Imágenes de páginas

and was soon forgotten; slavery disappeared also, while the self-same social order still subsisted in Virginia, though constantly decaying, until a later war brought that also to an end.

There was thus less of social difference among the colonies than is often assumed, but the difference in municipal institutions was considerable. Every colony, so far as it was left free to do it, recognized the principle of popular government, limiting the suffrage by age, sex, race, or property, but recognizing the control of a majority of qualified electors as binding. As a rule, this gave a political status to the laboring class in the northern colonies, but not in those where slavery prevailed and the laboring class was of a different race. We naturally do not obtain from the books of the period so clear a picture of the lower order of inhabitants as of the higher; perhaps the liveliest is to be found in the description of General Riedesel, where he represents the yeomen of New England as being thickset, tolerably tall, wearing blue frocks girt by a strap, and having their heads surmounted by yellow wigs, “with the honorable visage of a magistrate beneath”; as being, moreover, rarely able to write; inquisitive, curious, and zealous to madness for liberty. These were the people--as seen, be it remembered, through the vexed eyes of a defeated prisoner—who made up the citizenship of the northern colonies.

It is certain that the general model for the colonial governments, and even for our present State governments, dates back to the organization of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1619; and all the colonies followed the same principle, with some important modifications. But when it came to the government of small local communities there was a great variation. The present system of New England town government had its beginning, according to Professor Joel Parker, in the action of the inhabitants of Charlestown, Massachusetts, when they adopted, on February 10, 1634-35, an order, which still stands on the record-book, “for the governm't of the Towne by Selectmen,” thus giving to eleven persons, “wth the advice of Pastor and teacher desired in any case of conscience," the authority to manage their local affairs for one year. Since Professor Parker wrote, however, the researches of the Boston Record Commission have brought to light a similar grant of power by the planters of Dorchester (October 8, 1633), authorizing twelve men “selected of the company” to have charge of its affairs. This form of self-government, which could be perfectly combined with the existence of slavery on a small scale, was inconsistent with a system of great plantations like those in the southern colonies; and it was this fact more than anything else which developed such difference in character as really existed. The other fact that labor was held in more respect in the northern colonies than in the southern had doubtless something to do with it; but, after all, there was then less philosophizing on that subject than now, and the main influence was the town-meeting. When John Adams was called upon by Major Langbourne to explain the difference of character between Virginia and New England, Mr. Adams offered to give him a receipt for creating a New England in Virginia. It consisted of four points: “town - meetings, training - days, town schools, and ministers." Each colony really based its local institutions, in some form, on English traditions; but the system of town government, as it prevailed in the eastern colonies, has struck deepest root, and has largely influenced the new civilization of the West. Thus, with varied preparation, but with a common need and an increasing unity, the several colonies approached the 19th of April 1775, when the shot was fired that was “heard round the world."

[ocr errors][merged small]


HEN France, in 1763, surrendered Canada to

England, it suddenly opened men's eyes to a very astonishing fact. They discovered that British America had at once become a country so large as to make England seem ridiculously small. Even the cool-headed Dr. Franklin, writing that same year to Mary Stevenson in London, spoke of England as “that petty island which, compared to America, is but a stepping-stone in a brook, scarce enough of it above water to keep one's shoes dry." The far-seeing French statesmen of the period looked at the matter in the same way. Choiseul, the prime-minister who ceded Canada, claimed afterwards that he had done it in order to destroy the British nation by creating for it a rival. This boast was not made till ten years later, and may very likely have been an after-thought, but it was destined to be confirmed by the facts.

We have now to deal with the outbreak of a contest which was, according to the greatest of the English statesmen of the period, “a most accursed, wicked, barbarous, cruel, unnatural, unjust, and diabolical war."

No American writer ever employed to describe it a combination of adjectives so vigorous as those here brought together by the elder Pitt, afterwards Lord Chatham. The rights for which Ameri

« AnteriorContinuar »