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but derived all their authority from commissions, issued from time to time, by the crown. They were subject to the pleasure of the king. A governor and council were appointed, and these were invested with general executive powers, and were authorized to convene a general assembly of the representatives of the freeholders and planters of the province. The assembly was the lower, and the council was the upper house. The governor was invested with a veto power upon all their proceedings, and had the power to prorogue and dissolve them. The legislature had power to make all local laws and ordinances not repugnant to the laws of England. Under this form of government, New Hampshire, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, were governed, as provinces, at the commencement of the American revolution ; and some of them had been so governed from an early period of their settlement.
2. The proprietary governments were grants by letters patent from the crown to one or more persons, as proprietary or proprietaries, conveying to them not only the rights of the soil, but also the general powers of government within the territory so granted, in the nature of feudatory principalities, or dependent royalties ; possessing within their own domains nearly the same authority which the crown possessed in the provincial governments, subject, however, to the control of the king. The governor was appointed by the proprietary, or proprietaries, and the legislature was organized and convened according to his or their pleasure. The executive functions and prerogatives were exercised by him or them, either personally or by the governor for the time being. At the time of the revolution, only three governments existed in this form, namely, Maryland, held by Lord Baltimore, as proprietary, and Pennsylvania and Delaware, held by William Penn, as proprietary.
3. Charter governments were political corporations, created by letters patent, which conferred on the grantees and their associates the soil within their territorial limits, and all the high powers of legislative government. The charters contained a fundamental constitution for the colony, distributing the powers of government into three great departments, legislative, executive, and judicial ; providing for the mode in which these powers should be vested and exercised. The charter governments existing at the time of the revolution, were Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.
It is a remark of the late Judge Story, that," notwithstanding these differences in their original and actual political organization, the colonies, at the time of the American revolution, in most respects, enjoyed the same general rights and privileges.” Although we may not dissent from this general remark, still it must be admitted that these differences are sufficiently marked to be noticed as distinct and separate causes; and though their effects
have been somewhat blended in a common experience, we cannot but regard them as sources of different results, and, as such, leading in some degree to diversity of character.
The provincial government was the absolute sovereignty of the crown, transferred, at pleasure, from an island to the continent, without any guaranty as to favor or permanency.
The proprietary government gave an interest in the soil, but that interest was secured to individuals, and the relations between the people and the proprietaries were those of dependence.
The charter government was a division of powers between two great parties, according to fixed conditions, each party having certain defined and reserved rights, the subordinate government being independent only under a constitution.
It will be perceived that in these forms of government there are three distinct degrees of liberty; and yet the scale is graduated to a common head, the British crown, and to which all acknowledged their allegiance.
“ In all of these,” says Judge Story, “ express provision was made, that all subjects and their children, inhabiting in the colonies, should be deemed natural born subjects, and should enjoy all the privileges and immunities thereof. In all of them, the common law of England, as far as it was applicable to their situation, was made the basis of their jurisprudence.” Not that the entire system was introduced into any one colony, but only such portions of it as each found adapted to its own wants, and were applicable to its own situation. Of this, each colony judged for itself.
It is further remarked by the same author, that " although the colonies had a common origin, and common right, and owed a common allegiance, and the inhabitants of all of them were British subjects, they had no direct political connection with each other. Each colony was independent of the others, and there was no confederacy or alliance between them. They were excluded from all political connection with foreign nations, and they followed the fate and fortunes of the parent country in peace and war. . Still the colonists were not wholly alien to each other. On the contrary, they were fellow-subjects, and, for many purposes, one people. Every colonist had a right to inhabit, if he pleased, in any other colony, to trade therewith, and to inherit and hold lands there."
We now come to the first step towards the
ORGANIZATION OF A NATIONAL GOVERNMENT. When the British Parliament asserted the right to legislate over the colonies in all cases whatsoever, and made a systematic effort to execute this right by acts of internal legislation and taxation, it was boldly resisted by them, and a controversy was commenced which terminated in their independ
This new power was manifested in the Continental Congress of 1774, which adopted unanimously a declaration of the rights of the colonies.* These were disregarded by the British government, and the American revolution was the result. In the exigencies of the times, union of the colonies became a paramount measure, — indeed, it was an absolute necessity as a means of common defence. It was recommended to each colony to reorganize its government as that of a sovereign state, and to enact such new laws as the times seemed to require.
* See Appendix A.
This voluntary association of the states for purposes of mere protection was not designed to be permanent, and, although every measure was adopted which nations usually adopt in seasons of apprehended danger from a foreign enemy, still the removal of the occasion left each state to recede from or to continue in the alliance. Besides, it could but be seen how great would be the dangers of the separation of the confederated states into independent communities, acknowledging no common head, and acting upon no common system. Rivalries, jealousies, real or imaginary wrongs, diversities of local interests and institutions, would soon sever the ties of a common attachment, which bound them together, and bring on a state of hostile operations dangerous to their peace and subversive of their permanent interests.*
One of their first objects, therefore, beyond that of their immediate safety, which engaged the attention of the Continental Congress, was to provide the means of a permanent union of all the colonies under a general government.
Certain Articles of Confederation were agreed upon in November, 1777, but were not accepted by all the states until March, 1781. As the government was not to go into effect until the consent of all the states should be obtained, this delay of more than three
* “ If these states should either be wholly disunited,” says Alexander Hamilton, “or only united in partial confederacies, a man must be far gone in Utopian speculations, who can seriously doubt that the subdivisions into which they might be thrown would have frequent and violent contests with each other. To presume a want of motives for such contests, as an argument against their existence, would be to forget that men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious. To look for a continuation of harmony between a number of independent, unconnected sovereignties, situated in the same neighborhood, would be to disregard the uniform course of human events, and to set at defiance the accumulated experience of ages."
years gave good opportunity for deliberation and discussion. It was soon found, however, that the Articles adopted were defective, not being sufficiently comprehensive and efficient for the government of a nation. The states were exceedingly jealous of their own rights, and, having realized a bitter experience in their former relations with the parent country, they doubtless entertained fears, and raised doubts not justified by enlightened views.
It soon became evident, from a gradual development of the subject by discussion, and from actual experience, that a new constitution was highly important, and, after several partial meetings in convention of a portion of the states, a general convention of commissioners was called from all the states, and met in Philadelphia in May, 1787. After very protracted deliberations, and great diversities of opinion, they finally, on the 17th of September, 1787, framed the present Constitution of the United States, and recommended it to be laid by the Congress before the several states, to be by them considered and ratified in conventions of the representatives of the people, to be called for that purpose. Conventions were accordingly called in all the states, except Rhode Island, and after many warm discussions, the Constitution was ratified by all of them, except North Carolina and Rhode Island. It was subsequently adopted by North Carolina in November, 1789, and by Rhode Island in May, 1790. Vermont was admitted February 18, 1791.
As the Preamble of the Constitution adopted imbodies the motives of those who framed and accepted it, we copy it as a lesson of instruction.
“We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America."
In making this brief and hasty recital of the events con