Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

fell upon their village, or that of some other tribe, and the spoil taken in the act of reprisal, was often greater than that gained by the original offence. Thus, injury led to revenge, and successful vengeance to repeated hostility and deeply rooted hatred.

We shall now take leave of these military details, and proceed to speak of the civil institutions of the new states.

We have seen, that while Kentucky was becoming settled, Ohio was the chief residence of those numerous and hostile tribes, whose predatory incursions kept the whole frontier in a state of continual terror; and that this country was often made the seat of war, by the retaliatory expeditions which were led into it by the different American leaders. It was not until the year 1788, that an attempt was made to settle the northern shore of the Ohio. A colony from Massachusetts, led by General Putnam and Doctor Cutler, founded the town of Marietta in that year.

The most important settlement, however, in the territory northwest of the Ohio, and the one which led to the most important consequences, was that commenced by Judge Symmes, in the year 1789. This gentleman contracted with congress, for the purchase of a million of acres of land, between the Great and the Little Miami; but in consequence of a failure on his part to make the stipulated payments, did not become the proprietor of so large a tract. The patent which finally issued to him and his associates, included only 311,682 acres, of which only 248,540

became private property; the remainder consisting of reservations for a variety of public purposes, chiefly for the use of schools and the support of religion.

The remark that occurs to us most forcibly, in reverting to this portion of history, is the improvidence of congress, in making so large a grant of lands to individuals. A similar grant was made a few years afterwards to a colony of French settlers, who founded the town of Gallipolis. But, happily for the country, the instances of such extensive grants were few; and it is perhaps equally matter of congratulation, that they did not, in any instance, yield to the individuals concerned in them, advantages sufficiently great, to render the applications for such monopolies numerous or influential. It is, perhaps, chiefly in consequence of this fact, that the evil was avoided; for it does not appear, that congress was at first aware of the calamitous results which must have followed the parceling out of this noble region to a few wealthy proprietors, whose interests would often have been hostile to those of the people. This principle, however, was not at first understood. We can easily see why the foreign sovereignties, under whose sway we were originally placed, should have made, as they frequently did, extensive grants of land to individuals or companies; but it is a little singular, that our own government should have fallen into the same misguided policy. The earliest law passed by congress, for the sale of the lands of the United States, provided for its disposal to purchasers in tracts of four thousand acres each; and did not allow the sell

ing of a smaller quantity, except with regard to the fractions created by the angles and sinuosities of the rivers. The law was highly unfavorable to actual settlers, as it prevented persons of moderate property from acquiring freeholds; and would have enabled persons of wealth to become the proprietors, and to have sold the land to the cultivator at exorbitant prices, or else have forced the latter to have been the tenants under the former. With the notions that many of our statesmen had derived from the example of Great Britain, and which, notwithstanding our recent disruption from that country, still remain impressed upon us, with all the force of education and association, it is perhaps not surprising, that they should have deemed it advantageous to create a landed aristocracy; but it is more probable, that the error arose from accident and carelessness. It is curious, however, to look back at those first awkward attempts of republican legislation, and to see how gradually we shook off the habits of thought in which we had been trained, and how slowly the shackles of prejudice fell from around us. The plan of selling land in sections and half sections, the former of 640 acres, and the latter of 320 acres, was first proposed in congress, by General Harrison, when a delegate from this territory, in 1799; and produced a sensation, which showed how little matured thought had been bestowed on the subject, in that body. The law was certainly one of the most beneficial tendency; and its passage constitutes a crisis in the history of this country, of perhaps greater magnitude and interest than any

other in our annals; for no act of the government has ever borne so immediately upon the settling, the rapid improvement, and the permanent prosperity of the western states. The ordinance of 1787, is justly regarded as an instrument of vast importance, and singularly propitious consequences; but in its practical operation and salutary results, it sinks in comparison with the system of selling the public domain, which has placed the acquisition of real estate within the reach of the laboring classes, and rendered the titles to land perfectly secure.

It is understood, that this act was not the exclusive production of General Harrison; the acute mind and masterly pen of Mr. Gallatin, then a member of congress, were also employed in its production; and although the earnest request of that distinguished citizen, and the circumstances of the moment, forced Mr. Harrison to submit to the credit of being its sole author, the natural ingenuousness of the latter, induced him, subsequently, when he could do so with propriety, to explain his own part in the proceeding, and to give Mr. Gallatin the honor due him. The bill was warmly attacked by some of the ablest men in the lower house. Mr. Harrison defended it alone; he exposed the folly and iniquity of the old system; demonstrated that it could only result to the benefit of the wealthy monopolist, while the hardy and useful population, which has since poured into the fertile plains of Ohio, and made it, in thirty years, the third state in the Union, must have been excluded from her borders, or have taken the land on terms dictated by the wealthy purchasers from the government.

CHAPTER X VIII.

CIVIL INSTITUTIONS.

The constitution, laws, and civil institutions of the new states, are worthy of attention, inasmuch as they often exhibit novel experiments in legislation and government. If these are often anomalous, and sometimes absurd, they will more frequently be found to embrace beneficial improvements, which tend to advance the science to which they belong; and they always afford subjects of study, which may be examined with advantage by the enlightened statesman. The original states, which at first formed the American confederacy, having been in existence previous to the revolution, did not create, but rather altered their forms of government; and little change took place in any of the civil departments, whetje organization under the new governments, was necessarily adapted to the existing institutions. An entire revolution, which should have pervaded all the details of the municipal policy, would neither have been convenient, nor acceptable to the people; for however averse the colonists might have felt to the tyranny of the British government, there was no general distaste for the laws to which they had always been accustomed. It was not the system of English common law to which they objected, but the perversions of that system by the ministry. Upon separating from the British government, therefore, they did little more than to erect another in its stead,

« AnteriorContinuar »