« PředchozíPokračovat »
that there should be annually elected by the freemen, a governor and six assistants, and as many other officers as might be found requisite. The towns were to send deputies to the general court, apportioned according to the number of freemen; in which general court was vested the supreme power—legislative, executive, and judicial. Rhode Island, settled by refugees from the religious tyranny of the Independents of Massachusetts, in 1636–8, established a form of government for themselves, which was subsequently confirmed in the main by the Charter of Charles II.; a charter which, with the characteristic indifference of the day, sanctioned the democratic principle of the election of the governor and all the other official persons. The executive power was vested in the governor, deputygovernor, and ten assistants; the legislative in the general assembly.
Although the New Plymouth colonists soon sought the aid of the authority of the Crown in support of their legislation, and “under the colour of delegated sovereignty” (a Charter from the Plymouth Company in England, which was never recognised by the Crown), exercised all the powers of government until they were finally incorporated with the province of Massachusetts under the Charter of William and Mary, in 1691 ; and although Connecticut, “aware of the doubtful nature of its title," obtained in 1662 a Charter of government from Charles II., and Rhode Island, in the same manner sought the support of the Crown, as above adverted to; the example of their bold and independent course, in founding for themselves a form of government resting on the broadest principles of civil freedom, strengthened the spirit of liberty, which had already a legitimate field of action in all the other States. Rhode Island also “enjoys the honour of having been, if not the first, at least one of the earliest of the colonies, and indeed of modern States, in which liberty of conscience, and freedom of worship, were boldly proclaimed among its fundamental laws.” The charter, on the petition of the inhabitants, for “full liberty in religious concernments,” declares the royal will and pleasure, “that no person within the colony shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion.”
It is remarkable, that in Rhode Island, notwithstanding the democratic principles on which its constitution was founded, the counterbalance of the law of entail was maintained with the greatest tenacity. Mr. Justice Story thus describes the general course of legislation on that subject :
“In respect to the descent of real estates, the canons of the common law were adopted, and the eldest son took the whole inheritance by primogeniture. This system was for a short period repealed by an Act (4 & 5. Geo. I., 1718), which divided the estate among all the children, giving the eldest son a double share. But the common law was soon afterwards (in 1728) reinstated by the public approbation, “as necessary to prevent the destruction of family estates,"* and so remained to regulate descents until a short period (1770) before the Revolution.”+
Connecticut also directed, that in cases of intestacy in respect to real estate, a double
* $ 101. + $ 100.
portion should go to the eldest son ;* and the original New Plymouth colonists had no other “ general basis of their jurisprudence than the common law of England ;” which, though varied to meet “ their stern notions of the absolute and universal obligation of the Mosaic institutions,” † was revived in full force when they submitted to come under the same law as Massachusetts.
Reviewing, therefore, the principles of government on which the States of the Union had been founded, and were acting at the time of the Revolution, and considering how decidedly the custom of entail was supported by the legislation and by the prevailing sentiments of some of the largest and most important of them, was recognised in nearly all the rest, and was prevented by law in only one (Maryland), it can be no matter of surprise that one of the leading statesmen of the time, Mr. Jay, should, in a letter to Washington, of January 7, 1787, while their future Constitution was yet undecided upon, advert to these facts, and urge * $ 93.
+ $ 55.
them in argument, stating that the proposed government for the Union should be suited to their manners and circumstances, “which are not strictly democratical ;'* or that Mr. John Adams, in the same year, should follow a similar line of argument, founded on the fact of the number of persons of large and hereditary possessions then existing throughout all the thirteen States. It places also in the strongest light the amount of the provocation, the glaring character of the injustice, the blind perseverance in error on the part of this country in opposition to its best and most eloquent statesmen, which must have been required to alienate sympathies which had for so many generations been so much in harmony with our own, and to provoke to resistance minds and hearts that knew nothing to love and venerate so much as the institutions and the glory of the country from which they sprung. All this must have been
* Correspondence of the American Revolution, by Professor Jared Sparks. Boston, 1853. Vol. iv. p. 136.
+ Adams's Defence of the American Constitution, vol. ii. Letter 4,