The American Revolution.
The Overthrow of the European colonial system.
The Overthrow of the European colonial system.
claims legislative independence of England
in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hun-
dred and forty-eight, Montesquieu
, wisest in his age of the reflecting statesmen of France
, apprized the cultivated world, that a free, prosperous and great people was forming in the forests of America
, which England
had sent forth her sons to inhabit.1
The hereditary dynasties of Europe
, all unconscious of the rapid growth of the rising power, which was soon to involve them in its new and prevailing influence, were negotiating treaties among themselves to bring their last war of personal ambition definitively to an end.
The great maritime powers, weary of hopes of con-
quest and ignorant of coming reform, desired repose.
To restore possessions as they had been, or were to have been, was accepted as the condition of peace; and guaranties were devised to keep them safe against vicissitude.
But the eternal flow of existence never rests, bearing the human race onwards through continuous change.
Principles grow into life by informing the public mind, and in their maturity gain the mastery over events; following each other as they are bidden, and ruling without a pause.
No sooner do the agitated waves begin to subside, than, amidst the formless tossing of the billows, a new messenger from the Infinite Spirit
moves over the waters; and the bark which is freighted with the fortunes of mankind, yields to the gentle breath as it first whispers among the shrouds, even while the beholders still doubt if the breeze is springing, and whence it comes, and whither it will go.
The hour of revolution was at hand, promising freedom to conscience and dominion to intelligence.
History, escaping from the dictates of authority and the jars of insulated interests, enters upon new and unthought — of domains of culture and equality, the happier society where power springs freshly from ever-renewed consent; the life and activity of a connected world.
, the crisis foreboded the struggles of generations.
The strong bonds of faith and affection, which once united the separate classes of its civil hierarchy, had lost their vigor.
In the impending chaos of states, the ancient forms of society, after convulsive agonies, were doomed to be broken in pieces; and the fragments to become distinct, and
seemingly lifeless, like the dust; ready to be whirled
in clouds by the tempest of public rage, with a force as deadly as that of the sand storm in the Libyan desert
The voice of reform, as it passed over the desolation, would inspire animation afresh; but in the classes whose power was crushed, as well as in the oppressed who knew not that they were redeemed, it might also awaken wild desires, which the ruins of a former world could not satiate.
, the influences of time were moulded by the creative force of reason, sentiment, and nature.
Its political edifice rose in lovely proportions, as if to the melodies of the lyre.
Peacefully and without crime, humanity was to make for itself a new existence.
A few men of Anglo-Saxon
descent, chiefly farmers, planters, and mechanics, with their wives and children, had crossed the Atlantic
in search of freedom and fortune.
They brought the civilization which the past had bequeathed to Great Britain
; they were followed by the slave-ship and the African; their happiness invited emigrants from every lineage of Central and Western Europe
; the mercantile system, to which they were subjected, prevailed in the councils of all metropolitan states, and extended its restrictions to every continent that allured to conquest, commerce, or colonization.
The accomplishment of their independence would agitate the globe, would assert the freedom of the oceans as commercial highways, vindicate power in the commonwealth for the united judgment of its people, and assure to them the right to a self-directing vitality.
The authors of the American Revolution
avowed for their object the welfare of mankind, and believed
that they were in the service of their own and of all
Their faith was just; for the world of mankind does not exist in fragments, nor can a country have an insulated existence.
All men are brothers; and all are bondsmen for one another.
All nations, too, are brothers, and each is responsible for that federative humanity which puts the ban of exclusion on none.
New principles of government could not assert themselves in one hemisphere without affecting the other.
The very idea of the progress of an individual people, in its relation to universal history, springs from the acknowledged unity of the race.
From the dawn of social being, there has appeared a tendency towards commerce and intercourse between the scattered inhabitants of the earth.
That mankind have ever earnestly desired this connection, appears from their willing homage to the adventurers and to every people, who have greatly enlarged the boundaries of the world, as known to civilization.
The traditions of remotest antiquity celebrate the half-divine wanderer who raised pillars on the shores of the Atlantic
; and record, as a visitant from the skies, the first traveller from Europe
to the central rivers of Asia
It is the glory of Greece
, that, when she had gathered on her islands and among her hills the scattered beams of human intelligence, her numerous colonies carried the accumulated light to the neighborhood of the ocean and to the shores of the Euxine.
Her wisdom and her arms connected continents.
When civilization intrenched herself within the beautiful promontory of Italy
, and Rome
led the van of European
reform, the same movement continued with still vaster results; for, though the military republic
bounded the expansive spirit of independence
by giving dominion to property, and extended her own influence by the sword, yet, heaping up conquests, adding island to continent, crushing nationalities, offering a shrine to strange gods, and citizenship to every vanquished people, she extended over a larger empire the benefits of fixed principles of law, and a cosmopolitan polytheism prevailed as the religion of the world.
To have asserted clearly the unity of mankind was the distinctive glory of the Christian
No more were the nations to be severed by the worship of exclusive deities.
The world was instructed that all men are of one blood; that for all there is but one divine nature and but one moral law; and the renovating faith taught the singleness of the race, of which it embodied the aspirations and guided the advancement.
The tribes of Northern Europe
, emerging freshly from the wild nurseries of nations, opened new regions to culture, commerce, and refinement.
The beams of the majestic temple, which antiquity had reared to its many gods, were already falling in; the roving invaders, taking to their hearts the regenerating creed, became its intrepid messengers, and bore its symbols even to Iceland
Still nearer were the relations of the connected world, when an enthusiast reformer, glowing with selfish ambition, and angry at the hollow forms of Eastern superstition, caught life in the deserts of Arabia
, and founded a system, whose emissaries hurried lightly on the camel's back beyond pathless sands, and, never diverging far from the warmer zone, conducted armies from Mecca
to the Ganges
and the Ebro.
How did the two systems animate
all the continents of the Old World to combat for the sepulchre of Christ
, till Europe
, from Spain
, came into conflict and intercourse with the South and East, from Morocco to Hindostan!
In due time appeared the mariner from Genoa
God gave the keys that unlock the barriers of the ocean; so that he filled Christendom with his glory.2
The voice of the world had whispered to him that the world is one; and as he went forth towards the west, ploughing a wave which no European
keel had entered, it was his high purpose not merely to open new paths to islands or to continents, but to bring together the ends of the earth, and join all nations in commerce and spiritual life.
While the world of mankind is accomplishing its nearer connection, it is also advancing in the power of its intelligence.
The possession of reason is the engagement for that progress of which history keeps the record.
The faculties of each individual mind are limited in their development; the reason of the whole3
strives for perfection, has been restlessly forming itself from the first moment of human existence, and has never met bounds to its capacity for improvement.
The generations of men are not like the leaves on the trees, which fall and renew themselves without melioration or change; individuals disappear like the foliage and the flowers; the existence of our kind is continuous, and its ages are reciprocally dependent.
Were it not so, there would be no great
truths inspiring action, no laws regulating human
achievements; the movement of the living world would be as the ebb and flow of the ocean; and the mind would no more be touched by the visible agency of Providence
in human affairs.
In the lower creation, instinct is always equal to itself; the beaver builds his hut, the bee his cell, without an acquisition of thought, or an increase of skill.
‘By a particular prerogative,’ as Pascal has written, ‘not only each man advances daily in the sciences, but all men unitedly make a never-ceasing progress in them, as the universe grows older; so that the whole succession of human beings, during the course of so many ages, ought to be considered as one identical man, who subsists always, and who learns without end.’
It is this idea of continuity which gives vitality to history.
No period of time has a separate being; no public opinion can escape the influence of previous intelligence.
We are cheered by rays from former centuries, and live in the sunny reflection of all their light.
What though thought is invisible, and even when effective, seems as transient as the wind that raised the cloud?
It is yet free and indestructible; can as little be bound in chains as the aspiring flame; and, when once generated, takes eternity for its guardian.
We are the children and the heirs of the past, with which, as with the future, we are indissolubly linked together; and he that truly has sympathy with every thing belonging to man, will, with his toils for posterity, blend affection for the times that are gone by, and seek to live in the vast life of the ages.4
It is by thankfully recognising those ages as a part
of the great existence in which we share, that his-
tory wins power to move the soul.
She comes to us with tidings of that which for us still lives, of that which has become the life of our life.
She embalms and preserves for us the life-blood, not of masterspirits only, but of generations of the race.
And because the idea of improvement belongs to that of continuous being, history is, of all pursuits, the most cheering.
It throws a halo of delight and hope even over the sorrows of humanity, and finds promises of joy among the ruins of empires and the graves of nations.
It sees the footsteps of Providential Intelligence every where; and hears the gentle tones of his voice in the hour of tranquillity;
Nor God alone in the still calm we find;
He mounts the storm and walks upon the wind.
Institutions may crumble and governments fall, but it is only that they may renew a better youth, and mount upwards like the eagle.
The petals of the flower wither, that fruit may form.5
The desire of perfection, springing always from moral power, rules even the sword, and escapes unharmed from the field of carnage; giving to battles all that they can have of lustre, and to warriors their only glory; surviving martyrdoms, and safe amid the wreck of states.
On the banks of the stream of time, not a monument has been raised to a hero or a nation, but tells the tale and renews the hope of improvement.
Each people that has disappeared, every institution that has passed away, has been but a step in the ladder by which humanity ascends towards the perfecting of its nature.
And how has it always been advancing; to the just
judgments of the past, adding the discoveries of successive ages!
The generations that hand the torch of truth along the lines of time, themselves become dust and ashes; but the light still increases its ever-burning flame, and is fed more and more plenteously with consecrated oil.6
How is progress manifest in religion, from the gross symbols of the East
to the sublime philosophy of Greece
, from the Fetichism of the savage to the Polytheism of Rome
; from the multiplied forms of ancient superstition and the lovely representations of deities in stone, to the clear conception of the unity of divine power, and the idea of the presence of God in the soul!
How has mind, in its inquisitive freedom, taught man to employ the elements as mechanics do their tools, and already, in part, at least, made him the master and possessor of nature!7
How has knowledge not only been increased, but diffused!
How has morality been constantly tending to subdue the supremacy of brute force, to refine passion, to enrich literature with the varied forms of pure thought and delicate feeling!
How has social life been improved, and every variety of toil in the field and in the workshop been ennobled by the willing industry of freemen!
How has humanity been growing conscious of its unity and watchful of its own development, till public opinion, bursting the bonds of nationality, knows itself to be the spirit of the world, in its movement on the tide of thought from generation to generation!
From the intelligence that had been slowly ripen-
ing in the mind of cultivated humanity, sprung the American Revolution
, which was designed to organize social union through the establishment of personal freedom, and thus emancipate the nations from all authority not flowing from themselves.
In the old civilization of Europe
, power moved from a superior to inferiors and subjects; a priesthood transmitted a common faith, from which it would tolerate no dissent; the government esteemed itself, by compact or by divine right, invested with sovereignty, dispensing protection and demanding allegiance.
But a new principle, far mightier than the church and state of the Middle Ages
, was forcing itself into power.
Successions of increasing culture and heroes in the world of thought had conquered for mankind the idea of the freedom of the individual; the creative but long latent energy that resides in the collective reason was next to be revealed.
From this the state was to emerge, like the fabled spirit of beauty and love out of the foam of the ever-troubled ocean.
It was the office of America to substitute for hereditary privilege the natural equality of man; for the irresponsible authority of a sovereign, a dependent government emanating from the concord of opinion; and as she moved forward in her high career, the multitudes of every clime gazed towards her example with hopes of untold happiness, and all the nations of the earth sighed to be renewed.
The American Revolution, of which I write the history, essaying to unfold the principles which organized its events, and bound to keep faith with the ashes of its heroes, was most radical in its character, yet achieved with such benign tranquillity, that even conservatism hesitated to censure.
A civil war armed
men of the same ancestry against each other, yet for
the advancement of the principles of everlasting peace and universal brotherhood.
A new plebeian democracy took its place by the side of the proudest empires.
Religion was disenthralled from civil institutions.
Thought obtained for itself free utterance by speech and by the press.
Industry was commissioned to follow the bent of its own genius.
The system of commercial restrictions between states was reprobated and shattered; and the oceans were enfranchised for every peaceful keel.
International law was humanized and softened; and a new, milder and more just maritime code was concerted and enforced.
The trade in slaves was branded and restrained.
The home of the language of Bacon
, of Chatham
, became so diffused, that in every zone, and almost in every longitude, childhood lisps the English
as its mother tongue.
The equality of all men was declared; personal freedom secured in its complete individuality, and common consent recognised as the only just origin of fundamental laws, so that the people in thirteen separate states, with ample territory for creating more, each formed its own political institutions.
By the side of the principle of the freedom of the individual and the freedom of the separate states, the noblest work of human intellect was consummated in a federative union.
And that union put away every motive to its destruction, by insuring to each successive generation the right to better its constitution, according to the increasing intelligence of the living people.
Astonishing deeds, throughout the world, attended these changes.
Armies fought in the wilderness for rule over the solitudes which were to be the future dwelling-place of millions.
Navies hunted each other
through every sea, engaging in battle now near the
region of icebergs, now among the islands of the tropics.
Inventive art was summoned to make war more destructive, and to signalize sieges by new miracles of ability and daring.
was invaded and, in part, appropriated by rival nations of white men. Asia
was subjected to the influence and dominion of the higher culture of Europe
, and an adventurous company of British traders succeeded by conquest to the empire of the Great Mogul.
, the period abounded in new forms of virtue and greatness.
Fidelity to principle pervaded the masses.
An unorganized people of their own free will suspended commerce by universal assent.
Poverty rejected bribes.
Heroism, greater than that of chivalry, burst into action from lowly men. Citizens, with their families, fled from their homes and wealth in towns, rather than yield to oppression.
Battalions sprung up in a night from spontaneous patriotism.
Where eminent statesmen hesitated, the instinctive action of the multitude revealed the counsels of magnanimity.
Youth and genius gave up life freely for the liberties of mankind.
A nation without union, without magazines and arsenals, without a treasury, without credit, without government, fought successfully against the whole strength and wealth of Great Britain
An army of veteran soldiers capitulated to insurgent husbandmen.
The world could not watch with indifference the spectacle.
The oldest aristocracy of France
, the proudest nobles of Poland
, the bravest hearts of Germany
, sent their representatives to act as the peers of plebeians, to die gloriously, or to live beloved, as the champions of humanity and freedom.
northern nations protected the young republic by an
armed neutrality; while the catholic and feudal monarchies of France
, children of the Middle Age
, were wonderfully swayed to open the gates of futurity to the new empire of democracy; so that, in human affairs, God never showed more visibly his gracious providence and love.
Yet the thirteen colonies, in whom was involved the futurity of our race, were feeble settlements in the wilderness, scattered along the coast of a continent, little connected with each other, little heeded by their metropolis, almost unknown to the world.
They were bound together only as British America, that part of the Western
hemisphere which the English
mind had appropriated.
was the mother of its language, the home of its traditions, the source of its laws, and the land on which its affections centred.
And yet it was an offset from England
, rather than an integral part of it; an empire of itself, free from nobility and prelacy, not only Protestant, but by a vast majority dissenting from the Church of England; attracting the commoners and plebeian sects of the parent country, and rendered cosmopolitan by recruits from the nations of the European
By the benignity of the law, the natives of other lands were received as citizens; and political liberty, as a birthright, was the talisman, that harmoniously blended all differences and inspired a new public life, dearer than their native tongue, their memories and their kindred.
, Swede and German
, renounced their nationality, to claim the rights of Englishmen.
The extent of those rights, as held by the colonists, had never been precisely ascertained.
the forms of civil government of which they had ever
heard or read, no one appeared to them so well calculated to preserve liberty, and to secure all the most valuable advantages of civil society as the English
and of this happy constitution of the mother country, which it was usual to represent, and almost to adore, as designed to approach perfection,9
they held their own to be a copy, or rather an improvement, with additional privileges not enjoyed by the common people there.10
The elective franchise was more equally diffused; there were no decayed boroughs, or unrepresented towns; representation, which was universal, conformed more nearly to population; in colonies which contained more than half the inhabitants, the legislative assembly was chosen annually and by ballot, and the time for convening the legislature was fixed by a fundamental law; the civil list in every colony but one was voted annually, and annually subjected to scrutiny; appropriations of money often, for greater security against corruption and waste, included the nomination and appointment of the agents who were to direct the expenditures; municipal liberties were more independent and more extensive; in none of the colonies was there an ecclesiastical court, and in most of them there was no established church or religious test of capacity for office; the cultivator of the soil was for the most part a freeholder; in all the continent the people possessed arms, and the able-bodied men were enrolled and trained to their use; so that in America
there was more of personal independence and far more of popular power than in England
This colonial superiority, which had grown from
sufferance and from circumstances, was a subject of in cessant complaint on the part of the officers of the crown, upon whose struggles the metropolis might cease to look with indifference; the relations of the colonies to Great Britain
, whether to the king or to the parliament, were still more vague and undefined.
They were planted under grants from the crown, and, to the last, the king in council was their highest court of appeal; yet, while the court lawyers of the seventeenth century asserted for the king unlimited legislative authority in the plantations, the colonies set bounds to the royal prerogative, either through the charters which the crown was induced to grant, or by the traditionary principles of English liberty, or by the innate energy, which, aided by distance, fearlessly assumed self-direction.
The method adopted in England
for superintending American affairs, by means of a Board of Commissioners for Trade and Plantations, who had neither a voice in the deliberation of the cabinet nor access to the king, tended to involve the colonies in everincreasing confusion.
The Board framed instructions without power to enforce them, or to propose measures for their efficiency.
It took cognizance of all events, and might investigate, give information, or advise;11
but it had no authority to form an ultimate decision on any political question whatever.
In those days there were two secretaries of state charged with the management of the foreign relations of Great Britain
The executive power with regard to the colonies was reserved to the Secretary of State
, who had the
care of what was called the Southern Department,
which included the conduct of all relations with the Spanish
peninsula and France
The Board of Trade, framed originally to restore the commerce and encourage the fisheries of the metropolis, was compelled to hear complaints from the executive officers in America
, to issue instructions to them, and to receive and consider all acts of the colonial legislatures; but it had no final responsibility for the system of American policy that might be adopted.
Hence from their very feebleness the Lords
of Trade were ever ready to express their impatience at contradiction; easily grew vexed at disobedience to their orders; and were much inclined to suggest the harshest methods of coercion, knowing that their petulance would exhale itself in official papers, unless it should touch the pride or waken the resentment of the responsible minister, the crown and parliament.
The effect of their recommendations would depend on the character of the person who might happen to be the Secretary of State
for the South
, and on his influence with the parliament and the king.
A long course of indecision had hitherto multiplied the questions, on which the demands and the customary procedure of the colonies were utterly at variance with the maxims that prevailed at the Board of Trade.
In April, 1724, the seals for the Southern Department and the colonies had been intrusted to the Duke
His advancement by Sir Robert Walpole
, who shunned men of talents as latent rivals, was owing to his rank, wealth, influence over boroughs, and personal imbecility.
For nearly four-and-twenty years he remained minister for British America; yet
to the last, the statesman, who was deeply versed in
the statistics of elections, knew little of the continent of which he was the guardian.
He addressed letters, it used to be confidently said, to ‘the island of New England
and could not tell but that Jamaica
was in the Mediterranean.13
Heaps of colonial memorials and letters remained unread in his office; and a paper was almost sure of neglect, unless some agent remained with him to see it opened.14
His frivolous nature could never glow with affection, or grasp a great idea, or analyse complex relations.
After long research, I cannot find that he ever once attended seriously to an American question, or had a clear conception of one American measure.
The power of the House of Commons in Great Britain
, rested on its exclusive right to grant annually the supplies necessary for carrying on the government; thus securing the ever-recurring opportunity of demanding the redress of wrongs.
The strength of the people in America
consisted also in the exclusive right of its assemblies to levy and to appropriate colonial taxes.
, the king obtained a civil list for life; in America
, the rapacity of the governors made it expedient to preserve their dependence for their salaries on annual grants, of which the amount was regulated, from year to year, by a consideration of the merits of the officer, as well as the opulence of the province.
It was easy for the governors to obtain of their patrons in the ministry instructions to demand peremptorily a large, settled and permanent support; but the assemblies treated the instructions
as binding only on executive officers, and claimed an
uncontrolled freedom of deliberation and decision.
To remove the inconsistency, the king must pay his officers from an independent fund, or change his instructions.
He continued the instructions, which he privately consented should be broken.
Often arbitrary from thoughtlessness, he had no system, except to weaken opposition by bestowing office on its leaders.
He was himself free from avarice; but having the patronage of a continent, in colonies where consummate discretion and ability were required, he would gratify his connections in the aristocratic families of England
by intrusting the royal prerogative to men of broken fortunes, dissolute and ignorant, too vile to be employed near home; so that America
became the hospital of Great Britain
for its decayed members of parliament, and abandoned courtiers.15
Of such officers the conduct was sure to provoke jealous distrust, and to justify perpetual opposition, But Newcastle
was satisfied with distributing places; and acquiesced with indifference in the policy of the colonists, to keep the salaries of all officers of the crown dependent on the annual deliberations of the legislature.
Placed between the Lords
of Trade, who issued instructions, and the cabinet, which alone could propose measures to enforce them, he served as a non-conductor to the angry zeal of the former, whose places, under such a secretary, became more and more nearly sinecures; while America
, neglected in England
, and rightly resisting her rulers, went on her way rejoicing towards freedom and independence.
Disputes accumulated with every year; but Newcastle
temporized to the last, and in February, 1748,
on the resignation of the Earl
, he escaped from the embarrassments of American affairs by taking the seals for the Northern Department.
Those of the Southern
, which included the colonies, were intrusted to the Duke
The new secretary was ‘a man of inflexible honesty and good — will to his country,’ ‘untainted by duplicity or timidity.’
His abilities were not brilliant; but his inheritance of the rank and fortune of his elder brother gave him political consideration.
In 1744, he had entered the Pelham ministry as First Lord
of the Admiralty
, bringing with him to that board George Grenville
and the Earl
In that station his orders to Warren
contributed essentially to the conquest of Louisburg
Thus his attention was drawn to the New World as the scene of his own glory.
In the last war he had cherished ‘the darling project’ of conquering Canada
, and ‘the great and practicable views for America
’ were said by Pitt
to have ‘sprung from him alone.’
Proud of his knowledge of trade, and accustomed to speak readily on almost every subject, he entered without distrust on the administration of a continent.
Of the two dukes, who, at this epoch of the culminating power of the aristocracy, guided the external policy of England
, each hastened the independence of America
, who was childless, depended on office for all his pleasure;—Bedford, though sometimes fond of place, was too proud to covet it always.
had no passion but business, which he conducted in a fretful hurry, and never finished;—the graver Bedford
, though fond of ‘theatricals and jollity,’16
was yet capable of persevering in a system Newcastle
was of ‘so fickle a head, and so treacherous a heart,’ that Walpole
called his ‘name Perfidy;’17 Henry Fox
, the first Lord Holland, said, ‘he had no friends, and deserved none;’ and Lord Halifax used to revile him, in the strongest terms, as ‘a knave and a fool;’18
he was too unstable to be led by others, and, from his own instinct about majorities, shifted his sails as the wind shifted;—Bedford, who was bold and unbending, and would do nothing but what he himself thought ‘indisputably right,’ was ‘always governed,’ and was also ‘immeasurably obstinate in an opinion once received;’19
being ‘the most ungovernable governed man in England
and the most faithful to the vulgar and dissolute ‘bandits’ who formed his political connection.
Neither was cruel or revengeful; but while the one ‘had no rancor or ill-nature,’ and no enmities but freaks of petulance, the other carried decision into his attachments and his feuds.
, with no elevation of mind, no dignity of manner, lavished promises, familiar caresses, tears and kisses,21
and cringing professions of regard with prodigal hypocrisy;—Bedford, whose hardy nature knew no wiles, was too haughty to practise even concealment, and was blunt, unabashed, and, without being aware of it, rudely impetuous, even in the presence of his sovereign.
was jealous of rivals;— Bedford
was impatient of contradiction.
was timorous without caution, and rushed into difficulculties
which he evaded by indecision;—the fearless,
positive, uncompromising Bedford
, energetic without sagacity, and stubborn with but a narrow range of thought, scorned to shun deciding upon any question that might arise, grew choleric at resistance, could not or would not foresee obstacles, and was known throughout America
as ever ready at all hazards to vindicate authority.