not having any principles. If he became a federalist, then he was suspected of all their errors. If he united with the party supporting the republican administration, then another considerable portion of the community treated him as one tainted with all the vices of jacobinism. Suppose that this young man by his education, or his talents, gave some promise that he would exercise some influence in society, then while his open and inexperienced mind leads him to suppose that virtue and industry alone will insure him respect, corrupted and veteran partizans in the opposite ranks united to break him down, by whispering in every circle, that the object of their fears was weak, or foolish, or dishonest; or to explain it better in the text of political parties, they endeavored to blast him with scorn. In such a contest, the timid, the selfish, the trimming, the man of two faces, escapes or is elevated, and the honest, the independent, the really honorable man, is the first object of attack, and is most usually trampled down and his wrongs forgotten, and even his friends taught to despise him. If a man like Cowper, or Gibbon, or Milton, should accidentally find himself seated in a society thus agitated, he would flee from it as from a pestilence. The peculiar effect of these party struggles, is fully perceived in another feature of society in this town. In one of the oldest and most respectable towns in the commonwealth, the shire of the county, where there are now eighteen professional gentlemen, where it might be expected that cultivated talents would be sometimes employed in the numerous annual offices within the power of the people to bestow, not any one of the professions, in late years, have been found worthy of public employment. The few trifling exceptions to the above statement, only shows how strong is the policy of exclusion. From past experience, the majority of the inhabitants have insensibly acquired an opinion that the high gifts of writing and speaking, which they have witnessed in one of their own townsmen, is not usually accompanied by a sound judgment and practical wisdom, but will if opportunity be given, be employed to their injury. Thus has genius, by an unfortunate direction of its powers, contributed to take away all opportunities for its proper exercise in the line of public services. The war in 1812, by adding new causes of excitement, gave to party spirit every where a more severe character. In July, 1812, Dedham voted that every drafted militia man of this town, should receive from its treasury a sum sufficient to make his wages fifteen dollars per month while in actual service. Soldiers for the army were here recruited and drilled. In August, five hundred delegates from the towns in the county assembled at Dedham, and expressed their approbation of the war, and their resolution to support government in prosecuting it. To those who believed the war unnecessary and unjust, these things were peculiarly obnoxious. It is difficult in this calm state of society, although we live so near the time, fully to comprehend the motives and doings of men who were agitated by party feelings at that time.*

game,

* Works of Fisher Ames, p. 100.

July, 1812. A town meeting was convened to act on a communication from Boston, requesting the inhabitants of Dedham to unite in measures to oppose the war.

On this occasion, Dedham voted as follows : “ As the resolutions of Boston, bearing date the fifteenth day of June last, communicated by their selectmen, requesting our co-operation in the measures therein proposed, without disguise, recommend a general combination to resist the war which is just and necessary. As they contain statements erroneous in point of fact, disgraceful to freemen when viewed as an exhibition of their spirit, incorrect as opinions of public measures, hostile in their design to the national union, and highly disorganising in their tendency. The town therefore reject with indignation, the proposed combination, and resolve to support the government in prosecuting the war.” In this resolution, the town continued steadfast. When the Hartford convention was proposed by the general court, one of its representatives, during the debates on that subject, among the few on that side, protested against it as a revolutionary proceeding. When the amendments of the United States constitution, proposed by that assembly, were examined in the Massachusetts legislature, the representatives of Dedham recorded their nays against them.

* The following is a pretty good specimen of the manner in which some events were treated by different persons at that time. When general Hull surrendered his army at Detroit, in 1812, some received the news with grief and others with apparent pleasure. Some viewed it as a victory gained over the republicans, so on the other hand, the triumph of our arms was treated not only as a victory over the public enemy, but over the federalists likewise. Soon after Hull's defeat, fol. lowed another unfortunate affair at Queenstown, on the Canada frontier. When the news of this last event reached Dedham, it renewed still stronger emotions of party feeling. At the moment when the bad news arrived, a citizen somewhat ardent in his approbation of the war, accidentally entered a tavern in the village, when several of the opposite party came up to him, one of them exclaiming, “ Here Mr. democrat, pointing to the news in the paper, see what brave fellows there are in your republican armies !! Not liking such salutations, he retreated quickly, and went into a neighboring store to learn more definitely the extent of the disaster, for different papers gave quite different account of battles. He was no sooner in the store than another neighbor is there, who saluted him with great animation and a brandished paper. How many more such victories as these, says he, must Madison's army gain before all Canada is taken! The afflicted democrat finding that there was a party to exult in all the stores and taverns in the village, slipped away to his boarding house, where he joined a party of girls and young men accidentally there, thinking that he was then certainly safe and protecied from further insults. Vain were his hopes however, for no sooner does an elderly female of the family, a staunch opposer of the war, hear the news, but she seized the paper containing it, bolted into the room where the party was, and informed her political adversary that she had a precious morsel for his comfort, and then read aloud, with great apparent satisfaction, the disasterous news, observing as she retired, “ Now, sir, I am even with you for reading over to me that insulting account of captain Hull's victory over the Guerriere."

When a state convention was about to be convened in Boston, November, 1820, some interest was excited in town, in making choice of delegates to that body. The parties however seem not to have had very definite objects for any contest on that subject. When the town was again convened to act on the amendments proposed by the convention, the most prominent articles were strenuously opposed, and rejected by a nearly unanimous vote; the same articles were likewise rejected by a majority of the whole people. The doings of that assembly were so much disapproved, that the inhabitants would not approve of those articles submitted to them which were indifferent or useful, and to which no reasonable objection could be made.

From the first settlement of this town, the inhabitants have exhibited great stability of character. Those opinions and principles which they have at first adopted, they have steadily supported and maintained. In a period of one hundred and ninety years, I do not observe an instance of a minority in any important measure, so far increasing its numbers as to produce a change in the political character of the town. In colonial times, they were ever opposed to royal partizans, of provincial governors they were ever jealous, and when there was an organised opposition to them on that side. In the revolution, they were unwavering and united. They approved the constitution of the state, and of the United States. They have at all times ap

« AnteriorContinua »