Page images
PDF
EPUB

of faith. This element of character, of actual freedom in any thing, is the life-spring of liberty. As the acorn has within its narrow compass the elemental growth of ages, so this principle of freedom in the mind, at first applied to one subject, will in coming time be applied to all. As knowledge is ad vanced, its sphere of action will be enlarged, until freedom gladdens every people, and erects its monuments in every clime.

It is a proposition but few will deny, that the features and external aspects of a country have an influence in the formation of the character of its people. We would not lead the reader, by this remark, to adopt the common error of blending cause and effect together by attributing an absolute agency to external things, without regard to the character of the mind standing in relation to them ; but rather to speak of that mutual relation existing between mind and matter which is to be appreciated only as it is found to be marked by the energies of the soul.* This continent was long in the posses

* Locke, in speaking of the fitness of man for knowledge and improvement, makes use of the following remarkable passage :

Of what consequence the discovery of one natural body, and its properties, may be to human life, the whole great continent of America is a convincing instance'; whose ignorance in useful arts, and want of the greatest part of the conveniences of life, in a country that abounded with all sorts of natural plenty, I think may be attributed to their ignorance of what was to be found in a very ordinary despicable stone, - I mean the mineral of iron. And whatever we think of our parts or improvements in this part of the world, where knowledge and plenty seem to vie with each other, yet, to any one who will seriously reflect on it, I suppose it will appear past doubt, that were the use of iron lost among us, we should in a few ages be unavoidably reduced to the wants and ignorance of the ancient savage Americans, whose natural endowments come no way short of those of the most flourishing and polite nations.”

We do not quote this passage with a view to refute it, but to show the opinion of a grave philosopher, who, having written one of the ablest works extant on the nature of the mind, and having asserted its immateriality and immortality, should so far forget himself as to sion of the barbarian ; and yet his feeble powers of apprehension were not equal to comprehending the beauty and magnificence of its scenery, much less to manifest traits of character as the result of any contemplation of its features.

In considering the rights and duties of nations, it becomes the spirit of inquiry, that while a just and uncompromising regard should be observed in reference to humanity on the one hand, we should, on the other, elevate our views in the endeavor to comprehend the relations existing between man and external objects, - in reverence to Him who looks upon all things as parts of a great whole, and destined to infinite progression as an integrant of the system of the universe itself. We often speak of

CIVILIZATION, of what it is, of its laws, of its progress, of its blessings, of its refinements. Are we sure that we have just conceptions of the subject of what we mean? of the duties which it involves ? of the truths encompassed by our language, and of the responsibility of our professions in connection with the subject ?

We fear not. We will not arrogate to ourselves an

make its best energies and refinement dependent on the presence and use of iron ore! Since this ore was made known to the savage, seven generations have passed away; and what the condition of the savage now is need not be stated. Locke had studied the results of the mental capacities, rather than the capacities themselves, in relation to external objects. The natural instrument of the mind was overlooked, and he sought the means of its manifestation in the rifle, chisel, and spade, forgetting that the mind invented and manufactured them, and therefore must have preceded them all.

Mr. Thompson, in his interesting work on Mexico, loses sight of this distinction. He says, “They have no fireplaces in Mexico, and I think this circumstance has a great influence on their character.” The fireplace is one of the necessities of climate, and its connection with character is one of the results of social condition, but not the cause of it. It mny be that this able writer simply intended to lament the want of the necessity, and even this must be regarded as an incidental influence.

ability to answer these questions above that, which, in all humility, we are willing to believe is possessed by our fellowmen ; but we may be permitted to express an earnest hope that the reader will pursue with us the inquiry with an honest heart and careful mind.

Civilization, in that enlarged sense in which it is used when applied to nations, is a comprehensive term, which embraces those relations, and which cannot be enumerated, that exist between man and all external things. Man is a sentient being, placed in the midst of objects to be studied and to be known. He stands in relation to them all as ruler, and they to him as subjects. He stands in relation even to himself, and the oracle of Delphi, “ Know thyself,was indeed the first step in knowledge worthy to be pointed out as of divine origin. The degrees of civilization correspond with those of knowledge, comprehending its applications and uses. Its highest state would imply a knowledge of our physical system, of its parts, of its functions, of the conditions of health, the causes of disease, the principles of true temperance, and the penalties of violation and abuse. It implies a knowledge of mind, of the nature of its faculties, sentiments, and propensities. It embraces all that can be comprehended by the intellect, and all that can be realized by the soul. It extends from the circle of the individual to that of the nation, and of the world, comprising all duties due to ourselves, to our country, to the world, and to God. The sphere of man is infinite, embracing all that is small, and all that is great ; all that is good, and all that is beautiful ; --- his destiny is infinite progression.

The natural world is filled with causes which man is fitted to develop and to know. The secret springs of vegetation ; the healthful condition of vegetable life ; the uses of things that grow, and of inanimate substànces; the objects of beauty, and enjoyments of sense ; the numberless purposes of animal life ; the laws of matter, and the elements of mechanical power ; in fine, whatever exists upon, within, around, above, and beyond the globe, and the globe itself, - are subjects enjoined upon man for him to master, to control without abuse, and to advance in the great scale of perfection.

With these views, can we adopt the belief that the red man was the true inheritor of this continent ? that such a magnificent country, with its vast capabilities, should be destined to the mere objects of animal life ? that it was to be the destiny of the savage to grovel with the beasts; to study destruction instead of life and growth; to roam over the land without a knowledge of its beauties, or of its latent treasures ? Was this earth clothed in matchless beauty, and endowed with rich treasures adapted to humanity, forever to revolve in its orbit without development ? Was it created without design, without destiny? To argue such questions would be subjecting reason to the trial of reason, judgment to the rule of doubt, and it would imply a total want of that awe and reverence which should ever characterize the spirit of our inquiries when we study the works of Infinite Wisdom.

This course of thought leads us next to notice the fact

that our

RESPONSIBILITY INVOLVES A KNOWLEDGE OF THE CONDITIONS

OF GROWTH.

Just conceptions of individual or national responsibility involve a knowledge of the conditions of moral and physical growth. Having glanced at the motives and circumstances which led to the discovery and settlement of this continent, it remains for us briefly to consider the origin, changes, and present character of the government, and of those sources of power with which we have been so abundantly blessed. The motives which actuated the first emigrants were those of enterprise, personal ambition, religious zeal, and the true spirit of freedom, really embracing those primary elements necessary to the formation of a new and energetic national character.

Even a rapid view of these elements will enable us to judge how favorable they were to results of strength and prosperity. The gradual development of interests ; of new wants ; of new sources of comfort, profit, and power; of difficulties and dangers, were incidental causes favorable to habits of industry, virtue, and independence.

Let us review, for a moment, the early formation of the

AMERICAN COLONIES AND THEIR DIFFERENT FORMS OF GOV

ERNMENT.

Although the colonies were subjected to the sovereignty of Great Britain, yet most of the early influences, privileges, restraints, and institutions established around them, were of their own choice and making. While they were willing to avail themselves of whatever advantages the mother country could extend to them, they did not hesitate to reject what their judgment could not approve when proposed for their adoption; and their distance from all civilized nations was a circumstance favoring exemption from home rule, and stimulating that free exercise of all the faculties of the mind in the discussion of their rights which soon began to give them new traits of character, and which have been continued to their descendants.

Diversity of privileges, of interests, and of experience, were secured to them in the different forms in which Great Britain extended her laws and protection to the different colonies. The form of each became the study of all the others, and the results of each were separate, exhibiting the true causes of success or of failure.

The governments originally formed in the different colonies were of three kinds, viz. : the provincial, the proprietary, and the charter. *

1. The provincial governments had no fixed constitution,

* In noticing the different forms of the colonial governments, and the organization of the general government, we have made free use of the able work of Judge Story on the Constitution of the United States. As we have slightly modified his phraseology in some passages, to adapt the matter to our purpose, we have not given the usual marks of quotation. These brief passages, however, alluded to, are merely historical.

« PreviousContinue »