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the American continent was first actually discovered by John and Sebastian Cabot, sailing under the English flag, in the year 1496. The first permanent settlement made within the original limits of the United States, was at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. This settlement was made, and a colonial government established under a charter from the English crown.
The colony of Plymouth, the second in order of time, was founded in 1620. Unlike that at Jamestown, the founders of New England had no charter or authority from any established government of the old world. They had long been exiles and outcasts from their native England.
Mr. JOHN QUINCY ADAMS, in a discourse delivered before the Massachusetts Historical Society, in 1843, says: "The Plymouth colony is remarkable for having furnished the first example in modern times, of a social compact or system of government, instituted by voluntary agreement, conformably to the laws of nature, by men of equal rights and about to establish their permanent habitation as a community, in a new country. Upon landing at Plymouth, they had no charter from their king and no right [grant] to the soil upon which they landed.” Before they left the deck of the Mayflower, they drew up and signed articles of compact, as the basis of their future government.
6 This social compact was the necessary result of their situation, as men in a state of nature, subject to no human law but that which they consented to impose upon themselves," and it contains the leading principles of those great doctrines which were subsequently announced to the world in the Declaration of Independence.
Within twenty years from the landing of the Pilgrim fathers, colonies were planted and separate jurisdictions established in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, and other places. The colonies in Connecticut and Rhode Island, like that at Plymouth, established their own governments, without recourse to royal charters.
As early as 1636, the idea of a confederacy began to be agitated amongst the New England colonies ; and in the following year, a conference was held in Boston, between the magistrates and ministers of the colonies of Plymouth and Massachusetts, with the view of forming an alliance offensive and defensive. Mr. Adams, in the discourse before alluded to says, that “the idea of a confederacy seems to have originated with the colony of Plymouth, which submitted the proposition to Massachusetts on the 12th of May, 1637."
Other authorities state that the original movement towards a confederation proceeded from the colonies of Connecticut and New Haven. * But the Connecticut proposition is dated August 21, 1637, more than three months later than that of Plymouth. These movements resulted in the assembling of a convention in Boston for the purpose of agreeing to articles of union, “but the apprehensions of Connecticut dictated such extreme reserve in relation to grants of power to the proposed confederacy, that Massachusetts did not deem it desirable to prosecute the scheme.”
The proposition was renewed by Connecticut in 1639, in consequence of the dangers which threatened that colony from the encroachments of their Dutch neighbors, inhabiting the country along the banks of the Hudson river. It was, however, again unsuccessful, the government of Massachusetts “ not being satisfied with having an equal vote in the confederacy with the smaller colonies," and the latter firmly adhering to the doctrine of equal colonial dignity.
The breaking out of the civil war in England, and the circumstances which surrounded the colonies at home, seeming to throw them upon their own resources for providing for their common defence against the encroachments of the French and their Indian allies upon the north, and the Dutch upon the west, as well as against the hostile Indian tribes, the General Court of Massachusetts, in 1642, appointed a committee to take into consideration the expediency and practicability of forming a union of the colonies. This committee was instructed to report at the succeeding session of the General Court. As the result of this movement, commissioners from the several colonies assembled in Boston on the 10th of May, 1643. The first difficulty which presented itself in the deliberations of the convention was the question involving the power of the several colonies in the general assembly. Massachusetts was nearly as large and populous, and probably more wealthy, than all the others combined, and insisted upon a relative suffrage in the confederacy. The Plymouth delegates, on the other hand, were under special instructions not to yield the principle of colonial equality in the general body. That colony also required that the articles agreed on, should not be obligatory upon her, until they had been approved by a popular vote.
* Palfrey's History of New England, Vol I. p. 626.
After a session of nine days, the commissioners agreed upon twelve articles, to constitute the organic law of the new general government.
These articles were, in substance, as follows: namely,*
First. “The colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven, do agree and conclude that they will hereafter be called and known as the UNITED COLONIES OF NEW ENGLAND."
Second. “ The said United Colonies, for themselves and their posterities, do jointly and severally hereby enter into a firm and perpetual league of friendship and amity, for offence and defence, mutual advice and succor upon all just occasions, for their mutual safety and general welfare."
Thırd. “ Each colony retains its distinct and separate jurisdiction and control over its domestic and local affairs, institutions and laws. No two colonies are to be joined in one jurisdiction, nor any other colony admitted into the confederacy, without the consent of the whole."
Fourth. “ The charge of all wars, offensive and defensive, and other general expenses, shall be borne in proportion to the number of male inhabitants between sixteen and sixty years of age, in each colony."
Fifth. “Upon due notice from any colony, of an invasion, the other colonies shall immediately furnish and send forward their respective quotas of troops,” &c.
* Hazard's Historical Collections, Vol. I. p. 1.
Sixth. The general assembly of the united colonies was to consist of two commissioners from each colony, and to meet annually on the first Monday of September. This body had power to hear, examine, weigh, and determine all affairs of war or peace, and other matters pertaining to the general welfare - 66 but not to intermeddle with the local affairs of the colonies.” The concurrence of two thirds of the body was sufficient authority to carry into effect any proposed measure, but if less than two thirds concurred, a majority could submit the measure to the consideration of the respective governments for decision.
Seventh. Provides for the annual election of the President.
Eighth. The assembled commissioners are authorized to frame and establish general regulations of a civil nature for preserving the general peace and preventing occasions for war; to regulate intercourse with Indian tribes.
Ninth. “It is also agreed, that if any servant shall run away from his master, into any other of these confederated jurisdictions, that in such case, upon the certificate of one magistrate in the jurisdiction out of which the said servant fled, or upon other due proof, the said servant shall be delivered either to his master or to any other that pursues and brings such certificate or proof.”
Tenth. Provides against hasty or inconsiderate wars being entered into or fomented by any of the colonies.
Eleventh. Makes provision for extraordinary meetings of the general assembly.
Twelfth. It is agreed that this confederacy shall be perpetual, and if any of the confederates shall violate or fail to comply with the articles of the confederacy, the breach and consequent injury shall be duly considered and adjudged by the commissioners of the other colonies, “ so that the peace and the confederation shall be entirely preserved without violation."
An examination of this confederation and of the principles involved in its inception and development, will show that it involves the exercise of sovereign power in its highest attributes. By it, provision is made for a government to which is committed the control of the foreign relations of the confederacy, and authority over other matters of great and general concern, while local powers and objects of government are carefully reserved to the local jurisdictions.
The New England confederacy of 1643, was the model and prototype of the North American confederacy of 1756, and of the continental Congress of 1774.
The almost incessant wars which grew out of the constant struggles of England and France for ascendency on this continent, and in which the colonies warmly sympathized, finally led to the meeting of a general Congress of the colonies at New York in 1690.
On the 8th February, 1696, WILLIAM PENN submitted to the board of trade in London, a plan for a union of the American colonies. He proposed that “the several colonies do meet once a year, and oftener, if need be, during war, and once in two years in peace, by stated deputies, to debate and resolve of such measures as are most advisable for their better understanding and the public tranquillity and safety."
When the information of the passage of the stamp act, by the British Parliament, reached the colonies, indicating the fixed purpose of that government to tax America, without her consent, a general determination to resist its execution, was manifested. The General Court of Massachusetts, which, Mr. Bancroft says, “is certainly the parent of the American Union," immediately extended an invitation to the other colonies to meet in general Congress. In pursuance of this invitation, the colonies met in New York in October, 1765. Delegates were present from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and South Carolina.
This Congress adopted a declaration of rights, asserting that the sole power of taxation resided in the people of the colonies, and adopted other energetic measures.
In 1751, Archibald Kennedy proposed that provision should be made, by act of Parliament, for an annual meeting of commissioners from all the colonies, to be held at New York, for the pur