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204

SPIRIT OF THE VIRGINIANS,

V.

CHAP. were borne, marks colonial times and manners, and

the universality of the excitement. A tax of four 1624. pounds of the best tobacco was levied upon every

male, who was above sixteen years and had been in the colony a twelvemonth. The commissioner unfortunately died on his passage to Europe.?

The spirit of liberty had planted itself deeply among the Virginians. It had been easier to root out the staple produce of their plantations, than to wrest from them their established franchises. The movements of the colonial government display the spirit of the place and the aptitude of the English colonies for liberty. A faithless clerk, who had been suborned by one of the commissioners to betray the secret consultations of the Virginians, was promptly punished. In vain was it attempted, by means of intimidation and promises of royal favor, to obtain a petition for the revocation of the charter. It was under that charter, that the assembly was itself convened; and it prudently rejected a proposition, which might have endangered its own existence. The colonial assembly proceeded to memorable acts of legislation.

The rights of property were strictly maintained against arbitrary taxation. “ The governor shall not lay any taxes or ympositions upon the colony, their lands or commodities, other way than by the authority of the general assembly, to be levyed and ymployed as the said assembly shall appoynt.” Thus

i.

1 Hening's Statutes at Large, v.
p. 128, Act 35.
2 Burk, v. i. p. 277.

3 Hening, v. i. p. 122–128; Burk, v. i. p. 278-286; Stith, p. 318-322.

V.

Virginia, the oldest colony, was the first to set the CHAP. example of a just and firm legislation on the management of the public money. We shall see other 1624. colonies imitate the example, which could not be excelled. The rights of personal liberty were likewise asserted, and the power of the governor circumscribed. The several governors had in vain attempted, by penal statutes, to promote the culture of corn; the true remedy was now discovered by the colonial legislature. “For the encouragement of men to plant store of corn, the price shall not be stinted, but it shall be free for every man to sell it as deare as he can.” The reports of controversies in England, rendered it necessary to provide for the public tranquillity by an express enactment, “that no person within the colony, upon the rumor of supposed change and alteration, presume to be disobedient to the present government.” The law was dictated by the emergency of the times; and during the struggle in London, the administration of Virginia was based upon a popular decree. These laws, so judiciously framed, show how readily, with the aid of free discussion, men become good legislators on their own concerns; for wise legislation is the enacting of proper laws at proper times; and no criterion is so nearly infallible as the fair representation of the interests to be affected.

While the commissioners were urging the colonists to renounce their right to the privileges, which they exercised so well, the English parliament assembled; and a gleam of hope revived in the company, as it

V.

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29.

CHAP. forwarded an elaborate petition to the grand inquest

of the kingdom. It is a sure proof of the unpopu1624. larity of the corporation, that it met with no support

from the commons;? but Sir Edwin Sandys, more
intent on the welfare of Virginia, than the existence
of the company, was able to secure for the colonial
staple complete protection against foreign tobacco,

by a petition of grace," which was followed by a Sept. royal proclamation. The people of England could

not have given a more earnest proof of their dispo-
sition to foster the plantations in America, than by
restraining all competition in their own market for
the benefit of the American planter.

Meantime, the commissioners arrived from the
colony, and made their report to the king. They
enumerated the disasters, which had befallen the
infant settlement; they eulogized the fertility of the
soil and the salubrity of the climate; they aggra-
vated the neglect of the company in regard to the
encouragement of staple commodities; they declared
the plantations to be of great importance to the
nation, and a monument of the reign of King James;
they expressed a preference for the original constitu-
tion of 1606; they declared, that the alteration of
the charter to so popular a course and so many
hands, referring, not to the colonial franchises, but,
to the democratic form of the London company,

1 Stith, p. 324–328.

1497. The commons acted by 2 Chaliners, p. 65, 66; Burk, v. petition. Hazard, v. i. p. 193. i. p. 291.

4 Hazard, v.

i.
p.

193—198. 3 Stith, p. 328, refers to the nine 5 Ibid, v. i. p. 190, 191 ; Burk's grievances; erroneously. See Cob- History of Virginia, v. i. p. 291, bett's Parl. Hist. v. i. p. 1489- 292.

V.

1624.

could lead only to confusion and contention; and CHAP. they promised prosperity only by a recurrence to the original instructions of the monarch.

Now, therefore, nothing but the judicial decision June. remained. The decree, which was to be pronounced by judges, who held their office by the tenure of the royal pleasure,' could not long remain doubtful; and at the trinity term of the ensuing year, judgment was given against the treasurer and company, and the patents were cancelled.

Thus the company was dissolved. It had fulfilled its high destinies ; it had confirmed the colonization of Virginia, and had conceded a liberal form of government to Englishmen in America. It could accomplish no more. The members were probably willing to escape from a concern, which promised no emolument and threatened an unprofitable strife; the public acquiesced in the fall of a corporation, which had of late maintained but a sickly and hopeless existence; and the friends of the colony well knew, that a body, rent by internal factions and opposed by the whole force of the English government, could never succeed in fostering Virginia. The fate of the London company found little sympathy; in the domestic government of the colony, it produced no change whatever. So far as the business of the

1 Story's Com. v. i. p.

27. failer, or mistake in pleading." 2 Stith, p. 329, 330, doubts if See a Short Collection of the most judgment were passed. The doubt Remarkable Passages from the may be removed. “ Before the originall to the Dissolution of the end of the same term, a judgment Virginia Company. London, 1651, was declared by the Lord Chief p. 15. See, also, Hazard, v. i. p. Justice Ley against the company 191; Chalmers, p. 62; Proud's and their charter, only upon à Pennsylvania, v. i. p. 107.

V.

15.

26.

CHAP. colony was to be transacted in England, it was en

trusted to a large committee, composed, in part, of 1624. members of the privy council, and clothed with very

extensive powers. To this committee the charter
and all other papers of the company were ordered to
be delivered ;' and it was invested with the powers,
which had before rested with the corporation. To
the liberties of Virginia, the abolition of the char-
ter brought no immediate diminution ; Sir Francis

Wyatt, though he had been an ardent friend of the
Aug. London company, was confirmed in the government

of the province; and he and his council, far from
being rendered absolute, were only empowered to
govern “as fully and amplye as any governor and
council resident there, at any time within the space
of five years now last past." This term of five
years was precisely the period of representative gov-
ernment; and the limitation could not but be inter-
preted as sanctioning the continuance of popular
assemblies. The king, in appointing the council in
Virginia, refused to nominate the embittered parti-
sans of the court faction; but formed the adminis-
tration on the principles of accommodation. These

moderate measures appear, it is true, to have been 1625. designed as temporary. The vanity of the monarch

claimed the opportunity of establishing for the colony Mar. a code of fundamental laws; but death prevented

the royal legislator from attempting the task, which
would have furnished his self-complacency so grate-
ful an occupation.

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27.

1 Hazard, v. i. p. 186. 188.

Ibid, v. i. p. 192.

3 Ibid, v. i. p. 189. 192; Burk, v. ii. p. 11, from ancient records.

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