Fisher Ames

FISHER AMES, one of the most eloquent of American statesman and writers, was born at Dedham, in Massachusetts, April 9th, 1758, of very respectable parents. Soon after the completion of his 12th year, he was admitted to Harvard college, with the reputation of uncommon talents and attainments. Diligence, regularity and success marked his collegiate course of four years. After receiving his degree, in 1774, the narrow circumstances of his widowed mother compelled him to postpone, for several years, the accomplishment of his original purpose of studying the law. In the interval, he acted as an assistant teacher in a public school, and continued to cultivate classical literature, to the signal improvement of his taste and fancy. At length, in 1781, he commenced the practice of the law, with the stock of knowledge which he had acquired in the office of a member of the profession, in Boston. Opportunity soon occurred for the display of his superior qualifications, both as a speaker and essay writer. The fame which followed his early efforts conduced to place him in the Massachusetts convention for ratifying the constitution, in 1788. From this sphere, in which he made a deep impression by some of his speeches, particularly that on biennial elections, he passed to the house of representatives in the state legislature. Here, he soon became so eminent as an orator and man of business, that the voters of the Suffolk district elected him their first representative in the congress of the U. States. He had not been long in that assembly before his friends and admirers were satisfied that they had not overrated his abilities. He won there the palm of eloquence, besides proving himself equal to the discussion of the deepest subjects of politics and finance, and the execution of the most arduous committee labors. He remained in congress during eight years, the whole of Washington's administration, which he constantly and zealously defended. 'His speech on the British treaty,' says his distinguished biographer, doctor Kirkland, 'was the era of his political life. For many months, he had been sinking under weakness, and, though he had attended the long and interesting debate on the question which involved the constitution and the peace of the U. States, it was feared he would be unable to speak. But when the time came for taking a vote so big with consequences, his emotions would not suffer him to be silent. Iris appearance, his situation, the magnitude of his subject, the force and the pathos of his eloquence, gave this speech an extraordinary power over the feelings of the dignified and numerous assembly who heard it. When he had finished, a member in opposition moved to postpone the decision of the question, that they might not vote under the influence of a sensibility which their calm judgment might condemn.' On the retirement of Washington, Mr. A. returned to his residence at Deadham, where he occupied himself with the management of his farm and the practice of the law. The latter he relinquished in a few years, owing to the decline of his health; but he felt too deep an interest in the welfare of his country to withdraw his mind and pen from politics. He published a considerable number of essays, relating chiefly on the contest between Great Britain and revolutionary France, as it might affect American liberty and prosperity. No writer evinced more ardor for the success of Britain, or more horror of the character and tendencies of the French despotism. In 1804, Mr. A. was chosen president of Harvard college,--an honor which he declined. When Washington died, Mr. A., then a member of council of the commonwealth, was appointed to pronounce his funeral eulogy before the legislature of Massachusetts. The injury which his constitution sustained in 1795 was never fully repaired. From that period his health declined, until, at length, after an extreme debility for two years, death ended his sufferings. He expired July 4th, 1808; and, when the intelligence of this event was received, a public meeting of citizens was held, in order to testify the general respect for his character. His remains were carried to Boston, where they were interred with honors such as had not been before paid to those of any private citizen. In 1809, his works were issued in a large octavo volume, with prefatory notices of his life and character, from the pen of the reverend doctor Kirkland, president of Harvard college, who had enjoyed his personal friendship and intimacy. The volume is fraught with profound remarks, various historical lore, and eloquent declamation. Although the political interest of most of the topics is gone, there remains much to captivate and reward attention in the richness of fancy, warmth of feeling, beauty of language, and felicity of copious illustration, which distinguish almost every page. Fisher Ames left seven children and a wife, to whom he was tenderly attached. In person, he exceeded a little the middle stature, was well-proportioned and perfectly erect. His features and countenance were fine, and his manners easy and affable. Of his delivery as an orator, his biographer states, that he did not systematically study the exterior graces of speaking, but his attitude was firm, his gesticulation natural and forcible, his voice clear and varied, and his whole manner earnest and expressive. According to the same authority, all the other efforts of his mind were probably surpassed by his powers of conversation.