Edith M Farr.

The Constitution of the United States at the end of the first century online

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ton, which is everywhere erected by sovereignty alone ; and
entered into treaties with foreign nations who [sic] sought
her assistance since their weaker plantations feared her

§ 22. One Major John Child published a pamphlet in 1647
called " New England^ % Jonas Cast up in London^

Speaking of Winslow who was then the agent of Massa-
chusetts in England, Child said : " Mark, reader, his great
boasting that they are growing into a nation ; high conceits
of a nation breed high thoughts of themselves, which make
them usually term themselves a state ; call the people there
their subjects ; unite four governments together without any
authority from the king and parliament, and then term them-
selves the United Colonies."

In 1711 Governor Hunter, of the New York Province,
wrote thus : " Now the mask is thrown oflE : — The delegates
have called in question the Council's share in the Legislature,
trumped up an inherent right, declared the powers granted
by His Majesty's Letters Patent to be against law and have
but one short step to make towards what I am unwilling to

The London Board of Trade, established to check the
spirit of independence, declared that " the inhabitants are en-
deavoring to wrest the small remains of power out of the
hands of the crown and to become independent of the mother

§ 23. On the other hand the colonists denied with spirit
the justness of these attacks upon their loyalty. The Congress
of 1774 said in their address to the people of England : " You
have been told that we are seditious, impatient of government
and desirous of independency. Be assured that these are not
facts, but calumnies." But the real issue was avoided. The
British Government was engaged in the work of subjecting
the Colonies to the jurisdiction of Parliament, while the
Colonies were denying and evading that jurisdiction while
they asserted their loyalty to the sovereign ; and it was only

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when the king lent himself to the policy of parliamentary
supremacy that the colonists withdrew their allegiance to the

By observing closely the principles on which the contest
rested it will be seen that the acts of the colonists, which
were construed by the British agents and ministry as acts of
independence, were but the natural results of the govern-
ments that the colonists had set up and which, in their opin-
ion, were warranted by the charters that the sovereigns had

They legislated for America, but at the same time they
acknowledged their allegiance to the king; but this recog-
nition was no evidence of a purpose to submit to the authority
of Parliament. Naturally, however, the advocates of parlia-
mentary supremacy charged the Colonies with aiming at

§ 24. We ought also to consider that from 1620 to 1770 a
great change took place in England.

In the first era the House of Commons was destitute of
authority comparatively. In the reigns of Henry the Eighth
and of Elizabeth it had struggled for existence, but in the
time of George the Third it had acquired the chief power of
the Realm. In the latter period the monarch had lost many
of his prerogatives, some by a formal surrender, some by the
Act of Settlement of 1688, and others had been silently
relinquished from respect to the opinions of the people. We
are to consider also that the opportunities for transatlantic
communication were less frequent than they now are, and
that neither party had an interest in seeking or making ex-
planations while an issue could be avoided. From 1630 to
1760 each party pursued its own policy, not, however, without
many and serious conflicts ; but the extension of the colonial
system, by the acquisition of Canada, precipitated events and
compelled England to enforce its pretensions at any cost.
Some of the writers of that day maintained that the annex-
ation of Canada tended to the independence of the whole

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body of the American Colonies, while others asserted that
the politic French minister, Vergennes, had a purpose of
producing that result when he assented to the cession.

Dr. Franklin felt obliged to interfere, and with his accus-
tomed ingenuity he refuted the alarmists, but the result
showed that for once the philosopher was in the wrong. Dr.
Franklin was a moderate man in his political opinions and he
did not come early nor hastily into the plan of independence.
He thought that England, when hard pressed, would grant a
right of representation in the imperial parliament, and this
concession would have been satisfactory to him, although the
arrangement would not have been accepted by the mass of
his countrymen. It happened, however, that as early as
1765 he had doubts whether England would make any con-
cessions, and in October, 1775, he regarded a separation as

The controversy was further embarrassed by the manufact-
uring and commercial interests of the Colonies. Laws for
the regulation of commerce were classed as external, and
although the Colonies did not concede to Parliament the
right to impose customs duties, they did submit to such impo-
sitions for periods of time and that without protest. Many
of the laws of Parliament were, however, disregarded. Man-
ufactures were encouraged by local legislation, regulations
that tended to promote commerce were adopted, differential
duties were laid in South Carolina, and shipbuilding was so
encouraged and practised in the northern Colonies that the
carpenters upon the Thames complained to the government.
Friends of America replied that the carpenters might as well
complain of Bristol or Plymouth in England, and thus the
matter ended.

§ 25. At the close of the French war England entered sys-
tematically upon a policy whose object was the establishment
of the supremacy of Parliament over the Colonies of North
America. For one hundred and thirty years this supremacy
had been denied whenever the claim was presented. In that

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time manufactures and commerce, although borne down by
the weight of legislative restrictions, had so increased as to
arrest the attention of the ministry and the Board of Trade,
and excite the prejudices of the laborers upon the Thames and
in the manufactories. The population of the thirteen Colonies
then estimated at two and a half million had doubled by natural
increase every twenty-five years, and it was then certain that
it would be augmented largely by immigration from Europe.

This population was better fed and better clothed than
the corresponding classes in England. The inhabitants of
the Colonies had acquired great experience in the Indian
wars, the siege of Louisburg, and the invasion of Canada.
Their bravery was unquestioned. The future greatness of
America had been predicted, and its natural resources had in
a degree been unfolded.

England was burthened with debt and she thought that
America might be compelled to contribute to its payment.
The first question was this : Has Parliament a right to legis-
late for America ? An affirmative answer suggested a second :
What shall be the character of that legislation ? In regard
to the first question it ought not to have been expected that
ex parte opinions, whether accompanied by a show of power
or not, would lead to an amicable adjustment of the contro-
versy. The only ground of hope was in negotiation and this
appears not to have been thought of. England proceeded to
legislate and upon the question of policy she made a most
fatal mistake. With sole reference to her own interests she
should have exercised the power that she assumed in the
least offensive way. She should have so legislated that in
equity no issue could have been made with her acts. On the
contrary, guided, apparently, by an insensate lust of power
she passed laws which would have kindled rebellion if the
right of Parliament had been undisputed. For the purpose
of aiding the officers in the collection of the revenue an old
and obsolete law was revived under which writs, called Writs
of Assistance, were granted.

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§ 26. By these writs the agents of the government were
empowered to search ships, shops, houses and stores. They
were in fact general search warrants. The first application
was from the collector of the port of Salem, Massachusetts.
The Court hesitated. The merchants employed Thatcher
and James Otis to resist the application. The writ was
granted, but the speech of Otis so excited the people that
John Adams, fifty years afterwards, declared that " American
Independence was then and there born." In the series of
offensive laws first came the Stamp Act, then a declaration
that Parliament had a right to legislate for the Colonies in
all cases whatsoever, then the act for shutting up the Port of
Boston, then the act for altering the charter and government
of Massachusetts Bay, an act for the better administration of
justice, an act to establish the Roman Catholic religion in the
Province of Quebec, an act for quartering the army upon the
people, and various acts for raising a revenue.

§ 27. The Stamp Act was met by marked opposition in all
the Colonies, and in some of them the people adopted measures
of injustice and violence.

It was determined on all hands that the stamps should not
be landed, and that no one should hold the office of agent.
Those who accepted were compelled to resign. It was in
vain that these officials claimed exemption from all responsi-
bility for the existence of the statute, or that they set forth*
as an excuse that if they did not perform the service other
persons, less acceptable, would be appointed in their places.
The people's ears were closed, there was no alternative but

In New York a gallows was erected in the park of the
present City Hall and on it Governor Colden was hung in
effigy ; handbills were circulated warning those who sold or
used stamped paper that their persons, houses and effects
were in peril, and the house of Major James, the commander
of the King's Artillery, was sacked by the mob and the colors
of his regiment were carried away by the excited crowd.

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Finally the stamp agent resigned and the stamps were
delivered to the mayor and corporation of the city of Ne-w
York, with the advice of His Majesty's Council, unanimously
given, and the concurrence of the commander-in-chief of the
king's forces.

In Boston the supporters of the ministry and of the Stamp
Act were hung in effigy on a tree afterwards known as
"Liberty Tree" which stood at the corner of Essex and
Washington Streets. Oliver, the Secretary of the Province
and stamp distributor, was frightened into resignation. Jona-
than Mayhew, the minister of the West Church, preached a
violent sermon against the Stamp Act and its supporters, and
the next day the house of the Governor was broken into and
its contents were destroyed.

Apparently the public sentiment condemned these viola-
tions of law and order, but the rioters, though known, were
suffered to go unpunished.

The nature of the opposition to the Stamp Act is illus-
trated by the proceedings in Connecticut. Jared IngersoU
was appointed Stamp Master, and, immediately, he was
required to resign. A friend, when endeavoring to con-
ciliate the people, said, "Had you not rather that these
duties would be collected by your brethren than by for-
eigners ? "

" No, vile miscreant, indeed we had not," said one ; " if
your father must die is there no defect in filial duty in be-
coming his executioner, that the hangman's part of the
estate may remain in the family?" "If the ruin of your
country is decreed are you free from blame in taking part" in
the plunder ? "

" The act is so contrived," said IngersoU, " as to make it
your interest to buy the stamps. When I undertook the
office I intended a service to you."

"Stop advertising your wares until they come safe at
market," he was answered. " The two first letters of his
name," said one, " are those of the traitor of old. It was

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decreed our Saviour should suffer; but was it better for
Judas Iscariot to betray him, so that the price of his blood
might be saved by his friends ? "

After much equivocation and with the fear of death upon
him IngersoU shouted Liberty and Property three times, and
then resigned his office. The mob spirit evoked by the
Stamp Act soon subsided and a calm determined purpose of
resistance took its place. Surrounded by these violent and
exciting scenes the dejected ones said, "North American
Liberty is dead." " She is dead," said those of more faith,
" but happily she has left one son, the child of her bosom
prophetically named Independence, now the hope of all when
he shall come of age."

" I am clear on this point," said Mayhew, " that no peo-
ple are under a religious obligation to be slaves, if they are
able to set themselves at liberty."

§ 28. This was in 1765 and from that time forth the spirit
and purpose of independence animated and controlled the
representative men and the organs of public sentiment in
every part of the country. It was during the existence of
the Stamp Act and pending the measures of oppression which
followed its repeal, that declarations were made and plans
were adopted of the greatest importance to tjie cause of
American Independence.

§ 29. It was then that Patrick Henry, speaking for the
Assembly of Virginia, declared " that every attempt to vest
the power of taxation in any person or persons whatsoever,
other than the said Assembly, has a manifest tendency to
destroy British as well as American freedom ; " that he pro-
posed by resolution that the Colony of Virginia be immediately
put into a state of defence ; and that a committee should be
appointed to prepare a plan for embodying, arming and disci-
plining such a number of men as may be sufficient for that
purpose ; that in the memorable debate on the resolution, in
the language if not with the spirit of prophecy, he declared it
vain to indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation,

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that an appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts was all that
was left. It was then that John Morin Scott of New York
said if the mother country deny to the Colonies the " right of
making their own laws and disposing of their own property
by representatives of their own choosing then the connection
between them ought to cease and sooner or later it must in-
evitably cease ; " that the Sons of Liberty of the City of New
York as early as the seventh day of January, 1766, forecast the
American Union in the declaration, that " there was safety for
the Colonies only in the firm union of the whole ; " that the
Assembly of New York declared that that " colony lawfully
and constitutionally has and enjoys an internal legislature of
its own, in which the crown and the people of this colony are
constitutionally represented, and the power and authority of
the said legislature cannot lawfully or constitutionally be sus-
pended, abridged, abrogated, or annulled by any power, au-
thority, or prerogative whatsoever." It was then that the
committee of one hundred of the City of New York upon the
receipt of the news of the massacre on Lexington Green
resolved " that all the horrors of civil war would never com-
pel America to submit to taxation by authority of Parlia-
ment ; " that the Assembly demanded " exemption from the
burthens of ungranted, involuntary taxes as the grand prin-
ciple of every free State," and as "without such a right
vested in the people themselves there can be no liberty, no
happiness, no security." It was then that Mr. Jefferson said,
"We want neither inducement nor power to declare and
assert a separation; we are reduced to the alternative of
choosing an unconditional submission to the tyranny of
irritable masters or resistance by force ; " that the county
" of Hanover, Virginia, instructed its delegates to assent to
such measures as would produce the hearty union of all their
countrymen and sister colonies ; " that William Hooper, of
North Carolina, early in 1774 declared that "the Colonies
are striding fast to independency and will ere long build an
empire on the ruins of Britain, will adopt its constitution

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purged of its impurities, and from an experience of its de-
fects, will guard against those evils which have wasted its
vigor and brought it to an untimely end;" that the same
State, the 12th day of April, 1776, empowered its delegates
to " declare independency." It was then that Joseph Haw-
ley of Massachusetts asserted that "independence was the
only way to union and harmony ; " that General Greene in
1775 recommended a Declaration of Independence; that
Samual Adams said, " I am perfectly satisfied of the necessity
of a public and explicit Declaration of Independence ; " that
the press of Philadelphia declared that "none in this day
of liberty will say that duty binds us to yield obedience to
any man or body of men, forming part of the British Con-
stitution, when they exceed the limits prescribed by that
Constitution ; that the Stamp Act is unconstitutional and no
more obligatory than a decree of the Divan of Turkey."
It was then that the town of Boston said, — and may their
words be remembered, — " We are not afraid of poverty, but
we disdain slavery;" that the county of Suffolk in 1774
resolved, "that no obedience is due from this province to
either or any part of the obnoxious acts ; " that Middlesex,
speaking for the men of Lexington, Concord and Bunker
Hill, said " we are sensible that he can never die too soon
who lays down his life in support of the laws and liberties
of his country ; " that the Continental Congress of 1774 sent
forth its immortal remonstrances, memorials, manifestoes
and addresses to the king, to Parliament, to the people of
England, to the people of Ireland, to their brethren of
Canada and to the Colonies of America; that ancient hostili-
ties were forgotten, that local barriers were broken down, the
spirit of union fostered and the Colonies made one in pur-
pose and in destiny ; and, finally, that the formal and au-
thoritative Declaration of Independence introduced an era of
Freedom, not for this country and people only, but ulti-
mately, for all who speak the English language.

§ 30. Thus does it appear from this array of facts, gathered

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from an era of a century and a half, that the Independence of
the American Colonies had a slow growth, but its progress
was perceptible and from the year 1764 there could have been
no ground for doubt as to the ultimate result. When the
Declai-ation came the country was prepared to give it a sub-
stantial if not a united support.

§ 31. The controversy and the contest were carried on by
young men and by men in the meridian period of life. Jef-
ferson was in his thirty-fourth year. Washington was his
senior by only eleven years, and it is said of the signers of
the Declaration that their average age was less than forty

§ 32. It is a remarkable but well-authenticated phenomenon
in human history that when the minds of many men are
directed to one subject they often arrive at similar results and
find similar modes of expression. This peculiarity has been
observed in purely scientific researches, and it is more
probable that it should have existed in the controversy pre-
ceding the independence of these Colonies. It is not a
marvel then, nor in disparagement of Mr. Jefferson or of the
Congress of 1776, that the historian is compelled to admit
that the Declaration of Independence is but the last and
best expression of the sentiment and purposes of Colonial

The rights and grievances of the Colonies had been set
forth by the Congress of 1774 ; the doctrine of the equality
of all men, not as a theory, merely, but in the substance of
their natural, political rights, had been enunciated by Otis ;
and the citizens of Mecklenburg, North Carolina, had antici-
pated the Declaration of Jefferson and in some respects its
exact language, and yet there is no reason to believe that
the substance of the document was known to any member of
Congress and there is much evidence that neither Mr. Jeffer-
son nor any one of his colleagues of the committee was
aware of its existence.

§ 33. The great merit of the Declaration of Independence

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is in this : That it asserted with unrivalled precision and
power what the country had resolved and what it was pre-
pared to maintain. It proclaimed the natural rights of men ;
it embodied the history of Colonial America and it set forth
the nature of the oppressions that the colonists had endured,
the sacrifices they had made, the loyalty they had exhibited,
their poverty and forbearance all crowned by a statement of
their purposes in the future. The Colonies were represented
by Mr. Jefferson of Virginia, Mr. Robert R. Livingston of New
York, John Adams of Massachusetts, Dr. Franklin of Penn-
sylvania, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut. The draft, as
prepared by Mr. Jefferson, was as remarkable for what was
omitted finally, upon the suggestion of Georgia and South
Carolina, as for what was preserved. As prepared by Mr.
Jefferson and agreed to by the Committee, the King of Great
Britain was denounced for the crime of perpetuating the traffic
in African slaves. In the year 1774 North Carolina resolved
not to import nor purchase slaves : the County of Hanover,
Virginia, had pronounced the African trade in slaves " most
dangerous to the virtue and welfare of the country ; " the
Congress of 1774 had discountenanced the trade in slaves,
and James Otis, with nervous eloquence, had denounced the
whole system of human bondage.

§ 34. In conclusion a restatement of the leading thoughts
may not be inappropriate :

1. When the colonists laid the foundations of their re-
spective governments they asserted those doctrines of political
and personal freedom which constituted, finally, the legal and
moral basis of the Revolution ; and although in their weak-
ness they submitted to acts which in their view were
oppressive they never recognized the authority of the British
Parliament, but upon their records and during a period of
nearly a century and a half they asserted and as far as prac-
ticable they maintained their independence as political organi-

2. The laws which they annulled or evaded were enacted

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by an assembly whose authority they never acknowledged,
and in which they were not represented.

3. Our fathers were careful to maintain their loyalty to
the king as the sovereign of the British Empire and to per-
form all their duties as members of that Empire that the
injustice of others might not have root in their own errors
and wrongs.

4. The American Union did not originate in the present
Constitution, nor even in the Articles of Confederation ; but
it is elementary in the history of the country, and, as far as
we can judge, it is essential to our form of liberty.

From 1643, when the Union was formed between Massa-
chusetts, New Plymouth, Connecticut and New Haven for
" their own mutual safety and welfare," with the name, The
United Colonies of New England^ there seems never to have
been a moment when the idea of Union did not exist in the
public mind. Union was the necessity of their weakness as
it now is the emblem of our origin and the source of our

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§ 35. The scheme or plan of Confederation of the Amer-
ican Colonies, under the title of "The United States of
America," was first announced in a resolution of the Con-
tinental Congress which was adopted the eleventh day of
June, 1776. As early as the 21st of July, 1775, Dr. Franklin
presented a plan to Congress for a " perpetual union of the
Colonies." The paper contained a provision, however, for
the return of the Colonies to their allegiance to Great Britain.
(Madison Papers, p. 688.) Mr. Josiah Bai*tlett, of New Hamp-
shire, was placed at the head of the committee appointed to

Online LibraryEdith M FarrThe Constitution of the United States at the end of the first century → online text (page 15 of 35)