Imágenes de páginas



§ 39. 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 consideration of the manner in which the settlements were made, and of the political constitutions by which the various colonies were organized and governed.

[ocr errors]

§ 40. For a long time after the discoveries of Cabot were made, England from various causes remained in a state of indifference or inactivity in respect to the territory thus subjected to her sway.1 Nearly a century elapsed before any effectual plan for planting any colony was put into operation; and indeed the ill success, not to say entire failure, of the first expedition was well calculated to abate any undue confidence in the value of such enterprises. In 1578, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, having obtained letters-patent from Queen Elizabeth,2 granting him and his heirs any lands discovered by him, attempted a settlement on the cold and barren shores of Cape Breton and the adjacent regions, and exhausted his fortune and lost his life in the fruitless labor. The brilliant genius of Sir Walter Raleigh was captivated by the allurements of any scheme which gave play to his romantic temper; and unmindful of the disastrous fate of his half-brother, or gathering fresh courage from the consciousness of difficulties, eagerly followed up the original plan under a new patent from the crown. To him we are indebted for the first plantations in the South;5 and such was the splendor of the description of the soil and climate and productions of that region given by the first adventurers, that Elizabeth was proud to bestow upon it the name of Virginia, and thus to connect it with the reign of a virgin Queen. But notwithstanding the bright prospects thus held out, three successive

1 Robertson's America, B. 9; Doug. Summ. 110, &c.

2 1 Haz. Coll. 24.

8 Marshall's Colon. 15, 16; Robertson's America, B. 9.

4 1 Haz. Coll. 33; Robertson's America, B. 9.

5 1 Haz. Coll. 38-40; 2 Doug. Summ. 385.

6 Marsh. Colon. 17; Robertson's America, B. 9.


attempts under the auspices of Raleigh ended in a ruinous disaster, and seemed but a presage of the hard fate and darkened fortunes of that gallant, but unfortunate gentleman.1

§ 41. The first permanent settlement made in America under the auspices of England was under a charter granted to Sir Thomas Gates and his associates by James the First, in the fourth year after his accession to the throne of England 2 (in 1606). That charter granted to them the territories in America, then commonly called Virginia, lying on the sea-coast between the 34th and the 45th degrees of north latitude and the islands adjacent within 100 miles, which were not belonging to or possessed by any Christian prince or people. The associates were divided into two companies, one of which was required to settle between the 34th and 41st degrees of north latitude, and the other between the 38th and 45th degrees of north latitude, but not within 100 miles of the prior colony. By degrees the name of Virginia was confined to the first or south colony. The second assumed the name of the Plymouth Company, from the residence of the original grantees; and New England was founded under their auspices. Each colony had exclusive propriety in all the territory within fifty miles from the first seat of their plantation.5



§ 42. Some of the provisions of this charter deserve a particular consideration from the light they throw upon the political and civil condition of the persons who should become inhabitants of the colonies. The 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 inhabiting in the colonies, and every one of their children born therein, were declared to have and possess all liberties, franchises, and immunities, within any other of the dominions of the crown, to all intents and purposes, as if they had been abiding and born within the realm of England, or any other dominions of the crown. The patentees were to hold the lands, &c., in the colony, of the king, his heirs and successors, as of the manor of East Greenwich in the county of Kent, in free and common socage only, and not in capite; and were authorized to grant the same to

1 Robertson's America, B. 9.

* Marsh. Colon. 25; 1 Haz. Coll. 50; Robertson's America, B. 9.

3 1 Haz. Coll. 99; Robertson's America, B. 9.

4 Robertson's America, B. 9.

5 1 Haz. Coll. 50.

the inhabitants of the colonies in such manner and form and for such estates, as the council of the colony should direct.1

§ 43. In respect to political government, each colony was to be governed by a local council, appointed and removable at the pleasure of the crown, according to the royal instructions and ordinances from time to time promulgated. These councils were to be under the superior management and direction of another council sitting in England. A power was given to expel all intruders, and to lay a limited duty upon all persons trafficking with the colony; and a prohibition was imposed upon all the colonists against trafficking with foreign countries under the pretence of trade from the mother country to the colonies.2

§ 44. The royal authority soon found a gratifying employment in drawing up and establishing a code of fundamental regulations for these colonies, in pursuance of the power reserved in the charter. A superintending council was created in England. The legislative and executive powers were vested in the president and councils of the colonies; but their ordinances were not to touch life nor limb, and were in substance to conform to the laws of England, and were to continue in force only until made void by the crown, or the council in England. Persons committing high offences were to be sent to England for punishment; and subordinate offences were to be punished at the discretion of the president and council. Allegiance to the crown was strictly insisted on; and the Church of England established.3 The royal authority was in all respects made paramount; and the value of political liberty was totally overlooked, or deliberately disregarded.

§ 45. The charter of the first or Virginia colony was successively altered in 1609 and 1612,4 without any important change in its substantial provisions, as to the civil or political rights of the colonists. It is surprising, indeed, that charters securing such vast powers to the crown, and such entire dependence on the part of the emigrants, should have found any favor in the eyes either of the proprietors or of the people. By placing the whole legislative and executive powers in a council nominated by the

1 1 Haz. Coll. 50; Marsh. Colon. 25, 26; Robertson's Amer. B. 9.

2 1 Haz. Coll. 50; Marsh. Colon. 26.

3 Marsh. Colon. 27, 28.

41 Haz. Coll. 58, 72; Marsh. Colon. 44, 45, 47; Robertson's America, B. 9.

crown, and guided by its instructions, every person settling in America seems to have been bereaved of the noblest privileges of a free man. But without hesitation or reluctance, the proprietors of both colonies prepared to execute their respective plans; and under the authority of a charter, which would now be rejected with disdain as a violent invasion of the sacred and inalienable rights of liberty, the first permanent settlements of the English in America were established. From this period the progress of the two provinces of Virginia and New England forms a regular and connected story. The former in the South, ånd the latter in the North, may be considered as the original and parent colonies, in imitation of which, and under whose shelter, all the others have been successively planted and reared.1

§ 46. The settlements in Virginia were earliest in point of date, and were fast advancing under a policy, which subdivided the property among the settlers, instead of retaining it in common, and thus gave vigor to private enterprise. As the colony increased, the spirit of its members assumed more and more the tone of independence; and they grew restless and impatient for the privileges enjoyed under the government of their native country. To quiet this uneasiness, Sir George Yeardley, then the governor of the colony, in 1619, called a general assembly, composed of representatives from the various plantations in the colony, and permitted them to assume and exercise the high functions of legislation.2 Thus was formed and established the first representative legislature that ever sat in America. And this example of a domestic parliament to regulate all the internal concerns of the country was never lost sight of, but was ever afterwards cherished throughout America, as the dearest birthright of freemen. So acceptable was it to the people, and so indispensable to the real prosperity of the colony, that the council in England were compelled, in 1621, to issue an ordinance, which gave it a complete and permanent sanction. In imitation of the constitution of the British Parliament, the legislative power was lodged partly in the governor, who held the place of the sovereign; partly in a council of state named by the company; and

1 I quote the very words of Dr. Robertson throughout this passage for its spirit and general truth. Robert. Hist. of America, B. 9.

2 Robertson's America, B. 9; Marsh. Colon. ch. 2, p. 54.

3 Henning, Stat. 111; Stith's Virg. App. No. 4, p. 321; 1 Chalm. Annals, 54.

partly in an assembly composed of representatives freely chosen by the people. Each branch of the legislature might decide by a majority of voices, and a negative was reserved to the governor. But no law was to be in force, though approved by all three of the branches of the legislature, until it was ratified by a general court of the company, and returned under its seal to the colony.1 The ordinance further required the general assembly, as also the council of state, "to imitate and follow the policy of the form of government, laws, customs, and manner of trial and other administration of justice used in the realm of England, as near as may be." The conduct of the colonists, as well as the company, soon afterwards gave offence to King James; and the disasters, which accomplished an almost total destruction of the colony by the successful inroads of the Indians, created much discontent and disappointment among the proprietors at home. The king found it no difficult matter to satisfy the nation that an inquiry into their conduct was necessary. It was accordingly ordered; and the result of that inquiry, by commissioners appointed by himself, was a demand on the part of the crown of a surrender of the charters.2 The demand was resisted by the company; a quo warranto was instituted against them, and it terminated, as in that age it might well be supposed it would, in a judgment, pronounced in 1624 by judges holding their offices during his pleasure, that the franchises were forfeited and the corporation should be dissolved.3

§ 47. It does not appear that these proceedings, although they have met with severe rebuke in later times, attracted any indignation or sympathy for the sufferers on this occasion. The royal prerogative was then viewed without jealousy, if not with favor; and the rights of Englishmen were ill defined and ill protected under a reign remarkable for no great or noble objects. Dr. Robertson has observed, that the company, like all unprosperous societies, fell unpitied; and the nation were content to forget the prostration of private rights, under the false encouragements held out of aid to the colony from the benignant efforts and future counsels of the crown.

1 Robertson's America, B. 9; Marsh. Colon. ch. 2, p. 56; 1 Haz. Coll. 131.

2 In 1623. See 1 Haz. Coll. 155.

8 Robertson's America, B. 9; 1 Haz. Coll. 183; Marsh. Colon. ch. 2, p. 60, 62; Chalmers's Annals.

4 Robertson's America, B. 9.

« AnteriorContinuar »