Page images
PDF
EPUB

Tory and a profoundly learned black-letter scholar—the Wizard of the North—the author of Ivanhoe. Thierry, who acknowledges Scott as his master, has given for his views an array of authorities more copious than any historian of that period; and we are not aware that any formal refutation of the general views of Thierry has been attempted, further than is implied in the suggestion of modifications where the French love of generalization has carried him too far. It should be borne in mind, also, that the statements which we make have reference to the English part of England, exclusive of any discussion of the influence of that portion of the Celtic inhabitants who made their strongholds of the mountains of Wales and Cumberland.

In the process of centuries, these two strata of population have nearly changed places. The shrinking and fearful commoners, who were summoned “ad consentiendum” merely as a form, who debated on matters of state in constant peril of their ears or the dungeons of the Tower, have become the great power in the State. The lords, once the great hereditary council of a monarch nearly absolute, now find their chief duty to consist in feeble attempts to clog the action of the lower house, or in quietly registering its decrees. In spite of all its ancient glories, the House of Peers has become a mere nullity in the majestic presence of the Commons of Great Britain. Whatever may be said of the atnalgamation of the Norman and Saxon races in England, no one can deny that their spirit and traditions are severally retained by the nobility and commonalty of the present day. The watchwords, the feelings, the inner life of these two classes, are as really Norman and Saxon as they were in the days of William Rufus or Richard Plantagenet. The life of races outlives centuries of revolution, of progress and change.

Again, the colonies of England have gone forth mainly from the Anglo-Saxon portion of her people. The nobility and gentry have had in general no motive for leaving permanently their native country, and until lately the ancient servile portion wanted the means and the enterprise to emigrate. This naturally leads us to speak of ourselves as a part of the English race. We are too much accustomed to speak of our countrymen as a separate people from those of the mother land. But, however we may be separated from her by the broad Atlantic, and distinguished by a part of our religious and political institutions, we cannot forget that not only our language and literature, but all the essential foundations of our social and political fabric, belong not so much to us as to the race of which we form a part. Moreover, our institutions and national character have been drawn pre-eminently from that element which makes up the great middle class of English society

The struggle between the Puritans and Cavaliers was, in its leading features, marked by the original distinction between Saxon and Norman. While we admit that there were individual instances in which this distinction will not hold, we still believe that the great body of the supporters of Charles I. and Laud were representatives either in blood or spirit of the old Norman families. It is true that the lowest portion of the peasantry followed in general the opinions of the landed gentry and nobility, whose tenants they were, with a sort of mechanical stupidity, and were good Protestants under Edward VI. and good Catholics under

Mary. But this was by no means true of the best portion of the middle class. The stronghold of Protestantism at the Reformation, and of Puritanism during the Commonwealth, was among those who formed the middle stratum of the English population, the sturdy descendants of the Anglo-Saxons, at an equal remove from degradation on the one hand, and effeminate refinement on the other. It was from this portion of the English people that the great mass of the colonists of America sprung, and though other races have mingled freely with them, they have given the stamp to our national life and character. The American colonists then as a body have sprung from the heart of the English nation, not from the highest nor from the lowest portion in point of rank, but from those who have been the originators and guardians of all that is noble in the career of England. The United States then is another England, relieved from the crushing weight of an Aristocracy and a State Hierarchy on the one hand, and from the servile and degraded poor that lie at the base of the social fabric on the other. We are sprung from the best blood of the race, the solid, hardy, liberty-loving Anglo-Saxons, having a slight intermixture of the Norman and Celtic, to give life and mobility to the less showy, but more manly and vigorous original stock.

We have no sympathy with that false patriotism that affects to consider it disgraceful to owe the foundation of our literature and character and political institutions to the noble land of our fathers. Our national recollections, our great ideas are a common inheritance that has not been divided among the heirs. Our fathers sat in the Witenagemotes of Alfred, they fought with Harold at Hastings, and rallied in the ranks of the retainers of the Barons at Runnymede-they charged the French knights with their clouds of clothyard arrows at Azincourtthey followed Richard of the lion heart to the land of the Saviour, and formed the mailed bands who planted the cross of St. George on the towers of Acre and Joppa and Ascalon. They laughed over the satire of Piers Ploughman and the Mirror for Magistrates, and followed with childish delight the Journey of the Canterbury Pilgrims with Chaucer. They read with solemn joy the quaint pages of Wickliffe's Bibleand listened with young enthusiasm to the “wood notes wild” of the Swan of Avon. It was for the ancient and undoubted privileges of Englishmen that our fathers contended unto blood, during the colonial and revolutionary period. The old customs brought from the woods of Germany and incorporated into the English common law, are administered by every justice of the peace from Maine to Georgia. The decisions of Westminster Hall are cited as authority on the circuits of our Western forests, and in the august assembly of the Judges of the Supreme Court of the United States.

This race is substantially one wherever it has been planted. Its influence and character may for general purposes be considered as uniform, however it may temporarily have been affected by the admixture of foreign elements. This race too has spread over the world, and has carried with it everywhere its own peculiar life and power.

Such is this English race. We have now to ask, what has it done in the past, and what may we expect from it in the future? An answer to this question would involve the development of its political, intellectual, and moral life-its government, its literature, and its religion. But at present we propose to limit our remarks to the first of these three topics.

It has been pretty generally admitted that in the science and practice of State-building the English are in advance of allother men. This we might take for granted, but it may be made to appear with additional distinctness, if we can ascertain some of the elements, aside from the inherent power of the race, that have kept alive that system of laws and polity which has been the foundation of free States wherever it has been planted. What then is the inner life, the germ of that political organism, which the race has carried with it in all its wanderings from Australia to Oregon, and which has everywhere been fruitful of freedom and blessing ? Much has been written on the English Constitution and on that of the United States that does not touch the peculiar principle that forms their distinguishing characteristic. This principle for the sake of brevity we shall call the confederation of distinct local governments. It was to a certain extent common to all the Gothic tribes, and was founded on the feeling of personal independence which marked those fierce barbarians that conquered Rome. This led them to be jealous of centralization, and to adopt a government that provided in the highest degree for the security of personal rights.

So far as our knowledge of the German and Scandinavian tribes in early times extends, we everywhere find traces of local governments springing from the will and power of the people of the district governed. This local or rather personal government of small bodies of men, was the differential element, the "original monad” of Gothic political society. These distinct governments were formed primarily not with reference to the State, but with reference to the convenience and liberty of the individual man, and general governments or States were integrations of this differential element. It has been the habit of most English historians and lawyers, in accordance with the notion that the king is the fountain of justice, to represent all local courts to have received their power from the central government of the State, in which, to adopt the language of Blackstone, “ as in a general reservoir, all the executive authority of the law was lodged, and from which justice was dispersed to every part of the nation by distinct yet communicating ducts and channels.” Blackstone uses these words when, following the monkish chronicler Ingulphus, he attributes to Alfred the division of England into counties and hundreds. Now it is clear that these territorial subdivisions existed wherever the Gothic nations have been planted, and moreover that in every case the power of the crown has originally been drawn from the local organization, instead of the contrary process.

Among the Scandinavians the integral community was the Hærad or Hundred, or perhaps the quarters or tithings which existed within the Hærad. Among the old Swedes the chief man of the Hærad was called the Heradzhoffding. When this office became vacant, the Laghman, or head of the shire, in which larger division the Hærad was included, summoned a meeting of the men of the Hundred, who chose twelve men, who with the Laghman were to elect three persons from the Hundred, one of whom was to be the Heradzhoffding. This officer, with a body of twelve or six men, exercised a jurisdiction over all the inhabitants of the district, similar to that of the Saxon hundred courts, and the leet courts of later times in England. By this court, bridges were built, and roads mended, and all disputes decided, arising out of the occupa

[ocr errors]

tion of land. This court also exercised criminal jurisdiction over all offenders of whatever character. It was to be held once a week, and all landholders within the district owed “ suit and service” to it, and were fined for non-attendance. Each “ Laghsagha,” or shire, contained within it several “ Hærads." The executive magistrate of this larger division was selected by the dwellers in the shire, in the same manner as was the magistrate of the "Hundred.” These magistrates were called "Lawmen," and were assisted by a jury of twelve of the inhabitants of the shire, elected for that purpose. By the old law of Sweden, the king was elected by the Lawmen and standing juries of the different shires. These were to assemble in one place and give their voices by their foreman, and he who had the greatest number of voices was adjudged to be king. Moreover, any free-born Swede might be elected, but the law directed that the sons of the late king, if there were any, should have the preference. After his election the king was obliged to ride through the land with the sun, and each shire accepted the king apart from the rest, and the king made his promises and oath anew in each shire, and the commons of each also pledged separately their faith to the king. After this he was at liberty to be crowned at Upsala, if he chose to be, the laws evidently viewing this as a mere ceremony.

This shows most clearly the existence in Sweden, in early times, of a sort of confederation of local governments, each having its origin within itself, and that the political power of the central “respublica” was derived from these, and that the king was a president elected for life by the individual suffrages of the several “Laws,” or shires of the country.

Just after the middle of the ninth century, Harold Harfarger, or Harold the Fair-haired, became, by conquest and usurpation, king of nearly the whole of Norway, and succeeded in abolishing most of the popular customs of the country, and filling the magistracies, which had been formerly elected by the inhabitants of the districts, with creatures and dependents of his own. This created a disturbance among the lovers of the old institutions of the country, and induced them to migrate in large bodies to the Shetlands and Orkneys, to France and Iceland. In the last named island they fixed themselves in numbers, and there developed and established the ancient Norwegian polity. Here we find clear evidence of the existence of local governments, confederated or represented in the government of the larger districts, and finally in that of the whole island. Soon after the colonists became established,

« PreviousContinue »