Sidebilder
PDF

CHAPTER III.
COMMON LAW IN THE COLONIES.

§ 1. When territory is found uninhabited at the origin of new settlements therein, it is usual to adopt the laws of the nation from which the settlers have migrated, so far as they may be found ap plicable to the new condition of things.

Although this country was occupied by a wild, uncultivated, and savage population, without law or government in any civilized sense, the colonists chose to consider themselves as settling an uninhabited territory. As a large proportion of the new settlers of these Colonies were from England, they would naturally lean to the jurisprudence of that country.

§ 2. It must be remembered, also, that the Colonies were nearly all settled under the patronage and favor of Great Britain. Those that were not, soon came under the jurisdiction of the British Crown.

§ 3. These are the principal circumstances that led to the adoption of the English common law among the North-American Colonies, and which constitutes to a great extent, at the present time, the system of jurisprudence in this country.

CHAPTER IV.

COLONIAL GOVERNMENTS.

The Colonial Governments may properly be divided into three classes: —

1. Provincial,

2. Proprietary, and

3. Charter.

1. Provincial Governments.

§ 1. The Provincial Governments were wholly under the control of the sovereign of Great Britain. They emanated from his authority, and had no fixed constitution of government. The king issued his commissions to the royal governors from time to time, accompanied with specific instructions which were to be obeyed.

§ 2. The governors were, under these governments, regarded as the representatives or deputies of the king. The king also appointed a council, having limited legislative authority, who were to assist the governor in the discharge of his official duties. Both governor and council held their offices during the royal pleasure.

§ 3. The governor had authority to convene a general assembly of the representatives of the freeholders and planters of the Province. The governor, council, and representatives constituted the Provincial Assembly.

§ 4. Provincial Assembly, constituted of,

1st. The Representatives, —Lower House; 2d. The Council, — Upper House; 3d. The Governor, — having a veto on all the proceedings of the two houses, with power also to prorogue and dissolve them. These constituted the local law-making power, subject to the approval or disapproval of the Grown.

§ 5. The governor appointed the judges and magistrates.

Under this form of government were included the Colonies of New Hampshire, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia.

2. Proprietary Governments.

§ 6. The meaning of the word proprietary is owner, or proprietor. The proprietor, or proprietary, derived not only the title to the soil, but also the general powers of government, from the king. The powers of government extended over the whole territory so granted, which became a kind of dependent royalty.

§ 7. Under these governments, the governors were appointed by the proprietary or proprietaries. The legislature was convened and organized according to the will of the proprietary. He also had the appointment of officers of every grade.

§ 8. Lord Baltimore held Maryland, and William Penn held Pennsylvania and Delaware, under this form of government, and as proprietaries.

3. Charter Governments.

§ 9. These were, in many respects, not unlike our State Governments. They were created by letters patent, or grants of the Crown, which conferred the soil within the limits defined, and all the powers of government, on the grantees and their associates and successors. These charters were similar to some of our State Constitutions, distributing the powers of government into three departments, — legislative, executive, and judicial.

§ 10. They defined the powers of the different branches of the government, and secured to the inhabitants certain political privileges and rights. "The appointment and authority of the governor, the formation and structure of the legislature, and the establishment of courts of justice, were specially provided for; and generally the powers appropriate to each were defined."

Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut had charter governments.

CHAPTER V.
CAUSES OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION.

§ 1. The Colonies were not sovereignties in any political sense, not being endowed with power to enter into alliances or treaties with each other or with foreign nations. They were merely dependencies on the British Crown; but the citizens of each Colony enjoyed the full rights of British subjects in all the Colonies, and were at liberty to move from one Colony to another, and to become inhabitants and citizens thereof.

§ 2. The growth of the Colonies was slow and gradual, running along through a period of from one hundred to one hundred and fifty years. The prerogatives of the Crown and the rights of the people had not been clearly defined on the one side, nor accepted on the other. During the latter part of this period, therefore, the relative rights of sovereign and subject became a matter of serious and earnest contention.

§ 3. The Colonial Legislatures claimed entire and exclusive authority in all matters relating to their own domestic and internal affairs. They denied all power of taxation, except under laws passed by themselves; not admitting that even the British Parliament and Crown combined had any such power. They insisted that a free people coma not be taxed without their consent in person, or through their accredited representatives.

§ 4. On the other hand, the British Parliament, by express declaration, claimed that the Colonies and Plantations in America have been, are, and of right ought to be, subordinate unto, and dependent upon, the imperial Crown and Parliament of Great Britain; that the king, with the advice and consent of Parliament, "had, hath, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the Colonies and people of America in all cases whatsoever."

§ 5. The theory that Great Britain had the right to tax the Colonies, together with the attempt to carry that doctrine into practice on the part of the Crown and Parliament, and its denial on the part of the Colonies, united with the determination on their part to carry that denial to open, practical resistance, led to final separation from Great Britain.

§ 6. Hoping to prevent this result, Parliament passed an act intended to conciliate the Colonies, which declared that "Parliament would not impose any duty or tax on the Colonies, except for the regulation of commerce; and that the net produce of such duty or tax should be applied to the use of the Colony in which it was levied." But this did not satisfy the disaffected colonists. They claimed to be sole judges of what should be done, even for their own good.

§ 7. The spirit of liberty was thus aroused; and a sense of future danger inspired them to take the onward steps that finally led to the Declaration of Independence on the fourth day of July, 1776.

CHAPTER VI.

UNITY OF THE COLONIES.

§ 1. Although the Colonies were not at any time united in any sense as a nation, they sometimes found it of advantage to unite temporarily for the common defense against the Indian tribes, as well as the Dutch; and also in 1754, for the purpose of defending themselves in case of war with France, which at that time seemed imminent.

§ 2. These experiences had taught them that there was safety as well as strength in union. Therefore, when England gave evidence of a determination to oppress the Colonies, they did not hesitate to unite in vindication of their common interests.

§ 3. A Congress, at the call of Massachusetts, assembled in Philadelphia Sept. 5, 1774, consisting of delegates' from all the Colonies. This is known in history as the " First Continental Congress." It was the first in which all the Colonies were represented.

§ 4. This Congress published to the world a long and emphatic bill of rights, which may be regarded as the first decided step towards independence. It was clear to every reflecting mind, that, if that declaration of rights were accepted by the people, either England must take a speedy backward step, or the declaration of separation and independence was just at hand.

§ 5. The Second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia May 10, 1775. This Congress continued in session until the close of the Revolutionary War, and until a definite form of government was adopted. It passed the Declaration of Independence, in which, for the first time, the Colonies received the name of United States of America, — a title which has been continued ever since.

CHAPTER VII.

ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION.

§ 1. On the eleventh day of June, 1776, it became evident that the Declaration of Independence was only a question of a few days'

« ForrigeFortsett »