« AnteriorContinuar »
N addition to what we have already written of the discovery and
settlement of North America, we shall give a brief history of the kate war with Great Britain, with a sketch of the events which preceded and prepared the way for the revolution. This general view of the history of the United States will serve as a suitable introduction to the particular histories of the several states, which will be given in their proper places.
America was originally peopled by uncivilized nations, which lived mostly by hunting and fishing. The Europeans, who first visited these fhores, treating the natives as wild beasts of the forest, which have no property in the woods where they roam, planted the standard of their respective masters where they first landed, and in their names claimed the country by right of discovery.
Henry the Seventh of England granted to John Cabot and his three fons a commission, “ to navigate all parts of the ocean for the purpose of discovering iflands, countries, regions, or provinces, either of Gentiles or Infidels, which have been hitherto unknown to all Christian people, with
up his standard, and to take possession of the fame as vaffals of the crown of England." By virtue of this commillion, in 1498,
power to set
3 E 2
Sebastian Cabot explored and took poffeffion of a great part of the North American continent, in the name and on behalf of the king of England.
The country thus discovered by Cabot, was possessed by numerous tribes or nations of people. As these had been till then unknown to all other princes or states, they could not possibly have owed their allegiance or subjection to any foreign power on earth; they must have therefore been independent communities, and as such, capable of acquiring territorial property, in the same wanner as other nations. Of the various principles on which a right to foil has been founded, there is none superior to immemorial occupancy. From what time the Aborigines of America had refided therein, or from what place they migrated thither, were questions of doubtful solution, but it was certain that they had long been sole occupants of the country. In this state no European prince could derive a title to the soil from discovery, because that can give a right only to lands and things which either have never been owned or poffeffed, or which, after being owned or poffefled, have been voluntarily deserted. The right of the Indian nations to the soil in their possession was founded in nature. It was the free and liberal gift of heaven to them, and such as no foreigner could rightfully annul. The blinded superstition of the times regarded the Deity as the partial God of Christians, and not as the common father of saints and favages. The pervading influence of philosophy, reason, and truth, has,fince that period, given us better notions of the rights of mankind, and of the obligations of morality. These unquestionably are not confined to particular modes of faith, but extend universally to Jews and Gen. tiles, to Christians and Infidels.
Unfounded, however, as the claims of European Sovereigns to American territories were, they severally proceeded to act upon them. By tacit consent they adopted as a new law of nations, that the countries which each explored Mould be the absolute property of the discoverere While they thus fported with the rights of unofferding nations, they could not agree in their respective shares of the common spoil. The Portuguese and Spaniards, inflamed by the same spirit of national aggrandizement, contended for the exclusive sovereignty of what Columbus had explored. Animated by the rancour of commercial jealoufy, the Dutch and Portuguese fought for the Brazils. Contrary to her genuine interests, England commenced a war in order that her contraband traders on the Mexican coaft, claimed by the king of Spain, might no longer be searched. No farther back than the middle of the
present century, a contest concerning boundaries of American territory belonging to neither, occasioned a long and bloody war between France and England.
Though Queen Elizabeth and James the First denied the authority of the Pope of Rome to give away the country of infidels, yet they so far adopted the fanciful distinction between the rights of Heathens and the rights of Christians, as to make it the foundation of their respective grants. They freely gave away what did not belong to them with no other proviso, than that's the territories and districts so granted, be not previously occupied and possessed by the subjects of any other Christian prince or state.” The first English patent which was given for the purpose of colonizing the country discovered by the Cabots, was granted by Queen Elizabeth to Sir Humphry Gilbert, in 1578, but this proved abortive. In 1584, she licenced Walter Raleigh, “ to search for Heathen lands not inhabited by Christian people," and granted to him in fee all the soil “ within two hundred leagues of the places where his people should make their dwellings and abidings.” Under his auspices an inconfiderable colony took possession of a part of the American coaft, which now forms North-Carolina. In honour of the Virgin Queen his sovereign, he gave to the whole country the name of Virginia. These first settlers, and several others who followed them, were either de. troyed by the natives, removed by fucceeding navigators, or died without leaving any behind to tell their melancholy story, for they were never more heard of. No permanent settlement was effected till the reign of James the First.
In the course of little more than a century, was the English NorthAmerican continent peopled and parcelled out into distinct governments. Little did the wisdom of the two preceding centuries foresee the consequences both good and evil, that were to result to the old world from discovering and colonizing the new. When we consider the im menfe foods of gold and silver which have flowed from it into Europe, the subsequent increase of industry and population, the prodigious extenfion of commerce, 'manufactures, and navigation, and the influence of the whole on manners and arts, we see such an accumulation of good, as leads us to rank Columbus among the greatest benefactors of the human race : but when we view the injustice done the natives, the extirpation of many of their numerous nations, whose names are no more heard ;– The havoc made among the first settlers ; – The slavery of the Africans, to which America has furnished the temptation ; and the many long and bloody wars which it has occafioned, we behold such a crowd
of woes, as excites an apprehension, that the evil has outweighed the good.
In vain do we look among ancient nations for examples of colonies established on principles of policy, fimilar to those of the colonies of Great Britain. England did not, like the republics of Greece, oblige her sons to form diftant communities in the wiles of the earth. Like Rome she did not give lands as a gratuity to soldiers, who became a military force for the defence of her frontiers. She did not, like Car. thage, subdue the neighbouring states, in order to acquire an exclufive right to their commerce. No conquest was ever attempted over the Aborigines of America. Their right to the soil was disregarded, and their country looked upon as walte, which was open to the occupancy and use of other nations. It was considered that settlements might be there formed for the advantage of those who should migrate thither, as well as of the Mother Country. The rights and interests of the native proprietors were, all this time, deemed of no account.
What was the extent of obligations by which colonies planted under these circumstances were bound to the Mother Country, is a subject of nice discussion. Whether these arose from nature and the conftitution, or from compact, is a question necessarily connected with many others. While the friends of Union contended that the king of England had a property in the soil of America, by virtue of a righe derived from prior discovery: and that his subjects, by migrating from one part of his dominions to another, did not leffen their obligations to obey the fupreme power of the nation, it was inferred, that the emigrants to English America continued to owe the same obedience to the king and parliament, as if they had never quitted the land of their nativity. But if as others contended, the Indians were the only lawful proprietors of the country in which their Creator had placed them, and they fold their right to emigrants who, as men, had a right to leave their native country, and as subjects, had obtained chartered permission to do so, it follows from these premises, that the obligations of the colonifts to their parent state must have resulted more from compact, and the prospect of reciprocal advantage, than from natural obligation. The latter opinions seem to have been adopted by several of the colonists, particularly in New England. Sundry persons of influence in that country always held, that birth was no necessary cause of subjection, for that the subject of any prince or state had a natural right to remove to any other state or quarter of the globe, especially if deprived of liberty of conscience, and that, upon such removal, his subjection ceased.
The validity of charters about which the emigrants to America were universally anxious, reits upon the same foundation. If the right of the sovereigns of England to the soil of America was ideal, and contrary to natural justice, and if no one can give what is not his own, their charters were on several accounts a nullity. In the eye of reason and philosophy, they could give no right to American territory. The only validity which such grants could have, was, that the grantees had from their sovereign a permission to depart from their native country, and negociate with the proprietors for the purchase of the soil, and thereupon to acquire a power of jurisdiction subject to his crown. These were the opinions of many of the settlers in New-England. They looked upon their charters as a voluntary compact between their sovereign and themselves, by which they were bound neither to be fubject to, nor seek protection from any other prince, nor to make any laws repugnant to those of England : but did not consider them as inferring an obligation of obedience to a parliament, in which they were unrepresented. The prospects of advantage which the emigrants to America expected from the protection of their native sovereign, and the prospect of aggrandisement which their native sovereign expected from the extenfion of his empire, made the former very solicitous for charters, and the latter very ready to grant them. Neither reasoned clearly on their nature, nor well underitood their extent.
In less than eight years one thousand five hundred miles of the sea coast were granted away, and so little did they who gave, or they who accepted of charters, understand their own transactions, that in several cases the same ground was covered by contradictory grants, and with an absurdity that can only be palliated by the ignorance of the parties, some of the grants exended to the South Sea, over a country whose breadth is yet unknown, and which to this day is unexplored.
Ideal as these charters were, they answered a temporary purpose. The Colonists reposed confidence in them, and were excited to industry on their credit. They also deterred European powers from disturbing them, because, agreeable to the late law of nations, relative to the appropriation of newly discovered Heathen countries, they inferred the protection of the sovereign who gave them. They also opposed a barrier to open and gross encroachments of the mother country on the rights of the colonists; a particular detail of these is not now necessary. Some general remarks may, nevertheless, be made on the early periods of colonial history, as they cast light on the late revolution. Long before the declaration of independence, several of the colonies on different occasions declared, that they ought not to be taxed but by their own provincial affemblies, and that they confidered subjection to acts of a British Par