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trace the history of Virginia, its nature will be better understood.
Jamestown having been selected as the place of settlement by the founders of Virginia, the genius of John Smith rather than the instructions of the King, enabled the colony to survive. Not laws, but men, were needed. Had Sir Walter Raleigh, like Smith, given his personal efforts to the colonization of Virginia, instead of merely sending out ships for that purpose, he might have been justly styled the Founder of Virginia. Raleigh's career as a courtier and politician at the court of Elizabeth, as well as his misfortunes in the reign of James, compelled him to abandon his efforts at the colonization of the new world. When Jamestown was founded, and Smith was struggling amid the hardships of infant colonization, Raleigh was in the Tower, sighing to explore the fabulous Empire of the West.
The London Company of Merchants, who were defraying the chief expenses of the Virginia colony, did not find it a mine of wealth. However, a new charter was granted to them three years after the founding of Jamestown, May, 1609.*
By this charter, the stockholders of the company were to choose its Councilors and Treasurer, who was to be the chief executive of the Company. The patentees, consisting of Peers (31), Knights (98), Doctors, Gentlemen, Merchants and citizens to great number, now received from the King a territory 400 miles wide, extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, Point Comfort being on the dividing line run
* Hildreth, vol. i., p. 108.
ning east and west. This company, with its ample domain, now proceeded to reconstruct the local government at Jamestown.* The offices of president and council in Virginia were abolished, a new council was established in England, and the company empowered to fill all future vacancies in the council by election; and to this council was committed the power to remodel the magistracy of the colony, of enacting all the laws that were to have place in it, and of nominating the officers by whom the laws were to be executed. The London company appointed a Governor of Virginia for life, who had the sole superintendence of local affairs. The company was also empowered to make laws for the colony, conformable to the laws of England, “as near as might be”—a fundamental principle of colonial legislation. Even under this system of foreign rule, it was stipulated on behalf of the colonists and their posterity, that they should retain all the rights of Englishmen. It was a phrase that sounded well, even if the colony were ruled like a camp.
Under the new system, Lord Delaware was appointed to rule the colony. His deputy proclaimed the new order of things in Virginia, but the skill and resolution of Captain Smith, saved the feeble colony from the legitimate results of bad government. Sir Thomas Dale acted as dictator in the colony. Rigorous laws, devised in England, and proclaimed by the Governor, were used to bring order and harmony to the affairs of Virginia, now so unprofitable to the London stockholders.
* Grahame, vol. i., p. 57.
Before the appointment of Yeardley to be Governor, January, 1619,* the company had re-established a local council to check the tyranny of Governor Argall,
In 1619, Governor Yeardley called the first Virginia Assembly. It consisted of the Governor, Council and deputies, called Burgesses, from the eleven plantations. In 1621, the privileges of a General Assembly, to consist of a Governor, Council and House of Burgesses, were confirmed to the colony by the London company, and a constitutional frame of government, modeled after that of England, was granted to Virginia.t For the enactment of local laws, the Governor and Council appointed by the company were to be joined by delegates chosen by the people. For the passage of a law, the separate assent of the Governor, Council and Assembled Burgesses was required. The company in England had a veto on the laws, and sat as a court of appeal from the General Assembly in Virginia, which, in addition to its legislative powers, was the highest judicial court in the colony.
Colonial legislation compelled attendance upon the services of the English Episcopal Church, and made the people contribute toward its support. The Governor could lay no tax except by authority of the Assembly, and the concurrence of the Council was necessary before a levy of men for the public service could be made. The commanders of plantations were judicial officers, as well as executive. The prices of commodities were fixed by proclamations, except that of corn, which was left free, in order to encourage its growth. Taxes were paid in grain and tobacco, while police regulations were made, one of which was that at the beginning of July the inhabitants of every plantation were to fall upon “their adjoining salvages as they did last year.” The laws of England, which were held to be in force in all the colonies, as far as they were applicable to the circumstances of the people, regulated the rights of property, personal rights, and the punishment of most crimes.* The General Assembly did not claim to be able to bind Englishmen on such important subjects. Laws enacted by the Assembly had no force till ratified in a general court of the London company in England and returned under their common seal.f The reign of the company was not permitted to continue. In 1624, the link that separated the colony from the King was broken by the writ of quo warranto, which swept away the charter of the company, and placed Virginia in the hands of the Stewart Kings. Eighteen years afterwards the Assembly of Virginia declared to the King that his government over them had been comparatively happy, while that of the company had been intolerable, abounding in “monopolizers, contractors and pre-emptors incessant."
* Hildreth, vol. i., p. 117. † Hildreth, vol. i., p. 123.
In England, the Revolution came and Virginia continued true to the Stewart Kings. The cannons of the English Commonwealth forced upon the colony a popular form of government. Cromwell and his
* Hildreth, vol. i., p. 134. † Jefferson's Notes on Va.
adherents were popular in New England; but the cavalier emigrants, who predominated in Virginia, were hostile to the Commonwealth. The Puritans of New England hailed with joy the expulsion of the Stewarts. Virginia, like the royal house itself, had to be met and conquered. “The Virginia cavaliers conceived a violent antipathy against all the doctrines, sentiments and practices that were reckoned peculiar to the Puritans." *
During the English Commonwealth, important changes were made in the government of Virginia. Taxation, the erection of forts, and the maintenance of an army, were to be only by the consent of the Virginia Assembly. The suffrage was extended to all tax-payers, and the Assembly elected the Governor, Councilors and other chief officers.f
With the restoration of Charles II., however, the suffrage was again restricted, and the government passed into the hands of the King and wealthy planters. The system of plantations in Virginia, differed from the town system of New England. The former was allied to the aristocratic system of English estates, the latter fostered a spirit of local independence, and a consciousness of the interest of each in the welfare of the entire colony. The Puritans passed laws for their entire people, and knew, at times, how to be intolerant, narrow, cruel and selfish; the planiers of Virginia, too, after the restoration, legislated in the interest of the dominant party. Harsh laws were enacted against the Quakers and all others
* Grahame, vol. i., p. 89. † Hildreth, vol. i., p. 509.