the whole family unites its productive industry to give
In viewing Washington as the "Father" of our country, as he certainly was in a sense which we of to-day are coming more and more to appreciate, in classing Hamilton and Jefferson as brothers of Washington in his great work, and in ascribing to Franklin even a greater share in establishing "The United States of America" than to any of these three, we are apt to forget those patriots who did so much to keep alive the spirit of liberty and justice in our land during the troublesome times preceding the actual rupture between England and her American Colonies. While we ascribe great and merited praise to those who not only helped to lay the foundation but also actually began to build the superstructure of our nationhood, let us not forget those who by reason of the slightly earlier day in which they strove needed even a clearer vision to follow the same plans. They labored before the day had dawned, and yet they held ever before them the same high-minded general principles of liberty and justice which actuated the lives of those who took up their work after them, when the light of Independence was fast breaking on our shores. Among these pre-revolutionists there is none more worthy of remembrance and admiration than James Otis, the foremost advocate of his time in the Colonies. Very vigorously he toiled in sowing seed the fruits of which he himself was not to see, but which under the nurture of other able hands and in the providence of the God of Nations budded at last into "The Great Republic." Thus it becomes the purpose of this article to recall briefly the most striking characteristics of him whose name must always be intimately associated with the ardent debates and the troublesome events which foreshadowed the great struggle between the greatest of colonizing nations and her greatest Colonies.
The exigency of these times was great; and men of courage and capacity, wise in council and prompt in action rose to meet it. They were not men ennobled merely by their appearance on the stage at the time when great scenes were passing. They took a part in those scenes with a degree of aptness and energy proportional to the magnitude of the occasion and throughout displayed high qualities of character.
Otis's part was played not so much in the revolution itself, as in the agitations and controversies by which it was heralded and its way prepared. "Admirably fitted by his popular talents, legal acquirements, and ardent temperament, to take an active share in the discussion respecting the comparative rights of the Colonies and the British Parliament, and in preparing the minds of his countrymen for the great step of a final separation from England, and having exhausted, as it were, his mental powers in this preparatory effort, his mind was darkened when the contest really came, and he remained an impotent spectator of the struggle, by which the liberties of his native land were at last permanently established."
The Life of James Otis as narrated by William Tudor is one of the most pleasant and instructive in the whole range of American biographies, and leaves few particulars in the personal life of Otis to be gathered by the subsequent investigator. The sketch by Francis Bowen in Jared Sparks' Library of American Biography furnishes additional and valuable illustrations of the character and services of Otis, which were secured from the third volume of Thomas Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts, (first published after Tudor's Life of Otis appeared), from the copies of papers in the office of the English Board of Trade relating to the colonial history of Massachusetts, and from the private correspondence of Governors Bernard and Hutchinson with the English Ministry, during the time of Otis's public career. These sources throw much light on the conduct of Otis as the chief political opponent of the these two colonial executives.
It is the purpose of the present article merely to emphasize the three striking traits of his character,--his impetuosity and earnestness, his high integrity and devotion to truth and justice, and his marked ability as an advocate before the bar.
In reading the memoirs of James Otis one is struck from first to last with the impetuosity, the earnestness, the ardent temper of his nature. This was at once the secret of a great measure of his power and also the partial source of his mental undoing. As a student at Harvard, the last two years of his college life were marked with great assiduity in study, and while at home during the vacations in this period, he devoted himself so closely to his books, that he was seldom seen by his friends, and often it was not known that he had returned, till he had been in his father's house for some days. Such severe application doubtless served to sow the first seeds of mental derangement, which falling on the fertile soil of his feverish disposition and nutured by the constant and intense argumentative strife of his later political career, finally found their fruition in the mental collapse which so distressingly darkened his latter days. When participating in the common amusements of youth he exhibited all the vivacity of an excitable temperament.
The earnestness of his nature led him to resign a lucrative office, renounce the favor of government, abandon the fairest prospects of professional emolument and distinction, and to devote himself to the service of his country with unflinching courage, quenchless zeal, and untiring energy.
As an orator the impetuosity of his speech and the earnestness of his voice and manner were so impressive, that they forced conviction upon his hearers even when his arguments did not reach their judgment. Such was the fluency and animation of his language, whether written or spoken, that though it was sometimes coarse and defective in taste, it was always, as will be seen from the examples quoted in this paper, extremely effective.