Page images






[ocr errors]

HE great text-book for the study of politics is history.

He who would understand the principles of our Government and the institutions that have been built upon them must look to the history out of which these principles and institutions have emerged. Without a knowledge of the past we cannot understand the present.

In 1763, after a half-century of conflict, the English had triumphed over the French in America. Under the treaties of that year closing the Seven Years'

Causes of the War, the French retired from the North American American continent, and the English rule was established in Canada and in the territory east of the Mississippi. To meet the increased burden of an increased debt and of enlarged possessions, the English Ministry under George III. resolved upon three measures which Mr. Lecky, the great English historian, has said produced the American Revolution:

1. The enforcement of the old trade laws.

2. The quartering permanently in America of a portion of the British army.

3. The raising by Parliamentary taxation in America of a part of the money necessary for the army's support.


[ocr errors][ocr errors]


The old trade laws, which had been passed chiefly in the interest of the English trading companies, were ob

noxious and vexatious to the Colonies, and The English Commercial they had been allowed to fall into disuse. By Code Violates

these laws the Colonies were not allowed to Principles of establish manufactures for themselves, nor to Government.

carry oil a profitable trade with other coun. tries. The English commercial code thus violated the fundamental principle of just government, that laws should be in the interest of the people who are bound to obey them. The attempt to revive and strictly to enforce these obsolete laws thus became a contributing cause of the American Revolution: and in so far as the Americans resisted these laws, they did so as claiming a right to freer trade and freer industry; in short, as asserting their right to regulate their manufactures and commerce in their own interest.

The dread of a standing army had been a powerful influence with the common people of England ever since

their struggle against the tyranny of the royal Opposition to a Standing power in the days of the Commons' revolt Army.

against the Stuart kings, 1642-1649. Especially was this feeling strong among those English Puri.. tans and Cavaliers who “in an unconquerable spirit had effected settlements in the distant and inhospitable wilds of America.” They held with a stubborn and undaunted spirit that no army should be quartered upon them except by the consent of their own legislatures. Every State or colony—that is, every organized political community like Massachusetts, Virginia, or Rhode Island, they declared, “must judge for itself the number of armed men which they may safely trust among them, of whom they are to consist, and under what restrictions they are to be laid." Reliance on their own militia and opposition to a standing army larger than was necessary to preserve

'Jefferson's Summary View of the Rights of the Colonies.



tional Government.

the peace involved one of the early principles of the Republic.

But it was especially the controversy raised by the new Imperial policy of taxation that led to the dismemberment of the British Empire and to the independence of America. In the long discussion between Great Britain and the Colonies touching Imperial power and colonial rights, from the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765, till the Declaration of Independence proclaimed a new nation to the world, the colonists stood out for the following rights and principles:

1. The right of constitutional government.-Great Britain claimed, while the colonists denied, that Parliament could exercise an unlimited power over them,

The Right of "to bind them in all cases whatsoever.” The colonists had no voice, and from the nature of the case could have none, in the body proposing so to govern them. The great remedial measures guaranteeing the ancient rights of subjects, such as the Great Charter, the Habeas Corpus, the Bill of Rights,—that is, the law, customs, precedents, and constitutional statutes which made up the British Constitution,-were in full force in the Colonies. By this Constitution Parliament

. must be bound. The colonists held that their charters also conferred and defined certain constitutional rights and limited the powers of government over them. Eng. lish law and liberty, they claimed, knew no such thing as absolute, unlimited power, without constitutional limitations and restraints. The colonists contended not for new rights but for old ones, not for innovations or a new constitution, but for their old charters and the old Constitution with its privileges and guarantees. They had lost none of their rights by migration. Whatever were the constitutional rights of Englishmen at home were the constitutional rights of Englishmen in the Colonies. With our fathers, wherever they went throughout the world, their Constitution and their law followed their fag.

“ All we have of freedom, all we used or know,

This our fathers bought for us, long and long ago;
Ancient Right unnoticed as the breath we draw,
Leave to live by no man's leave underneath the law."

Local Self

2. The right of local self-government.To the colonists this was a necessary corollary to the rights of constitu

tional government. The foundation of English The Right of

liberty and of all free government is the right Government.

of a people to participate in their legislative council. This meant, in 1776, the free and exclusive power of legislation in the colonial assemblies,-in all cases of taxation and internal policy.' The colonists held that, while matters of Imperial concern, and especially the commercial system, should remain under the control of the Imperial Parliament, each Colony should regulate for itself its own local affairs; that the colonial assemblies were complete and independent legislatures for all matters of internal concern. Each Colony was a people.” In the exercise of this right of local selfgovernment,

“the Colonial legislatures with the entire assent of the Home Government assumed the right of modifying almost every portion of the common and of the statute law, with a view to their special circumstances. It became recognized that the Colonies might legislate for themselves as they pleased, provided they left untouched their allegiance to the Crown and acts of the English Parliament." :

In internal matters they claimed therefore not to be under the jurisdiction of the British Parliament, and that they did not hold their political existence at the will of that body; that the rights-original and chartered and

Kipling, The King. • Resolution of the Continental Congress, October 24, 1774. • Lecky, American Revolution, p. 39.


« PreviousContinue »