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had done good service in the Revolution, as an anti-Federalist was not in sympathy with those who had the responsibility of determining the policy of the new government. In the House, therefore, upon Sedgwick and Ames, as advocates of national views and measures, the burden chiefly rested. Sedgwick, perhaps the abler man and a good speaker, was not an orator, as Ames was. On great occasions, therefore, against Madison, the leader of his party in the House, who had become strongly anti-Federalist, Ames was the champion. How he bore himself is a matter of history. His speech on the British Treaty, April, 1796, is justly considered as his most brilliant effort. The circumstances under which he spoke and the immediate effectiveness of it were dwelt upon with enthusiasm by those who heard it, among whom were John Adams and Jeremiah Mason. The latter, one of the most logical of lawyers and not likely to be carried away by mere eloquence, said to Mr. Webster, that it was “one of the highest

," exhibitions of popular oratory that he had ever witnessed ; popular, not in any low sense, but popular as being addressed to a

a popular body, and high in all the qualities of sound reasoning and enlightened eloquence.”

An earlier speech was that on Madison's Resolutions, January, 1794, designed to commit the House to a policy of higher duties, and greater restrictions on the manufactures, products, and ships of England, with which we were on ill terms, and discriminating in favor of France, which had the sympathies of the anti-Federalists. And if one would see Ames at his best, as I think, not merely as an orator, but as a legislator capable of careful research and of handling complicated questions with the ability of a state man, he may well read this speech — a speech which, found in a collection of Webster's of a similar character, might be taken as his own, and one of his best.

While in Congress, either at New York or Philadelphia, Fisher Ames wrote letters to his friends giving account of public affairs, now of considerable historical value, and interesting opinions of notable men he met. These letters are among the best of their kind in American literature, — off-hand, easy, and full of wit and

, 1 Works, ii, 484. This speech was written out from memory by Mr. Dexter and Mr. Smith, and corrected by Mr. Ames ; but those who heard it were little satisfied with the result.



humor. When he had become morbid from disease, he was bitter and even rancorous towards political opponents. This without its cause was often so among politicians in his day, and perhaps is so in ours; and if one would forgive this regrettable fault in a man otherwise so amiable, he has only to read the “Ana” of the amiable — almost femininely amiable - Thomas Jefferson.

In no way was Fisher Ames more interesting - I have heard those say who knew him — than in his conversation. Samuel

Dexter in his funeral oration says that he was unrivaled. Dr. Kirkland says the same. This, like his letters, was full of wit

. and humor, easy and racy. Examples torn from their context lose something of their savor; yet, a few of each may be given here. Substantially his was, “ The second sober thought of the people is always right;” “Monarchy is a merchantman which sails well, but will some time strike a rock and go to the bottom. A republic is a raft; you can't sink it, but your feet are always in the water.” “I have been burned in effigy in Charlestown,

. South Carolina. Fire, you know, is pleasant when not too near; and I am willing to have it believed that, as I came out of the fire undiminished in weight, I am all gold.“I have a wife and family during summer: but, as the birds do, I return from Philadelphia in the spring, and choose the same mate and build again in the same nest." “Laziness is my disease, and it has been too long neglected, I fear, to be cured.” “We consulted Dr. A., for John's cough, but before it was convenient to administer medicine he got well!” “A jail is to be built in Dedham, which is a great comfort to us ! ” “ If I were a single man, I might dread more than I actually do the sentence of the public, Stay at home!

After he retired from Congress in 1797, Fisher Ames returned to Dedham and resumed the practice of law. Though a good advocate, he was not a great lawyer. Poor health, public service, and not unlikely a distaste for its drudgery, prevented his becoming such. By his marriage, July, 1792, with Frances, third daughter of the Hon. John Worthington, of Springfield, he was comfortable, though not opulent, in fortune, which allowed time, after he retired from Congress, for horticulture, “ to rear pigs and calves, and feed chickens at Dedham," besides the writing of political essays and the study of general literature. On February 8, 1800, at the request of the General Court, he delivered an

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eulogy on Washington; and in the Repertory, July, 1804, appeared his sketch of the character of Alexander Hamilton. In neither of these, Josiah Quincy thought, did he follow the bent of his genius, but conformed rather to the models of conventional eulogy, and so failed to meet expectations warranted by his genius.

In 1804 Fisher Ames was chosen President of Harvard College. His health, says Dr. Kirkland, would not have allowed him to accept the place, had other reasons permitted. July 4, 1808, he died of consumption.

Such is an outline of the life and character of Fisher Ames.


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1 His funeral was made a political demonstration ; for instead of its taking place at Dedbam, where he was buried, it was transferred to Boston, July 9. A meeting of the citizens there was called at the State House, eulogistic resolutions unamimously adopted, and a committee appointed to arrange for a public funeral at Boston, July 9, where Samuel Dexter delivered a funeral oration, and a most imposing procession followed the remains to the grave.

Fisher Ames had a brother, Dr. Nathaniel, an ardent Democrat, and from his diary, now in the Dedham Historical Society, Winslow Warren, Esq., has kindly sent me the following extracts :

“July 4, (1808) My only brother left died of lingering atrophy, and funeral first ordered by the widow here on Wednesday in the Episcopal form. — My brother's body snatched by the Junto including the widow to order the funeral at Boston.

“ Early this morning comes a servant of Cabot or ... from Boston with a billet requesting the funeral to be in Boston from Cabot's house and that the Junto had provided an elogium to be said or . . . at his funeral and the widow immediately deluded by such party political proposal assented and countermanded orders to the Dedham printer of yesterday announcing his death and funeral here, and made him alter his types conformable to her sudden compliance with the requisition of the Junto aforesaid three times. And in the afternoon comes George Cabot to allure me into a sanction of ridiculous pomp of pretended apotheosis and then went and told our mother that I should attend; but none of our relations will attend - in the night they took his body in a superbly trimmed mahogany coffin in a coach — and on the 6th sundry coaches from Boston came for the family. The Bakers only go as relations besides his widow and children. The Centinel of this day has an eulogium equal to the ceremonies of apotheosis — Dogget gone with the horse to bring back the putrid corpse after their mummery over it in Boston to stigmatise the town of Dedham, which is the principal intention of the Junto to blast Republicanism. But making a farce of a funeral will rebound on their own heads Unless perhaps it may be the introduction of a fashion to make political funerals. Apotheosis farce.” With these facts in mind, John Quincy Adams, in a review of Ames's works, caustically said that “his friends treated his memory as they did his body."


With respect to a man so richly and variously endowed, so enthusiastically admired and loved by his friends, and respected by those who were not, for one so amiable could have had no personal enemy, the marvel is, what limitations of his powers, what circumstances of his life, or what characteristics of the age in which he lived, so impaired the permanent influence of what he did, and prevented his doing what his great qualities seemed to warrant and even demand, that he has failed to occupy the high place among illustrious Americans to which he was entitled in the estimation of those who knew him best?

His place in history will be determined by what he did ; not by what he might have done. Fame knows no “village Hampden,” no “mute inglorious Milton," no "Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood.” He was a great man without great occasions. To achieve permanent fame, men engaged in public affairs require great opportunities, a conspicuous stage, and subjects of vital and ever-recurring interest. This was Webster's unparalleled good fortune. Ames lacked all these. He was born too late for the Revolution, and too late for the Continental Congress of 1787.

Fisher Ames wrote numerous essays, chiefly after he had left public life. His political essays were written to sustain the Federal party when in hopeless decline, or to overthrow the Republican party when it had acceded to power under Jefferson. They are brilliant and effective, but morbid, bitter, and of little present value.

The four miscellaneous essays evince a wide acquaintance with the institutions, history, and literature of other people, as well as of his own.

That on American literature, showing its low estate and speculating on the causes and their remedy, may be read with interest now, as it must have been read with surprise and wrath even by people then, unless they were less sensitive to such criticism than we are. “Excepting the writers of two able works on politics,” he says, “we have no writers. Shall we match Joel Barlow (whose Columbiad was just then in great fame) against Homer or Hesiod? Can Thomas Paine contend against Plato ?”

? In this essay occurs the often quoted remark, probably as true now as it was then, “that all our universities would not suffice to supply materials and authorities for such a work as Gibbon's.”

Fisher Ames was in many respects a great man; in more, a

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very extraordinary man, - extraordinary in the combination and

excellence of his powers. He was a great orator : the first American orator who brought to the discussion of public affairs large abilities, general culture, united with that rich imagination which makes speech effective and eloquence admirable; and he founded a school of like orators.

And it may be Fisher Ames's highest distinction and his strongest claim to lasting remembrance, that as Jeremy Belknap, by a single work, his “History of New Hampshire ” (which De Tocqueville, said contained“ more general ideas and strength of thought than are to be found in the American historians to the present day,” 1848), inspired that remarkable succession of Massachusetts historians, the last of whom recently died, so Fisher Ames, by his speech on the British Treaty, widely read in the first quarter of this century, inspired those Massachusetts orators among whom Everett, Choate, Phillips, and Winthrop were chief. There are also reasons for believing that Ames's influence was not unfelt in the imaginative literature in the day that followed his

In his writings may be found several of the best thoughts of Webster and Sumner on political affairs; and in Wordsworth, Scott, and Coleridge, that some of their finest poetical imaginings were earlier conceived by Fisher Ames.

Dr. Kirkland says that Fisher Ames “in person a little exceeded the middle height, was well proportioned, and remarkably erect. His features were regular, his aspect respectable and pleasing, his eye expressive of benignity and intelligence. His head and face are shown with great perfection in the engraving prefixed to his works. In his manners he was easy, affable, cordial, inviting confidences, yet inspiring respect.”

The engraving to which Dr. Kirkland refers is from an original painting by Stuart for George Cabot, now in the possession of Henry Cabot Lodge. A replica belongs to Harvard College, and now hangs in Memorial Hall, and from this is the reproduction printed in this number.

Mellen Chamberlain, LL. B., '48. VOL. IV. – NO. 13. 3



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