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square miles, or more than nine times the area of Great Britain ;' a territory remote from all organized communities, and isolated by the forests, the lakes, and the sea; a territory which they had redeemed from the wilderness to be the abode of civilized man, which they had defended, at cost of their blood and treasure, against Indian tribes and French garrisons, and had covered with townships, cities, villages, and homesteads; a territory whose wooded wastes they had converted into a granary to relieve the scarcity of corn in the mother-country, and whose rocky, ice-bound coasts they had animated with a commerce, which, at that time, almost equalled the foreign trade of England at the beginning of the eighteenth century with the whole world. “ No sea,” said Mr. Burke, " but what is vexed by their fisheries; no climate that is not witness to their toils. Neither the perseverance of Holland, nor the activity of France, nor the dexterous and firm sagacity of English enterprise, ever carried this most perilous mode of hardy industry (the wha!c-fishery] to the extent to which it has been pushed by this recent people.” 2 Such in their physical condition and achievements were the people who now claimed to be a nation. They had a territory of their own, which they had shown themselves able to occupy and improve, and to hold against all comers.
By force of circumstances, too, they had now attained to political unity under a government which they recognized and upheld as their proper representative. Much as the Colonies differed in their original political settlement, — some being directly provinces of the crown, others proprietary grants, and others chartered companies or settlements, 3 — they all agreed in asserting and cherishing
nglish industry shed by this achi
1 The area of England and Wales is 58,320 square miles; that of Scotland, 31,324: total, 80,144 square miles.
2 Speech on Conciliation with America.
3 Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island held charters from the crown, by virtue of which the government was largelv vested in the freemen of the company or colony. The charters of Connecticut and Rhode Island were so liberal, that, for many years after the Revolution, they served the purpose of State constitutions, - that of Connecticut till 1818, that of Rhode Island till 1842.
Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and at first, also, New Jersey and the Carolinas, had proprietary governments: i.e., the proprietor who held the grant in person from the crown had also a control in political affairs. The charter to Lord Baltimore, however, reserved to the colonists a share in legislation; and Penn freely gave the same right to his colonists.
that good old English principle of local self-government, which was fast falling into desuetude in England itself. The Hon. George C. Brodrick, in his valuable essay on “ Local Government in England,” observes, “ It is a curious and instructive fact, that, while the primitive ideal of self-government had become obscured both in English counties and in English boroughs, it not only survived, but acquired a fresh vitality, in the Colonies of New England.”] By degrees, this local self-government, practised in districts and townships as matter of custom and convenience, expanded in confederate counsel and action in matters of common duty and danger. In those days, before steam-navigation was dreamed of, the mother-country was so distant, and communication was so tardy and irregular, that the colonists were often compelled to act upon their own responsibility, without waiting for the sanction of the crown. As far back as 1643, four of the Colonies of New England – Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, and New Haven – formed a confederacy for their mutual safety and welfare, especially as against the French and the Indians; and this league, under the name of “ The United Colonies of New England,” — “a self-governing association of self-governing English commonwealths,” 2 assuming in so far the functions of a distinct sovereignty, lasted for more than forty years. In 1754, twenty-two years before the Declaration of Independence, a general convention of the Colonies was summoned at Albany to renew a treaty with the “ Six Nations” of Indians. Benjamin Franklin proposed a formal union of the Colonies as their only protection against the French. His motto
New Hampshire, New York, Virginia, Georgia, anal afterwards New Jersey and the Carolinas, were under royal or provincial governments, The governor was appointed by the crown, and also a council, which served as the upper house of the legislature; the lower house being elected by the people. It is sufficient for my purpose to point out the three forms of colonial government, without stating the specific differences under each form.
i Cobilen-Club Essays for 1875, p. 25.
2 Palfrey: History of New Englanil, i. 634. As a consequence of the union of New Ilaven with Connecticut, the confederacy of 1643 was terininated in 1667; but a new league was entered into between Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Connecticut (1072), which was finally dissolveil in 1684. Thus the principle of colonial confederation was in action in New Eng. land, in the seventeenth century, for a period of forty years.
was, “ Unite, or die!”] Sometimes such conventions were summoned or sanctioned by the officers of the crown; sometimes they were quite outside the pale of legitimate government as recognized by the crown : but, dictated by necessity, and justified by their beneficial results, they were educating the people to independence of the crown.
The union urged by Franklin against the military rival of their parent-country, twenty years later, was formed to protect the rights and liberties of the Colonies against the encroachments of Great Britain herself. Virtually, indeed, the political union of the American Colonies was formed as early as 1765, though few then dreamed of an independent nation as its issue. In June of that year, James Otis of Boston “advised the calling of an American Congress, which should come together without asking the consent of the king, and should consist of committees from each of the thirteen Colonies, to be appointed respectively by the delegates of the people, without regard to the other branches of the legislature.”2 In October of the same year, the representatives of the people of eleven Colonies met in New York “ to consult together, and consider of a united representation to implore relief.” Petition, re
1 The proceedings of this convention at Albany, in 1754, are given at length in the Documentary History of New York, vol. ii. pp. 317 seq. They are of exceeding interest in three particulars. (1.) The commissioners to the Congress were appointed by the governors or legislatures of the several Colonies, “in pursuance of letters from the Right Honorable the Lords Commissioners for Trade and the
Thus the British Government made use of the expedient of a convention of the Colonies for framing articles of union and confederation with the Iroquois as a treaty-making power.
(2.) This Congress, though appointed for the specific purpose of treating with the Indians, took it upon itself to plan à union of the Colonies “ for their mutnal defence and security, and for extending the British settlements in North America.” This plan was referred to the governinents of the several Colonies for approval.
(3.) The scheme proposed an act of Parliament, “by virtue of which one general government may be formed in America, includ ing all the Colonies, within and under which government each Colony may retain its present constitution.” There was to be a president-general appointed and supported by the crown, and a grand council to be chosen by the representatives of the people of the several Colonies. The acts of the council required to be sanctionel, first by the president, and then by the king. Though this plan never came to maturity, it shows how the colonists cherished local government and union, without aiming at independence.
2 Bancroft: History of the United States, vol. v. p. 279.
John Adams said of Otis, “He was at the head of the cause of his country. ... His oration against writs of assistance breathed into the nation the breath of life.” – Works, vol. x. p. 276.
monstrance, repeal, were in their minds, with no thought as yet of separation and war. But in the very act of thus coming together as directly representing the popular branch in the government, without regard to governors, councils, magistrates, or other parties claiming to represent the crown, they asserted a right of self-government inherent in the people, and a unity of political life above all diversities of form. That union found expression in such sentiments as these: “ There ought to be no New-England man, no New-Yorker, known on the continent, but all of us Americans ;” the Colonies are “ a bundle of sticks, which can neither be bent nor broken.” And, while the hands of those delegates draughted a union of the Colonies for their present redress, they unconsciously drew the faint shadowy outlines of the nation, from which the fiery alchemy of war should bring out the resplendent figure of Liberty. The nation was there in posse; a people permanently settled upon a territory, which by enterprise, by labor, or by purchase, they had made their own, had redeemed from nature, had enriched by cultivation, had defended from jealous rivals and from savage foes; a people that through forms as yet inchoate, or occasional and flexible, had come to realize their political unity of interest, of spirit, and of action. Nor was the third essential attribute of sovereignty wanting, though as yet there was no formal, coherent organization of sovereign power.
When this Congress of 1765 had adjourned, and so was finally dissolved, the people of the several Colonies ratified its conclusions, and accepted these as their own: and, though nine years elapsed before another Congress was convened, the colonists had the consciousness of a sovereignty latent within themselves; they had before them the precedent of a political assembly emanating directly from the people, criticising and condemning the acts of King and Parliament, issuing remonstrances and appeals to the people and the government of Great Britain, and proposing terms of future concord; in a word, exercising the functions of a distinct political power. With this precedent in view, they felt, that, in any emergency, they could again summon this power of the united people to give such counsel, and take such action, as their common
welfare should demand; and when at length, in 1774, a Continental Congress was again invoked, though this body set before it as the chief object of its labors “the union of Great Britain and the Colonies on a constitutional foundation,” yet, in the very fact of summoning a body of their own creation to treat with the parent-country of such questions as union, obedience, allegiance, the instinct of the colonists was leading them to the recognition of a power as yet incorporeal and indefinable, — the sovereignty of the nation. When this Congress put forth the resolve, that “the inhabitants of the English Colonies in North America ... are entitled to life, liberty, and property, and they have never ceded to any sovereign power whatever a right to dispose of either without their consent;” and, further, “ that they are entitled to a free and exclusive power of legislation in their several provincial legislatures," — then this nascent sovereignty had already taken on its positive form. The “Declaration of Rights” in 1774 was the herald of the “ Declaration of Independence” in 1776: it needed only that this last magic word should be spoken, and a new nation stood unveiled before the world, equipped with territory, with unity, and with sovereignty:
This nation must needs pass through a baptism of fire and blood before she could wear unchallenged on her brow the name The United States of America. More than five years of war, and seven years of nominal hostilities, before, in September, 1783, the independence of these United States shall be recognized by Great Britain ; nearly thirteen years of political experiment and uncertainty, before, in March, 1789, the republic shall be definitively established under a Constitution, with George Washington as its first president: yet the nation came into being on that fourth day of July, 1776, when the Continental Congress at Philadelphia issued the Declaration of Independence. That Declaration was put forth with the utmost deliberation, dignity, and solemnity. The representatives who signed it, “in the name and by the authority of the good people of the Colonies,” pledged to each other “ their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor ;” and for the motives of their action, and the rec.