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CHAP. served; and all grants of land to be renewed and V. confirmed. Should the company resist the change, 1623. its patent would be recalled.' This was in sub
stance a proposition to revert to the charter originally granted.
It is difficult to obtain a limitation of authority from a corporate body; an aristocracy is, of all forms of government, the most tenacious of life, and the Oct. least flexible in its purposes. The company heard the order in council with amazement; it was read three several times, and after the reading, for a long while, no man spoke a word. Should they tamely surrender privileges, which were conceded according to the forms of law, had been possessed for many years, and had led them to expend large sums of money, that had as yet yielded no return? The corporation was inflexible, for it had no interest to yield. It desired only a month's delay, that all its members might take part in the final decision. The privy council peremptorily demanded a decisive answer within three days; and, at the expiration of that time, the surrender of the charter was strenuously refused. The liberties of the company were a trust, which might be yielded to superior force, but could not be freely abandoned without dishonor.
But the decision of the king was already taken; and commissioners were appointed to proceed to Virginia, to examine into the state of the plantation, to ascertain what expectations might be conceived,
1 Burk, v. i. p. 269; Stith, p. 303-304.
2 Stith, p. 294-296; Burk, v. i. p. 269-271.
COMMISSIONERS IN VIRGINIA.
and to discover the means, by which good hopes CHAP. were to be realized. John Harvey and Samuel Matthews, both distinguished in the annals of Vir- 1623. ginia, were of the number of the committee.
It now only remained to issue a writ of quo war- Nov. ranto against the company. It was done; and, at the next quarter court, the adventurers, seven only 19. opposing, confirmed the former refusal to surrender the charter, and made preparations for defence.2 For that purpose their papers were for a season restored; while they were once more in the hands of the company, they were fortunately copied; and the copy, having been purchased by a Virginian, was consulted by Stith, and gave to his history the authority of an original record.3
While these things were transacting in England, 1624. the commissioners, early in the year, arrived in the colony. A meeting of the general assembly was immediately convened; and, as the company had refuted the allegations of King James, as opposed to their interests, so the colonists replied to them, as contrary to their honor and good name. The principal prayer was, that the governors might not have absolute power; and that the liberty of popular assemblies might be retained; "for," say they, "nothing can conduce more to the public satisfaction and the public utility." To urge this solicitation, an agent was appointed to repair to England. The manner in which the expenses of the mission
1 Burk, v. i. p. 272, and note; Chalmers, p. 62 and p. 76.
2 Stith, p. 298, 299.
3 Burk, v. i. p. 274, 275; Hening, v. i. p. 76.
4 Burk, v. i. p. 276, 277.
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.2
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.3
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
1 Hening's Statutes at Large, v.
i. 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.
SPIRIT OF THE VIRGINIANS.
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
CHAP. forwarded an elaborate petition' to the grand inquest V. 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 29. not have given a more earnest proof of their disposition 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 aggravated 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 constitution 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.
2 Chalmers, p. 65, 66; Burk, v. i. p. 291.
3 Stith, p. 328, refers to the nine grievances; erroneously. See Cobbett's Parl. Hist. v. i. p. 1489
1497. The commons acted by