Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub
[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

AMERICA, and especially some parts of it, having been discovered by the genius and intrepidity of Italians, received, at various times, as into a place of asylum, the men whom political or religious disturbances had driven from their own countries in Europe. The security which these distant and desert regions presented to their minds, appeared to them preferable even to the endearments of country and of their natal air.

Here they exerted themselves with admirable industry and fortitude, according to the custom of those whom the fervor of opinion agitates and stimulates, in subduing the wild beasts, dispersing or destroying pernicious or importunate animals, repressing or subjecting the barbarous and savage nations that inhabited this New World, draining the marshes, controlling the course of rivers, clearing the forests, furrowing a virgin soil, and committing to its bosom new and unaccustomed seeds; and thus prepared themselves a climate less rude and hostile to human nature, more secure and more commodious habitations, more salubrious food, and a part of the conveniences and enjoyments proper to civilised life.

This multitude of emigrants, departing principally from England, in the time of the last Stuarts, landed in that part of North America which extends from the thirty-second to the forty-fifth degree of north latitude; and there founded the colonies of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, which took the general name of New England. To these colonies were afterwards joined those of Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, the two Carolinas, and Georgia. Nor must it be understood, that in departing from the land in which they were born, to seek in foreign regions a better condition of life, they abandoned their country on terms of enmity, dissolving every tie of early attachment.

WOL. I. 2

Far from this, besides the customs, the habits, the usages and manners of their common country, they took with them privileges, granted by the royal authority, whereby their laws were constituted upon the model of those of England, and more or less conformed to a free government, or to a more absolute system, according to the character or authority of the prince from whom they emanated. They were also modified by the influence which the people, by means of their organ, the parliament, were found to possess. For, it then being the epoch of those civil and religious dissensions which caused English blood to flow in torrents, the changes were extreme and rapid. Each province, each colony, had an elective assembly, which, under certain limitations, was invested with the authority of parliament; and a governor, who, representing the king to the eyes of the colonists, exercised also a certain portion of his power. To this was added the trial, which is called by jury, not only in criminal matters, but also in civil causes; an institution highly important, and corresponding entirely with the judicial system of England.

But, in point of religion, the colonists enjoyed even greater latitude than in their parent country itself: they had not preserved that ecclesiastical hierarchy, against which they had combated so strenuously, and which they did not cease to abhor, as the primary cause of the long and perilous expatriation to which they had been constrained to resort.

It can, therefore, excite no surprise, if this generation of men not only had their minds imbued with the principles that form the basis of the English constitution, but even if they aspired to a mode of government less rigid, and a liberty more entire; in a word, if they were inflamed with the fervor which is naturally kindled in the hearts of men by obstacles which oppose their religious and political opinions, and still increased by the privations and persecutions they have suffered on their account. And how should this ardor, this excitement of exasperated minds, have been appeased in the vast solitudes of America, where the amusements of Europe were unknown, where assiduity in manual toils must have hardened their bodies, and increased the asperity of their characters ? If in England they had shown themselves averse to the prerogative of the crown, how, as to this, should their opinions have been changed in America, where scarcely a vestige was seen of the royal authority and splendor? where the same occupation being common to all, that of cultivating the earth, must have created in all the opinion and the love of a general equality ? They had encountered exile, at the epoch when the war raged most fiercely in their native country, between the king and the people; at the epoch when the armed subjects contended for the right of resisting the will of the prince, when he usurps their liberty; and even, if the public good require it, of transferring the crown from one head to another. The colonists had supported these principles; and how should they have renounced them They who, out of the reach of royal authority, and, though still in the infancy of a scarcely yet organised society, enjoyed already, in their new country, a peaceful and happy life? The laws observed, justice administered, the magistrates respected, offences rare or unknown; persons, property and honor, protected from all violation ? They believed it the unalienable right of every English subject, whether freeman or freeholder, not to give his property without his own consent; that the house of commons only, as the representative of the English people, had the right to grant its money to the crown; that taxes are free gifts of the people to those who govern; and that princes are bound to exercise their authority, and employ the public treasure, for the sole benefit and use of the community. “These privileges,” said the colonists, “we have brought with us; distance, or change of climate, cannot have deprived us of English prerogatives; we departed from the kingdom with the consent and under the guarantee of the sovereign authority; the right not to contribute with our money without our own consent, has been solemnly recognised by the government in the charters it has granted to many of the colonies. It is for this purpose that assemblies or courts have been established in each colony, and that they have been invested with authority to investigate and superintend the employment of the public money.” And how, in fact, should the colonists have relinquished such a right; they who derived their subsistence from the American soil, not given or granted by others, but acquired and possessed by themselves; which they had first occupied, and which their toils had rendered productive * Every thing, on the contrary, in English America, tended to favor and develop civil liberty; every thing appeared to lead towards national independence. The Americans, for the most part, were not only Protestants, but Protestants against Protestantism itself, and sided with those who in England are called Dissenters; for, besides, as Protestants, not acknowledging any authority in the affair of religion, whose decision, without other examination, is a rule of faith, claiming to be of themselves, by the light of natural reason alone, sufficient judges of religious dogmas, they had rejected the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and, abolished even the names of its dignities; they had, in short, divested themselves of all that deference which man, by his nature, has for the opinions of those who are constituted in eminent stations; and whose dignities, wealth and magnificence, seem to command respect The intellects of the Americans being therefore perfectly free upon this topic, they exercised the same liberty of thought upon other subjects unconnected with religion, and especially upon the affairs of government, which had been the habitual theme of their conversation, during their residence in the mother country. The colonies, more than any other country, abounded in lawyers, who, accustomed to the most subtle and the most captious arguments, are commonly, in a country governed by an absolute prince, the most zealous advocates of his power, and in a free country the most ardent defenders of liberty. Thus had arisen, among the Americans, an almost universal familiarity with those sophistical discussions which appertain to the professions of theology and of law, the effect of which is often to generate obstinacy and presumption in the human mind; accordingly, however long their disquisitions upon political and civil liberty, they never seemed to think they had sisted these matters sufficiently. The study of polite literature and the liberal arts having already made a remarkable progress in America, these discussions were adorned with the graces of a florid elocution; the charms of eloquence fascinated and flattered on the one hand the defenders of bold opinions, as on the other, they imparted to their discourses greater attraction, and imprinted them more indelibly on the minds of their auditors. The republican maxims became a common doctrine : and the memory of the Puritans, and of those who in the sanguinary contentions of England had supported the party of the people and perished for its cause, was immortalised. These were their apostles, these their martyrs: their names, their virtues, their ... their unhappy, but to the eyes of the colonists so honorable, death, formed the continual subject of the conversations of children with the authors of their days. If, before the revolution, the portrait of the king was usually seen in every house, it was not rare to observe near it the images of those who, in the time of Charles I. sacrificed their lives in defence of what they termed English liberties. It is impossible to express with what exultation they had received the news of the victories of the republicans in England; with what grief they heard of the restoration of the monarchy, in the person of Charles II. Thus their inclinations and principles were equally contrary to the government, and to the church, which prevailed in Great Britain. Though naturally reserved and circumspect, yet expressions frequently escaped them which manifested a violent hatred for the political and religious establishments of the mother country. Whoever courted popular favor, gratified both himself and his hearers, by inveighing against them; the public/hatred, on the contrary, was the portion of the feeble party of the hierarchists, and such as favored England. All things, particularly in New England, conspired to cherish the germs of these propensities and opinions. The colonists had few books; but the greater part of those, which were in the hands of all, only treated of political affairs, or transmitted the history of the persecutions sustained by the Puritans, their ancestors. They found in these narratives, that, tormented in their ancient country on account of their political and religious opinions, their ancestors had taken the intrepid resolution of abandoning it, of traversing an immense ocean, of flying to the most distant, the most inhospitable regions, in order to preserve the liberty of professing openly these cherished principles; and that, to accomplish so generous a design, they had sacrificed all the accommodations and delights of the happy country where they had received birth and education. And what toils, what fatigues, what perils, had they not encountered, upon these unknown and savage shores All had opposed them ; their bodies had not been accustomed to the extremes of cold in winter, and of heat in summer, both intolerable in the climate of America; the land chiefly covered with forests, and little of it habitable, the soil reluctant, the air pestilential; an untimely death had carried off most of the first founders of the colony : those who had resisted the climate, and survived the famine, to secure their infant establishment, had been forced to combat the natives, a ferocious race, and become still more ferocious at seeing a foreign people, even whose existence they had never heard of, come to appropriate the country of which they had so long been the sole occupants and masters. The colonists, by their fortitude, and courage, had gradually surmounted all these obstacles; which result, if on the one hand it secured them greater tranquillity, and improved their condition, on the other it gave them a better opinion of themselves, and inspired them with an elevation of sentiments, not often paralleled. As the prosperous or adverse events which men have shared together, and the recollections which attend them, have a singular tendency to unite their minds, their affections and their sympathies; the Americans were united not only by the ties which reciprocally attach individuals of the same nation, from the identity of language, of laws, of climate, and of customs, but also by those which result from a common participation in all the vicissitudes to which a people is liable. They offered to the world an image of those congregations of men, subject not only to the general laws of the society of which they are members, but also to particular statutes and regulations, to which they have voluntarily subscribed, and which usually produce, besides an uniformity of opinions, a common zeal and enthusiasm. It should not be omitted, that even the composition of society in the English colonies, rendered the inhabitants averse to every species of superiority, and inclined them to liberty. Here was but one class of men; the mediocrity of their condition tempted not the rich and the powerful of Europe, to visit their shores; opulence, and hereditary honors, were unknown amongst them; whence no vestige remained of feudal servitude. From these causes resulted a general opinion that all men are by nature equal; and the inhabitants of America would have found it difficult to persuade themselves that they owed their lands and their civil rights to the munificence of princes. Few among them, had heard mention of Magna Charta; and those who were not ignorant of the history of that important

« AnteriorContinuar »