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every constitutional government; and thus English liberty has become a precedent and standard for the civilized world. But parliaments are not always mindful of the principles and precedents from which their own rights and powers have sprung; and a century ago it happened in England that a capricious and wilful king found a ministry and parliament pliant enough to use the right of taxing, which parliament had wrested from the crown, in the unconstitutional way of taxing the American Colonies without their consent, — thus dealing a blow at the right of local government, upon which rested the rights of the people as represented in the House of Commons itself; and that was the blow that roused the colonists to the danger of losing all their rights as Englishmen by acquiescing in a tax levied without consulting the legislative bodies chosen by themselves.
During the long period of remonstrance that preceded the appeal of the colonists to arms, FRANKLIN, whose sagacity as a statesman equalled his wisdom as à philosopher, was in England, watching for the interests of the Colonies against the usurpations of the Crown and the Parliament. In a letter to Lord Kames, dated London, April 11, 1767, Franklin says, “ All the Colonies acknowledge the king as their sovereign. His governors there represent his person; laws are made by their assemblies, or little parliaments, with the governor's assent, subject still to the king's pleasure to affirm or annul them. Suits arising in the Colonies, and between Colony and Colony, are determined by the king in council. In this view they seem so many separate little States, subject to the same prince. The sovereignty of the king is, therefore, easily understood. But nothing is more common here than to talk of the sovereignty of PARLIAMENT, and the sovereignty of this nation over the Colonies, — a kind of sovereignty, the idea of which is not so clear; nor does it clearly appear on what foundation it is established.”] And in a letter to a person unknown, dated London, Jan. 6, 1766, Franklin protested against taxing the Colonies without their consent, by asking, “If the Parliament has a right thus to take from us a penny in the pound, where is
1 Bigelow's Life of Franklin, vol. i. p. 518.
the line drawn that bounds that right? and what shall hinder their calling, whenever they please, for the other nineteen shillings and elevenpence? Have we, then, any thing that we can call our own?”?
That question went to the root of the whole matter in controversy. The colonists had held their own lands, made their own laws, elected their own magistrates, laid their own taxes, levied their own militia ; but, should they acquiesce in these new usurpations of King and Parliament, how long should they have any thing that they could call their own ? — how long, indeed, could they call themselves their own? In their original settlement, and forms of government, some of the Colonies had been more their own than were others. As I have already pointed out, some had charters which guaranteed to them the right of framing their own laws; some had proprietors, who held from the king the title to the land, and the right of goyerning; and others, again, were royal provinces, with a governor and council appointed by the king. It had long been a favorite scheme in England to assimilate all the Colonies to the “royal” type. But, from the very necessity of their position, the colonists were left to care for themselves, and hence were accustomed to act for themselves; and, long before the Revolution, the spirit of selfgovernment had asserted itself in all the Colonies, through legislative assemblies chosen by the people, though the forms of local government were most fully developed in the chartered Colonies of New England. There, within a quarter of a century after the settlement of Plymouth, in a population of about twenty-five thousand, were already upwards of fifty distinct town-organizations, each of which, after the manner of the Saxon town-inoot and the Teutonic Gemeinde, managed its own affairs by votes of the whole body of citizens in town-meeting. “ By force of this institution,” — as it exists to this day, — "every man in New England belongs to a small community of neighbors, known to the law as a corporation, with rights and liabilities as such, capable of suing, and subject to be sued, in the courts of justice, in disputes with any parties, individual or corporate. Once a year the corporation chooses
1 Bigelow's Life of Franklin, vol. i. p. 455.
the administrators of its affairs, and determines the amount of money with which it will intrust them, and how this shall be raised. ... It belongs to the towns to protect the public health and order by means of a police; to maintain safe and convenient communication about and through their precinct by roads and bridges; to furnish food, clothing, and shelter to their poor; to provide for the education of all their children at their common charge;" in a word, “ towns severally are empowered to take care of those interests of theirs which they respectively can best understand, and can most efficiently and most economically provide for.” 1
These little democracies were not only the nurseries of liberty, but training-schools for the citizen in the art of government; and they gave to New England her peculiar strength and fitness for beginning that struggle with arbitrary power which led to the war of independence. Other Colonies that lacked this feature in their original constitution were trained to self-government by the hardy manhood and self-reliance that came of battling with the wilderness and the Indians, and by the necessity of guarding their frontier, and of providing for needs that were neglected or postponed by a government three thousand miles away. Hence the oligarchy which at first existed in some of the Colonies more directly dependent upon the crown was compelled to yield to the demand for a legislative assembly chosen by the people, and directly cognizant of their wants; while the plan for an order of nobility earls and barons — in the Carolinas never got beyond the paper on which John Locke draughted it for King Charles II. It was too late in history to set up an aristocracy in fever-swamps and log-huts. The men who cleared and tilled the soil must and would own it, and, having something they could call their own, would govern it as well. Even the existence of negro slavery stimulated this demand for colonial freedom, since, by a perversity of human nature, men will often rate their own political liberty above the personal liberty of their fellows. Mr. Burke pointed out this anomaly, that “where slaves are held in any part of the world, those who are free are by far the most proud
1 Palfrey's History of New England, book ii. chap. 1.
and jealous of their freedom. Freedom is to them not only an enjoyment, but a kind of rank and privilege. ... In such a case the haughtiness of domination combines with the spirit of freedom, fortifies it, and renders it invincible.” And this sagacious observer recognized the fact, and sought to have Parliament recognize it also, that, by one cause and another, it had come to pass, that, “ in all the Colonies, the governments were popular in a high degree; some merely popular; in all, the popular representative the most weighty; and this share of the people in their ordinary government never fails to inspire them with lofty sentiments, and with a strong aversion from whatever tends to deprive them of their chief importance."!
To these political and social causes which developed in the colonists, and one might almost say necessitated, the habit of self-government, must be added religion, as demanding freedom of conscience, independence of thought, and the recognition of Christian manhood as higher than all forms of society, and orders of government. It is the fashion of liberals in Europe to look upon the Church, and especially the clergy, as antagonistic to political freedom, and an obstacle to the development of modern society in culture; and it is the fashion of conservatives in Europe to look upon popular freedom as hostile to religion, and destructive of the Church as a main bulwark of society. The experience of France before and after her revolution gave color to both these views. But the experience of the United States has been, that freedom had in religion a safe and sure ally; and religion found her security and strength in freedom, In the movements in the Colonies that prepared the way for the Revolution, the religious spirit was a vital and earnest element. Some of the Colonies were the direct offspring of religious persecution in the old country, or of the desire for a larger freedom of faith and worship; and so jealous were they of any interference with the rights of conscience, that their religion was fitly described as “ a refinement on the principle of resistance, the dissidence of dissent, and the Protestantism of the Protestant religion.”? And the Colonies that were founded in the spirit of commercial adventure, or for extending the realm of Great Britain, became also an asylum for religious refugees from all nations, and, by the prospect of a larger and freer religious life, attracted to themselves the men of different races and beliefs who had learned to do and to suffer for their faith. There were the Hollanders of New Amsterdam (now New York), of that sturdy race that shook off the accursed yoke of Spain, — a people whose boast it was “ that common laborers, even the fishermen who dwelt in the huts of Friesland, could read and write, and discuss the interpretation of Scripture;”] there were the Germans of Pennsylvania, who brought with them the recent memories of the ThirtyYears' war for the freedom of the faith; there were the Swedes of Delaware, with the proud memory of their great Gustavus, who had saved Protestantism to Germany, and consecrated the Reformation with his blood; there were the Huguenots of New York and the Carolinas, who brought from France the life-blood of its industry and thrift, of its honor and its faith ; and even the Catholic settlers of Maryland, by the sagacity of their leader in procuring a chartered freedom for their own faith, had guaranteed an impartial protection to other forms and faiths than theirs. Not only in New England itself, but in the Presbyterian and Reformed systems south of New England, the Calvinistic type of theology largely predominated; and, say what men will of the harshness of Calvinism in some aspects, the almost arbitrary despotism that it imputes to God in his decrees inspires a resolute, almost defiant, freedom in those who deem themselves the subjects of his electing grace: in all things they are “ more than conquerors,” through the confidence that nothing shall be able to separate them from the love of God. No doctrine of the dignity of human nature, of the rights of man, of natural liberty, of social equality, can create such a resolve for the freedom of the soul as this personal conviction of God's favoring and protecting sovereignty. He who has this faith feels that he is compassed about with everlasting love, girded about with everlasting strength; his will is the tempered steel that no fire can melt, no force can
1 Speech on Conciliation with America. 2 Burke: Speech on Couciliation.