« AnteriorContinuar »
CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES.
History of the Colonies.
$1. BEFORE entering upon the more immediate object of this work, which is, to present to the general reader a familiar exposition of the nature and objects of the different provisions of the Constitution of the United States, it seems proper to take a brief review of the origin and settlement of the various States, originally composing the Union, and their political relations to each other at the time of its adoption. This will naturally conduct us back to the American Revolution, and to the formation of the Confederation of the States, consequent thereon. But if we stop here, we shall still be surrounded by difficulties, unless we understand the political organization of the various colonies during their common dependence upon the sovereignty of Great Britain, and we are in some degree made acquainted with the domestic institutions, policy, and legislation, which impressed upon each of them some peculiar habits, interests, opinions, attachments, and even prejudices, which may still be traced in the actual jurisprudence of each State, and are openly or silently referred to in some of the provisions of the Constitution of Government, by which they are
now united. This review will, however, contain but a rapid glance at these various important topics, and the reader must be left to satisfy his further inquiries by the study of works of a more large and comprehensive character.
$ 2. The Thirteen American Colonies which, on the fourth day of July, 1776, declared themselves free and independent States, were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. All these colonies were originally settled by British subjects, under the express or implied authority of the government of Great Britain, except New York, which was originally settled by emigrants from Holland, and Delaware, which, although at one time an appendage to the Government of New York, was at first principally inhabited by the Dutch and Swedes. The British government, however, claimed the territory of all these colonies by the right of original discovery, and at all times resisted the claim of the Dutch to make any settlement in America. The Colony of New York became, at an early period, subject to British authority by conquest from the Dutch. Delaware was soon separated from New York, and was afterwards connected with, and a dependency upon, the proprietary government of Pennsylvania. The other States, now belonging to the Union, had no existence at the time of the Declaration of Independence; but have since been established within the territory, which was ceded to the United States by the Treaty of Peace with Great Britain in 1783, or within the territory, which has been since acquired by the United States, by purchase from other nations.
§ 3. At the time of the discovery of America, towards the close of the fifteenth century, (1492,) the various Indian tribes, which then inhabited it, maintained a claim to the exclusive possession and occupancy of the territory within their respective limits, as sovereign proprietors of the soil. They acknowledged no obedience, nor allegiance, nor subordination to any foreign nation whatsoever ; and, as far as they have possessed the means, they have ever since constantly asserted this full right of dominion, and have yielded it up only, when it has been purchased from them by treaty, or obtained by force of arms and conquest. In short, like all the civilized nations of the earth, the Indian tribes deemed themselves rightfully possessed, as sovereigns, of all the territories, within which they were accustomed to hunt, or to exercise other acts of ownership, upon the common principle, that the exclusive use gave them an exclusive right to the soil, whether it was cultivated or not.
$ 4. It is difficult to perceive, why their title was not, in this respect, as well founded as the title of any other nation, to the soil within its own boundaries. How, then, it may be asked, did the European nations acquire the general title, which they have always asserted to the whole soil of America, even to that in the occupancy of the Indian tribes ? The only answer, which can be given, is, their own assertion, that they acquired a general title thereto in virtue of their being the first discoverers thereof, or, in other words, that their title was founded upon the right of discovery. They established the doctrine, (whether satisfactorily or not is quite a different question,) that discovery is a sufficient foundation for the right to territory. As between themselves, with a view to prevent contests, where the same land had been visited by the subjects of different European nations, each of which might claim it as its own, there was no inconvenience in allowing the first discoverer to have the priority of right, where the territory was at the time desert and uninhabited. But as to nations, which had not acceded to the doctrine, and especially as to countries in the possession of native inhabitants and tribes at the time of the discovery, it seems difficult to perceive, what ground of right any discovery could confer. It would seem strange to us, if, in the present times, the natives of the South Sea Islands, or of Cochin China, should, by making a voyage to, and a discovery of, the United States, on that account set up a right to the soil within our boundaries. § 5. The truth is, that the European nations paid not the slightest regard to the rights of the native tribes. They treated them as mere barbarians and heathens, whom, if they were not at liberty to extirpate, they were entitled to deem mere temporary occupants of the soil. They might convert them to Christianity ; and, if they refused conversion, they might drive them from the soil, as unworthy to inhabit it. They affected to be governed by the desire to promote the cause of Christianity, and were aided in this ostensible object by the whole inAuence of the Papal power. But their real object was, to extend their own power, and increase their own wealth, by acquiring the treasures, as well as the territory, of the New World. Avarice and ambition were at the bottom of all their original enterprises.
$ 6. T'he right of discovery, thus asserted, has become the settled foundation, on which the European nations rest their title to territory in America ; and it is a right, which, under our governments, must now be deemed incontestable, however doubtful in its origin, or unsatisfactory in its principles. The Indians, indeed, have not been treated as mere intruders, but as entitled to a qualified right of property in the territory. They have been deemed to be the lawful occupants of the soil, and entitled to a temporary possession thereof, subject to the superior sovereignty of the particular European nation, which actually held the title of discovery. They have not, indeed, been permitted to alienate their possessory right to the soil, except to the nation, to whom they were thus bound by a qualified dependence. But in other respects, they have been left to the free exercise of internal sovereignty, in regard to the members of their own tribe, and in regard to their intercourse with other tribes; and their title to the soil, by way of occupancy, has been generally respected, until it has been extinguished by purchase, or by conquest, under the authority of the nation, upon which they were dependent. A large portion of the territory in the United States, to which the Indian title is now extinguished, has been acquired by purchase ; and a still larger portion by the irresistible power of arms, over a brave, hardy, but declining race, whose destiny
seems to be, to perish as fast as the white man advances upon their footsteps.
§ 7. Having thus traced out the origin of the title to the soil of America, asserted by the European nations, we may now enter upon a brief statement of the times and manner, in which the different settlements were made, in the different colonies, which originally composed the Union, at the time of the Declaration of Independence. The first permanent settlement made in America, under the auspices of England, was under a charter granted by King James I., in 1606. By this charter, he granted all the lands lying on the seacoast between the thirty-fourth and the forty-fifth degrees of north latitude, and the islands adjacent, within one hundred miles, which were not then belonging to, or possessed by, any Christian prince or people. The associates were divided into two companies ; one, the First, or Southern Colony, to which was granted all the lands between the thirty-fourth and forty-first degrees of north latitude ; and the other, the Second, or Northern Colony, to which was granted all the lands between the thirty-eighth and forty-fifth degrees of north latitude, but not within one hundred miles of the prior Colony. Each Colony was declared to have the exclusive propriety or title in all the territory within fifty miles from the seat of its first plantation. The name of Virginia was in general confined exclusively to the Southern Colony; and the name of the Plymouth Company (from the place of residence of the original grantees in England) was assumed by the Northern Colony. From the former, the States south of the Potomac may be said to have had their origin; and from the latter, the States of New England.
§ 8. Some of the provisions of this charter deserve a particular consideration, from the light, which they throw upon the civil and political condition of the persons, who should become inhabitants of the Colonies. The two companies were authorized to engage, as colonists, any of the subjects of England, who should be disposed to emigrate. All persons, being English subjects, and inhabitants in the Colonies, and their children born therein, were