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RETROSPECTIVE HISTORY OF AMERICA,
Historia vero testis temporum, lux veritatis, vita memoriæ, magistra vitæ, nuntia vetustatis, quâ voce aliâ, nisi Oratoris, immortalitati commendatur ?
-CICERO DE ORATORE.
(Continued from page 118.-Vol. 2.)
IT 'Twas a fortunate circumstance for America, that of the
number of delegated members, who were sent to Congress, the greater part were persons bred to the profession of the law; a science, the study of which, more than that of any other, tends to sharpen the intellect, to give method to the operations of the mind, and to dispose it to submit in those operations to the controul of forms, and to the direction of precedent and authority; to weigh, not only, the rights, but the duties, also, of men, in an associated state, and to calculate, more accurately than others, the value of a desired object, and the hazard incurred by an attempt to accomplish it; and, on the other hand, by the cultivation of eloquence, and the habit of public speaking, to persuade, to guide, to animate, or to influence the public mind; to gain the confidence of the people ; to detect any covert attempt upon their liberties, and to develope to them the tendency of every mischievous design, however artfully disguised.
Such were for the greater part, the men, whom the good sense of the colonists selected, from among themselves, to compose that body, on which the most important, and dear of all the blessings, which they possessed, or could hope for, were to depend, and, by implicit obedience to whose counsels alone, they were conscious, that they could escape the artful toils, or resist the enormous power of Great Britain. Never was there a representative body, whose authority rested so entirely on public opinion, or whose dictates were more im
plicitly obeyed. Their directions had all the force, and obtained all the prompt submission of the longest established legislators, and, though issued only in the shape of advice, were as effective as the legal mandates of the oldest constituted authorities. In a word, whatever came from them, was received with the reverential' obedience of a parent's instruction to his children, more than with the reluctant or churlish submission of a subjected people to the decrees of their magistrates.
The confidence thus reposed in them was never abused. with a degree of moderation seldom witnessed in popular assemblies, they neither damped the laudable spirit of the people, on the one hand, nor influenced it to undue exasperation on the other. They first defined, upon the clearest and most acknowledged principles, as they stood in the constitutional authorities of Great Britain, the rights of the colonists; which they stated to be their's, not only, by the laws of nature, but by the British constitution, and by their charters, of which that constitution was the guarantee: that by those they had an indefeasible title to life, liberty, and prosperity; none of which, or the right to dispose of which, had ever been ceded by them to any sovereign power whatever ; that their ancestors, who, it could not be denied, possessed those rights, had not forfeited them by emigration, ; that the very basis of their liberty, as British subjects, was a full and equal participation in the legislative council of the nation by their representatives; and that, as circumstances rendered it impossible to be properly represented in the British parliament, they were intitled to a free and exclusive legislation among themselves, in their own provincial assemblies, in all business of taxation and internal policy subject only to the negative of the King. They consented, at the same time, to such acts of the British parliament, as were, bonâ fide, restrained to the regulations of external commerce, for the purpose of securing the commercial advantages of the whole empire to the mother-country, provided every idea of taxation for raising a revenue on the colonists, without their consent, should be abandoned.
These conditions, strictly conformable, as they were, to reason and to justice, were the essential cause of the contro
versy, and here both parties stood: one contending for unlimited submission to the supremacy of parliament; the other peremptorily refusing to admit it. But there were other points, of a subordinate nature, as dependant upon those, to which Congress directed its immediate attention. To the common law of England, they resolved, that the colonists were intitled, and, above all, to that part of it, the trial by jury; to the benefit of all the statutes of England in force, at the time of their receiving their charters, and to all the immunities and privileges given to them by those charters, and secured by provincial laws; and to the right of assembling to discuss their grievances, and to petition the sovereign. They insisted, that it was illegal and unconstitutional to keep a standing army in the colonies, without the consent of the people, signified by their representatives in the assembly of that colony, where the army was to be placed ; that it was indispensably necessary to good government, and rendered essential by the British constitution, that the constituent branches of the legislature be independant of each other, and that, therefore, the exercise of legislative power, in several colonies by a council, appointed, during pleasure, by the crown, was unconstitutional, dangerous, and destructive to the freedom of American legislation. All of these privileges and liberties, congress, in behalf of themselves and their constituents, claimed as their indubitable rights.
They, then, specified the several offensive acts of parliament, and oppressive measures of the ministry, and declared, that they could not submit to them. In hopes, that Great Britain would restore the colonies to their pristine state, they refrained from any violent proceedings, and only resolved on measures of the most peaceable nature; a non-importation agreement, a non-exportation agreement, and a non-consumption agreement, an address to the people of Great Britain, a memorial to the inhabitants of British America, and, lastly, a loyal address to his Majesty. Having completed these important measures, on the 26th of October, 1774, they, in little more than seven weeks, dissolved themselves; first declaring it to be their opinion, that another congress should be held at Philadelphia, on the 10th of May, then next ensuing, anless they should, in the mean time, obtain redress of their
grievances, and recommending to all the colonies, to choose deputies for that purpose.
No sooner were the measures of congress known, than the people applied themselves to conform to them in every respect. Provincial congresses, and committees, in subordination to them, were appointed every where, and those gave the sanction of their approbation to the resolutions of the continental congress, and appointed the means to carry them into effect. The constitutional assemblies, also, gave their assent, one only excepted. The legislature of New York abstained from noticing the resolutions: and the reason was obvious. A constant friendly intercourse had been, for many years, carried on between that province and the mother-country, and connections by marriage between some of the inhabitants and people of wealth and influence, in Great-Britain, served as a ligament between the two countries, which could not be broken without a very violent convulsion. Besides this, New-York had been the head-quarters of the British army in America, and so became the resort of fashion, the emporium of elegance, social pleasure, and hospitality.
Thus the domestic affections were enlisted in favour of harmony between the two countries ; and the far greater part of the people felt reluctant to adopt measures, which were likely to dissever them, perhaps, for ever, from the dearest objects of their esteem, and to extinguish affections and interests the most valuable to them in life. The people of the other provinces, however, entered with ardour, bordering on enthusiasm, into the sentiments of congress; and, having but one object, there was nothing to in rupt, and every thing to promote the union. Every other consideration gave way to the accomplishment of their great object.
Disdainful of the allurements of gain, the merchant spurned from him every temptation to neglect the public cause. The farmer and the planter, without consideration of their private circumstances, voluntarily gave themselves up to be disposed of as congress should be pleased to appoint for the general good. Not only the luxuries, but the ease and customary accommodations of life, nay, the very vanities, which are known to cling round the heart, when all other
passions are forgotten, were laid a willing sacrifice at the feet of patriotism.
And not only the men, but the women resolved to content themselves with such articles of dress, and of absolute necessity for their existence, as the country, or their own industry, working upon its home-raised materials, could supply. Nor was it because this step was immediately necessary, that the inhabitants of the other states so voluntarily submitted to such privations, but out of sympathy for the sufferings of their fellow-subjects in Massachusetts and as a precautionary measure, to operate on a future day, against attacks of the same kind upon their own liberties.
This epoch is well worthy the curious attention of the moralist, as well as the historian, since it furnishes him with an useful topic of discussion, and a great example to demonstrate the potent efficacy of strenuous fortitude in a good cause ; to show how idle and mischievous it may be to neglect the pursuit of virtue, however arduous it may seem, or difficult of attainment; and to proclaim, with the voice of truth, to mankind, that, even the voluptuary need not despair of cleansing himself from the impurity of sensual habits, and of sacrificing, with little difficulty or pain, at first, and, ultimately, with unalloyed delight, the ease and the voluptuousness, which occupy his soul, to the exclusion of every laudable sentiment, and to the extinction of every honourable principle.
These proceedings, in the colonies, instead of alarming the ministry to a sense of the dangerous consequences of their misconduct, and suggesting to them the expediency of resorting to more just, and moderate measures, served only to augment their pride, and inflame their anger. Consistent and steady in nothing, but the determination to follow up their
past injustice with new and aggravated wrong to the injured Americans, they put into the mouth of their sovereign, to be by him delivered from the throne, a speech, than which nothing could be better devised, not only to keep open the wound, which had been inflicted upon that people, but to tear it wider, and render it incurable.
On the opening of the session, in the November of 1774, the kings speech informed the two houses of parliamentVol. II,