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GROUNDS AND MOTIVES OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION.
N the Fourth of July, 1776, the then United Colo
nies of North America awoke to the consciousness of a national life, and declared themselves "fr independent States, absolved from all allegiance to the British crown,” and “ with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.”
This was not a declaration of war with Great Britain, since, for almost fifteen months, the people of the Colonies had been in arms against the British authorities, and for a full year there had been a Continental army, equipped by the Continental Congress, and commanded by Washington. This declaration was not a manifesto of rebellion; for, though the Colonies thus openly threw off their allegiance to the parent-country, the act was justified by success, which transformed it from a rebellion into a revolution. This last term, however, in the political history of Europe, has come to be so identified with sudden and violent upheavals of society, with outbursts of popular passion, and with wild theories of government, that I deprecate the application of it to that moderate, patient, and matured action by which the people of the American Colonies declared that all political connection between them
1 The battles of Lexington and Concord were fouglit April 19, 1775; the battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775.
2 On the 15th June, 1775, the Congress at Philadelphia adopted the army hefore Cambridge, consisting wholly of Neiv-England troops, as the Continental army, and elected George Washington commander-in-chief. On the 3d July, 1775, Washington took command of the army at Cambridge.
and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved."
In the conception of political philosophy, this act of the colonists, formally renouncing the authority of the government under which the Colonies had been planted and administered, and asserting their independence as a nation, was a revolution. But it was not a revolution in the sense of a war upon certain classes, orders, customs in civil society, nor against a form of government as such; not an assault upon an hereditary monarchy in the name of a theoretical democracy; not a struggle for power between different dynasties, factions, or political schools within the State ; in one word, not a revolution after the French or Spanish kind. .
The colonists renounced their allegiance to George III., not because he was a king, but because they had come to look upon
“a prince whose character was marked by every act which may define a tyrant," and therefore "unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” As Englishmen,
, and the sons of Englishmen, they were free-born. If the crown had hereditary prerogatives, the subject had hereditary rights; and it was in defence of the rights and liberties of Englishmen against usurped and arbitrary power that they took up arms, and were driven at last to revolution and independence. Call it not "revolution," then, with the smack of European associations in the term : call it rather restoration, recovery, the reconstruction of political society upon that broad and equal basis of rights of person, of property, and of representation, which underlies the institutions of the Anglo-Saxon race.
Nay, it is not so much the act, as the people who did that act, that arrests us in the Declaration of July 4, 1776; a people loyal and true, a people just and brave, generous and forbearing, but a people who are and must be free, — such a people harried by usurpations into that community in danger and in defence which is the first consciousness of national life, lifting itself up before the world, and proclaiming, “ We are one; we are free.” “Un grand peuple qui se relève ” was the description by which Comte de Gasparin characterized the uprising of the people of the United States in 1861 to maintain their Constitution and
Government; and, going back to that scene of 1776, we see in the foreground, not the spirit of revolution nor of democracy, but un grand peuple qui se rel ve, –a people, indeed, far from imposing in numbers or might, but grand in the assertion of right, in the inspiration of justice, in devotion to freedom, and in heroic sacrifice.
To such a people national independence was a foregone conclusion, not, indeed, in their own original purpose, but in the logic of events. It was given in the fact that thirteen Colonies, distinct in origin and institutions, and with diverse and sometimes rival interests, had made common cause in resisting the oppressive measures and demands of the British Government; in the fact, that, nearly two years before, these Colonies had appointed a Congress to consult for their common welfare, and this Congress had put forth a “Declaration of Rights,” affirming, among other things, that "the foundation of English liberty and of all free government is a right in the people to participate in their legislative council ;” in the fact that a second Continental Congress' had now been in session for fourteen months, had taken measures for the common defence, had raised a loan, had organized an army, had passed high resolves; and, above all, in the fact that the battle of Bunker Hill and subsequent engagements had shown that the American militia could stand the fire of British regulars, and could supply the lack of discipline by agility and daring. When Washington heard of that battle, he asked, “Did the militia stand fire?” and when told that they stood under fire until the enemy was within eight rods, and then poured in their own volleys, he said, “ The liberties of the country are safe.” For more than a year, Washington had been drilling and disciplining the army of which the men of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, were the nucleus. The "liberties of the country" had been fermenting in the hearts of the people. Men who for more than a year had suffered and counselled and fought together, now that the last overtures of reconciliation were rejected by the British Government, must be free and independent, as they were already united and determined ; and so the spirit of independence that was in the hearts of the people, in the army, in the air, awoke in Congress the consciousness that the Colonies it represented were a nation.
1 The first Continental Congress, convened at the instance of Massachusetts, met at Philadelphia Sept. 5, 1774. The place of assembly was Carpenters' Hall, at the head of a court running back from Chestnut Street, between Third and Fourth. Many years of my boyhood were spent in a school in that old patriotic hall. The previous Congress at New York, Oct. 7, 1765, was known as the “American Congress.'
The Congress of 1774, before adjourning, recommendel that a second Congress should be convened in the following May. On the 10th of May, 1775, the second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia. This Congress carried the country through the war of Independence, and, though dwindling in numbers and influence, remaineal in authority as the central government until the establishment of the Confederation in 1781.
That this consciousness was true, and this declaration not premature, will be evident from a brief analysis of the essential attributes and conditions of a nation. The nation is a people established and settled upon a certain territory as their own, united under a government of their own, and having absolute and exclusive sovereignty within and over said territory and all and each of its inhabitants. These attributes of territorial occupancy, political unity, and independent sovereignty, inhere in the nation or body politic as such, and are quite distinct from forms of goyernment, and modes of administration. These last are but the outward and changeable expression of an inward and permanent fact, — the organs by which the nation, which is the living organism, serves itself, and manifests its life. Sometimes, also, one or more of these essential attributes of the nation — territory, unity, sovereignty - may be in a state of abeyance, or may exist in posse, awaiting manifestation in esse, without annihilating the national consciousness, or materially impairing the national life. A portion of territory may be held by an invader, and yet the nation live, and live the more vigorously in efforts to recover its lost possessions. Political unity may be disturbed by rebellion, yet the life of the nation, the inherent vitality of the body politic, assert itself the more in maintaining the social organism and its government intact. Sovereignty may be brought under by conquest; yet the life of the nation, burning the more intensely that it is pent up, may burst forth with the volcanic sovereignty of à revolution. When Marshal Bazaine sought to excuse his irresolution at Metz by saying that he knew not where
or what was the government of the country, nor, indeed, whether there was any longer a government to which he owed allegiance, the Duc d'Aumale interposed the passionate exclamation, “ Mais la France, la France ! That pathetic outburst of patriotism was the cry of the nation, still conscious of its life. Without emperor, king, president, or parliament, without flag, general, army, or battlecry, without ally abroad, without resource at home, her provinces subjugated, her capital beleaguered, her counsels divided, her inner sanctuary threatened by the torch of the patricide, France still lived, the nation, with a title supreme and absolute to the homage and service of her sons. Germany found a nation to treat with even in the extemporized assembly at Bordeaux; and the world has seen a nation vanquished and dismembered, yet capable of paying an enormous ransom, of re-organizing industry, trade, education, the army, finance, and at length, from the chaos of conflicting elements at Versailles, bringing forth a form of government to represent, at least for a time, the indestructible essence of the body politic. There is still a France, a people occupying a territory of their own, having a substantial unity in a government of their own, with absolute and exclusive sovereignty over its subjects and its soil.
Applying these criteria of a nation to the American Colonies that in 1776 declared their independence, we there find a people numbering two and a half millions, – equal to one-third of the population of England and Wales, and double that of Scotland, at that time ; and, of these two and a half millions, the vast majority (say four-fifths) were of the same race, language, and political parentage,' - Englishmen and the sons of Englishmen, more truly homogeneous in feeling and speech, in manners and ideas, than were the several parts of Great Britain itself.
We find this people occupying a territory of 820,680
1 Mr. Burke, in his Speech on Conciliation with America, places the population of the Colonies at 2,500,000, of whom 2,000,000 were English and of English descent. The population of England and Wales was then 7,500,000; that of Scotland, 1,270,000. By the census of 1790, the population of the United States was 3,929,214; that of England, Wales, and Scotland, 10,000,000. Probably in 1776 the Colonies numbered 3,000,000, – a good, healthy nucleus of national life.