« AnteriorContinuar »
tions, and the partizans of dynasties, claiming to exist by “ divine" appointment. Ambition and vanity, custom and fear, the weight of antiquity, the authority of history, and the abused or mistaken sanctions of religion, were all on the side of governments, wherever and however they existed, Yet in all this apparent union of every influence, in favour of despotic governments, the seeds of revolution were planted. The tightening and bracing of the social springs showed an increasing pressure to be counteracted-a growing impulse upward, against which conservative force had become necessary. While the jealousy of power, barred with increasing rigour the advance of popular inquiry in re. ligion and politics, mental activity enlarged its field widely in every other direction, The general level of capacity gradually rose, until the forbidden precincts were invaded by a universal tide of public opinion, in spite of the barriers which had been raised upon each other, by the care of centuries. What the immediate effects were, is not within our limits to describe minutely. From the period of the reign of Henry the VIII., in England, the efforts of the rising spirit of the people, more and more enlightened by education, and directed by experience, have gradually-sometimes by violence, and sometimes by natural operations imperceptibly, raised the moral character of nations, and finally enlisted knowledge on the side to which it naturally belongs—that of Liberty. In the most propitious period for mankind, of this unequal strife which is not yet decided in the old world, the colonization of America produced an entire change in the moral characteristics of the contest. Here were no obstacles to the freest exercise of intellectual independence: the issue has invigorated the hopes, and given unerring promises of the final triumph, of those who have not only to build up new institutions, but to combat inveterate prejudices, to remove the consequences of errors that have been interwoven with the most intimate texture of society, and to prepare whole nations, not only to conquer and establish, but to understand and enjoy their rights.';
The co-operation of knowledge and civilization, with fortune, or Providence, in this work of human regenera. tion, may not unaptly be compared to that of physical phenomena, which, i by the agenoy, of independent laws, without apparent concert, produce the finest and noblest results. Intellectual and moral improvement, the soil
from which public virtue and liberty spring as the natural growth, is formed, gradually, from a thousand indirect and direct sources, as the earth is formed for the benevolent purs poses of vegetation, upon a barren rock. By slow attrition and progressive deposites of the elements, layer after layer accumulates. If human industry be wanting to stimulate its energies, by and by comes along a bird of the air dropping the grain, or the wind, blowing where it histeth, scatters a seed, or the waves throw up a random twig, and the new. made soil soon sends up from its bosom a little plant, that ere long swells into a mighty tree, fixing its roots deep into the earth, and stretching its brawny arms wide into the air, bearing fruit to refresh and sustain living beings, and preserving the inherent faculty of re-producing its kind for ever. The plant of liberty thus springs in a soil which virtue and knowledge have matured and prepared for the hand of some master spirit, labouring with almost divine philanthropy for the good of the species; or for some happy conjuncture of events to call forth its dormant powers into spontaneous action. Thenceforward, though the growth may be affected by un. toward events, and delayed, more or less, as society advances more or less slowly, it is not in the nature of truth, that it should ever perish again. All experience hitherto, in the only fair trial ever made, confirms this judgment. Americans, proud of their own share, as a people, in these glorious events, as well as zealous for the improvement of the condi. tion of other nations, by the same happy influences, ought frequently to turn with gratitude to the period of their own revolution, and not cease to impress its principles, and the magnitude of their bearings, upon the hearts of each succeeding generation. The train of events which immediately brought on the struggle between the then colonies and Great Britain, and the vicissitudes of fortune by which it was marked until the final triumph by the establishment of independence, have, moreover, the merit of exhibiting rare ex. amples of personal virtue and heroism in our ancestors, well worthy of the highest admiration of their descendants— fit to foster a just national pride ; to strengthen the impulses of patriotism, and stimulate a warmer zeal in the universal cause of virtue and liberty.
In reviewing the earlier portions of colonial history-to trace the remoter as well as the immediate springs of the revolution, secondary to the general advancement of popular
knowledge and virtue, which are the first causes the chief place in importance is undoubtedly due to the peculiar opinions and dispositions of the Colonists and the circumstances in which they were formed. The arbitrary measures of the British government were not primary causes of the colonial resistance. Upon people of a different education and temperament, much greater oppressions than those employed by the British ministry, from the commencement of the
first systematic design to enslave in 1764, to the commencement of hostilities, might have been safely tried; and with any other existing people, would have probably succeeded. With them, however, as was well said by one of its wisest men, “ The revolution was over before the war commenced.” It was a moral revolution, to which a successful war only gave permanent establishment, and the sanction of victory in the eyes of other nations. It existed in the minds of the Colonists long before the occasion had arisen to call forth its active energies, or to invite them to study attentively the tendency of their own opinions. Its development was hastened by the assertion of unwise and tyrannical doctrines from abroad, and the attempt to reduce to practice here, rules of government which would have succeeded any where else, with discontent, but without much contention, and with no resistance. The peculiar character of this people is therefore an essential point of preliminary inquiry.
The first settlers in America were a race of men, not merely enlightened in regard to the principles of government, to the full extent of the intelligence of the age, but were far in advance of the prevailing theories in Europe. They were, in fact, for the most part, driven from Europe for their hostility to those theories, as established. Political and religious controversies had been for a long time agitating that whole continent, and cruel persecutions employed to repress and punish all independence of judgment, and to maintain despotic control over the body and mind, by the use of force. The mass of the public being unripe for concentrated action in behalf of general principles, they who were foremost in agitation, and who consequently suffered the penal. ties of defeat, were the active and enterprising-those who best comprehended the rights of man, and were warmed with the truest zeal for liberty. Such men it was, principally, who, disgusted with tyranny, or forced by rigorous laws and proscriptions, gladly embraced the opportunity of establishing themselves, at whatever cost and labour, where they might provide better institutions for their posterity. The English historian, Hume, himself the apologist of some of the worst tyrants that ever sat upon the throne, passed a merited eulogium upon the principles of the first American settlers, as early as the time of the first James. “That spirit of independence," he remarks, “ which was then reviving in England, shone forth in America, in its full lustre, and received new accession of force from the aspiring character of those, who, being discontented with the established church and monarchy, had sought for freedom among the savage deserts.” A striking fact, narrated in the memoirs of Cromwell and Hampden, two among the most remarkable men in English history, illustrates the general effect of the misgovernment of that period, in driving the ablest men into exile ; and may also serve as a memorable illustration of that just retribution for evil deeds, of which many examples are on record, wherein violent and arbitrary acts have, by the combination of subsequent events totally unforeseen at the time, led directly to the ruin of their authors. Hampden and Cromwell, under.
the common influence of dislike to the measures of Charles I. were actually on board ship, on their way to settle in America, when they were stopped by a royal order in council, prohibiting emigration. They, in consequence, remained in England-the one, by his noble support of the popular cause, to overturn the king's influence in parliament, and become a proverb in all ages for patriotism; and the other, impelled onward by the current of events, in a career of ambition, to become the means of bringing the king's head to the block; to banish his children, and sit upon his throne.
Differences of opinions, upon political subjects, undoubtedly existed in the Colonies, from the beginning, similar to those which they left, and which prevailed contemporaneously in Europe. Custom, prejudice, varieties of capacity and education, and the occasional excess of selfish passions-vanity and the thirst for gain and power in individuals-maintained, while their recollections of Europe were distinct, and continued to maintain, as long as the political connexion existed, a spirit of party on the same subjects as those which convulsed the mother country. But popular doctrines predominated from the first, in America, and grew stronger as the ties, which drew them towards the old system, became weakened under the effect and influence of new scenes and occupations; and as the generations became, in time, farther removed from the parent stock. In all these party differences, too, an important peculiarity is to be observed. Colonial disturbances were always in favour of natural rights; to retain what they had, as it were, resumed from society, on betaking themselves to the forests, against the encroachments of lords proprietors, and royal governors. In Europe, on the contrary, the rights of the people had to struggle under every disadvantage, against established institutions and overwhelming power. While in the one country, therefore, their progress has been slow and painfully won, amid terrible convulsions; in the other they advanced rapidly, and soon threw off the petty impediments of European origin. When Burke, in his famous speech on conciliation with America, delivered in the British House of Commons, in 1775, spoke so warmly of the " love of freedom," as the “predominating feature” of the character of the Americans, he spoke truly and generously of what had grown up with them, from the earliest settlement. ." That fierce spirit of liberty," which he then pronounced to be "stronger in the English Colonies, than in