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The death of his father, in 1764, left him an orphan at the age of six, when he began the study of Latin chiefly under supervision by his mother, but sometime by the local clergyman, Samuel Haven, H. U. 1749. In his thirteenth year he entered Harvard College, and graduated in 1774. His conduct while there was in all respects commendable, — studious, self - regulated, modest, amiable, and withal quite alive. Narrow circumstances prevented his immediate study of law as a profession after graduation, and compelled him to fill an empty purse, besides contributing to the support of his mother's family. Teaching school was the common resource of impecunious students in those days, as in ours. Meantime he reviewed and extended his acquaintance with classical antiquities and literature, and gave some attention to law. With the British poets he also became familiar.

In 1779 he entered the law office of William Tudor, H. U. 1769, where he found as a fellow-student, and later his intimate correspondent, George Richards Minot, H. U. 1778, of the same age and similar tastes, though in after years one was eminent as an historical writer, and the other as an orator and statesman.1

Fisher Ames engaged in public affairs while a student at law and evinced statesmanlike qualities, though not so precociously as Hamilton, or the younger Pitt. His first occasion was in 1779. Dr. Kirkland mentions it without much detail, and Barry, the historian of the State, either overlooked it, or failed to perceive its importance. With the aid of a rare document in my can Rogerses to John, the protomartyr, has been questioned (Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll. 2d Ser. vol. vii, pp. 54, 166), and perhaps must be given up. Nevertheless, though not lineally descended, collaterally he was of the same blood. 1 At that time no one could enter a lawyer's office without leave of the

and at a meeting Dec. 3, 1779, “Mr. Tudor moved that Mr. Fisher Ames might be considered as a student with him from April, 1778, though he had during that time pursued his studies at Dedham. After debate he was considered a student from Jan., 1779, only (this indulgence allowed from some particular circumstances in his favor), and that at the expiration of three years from that day, he continuing in Mr. Tudor's office for the future, he be recommended to be sworn only on condition that he submit to an examination by the bar, particularly in the practical business of the profession.” (Mass. Hist. Soc. Proc. xix, 153.) In Oct. 1781, there was a modification of this vote, and he was recommended to the Common Pleas, in consideration of his cheerfully offering himself to an examination, and his moral, political and literary character standing in the fairest point of view." Ib. 155.


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possession, and by some other gleanings from contemporaneous newspapers, I give a fuller account of what occurred. There were at least two events in the Massachusetts history of the last century which were prototypes of the wild Populist schemes of the present day.

It is the second event with which Fisher Ames is connected. It was a futile attempt to regulate prices in 1779, less than forty years after the first event, and shows not only that history repeats itself, but that its warnings are generally disregarded. In that year the Revolution was at a low ebb from lack of funds; and Congress, on June 29, issued an urgent appeal to the people to maintain the credit of the Continental paper money by a loan of twenty million dollars.

Massachusetts met this request irregularly. Instead of convening the General Court, a Convention was called to meet at Concord, July 14. It comprised about one hundred and seventy-five members from all parts of the State, including the District of Maine. Most of the leading men, though not all, were conspicuously absent. Among the most notable of those present were Colonel Azor Orne, chosen president; Stephen Higginson, of Boston ; Samuel Osgood, of Andover, afterwards Washington's postmaster-general; Nathaniel Gorham, of Charlestown; Colonel William Prescott, of Bunker Hill fame; and James Barrett, of Concord. The proceedings recited that the Convention was assembled “on Application from the inhabitants of Boston, to take into consideration the present distressed situation of the People at large; and particularly the excessive high Prices of every Article of Consumption.” The Convention passed thirteen resolves, and issued an address to the people. Not even a summary of either can be given here; but I quote parts of several. They unanimously resolved that after August 4 next, the following Articles of Merchandise and Country Produce be not sold at a higher price than as follows:

Per Hogshead. Per Barrel. Per Gallon.
West India Rum

£5 50
£5 15 6

£6 6 0 New England do.

4 00
4 0 0

4 16 0 Molasses

3 12 0
3 19 0

4 70 Coffee, per lb.

0 15 0
0 16 0

0 18 0 1 The first was in 1741, when the people were in straits for a currency based on real but not easily convertible values, but this I must leave to be told

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Twenty-one other articles are specified with their prices, presumably in depreciated paper money.

Prices of labor and services were to be regulated in a similar way; and parts of two other resolutions, quite en rapport with certain proceedings in our own day and country, were these :

“That the buying and selling Silver and Gold, and the demanding or receiving either of them, in Part or in Whole, for Goods or Rents, or in any Way in Trade whatever, has been one great Cause of our present Evils; That as a gradual is more safe, easy and equitable, than a rapid Appreciation of our Currency; and as loaning and taxing are the most effectual Methods of producing such an Appreciation, it is most earnestly desired by this Convention, that the inhabitants of this State would comply with the late Resolution of the General Court, and lend to Government all the Money they can possibly spare, and pay their Taxes as soon as may be.”

Nathaniel Gorham, Ellis Gray, and Stephen Higginson were appointed a committee to correspond with the other New England States, as well as with New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

To enforce this preposterous scheme, measures even more preposterous were devised, as appears by extracts from the second and third resolves :

“That if any Person or Persons, in Town or Country, shall under any Pretence whatever, demand or take more for any of the above articles than is allowed therefor by the foregoing Resolve, he or they shall be held and deemed as Enemies to this Country, and treated as such. . . . Where a breach of said Resolutions may be made by any Person who is not an Inhabitant of their Town, that the Committee of Correspondence immediately apprehend the Person so offending, and him detain until his Name and place of Abode can be ascertained, in order that a Return thereof, with Proof of his Offence, may be made to the Inhabitants of the Town to which he belongs, that he may be dealt with according to his Demerit.

On August 2 there appeared in the Boston Gazette a letter from a delegate urging the public to adopt and enforce the Resolves of the Convention. Several towns called meetings. I find notices of those held at Watertown, Boston, and Dedham. Samuel Adams presided at the second, which appointed a committee of several eminent merchants to fix the prices of foreign goods, and adjourned for a week. No account of this adjourned meeting, if one was held, appears. The Dedham meeting, fully in by Mr. A. McF. Davis, whose account of it, it is understood, will shortly appear.



accord with the spirit of the first convention, chose two delegates to the second, in October; but one of these was Fisher Ames, then twenty-one years old.

To attack and counteract the insidious and pernicious doctrines spread abroad in the Resolutions and Address of the first Convention, numerously attended by highly respectable, if not eminent, men from all parts of the State, required ability, courage, resources, and a voice that could reach and hold the popular ear. All these qualities Fisher Ames possessed in a degree not often found in one so young. Dr. Kirkland says that Mr. Ames “ displayed the subject in a lucid and impressive speech showing the futility of attempting to establish by power the value of things, which depend solely on consent.” Services so important ought not to be forgotten.

Fisher Ames's speeches of this period have not been preserved, nor have we direct evidence of their quality or influence; and yet from the effectiveness of his later speeches which are known we may fairly infer that of the earlier. Apparently he was familiar with the economic principles of the “ Wealth of Nations,” then recently published; and so ably enforced them on the October Convention, that the financial fallacies set forth by the earlier took no permanent hold on the public mind.

For nine years Fisher Ames held no public position, though he did not lose his interest in political affairs, as is evident from his essays written in support of public order, decision, and energy. His profession at this time chiefly engaged his attention. But in 1788 he represented his town in the General Court, and also in the Convention for the adoption of the Constitution of the United States. Perhaps no abler men had ever assembled as a political body in the State. Among these were Hancock, Samuel Adams, Caleb Strong, Rufus King, Christopher Gore, Francis Dana, Theodore Sedgwick, Theophilus Parsons, and Fisher Ames, whom Dr. Belknap, a frequent attendant at the Convention, classed among the ablest advocates of the Constitution. The result was long in doubt, and the ratification finally carried by a majority of only nineteen votes. Though Fisher Ames was one of the youngest members, his influence compared favorably with that of the oldest and most able.

His speech on Biennial Elections has been preserved, and Josiah Quincy, himself a very able orator, has said: “The speech on the British Treaty has the greatest celebrity. Undoubtedly it is a noble exertion of patriotism and genius. As a specimen of eloquence, it is probably the most elevated; but as a model of parliamentary speaking, that on biennial elections is the most perfect. Of the kind, it is difficult to conceive anything more exquisite.” It had the rare effect of converting an opponentSamuel Adams.

At this time Fisher Ames was thirty years old ; and within a year he had attained such prominence by his statesmanlike qualities, uncommon eloquence, and exalted character, that he had the high honor of defeating the veteran patriot, Samuel Adams, as a representative from the Suffolk district, in the first American Congress under the new constitution.

This Congress met at New York, March 4, 1789, and Fisher Ames continued to represent his district until March 4, 1797, when, on account of impaired health, he declined reëlection, and retired to Dedham, never again to enter the public service save for the years 1799, 1800, and 1802, as member of the Council.

His Congressional career cannot be followed in detail. A new government had been formed, but its policy on a great variety of subjects remained to be settled, among which were revenue, finance, commerce, the judiciary, and, quite as important, the powers of the government and its relations to the States. The division which appeared in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, between those who favored a strong national government and those preferring a strictly limited federal government, reappeared in the new Congress. Ames was a pronounced Nationalist. He believed in a liberal construction of the powers conferred by the constitution, as not only best for the whole country, but especially necessary to his own State and section, whose great interest would be imperiled by a different policy. His constitutional views seem to be justified by the later history of the country.

With the exception of Ames and Sedgwick, the Massachusetts members of the first Congress, though highly respectable, were not of commanding abilities. Thacher, a strong man, was from the Maine district, the interests of which were not identical with those of the commercial and manufacturing centre. Gerry, who

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