« AnteriorContinuar »
but not because the constitutional laws required it. It was even because it was intended to conduct America to the state of an independent nation, having its own government, and a supreme magistrate, that it was desired to direct things gradually towards this object, and to withdraw, little by little, the management of affairs from the local administrations, in order to concentrate it in one only and common point. It was also an efficacious mean of providing that no province, individually, should ever think of detaching itself from the Union, as, in such case, it would become not only unfaithful to the others, but also rebellious towards the general government of America. Notwithstanding considerations of such moment, this affair could not be managed without extreme difficulty, on account of the reciprocal jealousies of the provincial assemblies, which were not likely to renounce, but with the utmost repugnance, a part of their ancient authority, to be vested in a new and unusual adıninistration. If the impulsion of the people had been less general, if the necessity of pursuing the career in which they were already so far advanced, had been less imperious, perhaps the total plan of the enterprise would have been marred by these partial ambitions. But the die was cast, and it was requisite either to move onward farther than would have been wished, or to return back, much farther than would have been apprehended. It was therefore in the midst of these hopes, and of this necessity, that the Congress drew up and published the articles of confederation ; thus establishing invariably their authority, no longer upon the momentary impetus of popular feeling, but upon laws approved and sanctioned by the general will.
In the first place, the colonists bound themselves and their posterity, for the common defence against enemies, for the protection of their liberty and property, as also of their persons, and of the prosperity of America. Each colony retained its jurisdiction entire within its own limits, the right of regulating its internal adıninistration, and an independent sovereignty in respect to all its domestic affairs. But, for the more convenient direction of public transactions, each colony was to elect deputies, who should convene in Congress at the time and place which should be appointed by the preceding Congress. In ordinary circumstances, the Congress should hold their session successively in each colony, observing a regular rotation. This body should have power to make war and peace, to contract alliances, to adjust controversies between the different provinces, and to establish colonies wherever it should be thought necessary. The Congress should be authorised to make laws of general utility, and for which the provincial assemblies should not be competent, as, for example, all those concerning the forces of the Union, and the affairs relating to commerce and the inint; the Congress should appoint all the officers, civil and military, of the Union, such as generals, admirals, ambassadors, and others; the charges of
the war, and other expenses of the Union, should be supported by the public treasure, which should be replenished by each colony, in proportion to the number of male inhabitants, from ihe age of sixteen to sixty years; the number of delegates per colony, should, in like manner, be determined by that of the male citizens, so that there should be one representative for every five thousand male individuals; the deliberations of Congress should be enacted with half the suffrages, and it should be allowable to vote by proxy; there should be an executive council, composed of twelve persons, elected without Congress, four of whom should be succeeded every year ; the council, during the recess of Congress, should superintend the execution of its laws; the executive decisions being always to be taken by two thirds of the votes; the same council should be charged with the direction of general affairs, both internal and external; it should receive all despatches coming from princes and foreign governments ; should prepare matters to be submitted to the consideration of the next Congress ; should fill, during the interval of its sessions, all the offices which should have become vacant; and should, besides, have power to draw money from the public treasury. It was also regulated, that no colony should make war upon the Indian tribes, without the consent of Congress; that, consequently, the frontiers and territory of every Indian nation should be acknowledged theirs and respected; that agents should be established on the part of Congress among the Indian nations, in suitable places, with instructions to prevent frauds and impositions in the traffic with them. It was established as a principle, that the Union should subsist until the terms of arrangement proposed to the king, by the preceding Congress, should be accepted by England, the acts prohibitory of American commerce repealed, an indemnity granted for the shutting of the port of Boston, for the burning of Charlestown, and for the expenses of the war; finally, until the British troops should have entirely evacuated the territory of America. It was added, that when the British government should have accomplished the foregoing conditions, the colonies would resume their ancient relations of friendship with Great Britain; but that otherwise the confederation should be perpetual. Space was left to accede to the league for the provinces of Quebec, of St. John's, of Nova Scotia, of the two Floridas, and the Bermudas. Thus the Congress laid the foundations of American greatness.
Meanwhile, the colonies besitated to accept the articles of confederation. North Carolina absolutely refused. Things were not yet arrived at the point of muturity, desirable for the establishment of a perfect union. The people suffer themselves too often to be guided by vain fears, or by vain hopes; and, at this epoch, the greater part of the colonists still flattered themselves with the possibility of returning, some day or other, upon honorable terms, to their ancient footing with Great Britain. It was, indeed, quite evident, to what
object the Congress was tending. They considered reconciliation, if not as absolutely impossible, at least as extremely improbable. And, besides, if there had existed any hope of arrangement, the articles of Union would bave enfeebled it greatly, not to say totally extinguished ; and therefore, perhaps, the Congress had proposed them. For, omitting the offensive declarations, the menaces, and the laws contrary alike to the English constitution and to the tenor of charters, this new pretension of indemnities would alone have sufficed to interrupt all approach to reconciliation ; for it could not be presumed that the British government would stoop to such ignominious conditions. It was therefore manifest, that while the two parties protested their desire to meet each other, they were both exerting all their efforts to render it impossible. It was no less evident, that when in parliament the adversaries of the ministers proposed concessions and terms of arrangement, it was with reason the latter rejected them, saying, that all these conciliatory measures would not only be useless, but even detrimental, because they would encourage the colonists to new dernands, less admissible still. If the ministers themselves proposed, afterwards, and carried an act of conciliation, it was only a pretext to divide, and not to reunite. They were therefore in the right, when they resolved to continue the war, at all hazards ; but they were in the wrong, not to carry it on with sufficient means.
I have no doubt, but, in reading this history, it will be observed with extreme surprise, that, while the people in all the colonies flew to arms, subverted all public order, and exercised every species of hostile demonstrations against the authority of the king, the governors, who represented bim, preserving the calm of immobility, took no resolutions proper to reestablish obedience. But if no one of these governors is seen acting in a manner conformable to the importance of circumstances, it should be considered that none of them had regular troops at his disposal, to constrain the inhabitants to submission. The only force to which they could have recourse, to maintain the public tranquillity, and carry the laws into execution, was composed of the militia of the country, themselves a part of the insurgent people, and consequently favorable to their cause. It was not in America as in Europe, where a militia, which no longer makes part of the people, but which controls them, and with arms continually in hand, is always ready to execute the orders of the prince. In the English colonies, on the contrary, the militia was not distinct from the people themselves; and if this support was wanting to the government, it found itself, of necessity, to have done. The governors, however, did what was in their power to defend the authority of the king, each according to his character, and the circumstances in which he was placed. Their efforts had memorable effects, as will be seen by what follows; they produced the absolute extinction of the royal government.
We have already spoken of the misunderstanding which prevailed between the governor, lord Dunmore, and the assembly, and, generally, all the inhabitants of the province of Virginia.
New disgusts broke out, upon the arrival of the news from England, of lord North's resolution of accord. It may be said, that an instrument invested with the names of peace and concord, was the occasion, on the contrary, not only of discord, but of open war.
The governor, having convoked the assembly, placed this act before their eyes, enlarging greatly upon the goodness of parliament. He also hinted, that the fruit of their compliance would be the abrogation of the laws complained of. But soft words had little influence over the jealous and exasperated minds of the Virginians. The assembly, wishing to broach the quarrel, instead of entering into the discussion of the matter proposed, immediately took up the affair of the arsenal, and demanded its restitution ; but the intervention of the governor being here necessary, they sent him a message, importing that he would be pleased to permit the entrance of this magazine. The altercation now became vehement; and during the wordy conflict, the people forced the gates of the arsenal, and bore off the arms. The state in which they found them, carried their fury to extreinity. The powder was spoiled, the muskets without locks, the cannon without carriages; every thing had been plundered or destroyed, in the late disturbances.
The governor, on seeing the revolt, retired, with his wife and children, on board a ship of war,* anchored near Yorktown, in the river of this name.
Previous to his departure, he addressed a message to the assembly, by which he announced, that in order to withdraw from the danger to which himself and his family were exposed on the part of a furious multitude, he had thought prudent to take refuge in a place of security; he invited them to continue their business, while, on his part, he should continue his functions; and to send him a deputation on board his vessel, whenever they should think it necessary to confer with him upon the affairs of the time. The assembly answered, that they did not believe there existed, among the Virginians, any individual capable of perpetrating the excesses the governor apprehended; they expressed their regrets that he had not made them acquainted with his fears, before abandoning the seat of government; assuring him, that they would have taken all the measures he might bimself have proposed, for his own security and that of his family. Finally, considering the little facility afforded, in such a place, for the transaction of affairs with the requisite convenience and promptitude, they earnestly requested him to return; to yield to the impatience of the inhabitants, and dispose them, by this proof of confidence, to order and tranquillity.
* The Fowey man of war.
The governor replied with much bitterness, as the popular movements had agitated his mind beyond all reason. He concluded his letter, however, by glancing afresh at the conciliatory resolution, and with the assurance that he should esteem it his felicity to be the instrument of concord between the jarring parts of the British empire.
This bland conclusion was not sufficient to mitigate the irritation created by the menacing commencement of the letter. Accordingly, the answer of the assembly was more acrimonious still; as to the act of accord, they replied, it was a vain and insidious measure, which only changed the mode of oppression, without tending to relieve it; that, consequently, they would not accept it.'
Such a temper of mind, in both the parties, precluded every glimpse of a better understanding. The assembly, having finally matured the bills and resolves before them, invited the governor to repair to Williamsburgh, in order to pass them. Lord Dunmore replied, that he would not expose his person in the midst of a mad populace; that they might send him the bills for examination ; that he should be ready to receive the house, at his present residence, for the purpose of giving his assent to such acts as he should approve of. Here ended all correspondence between the governor and the colony of Virginia. If he would not trust himself with the Virginians, they were as little disposed to trust themselves with him. It might, besides, appear strange enough, that, in the midst of so many suspicions, the chief citizens of an entire province should go to immure themselves on board a ship of war, completely in the power of a person they looked upon as their enemy, and who might have retained them as hostages for the execution of his ulterior designs.
The assembly, when informed of the sentiments of the governor, declared publicly, that they suspected the existence of a sinister conspiracy against the people of the colony ; they consequently warned the inhabitants to stand prepared to defend their property, and their rights, still more precious; they renewed their protestations of fidelity towards the king, of affection for the mother country; and, adjourning themselves to the month of October, separated. Thus ceased to exist, about the middle of July, the royal government in Virginia, after having lasted during more than two hundred years, with the tranquillity and happiness of all.
But arduous toils, and numerous dangers, still awaited the province.
The inroads of an enemy so superior in naval force, were to be feared upon the coasts, and upon the borders of all the great rivers which bathe it. Nor were the inhabitants without disquietude, in regard to the slaves, who were extremely numerous, and whom lord Dunmore had given out, he should instigate to revolt against their masters. If this cruel race, and cruelly treated, had joined the