Abbildungen der Seite

portion should go to the eldest son ;* and the original New Plymouth colonists had no other “general basis of their jurisprudence than the common law of England;" which, though varied to meet “ their stern notions of the absolute and universal obligation of the Mosaic institutions,” † was revived in full force when they submitted to come under the same law as Massachusetts.

Reviewing, therefore, the principles of government on which the States of the Union had been founded, and were acting at the time of the Revolution, and considering how decidedly the custom of entail was supported by the legislation and by the prevailing sentiments of some of the largest and most important of them, was recognised in nearly all the rest, and was prevented by law in only one (Maryland), it can be no matter of surprise that one of the leading statesmen of the time, Mr. Jay, should, in a letter to Washington, of January 7, 1787, while their future Constitution was yet undecided upon, advert to these facts, and urge * § 93.

+ § 55.


them in argument, stating that the proposed government for the Union should be suited to their manners and circumstances, “which are not strictly democratical ;"* or that Mr. John Adams, in the same year, should follow a similar line of argument, founded on the fact of the number of persons of large and hereditary possessions then existing throughout all the thirteen States.t It places also in the strongest light the amount of the provocation, the glaring character of the injustice, the blind perseverance in error on the part of this country in opposition to its best and most eloquent statesmen, which must have been required to alienate sympathies which had for so many generations been so much in harmony with our own, and to provoke to resistance minds and hearts that knew nothing to love and venerate so much as the institutions and the glory of the country from which they sprung. All this must have been

* Correspondence of the American Revolution, by Professor Jared Sparks. Boston, 1853. Vol. iv. p. 136.

† Adams's Defence of the American Constitution, vol. üi.

Letter 4.

needed to cause an ear to be lent to those principles of government which emanated from the temporary disappointments and ill usage of Locke, and from the moral and social anarchy of the French school; which were new to the experience of mankind; which find no warrant in the best and greatest republics of antiquity; and which, whatever may be their intrinsic merits, and their adaptation to the circumstances of so vast an extent of territory as that occupied and waiting to be occupied by the United States, were not adopted (as will be hereafter shown) without the gravest misgivings on the part of some of the wisest men of the Revolution ; which are varied already in some important respects from what they sanctioned ; and are regarded with anxiety for the future by many of the most enlightened American citizens of the present, as they were of the past, generation.




That communities, founded and nurtured as above described, should have combined to resist oppression, was no more than natural, and is a circumstance in the history of our race, at which, with Lord Chatham, “in the name of our common liberties and common character, we may be permitted to rejoice,” however much we may still lament the errors and prejudices which obscured the judgment of this country at that important period.

The steps which gradually prepared the public mind in America for resistance, and marked their progress towards independence, require to be briefly adverted to, because they take their origin from a time long prior to that of the ultimate cause of disagreement and separation.

The favourite democratic theory of the foundation of the civil rights of the American colonists is, according to Jefferson and others holding similar extreme opinions, that they brought with them “the rights of men,” of “expatriated men.” There is no need to repeat the well-known refutations of this assumption, and to show that there is no foundation in reason or history for any

such abstract political rights; and that no two men, generally speaking, can be found to agree in defining what they mean, and how far they may be extended. It is sufficient for the present purpose to refer to the authority of the best American lawyers, who are agreed upon resting their civil rights upon a much more definite and intelligible principle. Mr. Justice Story states the matter thus :-“ The uni

.. versal principle (and the practice has conformed to it) has been, that the common law (of England) is our birthright and inheritance,

« ZurückWeiter »