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AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES.
THE British Colonies in North America had risen
in arms against the mother-country. No acts of gross cruelty and oppression, such as roused the Swiss to throw off the yoke of Austria, or nerved the people of the Netherlands to resist the
of Spain, could be urged in justification of this revolt. Yet a long course of unwise and vexatious measures, of just claims neglected and services ill-requited, had been sufficient to provoke the deep and bitter resentment of men of English blood, who, proud of their descent, and jealous of their rights and privileges, were already conscious of the strength derived from increasing wealth and numbers and from the possession of a vast territory that seemed to promise an almost boundless future. In the memorable war which wrested Canada from the grasp of France, the colonists had taken their full share in the sacrifices and exertions necessary to bring it to a successful issue. They had cherished a strong feeling of loyalty and attachment to the parent-state; and there can be little doubt, that a generous and conciliatory policy on the part of England might have retained their allegiance for years to come. But narrow and petty restrictions on trade, prohibition of manufactures, interference with the freedom of navigation, and that general mode of dealing with the colonies which Burke described as “ the system of a monopoly,"
a excited and kept alive a growing spirit of discontent; and when to all this was added the attempt to tax the Americans by a parliament in which they were not represented, the discontent became disaffection, and took the shape, first of passive resistance, and then of open rebellion.
It is well to remember from the very commencement of this narrative, that the thirteen colonies, which were now united in opposition to the authority of the British Crown, could in no sense be considered as a single nation or people, but rather as an assemblage of small, distinct societies, founded at different times, under various circumstances, each with a character and history of its own, and with little to bind them together, save a common determination to uphold the right of self-government. The Puritans of New England, the Catholics of Maryland, the Quakers of Pennsylvania, and the High-church Anglicans of Virginia, had each impressed a specific type on their descendants; and so, in every one of the colonies, there might be found some peculiar marks of its origin and antecedents, by which it was easily distinguishable from the rest. And whilst they all laid claim to the benefits of the common law, and to the traditional liberties of Englishmen, their provincial constitutions differed very materially from each other, and political power was variously distributed amongst them, according to the several charters and customs by which their local affairs had hitherto been regulated.
The people of New England, with their Puritan principles, and strong democratic tendencies, were fitted to take the lead in the path of revolution. Already in 1760, the town of Boston had resisted the attempt to collect duties on foreign sugar and
molasses imported into the colony. It was there that, five years later, the stamp-act was received with closed shops and warehouses, the tolling of bells, the display of colours half-mast high, and all the signs of a city in mourning. It was there that was concocted the scheme to suspend the importation of all articles liable to the payment of imperial imposts. It was there that began the opposition to the quartering of troops, and that the first collision with the soldiers took place in the public streets. It was there that, on a December evening of 1773, the ships from England were boarded by a party disguised as Indians, who broke open the tea-chests, and emptied them into the bay, rather than allow their contents to be subject to taxation. It was at Boston too, that, when their port had been closed, and their charter violated, the inhabitants entered into “a solemn league and covenant” to renounce all intercourse with Great Britain, until the colony should be restored to the full enjoyment of its rights; and, finally, it was the self-constituted assembly of Massachusetts that collected the military stores at Concord, the attempt to seize which, on the part of the British, led to the battle (or skirmish) of Lexington, and to the first bloodshed of the revolutionary war.
But the other colonies had not been slow in following the example of New England. The merchants of New York and Philadelphia had from the first sympathized with Boston, and, although the interests of the landed gentry of Virginia might be less directly. concerned, it no sooner became a matter of right and honour (in the claim set up to tax them without their own consent) than the pride of the Old Dominion, as it was called, burst into sudden flame, and they showed themselves quite as earnest in defence of their privileges, as any of their Northern brethren. A plan was soon contrived, by means of “corresponding committees," to keep up a regular communication between the different colonies, and to devise measures for the advancement of the common cause. This led, after a while, to the demand for a general convention; and, at length, in 1774, the FIRST CONGRESS assembled at Philadelphia. All the colonies, excepting Georgia, were there represented by delegates, and, from that time, the idea of UNION took possession of the more enthusiastic minds. “All America," said Patrick Henry, the young orator of Virginia, “is thrown into one mass—Where are your landmarks, your boundaries of colonies ? They are all thrown down. The distinctions between Virginians,