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Of the family of Ames.-Dr. Nathaniel Ames, the elder of that name, the celebrated almanack maker, came to Dedham in the year 1732 from Bridgewater. I observe that he was much employed in town and parish affairs. He published forty almanacks in so many successive years ; the first when he was sixteen years of age, which performance, for so young a man, is evidence of an uncommon genius for mathematics. He was a man of acuteness and wit, he possessed a cheerful and amiable temper. Dr. Ames had the reputation with some of being a real conjurer. It is not certain that he disclaimed all skill in astrology, for it is observable that in his almanack for the year 1759, he predicted dire wars and great revolutions, which were to happen in the year 1762, and asserted in the same almanack, that he had grounded his prophecy on the great conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, which was to happen in 1762. Astrologers had for a long time fixed their eyes on that period, as big with new and remarkable events. In his almanack for 1763, he asserted that astrology had a philosophical foundation, although men could never know much of its principles. Is it strange then that he should have cause to complain as he did, that the people required more information of an almanack maker, about future events, than was known by the devil. He was the father of the late Dr. Nathaniel Ames, and the late Hon. Fisher Ames. He died in July, 1764.* His wife, the mother of Dr. Ames and Fisher Ames, survived until the year 1717, and died in the ninety-fifth year of her age. I saw her a few years before her decease, then of a small and erect stature, and affording then evidence of her former high spirit, by her animated motion and prompt replies. She was a descendant of the first Daniel Fisher of this
The first wife of Dr. Ames died when her first child was born. Soon after the child died also. She was seized of land which descended to her from the family of Fishers This land having descended to her child, a question arose whether it should ascend to the father, as heir at law of his child, contrary to the rule of common law? The supreme court (two judges dissenting) decided that it did ascend. Dr. Ames, although the successful party, expressed his dislike at the conduct of the dissenting judges, one of which was Paul Dudley, the chief justice, by causiug the whole court to be painted on the large sign board of his iavern, sitting in great state, in their large wigs, each judge being clearly recognised... An open book was before them, underneath which was written“ province laws.". The dissenting judges were represented with their backs turned towards the book. The court hearing of the sign, sent the sheriff to bring it before them. Dr. Ames heard the order given, being then in Boston, and by good luck and hard riding, had just time enough to pull down bis sign before the sheriti arrived at Dedham.
town, the patriot of that name, and inherited his high spirit which she transmitted to her sons. When I was told that she had supported herself by keeping tavern in the stormy days of the revolution, and that her two sons had been educated at Cambridge, I imagined that there was something of that elevation of mind in her character, which has been so much admired in the Roman matron Cornelia.
Dr. Nathaniel Ames the younger, always resided at Dedham, and began to practice as a physician at an early age. On the first rise of parties in the United States, under the federal constitution, Dr. Ames became much interested in those discussions in which the parties differed. He adhered to the maxims of the republican party with great constancy to his last moments. By doing this, he was doomed to the double danger of being strongly opposed by his opponents, and weakly supported by his friends, which was the case with many professional men in that party. Had his more fortunate brother in this respect been exposed in early life, to struggle long in the ranks of a weak minority, would he not have been broken down by his generous struggles to maintain the right cause in his view of it? We may conjecture this since in the maturity of his fame and judgment, he was not sustained by the popular will in public employment. Dr. Ames was a blunt man, and somewhat excentric. It would be thought from his manner of expression, that he was more powerfully influenced by his passions, than by a clear conviction of the truth and the goodness of the cause which he supported. He was too sarcastic, his humour led him to use nicknames. We can all now recognize his person, as he appeared in his last days, at the age of eighty years; erect, quick in motion, with nimble steps, with a countenance denoting more the resolution of purpose than mildness of manners, in his conversation abruptly attacking the merchants, by him called lobster princes, and his political opponents, by him styled fuderalists, and the lawyers, by him called pettifoggers, the ever standing topic of his censure. He did not much flatter the lords of the soil, although he delighted to speak of the husbandmen by that name, and would speak right boldly for their cause.
Honourable Fisher Ames.-The life of this gentleman has been published with a collection of his political essays, in one volume. It is not necessary, it would be deemed improper to interfere with the subjects of that book. But still it should be said, that Mr. Ames was greatly and justly admired for his eloquence at the bar and in the congress of the United States, for his political writings, for his ardent and able support of measures by him deemed correct and necessary. They who dissented from some of his political opinions, may now without any inconsistency, and should in justice to his memory, concede all this praise. He commenced the practice of law at Dedham, in the latter part of the year 1781. In May, 1758, he was chosen a representative to the state legislature, and in the same year a delegate to the state convention for ratifying the federal constitution. He was chosen a representative to the first congress for Suffolk district, and held his seat eight years. He was chosen a councillor in the administration of governor Sumner, and afterwards president of Harvard college, which office he did not accept. He was fond of agricultural employments, and by his example encouraged his fellow townsmen to enrich and ornament their estates with fruit trees, and with a more perfect cultivation. He died at Dedham, July 4, 1808. It is much to be lamented that difference of opinion relating to public measures, should necessarily have prevented the inhabitants from supporting him in public employments, so long as his health would have permitted it, as his abilities and his experience would in the service of the state, have reflected back a part of his own honor on his constituents. It would have prevented that unhappy precedent in our history, which has contributed to fix that bias of the inhabitants against men of his decided character. Of his political writings, it does not become me to say much; they have been the theme of praise and admiration of one party, and the object of severe and powerful attacks from another. A respectable writer of Mr. Ames' school in politics, has expressed his opinion of them with the appearance at least of impartiality. “The writings of Fisher Ames,” says he,“one of the most accomplished orators that the eastern states have produced, had a decided influence. They gave a tone to almost all our newspaper essays for a long time. Mr. Ames had surrendered his mind to a theory, as men of genius are prone to do, pursued it in all its ramifications, till judgment was out of sight. There was a settled sys
tematic conviction in his mind, of an inevitable intrinsic principle of rapid deterioration in our institutions. This produced a train of melancholy and gloomy forbodings, which couched as they were, in the most animated style, made a lasting impression. Having taken the deepest interest in public affairs, when efforts were made to involve our career in revolutionary France, he watched the crisis with an anxiety almost amounting to mental agony. The feelings that were excited at that time imbued all his ideas, and led him into the great error of blending the systems of the French republic and our confederation together, though no two political systems could be more fundamentally different. With respect to the former, he was always right, sometimes prophetically so, with regard to the latter, almost invariably wrong."*
The brothers we must here observe, were the antipodes in politics, and the inquisitive may wish to know how two gentlemen of such high metal behaved towards each other, when accident brought them together. If their former friends and neighbours tell me the truth, they had frequently reasons to exclaim in the language of Cassius,
“ Have you not love enough to bear with me,
Makes me forgetful.” In a history of Dedham, the names of these two persons could not be omitted with propriety. In the most active part of their lives, they exercised much influence over their respective friends. In their temper and manner of discussing political subjects, they were deemed models by their pupils. Both possessed a strong propensity to satire, both attacked their opponents with great severity and harshness. Their imitators in this particular having less elevation of motive, and more misanthropy in their hearts, attempted to employ the same severity and harshness to annoy their political adversaries; but in their mouths it was sarcasm without genius or wit, and yet sufficiently tinctured with malice. In plain terms, they used hard words, ridicule and even the disdainful toss of the head, as the legitimate means of party warfare, to do which lord Mansfield has well observed, is the privilege only of vulgar minds. Now they who contributed much by their
* Letters on the Eastern States, by William Tudor, p. 53.
example and influence to lead their fellow townsmen into such habits and manners, enjoy the reputation of being good models, and are represented as worthy of imitation. While the virtuous and peaceable citizen here aiming at nothing but the discharge of his duty in obeying the honest dictates of his heart is hewn down by the edge of that sarcasm of which they sat the first example. In past times this was the case. No unpretending and modest man was seen in any public employment, unless this policy of ridiculing and insulting him was resorted to. They whose feelings were here lacerated and wounded, had no remedy but were obliged to suffer in silence, and have their reputation attacked without an opportunity to defend it. But at last, when the spirit of severe censure from this quarter was directed to a higher object than any Dedham man, and fixed on the late president Adams, then came a rebuke indeed, the review of Mr. Ames' work, by the now president of the United States. Better is it then that some faithful Boswell should carefully notice the sayings and actions of an eminent man, whose life is to be held up as a model, that he may give a faithful account of him to the world, than that a man should be represented as uniformly wise, just and correct in all his deportment. Such a character is not found in the pages of Plutarch, nor in faithful history, nor in real life. Mr. Ames was much admired in his life time. May not the community then reasonably require of his biographer some characteristical anecdotes, some details of manners and actions, that will enable it to judge for itself? That dashing and self sufficient manner of describing a character in a few sentences, so common in conversation, can never satisfy an impartial and intelligent mind. Besides those who really respect the character of Mr. Ames as every ingenuous person must do, is desirous of seeing those things which elevate him above those numerous debaters exhibited to the public every session of congress. They wish to see him at home, and observe how he demeaned himself to his neighbours, whom in his writings he nicknamed jacobins. They inquire with what temper did he deliver his town meeting speeches ? In what social circles did he lay aside the feelings of a partizan and indulge in innocent sports? In what department of science was his mind most employed ? In what species of polite literature did his excursive fancy lead