Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[blocks in formation]

POLITICAL reasonings upon the state of a country, and speculations as to its future course, are too apt to be conducted without sufficient reference to its previous history. This appears to be frequently, and perhaps not altogether unnaturally, the case with respect to the United States; for the present vast proportions of that great community have, in their rapid growth, shut out the view, and very nearly extinguished the thought, of all

B

that lies in the obscurity of the past beyond them.

But neither the state of society in the United States, nor the spirit of its Constitution, can be thoroughly understood or properly appreciated without a previous knowledge of the different principles of government which prevailed in the different States while they remained under British rule.

I propose, therefore, in this introductory chapter, to give a very summary sketch of the constitutional arrangements that existed in the American colonies before their separation from the mother country.

The Governments of the original thirteen States are described by Judge Blackstone in his "Commentaries," as Provincial, Proprietary, and Charter Governments. But this description, though correct in an historical point of view, and interesting in reference to the various steps and processes in the settlement of that country, affords no key to those causes, which, in the words of Mr. Justice Story, "have impressed upon each colony

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

The existence of those different "habits, opinions, and attachments," in different parts of the Union, is very generally overlooked in a superficial view of the state of things in that country. That they exercised great influence at the time of the separation from us, in determining the kind of government then adopted, there can be no doubt. And they have not ceased to act powerfully, in a social, as well as a political point of view, up to the present day.

Those differences are traceable to the different forms of government originally given to, or adopted by, the different States; and further, to their adoption with greater or less strictness, or their rejection, of the principle of the English common law in regard to the descent of property.

Ten out of the original thirteen States possessed, down to the time of the Revolution, forms of government, all of which, with some

* Page L.

varieties of detail, bore as strict a resemblance to our own as was possible under the circumstances of a new country. They may all be described as moderate constitutional governments. The governor was the king's representative; and the Crown also appointed a council, which was to a certain extent an upper house of legislature; not invested, however, with independent legislative power, but acting as a consultative body and in concurrence with the executive. On the other hand, the principle of popular freedom was recognised, in the authority given to the governor "to convene a general assembly of representatives of the freeholders and planters." The provincial assembly thus constituted, had power (in the words of the different charters) “to make local laws and ordinances not repugnant to the laws of England, but as near as may be agreeable thereto, subject to the ratification or disapproval of the Crown."

The States that possessed this form of government were Virginia, Massachusetts (including New Hampshire and Maine), Mary

land, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Of these, it is only necessary to advert in any detail to the first two.

Virginia, "the first permanent settlement made in America under the auspices of England," under the Charter of James I. to Sir Thomas Gates and his associates, in the year 1606, possessed originally, in accordance with the limited views of the age in those matters, very few political rights. But in 1619, a representative assembly was called together by the governor; and in 1621, the council of the company in England gave permanence to this act, by an ordinance vesting the legislative power, "partly in the governor, who held the place of the sovereign, partly in a council of State named by the company, and partly in an assembly composed of representatives freely chosen by the people." No law was to be in force "until ratified by a general court of the company, and returned under its seal to the colony." And the ordinance "further re

« ForrigeFortsæt »