Abbildungen der Seite


the British Parliament practically to exert over the Colo
nies the power of internal legislation and taxation, as was
attempted by the Stamp Act, in 1765, it was boldly re
sisted; and it brought on the memorable controversy,
which terminated in their Independence, first asserted by
them in 1776, and finally admitted by Great Britain by
the Treaty of 1783. At an early period of that contro
ersy, the first Continental Congress, in 1774, drew u
d unanimously adopted a declaration of the rights of
ne Colonies, the substance of which is as follows: (1.,
That they are entitled to life, liberty, and property; and
they have never ceded to any sovereign power, whatever,
a right to dispose of either without their consent.
That our ancestors, who first settled the Colonies, were,
at the time of their emigration from the mother country,
entitled to all the rights, liberties, and immunities of free
and natural-born subjects within the realm of England.
(3.) That by such emigration they by no means forfeited
surrendered, or lost any of those rights; but that they
were, and their descendants now are, entitled to the ex-
ercise and enjoyment of all such of them, as their local
and other circumstances enable them to exercise and en-
ioy. (4.) That the foundation of English. liberty is &
right in the people to participate in their legislative coun
cils; and as the English colonists are not represented,
and, from their local and other circumstances, cannot
properly be represented, in the British Parliament, they
are entitled to a free and exclusive power of legislation
in their several provincial assemblies, where their right of
representation can alone be preserved, in all cases of tax-
ation and internal polity, subject only to the negative of
their sovereign, in such manner as has been heretofore
used and accustomed. But from the necessity of the
case, and a regard to the mutual interests of both coun-
tries, they cheerfully consent to the operation of such
acts of the British Parliament, as are bonâ fide restrain
ed to the regulation of their external commerce, for the
purpose of securing the commercial advantages of the
whole empire to the mother country, and the commercial
benefits of its respective members, excluding every actio

[ocr errors]

of taxation, internal or external, for raising a revenue on the subjects in America without their consent.. (5.) That the respective Colonies are entitled to the common law of England, and more especially, the great and inestimable privilege of being tried by their peers of the vicinage, according to the course of that law, (meaning the trial by jury.) (6.) That the Colonies are entitled to the benefit of such of the English statutes, as existed at the time of their colonization, and which they have, by experience, respectively found applicable to their several local and other circumstances. (7.) That they are likewise entitled to all the immunities and privileges granted and confirmed to them by royal charters, or secured to them by their several codes of provincial law. (8.) That they have a right peaceably to assemble, consider of their grievances, and petition the King; and that all prosecutions, prohibitory proclamations, and commitments for the same, are illegal. (9.) That the keeping of a standing army in these Colonies in times of peace, without the consent of the legislature of that Colony, in which such army is kept, is against law. (10.) That it is indispensably necessary to good government, and rendered essential by the English constitution, that the constituent branches of the legislature be independent of each other; that, therefore, the exercise of legislative power in several Colonies by a Council appointed during pleasure by the Crown, is unconstitutional, dangerous, and destructive to the freedom of American legislation.

§ 24. Such is, in substance, the Bill of Rights claim ed in behalf of all the Colonies by the Continental Congress, the violation of which, constituted the main grounds, upon which the American Revolution was founded; and the grievances, under which the Colonies labored, being persisted in by the British government, a resort to arms became unavoidable. The result of the contest is well known, and has been already stated; and it belongs to the department of history, and not of constitutional law, to enumerate the interesting events of that period.

[merged small][ocr errors]


Revolutionary Government.

§ 25. BUT it may be asked, and it properly belongs to this work to declare; What was the political organization, under which the Revolution was carried on and ac complished? The Colonies being, as we have seen, separate and independent of each other in their original establishment, and down to the eve of the Revolution, it became indispensable, in order to make their resistance to the British claims either formidable or successful, that there should be harmony and unity of operations under some common head. Massachusetts, in 1774, recommended the assembling of a Continental Congress at Philadelphia, to be composed of delegates chosen in all the Colonies, for the purpose of deliberating on the common good, and to provide a suitable scheme of future operations. Delegates were accordingly chosen in the various Colonies, some by the legislative body, some by the popular representative branch thereof, and some by conventions of the people, according to the several means and local circumstances of each Colony. This first great Continental Congress assembled on the 4th of September, 1774, chose their own officers, and adopted certain fundamental rules to regulate their proceedings. The most important rule then adopted was, that each Colony should have one vote only in Congress, whatever might be the number of its delegates; and this became the established course throughout the whole Revolution. They adopted such other measures, as the exigency of the occasion seemed require; and proposed another Congress, to be assembled for the like purpose, in May, 1775, which was accordingly held. The delegates of this last Congress were chosen in the same manner as the preceding; but principally by conventions of the people in the several Colonies. It was the same Congress, which, after vot

ing other great measures, all leading to open war, finally, in 1776, made the Declaration of Independence, which was unanimously adopted by the American people. Under the recommendations of the same Congress, suitable arrangements were made to organize the State govern ments, so as to supply the deficiencies in the former establishments; and henceforth the delegates to the Continental Congress from time to time assembled, were appointed by the State legislatures.

§ 26. The Continental Congress, thus organized by a voluntary association of the States, and continued by the successive appointments of the State legislatures, constituted, in fact, the National Government, and conducted the national affairs until near the close of the Revolution, when, as we shall presently see, the Articles of Confederation were adopted by all the States. Their powers were no where defined or limited. They assumed, among others, the power to declare war and make peace, to raise armies and equip navies, to forra treaties and alliances with foreign nations, to contract public debts, and to do all other sovereign acts essential to the safety of the United Colonies. Whatever power; they assumed were deemed legitimate. These powers criginated from necessity, and were only limited by events; or, in other words, they were revolutionary powers In the exercise of these powers, they were supported by the people, and the exercise of them could not, therefore, be justly questioned by any inferior authority. In an exact sense, then, the powers of the Continental Congress might be said to be coextensive with the exigencies and necessities of the public affairs; and the people, by their approbation and acquiescence, justified all their acts, having the most entire reliance upon their patriotism, their integrity, and their political wisdom.

§ 27. But it was obvious to reflecting minds, upon the slightest consideration, that the urion thus formed, was but of a temporary nature, dependent upon the consen* of all the Colonies, now become States, and capable of being dissolved, at any time, by the secession of any one of them. It grew out of the exigencies and dangers of

[ocr errors]

the times; and, extending only to the maintenance of the public liberties and independence of all the States during the contest with Great Britain, it would naturally terminate with the return of peace, and the accomplishment of the ends of the revolutionary contest. As little could it escape observation, how great would be the dangers of the separation of the confederated States into indepen dent communities, acknowledging no common head, and acting upon no common system. Rivalries, jealousies, real or imaginary wrongs, diversities of local interests and institutions, would so n sever the ties of a common attachment, which bound them together, and bring on a state of hostile operations, dangerous to their peace, and subversive of their permanent interests.


History of the Confederation.

§ 28. ONE of the first objects, therefore, beyond that of the immediate public safety, which engaged the attention of the Continental Congress, was to provide the means of a permanent union of all the Colonies under a General Government. The deliberations on this subject were coeval with the Declaration of Independence, and, after various debates and discussions, at different sessions, the Continental Congress finally agreed, in November, 1777. upon a frame of government, contained in certain Articles of Confederation, which were immediately sent to all the States for their approval and adoption. Various delays and objections, however, on the part of some of the States, took place; and as the government was not to go into effect, until the consent of all the States should be obtained, the Confederation was not finally adopted until March, 1781, when Maryland (the last State) acceded to it. The principal objections taken to the Confederahon were; to the mode prescribed by it for apportioning taxes among the States, and raising the quota or propor

« ZurückWeiter »