Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

men, also, primitive ways were most likely to be familiar. The public life, which these humble people knew for the most part, was that of the small neighborhoods where the tun-moot was not as yet quite dead; for it was precisely. here that ancient usages clung most tenaciously. 6. The smaller and more decidedly differentiated the institution, the less the liability to change, modification, or substitution.” 1 When left to themselves, it was natural that, following tendencies which had come down in their blood, they should adopt and at the same time strengthen what remained of the ancient features of AngloSaxon freedom. It was presently found that what nature suggested in the way of forms of polity was admirably fitted for the life into which the circumstances of their new home forced the colonists. Hence, it is easy to understand why the resuscitated government by popular moot came soon to manifest the greatest vigor.

In Virginia, on the other hand, the yeoman element was small. At the top of society was an aristocracy

of rich proprietors holding large estates, planters of

allied through similarity of condition, and

through ties of blood also, with the landed gentry of the mother-country. The law of primogeniture being rigidly maintained, each great estate, consisting often of thousands of acres, descended in each generation to the eldest son, his brothers and sisters being slightly portioned, if at all. There were, indeed, small farmers, a class springing in part from unportioned younger sons, in part from later immigrants, who were at a disadvantage as to

1 Phelan : History of Tennessee, p. 203.

The great

Virginia.

getting hold of the soil: this class, however, was unimportant as compared with the landed magnates, with whom lay all social prestige and, for the most part, political power. The particular form into which society in Virginia arranged itself, was much affected by the special industry to which the slaves. the colony became almost exclusively devoted, the raising of tobacco. On the great estates the laborious process of producing the invariable crop could be most conveniently left to the hands of negroes. Everything favored the development of slavery, and slaves soon came to make up nearly half of the population. In a condition not very different from that of the slaves were the indentured white servants. These were penniless immigrants, sometimes English convicts or paupers, shipped to the New World and bound out for a term of years by the government; sometimes people of more respectable antecedents, who in return for their passage-money freely gave themselves into practical serfdom. In these circumstances, labor necessarily fell into disrepute: a class of poor whites arose, descendants of those so unfortunately placed as to be unable to obtain land or of those who lacked energy to do so, who squatted on the plantations in out-ofthe-way swamps or woods, pushed into the wilderness as hunters and trappers, or tramped as roving vagabonds from estate to estate. Such town-life as that of New England would, of course, in a society so situated, be impossible. The parish would necessarily be a feeble substitute for it. The inhabitants were scattered throughout the vast counties with no rallying-points but the manor-house of the planters. Of

The poor

whites.

Disrepute of labor.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

Virginia so.

manufacturing of any kind there was no trace, and the class of honorable merchants was almost unknown. It was indispensable to each great plantation that it should be accessible from the sea, a condition easily supplied through the magnificent streams which afforded paths everywhere into the interior from the Chesapeake. Each planter had his own wharf and warehouse, to which his negroes brought yearly at harvest the great tobacco-yield, while English or Yankee ships, freighted with foreign manufactures to be given in exchange, lay ready to receive it.

The typical Virginian, as the colony developed, was devoted to the English King and Church. If he possessed overweening family pride, extravagance, and contempt for work, he had also the splendid Virtues of the virtues of a cavalier class, — generosity, ciety. bravery, and hospitality. Even the poor whites, forlorn as they were for all purposes of peaceful, well-ordered society, possessed qualities which fitted them admirably to be frontiersmen and soldiers. Many a planter could claim descent from historic stock; and sometimes, as in the case of the old Lord Fairfax, who established for himself a broad sylvan domain in the valley of the Shenandoah, and lived there like the banished Duke of “As You Like It," in the “ Forest of Arden,” the blood of the Virginians was of the noblest.

Since, then, the isolation of the great estates at the South made it out of the question for the men to come together as in the compact communities of the North, and since, moreover, the more heterogeneous character of society in the former case interfered with the disposition to come together, — instead of a

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]

House of

State made up of small democratic communities, within each one of which the men, gathered in town-meeting, governed themselves, a State came to pass, the people of which had little opportunity or desire for the general discussion of public measures. Care for political matters was, in the mass of men, very slight, from the fact that a class small in number almost monopolized property and power. The territorial magnates

. were all-in-all. In the House of Burgesses Spirit of the at Williamsburg, the great planters came Burgesses. together, and few besides. Among them, indeed, political interest was keen enough. Each had a great stake in the country; each was accustomed to power and fond of wielding it. In this aristocratic legislature the energy was marked, and the spirit of freedom very manifest. The royal governors found the body often intractable; constant bickering prevailed between them and the assembly, through which the latter learned the habit of calling into question the authority of the King, and also came to love an atmosphere of strife.

There was not only no proper popular moot in Virginia, but in the colonies of the South and Southwest generally, as they became gradually established, it did not appear. As a definite polity shaped itself, there were in the case of each one peculiarities of constitution, but into these we do not need to enter. In South Carolina, the parish possessed a somewhat vigorous life; in Maryland, under the feudal sway Condition of of the proprietary government of Lord Bal- South Caro

lina and Marytimore, the manners of mediaeval times to some extent appeared: in general, however, Virginia was the type of all.

land.

Feudalism in New York and Pennsylvania.

If we glance at the middle colonies, in New York the Dutch were long enough in possession to stamp

upon the settlement an impress not at all democratic. Along the Hudson the pa

troons, on their estates fronting sixteen miles on the river and running back indefinitely, had set up

a feudalism as marked as that of the seigneuries which the French at the same time established on the St. Lawrence. On Long Island and the shore near by, there were self-governing towns quite similar to the Connecticut communities close at hand. After the English occupation of the colony in 1664, an organization of counties with subdivisions of townships gradually makes its way, which, in our own century, has come to play an important part. Here, though the town-life is faintly marked, possessing with less distinctness than in New England the moot, yet certain functionaries exist, freely elected by the people, the most important of whom is the supervisor; the town supervisors, forming in each shire a board sitting together at stated times, provide for the most part for local self-government. This is the germ of the Township-county system, which, as will hereafter be seen, has been very important in the settlement of the West.? In Pennsylvania, though the great proprietor, Penn, was practically a viceroy beneath an English suzerainty, exercising over a population containing many elements besides English, a rule which was far from favorable to democracy, yet at one point occurred an interesting development.

1 Johns Hopkins University Studies, 1st Series, VI, VII, and XII. Howard : Local Constitutional Government of the United States, I, 114, etc.

2 Howard, I, p. 102, etc.

« AnteriorContinuar »