« ForrigeFortsett »
THE ANGLO-SAXON SYSTEM OF LOCAL SOVEREIGNTIES.
OBJECT OF THE PRESENT WORK-FREEDOM AMONG THE ANGLO-SAXONSEORLS AND
CEORLS-ORIGIN OF THE DISTINCTION-LOCAL CHARACTER OF THE SAXON
SYSTEM THE TYTHING AND FRANK-PLEDGE
AND FRANK-PLEDGE-THE HUNDRED THE BURGH
THE SHIRE-ILLUSTRATION OF COUNTY COURT PROCEEDINGS-ORIGIN OF LEGAL
GEMOTE CONSTITUTION OF THE SAXON EMPIRE-DECADENCE OF THE SAXON
The liberties of England and of these United States--as they exist to-day, were not created by the generosity of princes, nor devised by legislative wisdom. They were the unquestioned birthright of our Anglo-Saxon forefathers a thousand years ago, and only wrested after centuries of contest from the royal power which had unlawfully suppressed them. Freedom is the natural condition of mankind: but when, in the formation of political organizations, the freedom of the people is surrendered to the ruling power, it cannot be regained but by a long, persistent, and determined struggle, waged through revolution after revolution, till at length the people wins back only that which it ought never to have lost. In such a sequence of events, nothing can be certainly predicted but the bloody penalty of infidelity to freedom. It is never certain that the ancient liberty will be recovered. Of the modern nations sprung from the German tribes which took possession of the Roman territories at the great upbreaking of the Empire, and established in their new homes the free customs and immunities which were their immemorial inheritance, not one, save England, has been able to this day to cast off utterly the yoke of bondage set upon their necks by mediæval feudalism; and even England had to struggle for six &enturies before she was secure in the enjoyment of the rights which no man dared to question in the days of Saxon Edward the Confessor.
We believe the time has come when these United States must choose deliberately and finally between the principles of Saxon freedom and of feudal servitude. If they shall choose the former, unborn generations will rise up to call them blessed : if the latter, no one can foretell the heritage of blood and strife they will bequeath to their posterity.
Our purpose is to show the animating spirit of the Saxon system; the antagonistic principle of feudalism which superseded it; the dire necessities which forced the Norman barons to repudiate their feudal obligations and fall back on ancient statutes of the Saxon kingdom, battling with the Saxon commons for their ancient Saxon rights; and the successive steps by which the longlost liberties of England were won back from the strong grasp of kingly usurpation.
As the subject of the present chapter is the Anglo-Saxon system, it is important to observe that every Saxon man was free; and free not merely in the sense of being his own master, but because he was “a living unit in the state.” He held lands in his own right. He was entitled to attend the courts, and join in their deliberations. He could bear arms, and had the legal power to use them in maintaining his just rights, even to the extent of making violent reprisals for the injuries inflicted on him by his enemies. Indeed, so far was this right of the freeman carried, that the Saxon, like the ancient Hebrew, was permitted voluntarily to abdicate his freedom and become the vassal of another under whose control he chose to place himself.
It is true the freedom of the Saxons did not necessarily include the notion of equality. Far otherwise. They were divided into two great classes, eorls and ceorls, or gentlemen and commons; a distinction which the learned Lingard says was merely personal, conveying neither property nor power.
The eorls were said to be ethel-born, that is, of noble birth ; which, probably, among a people who acknowledged no merit superior, or even equal, to that of martial prowess, was applied only to those whose fathers had never exercised the occupations of husbandry or the mechanic arts. " Yet the corl possessed important advantages. In fact, he was also designated as twelf-baend-man, while to the ceorl was given the appellation of twi-haend-man, which would place their comparative worth in the estimation of the Saxon law in the ratio of twelve to two, or six to one; " and in certain judicial and other proceedings an actual advantage attached to the eorls in this ratio. The ceorl, however, was by no means a degraded person.
He might raise himself by industry or enterprise to be an eorl. A merchant who went thrice across the sea in his own craft became an eorl. Or, if a ceorl acquired five hides of land--about six hundred acres--having thereupon a church and mansion for his family, he too, became an eorl. Thus the distinction appears to have been chiefly honorary, though in certain matters evident advantages attached to the superior rank.
The sense of personal freedom and responsibility was strangely mingled in the Saxon mind with reverence for rank, which to the Saxon represented martial glory. Moreover, the notion of the family relation was extended to the tribe, of which the chief, whose office was elective, was the head and representative. Taci. tus informs us that in his time the German chieftains were surrounded by bands of adherents or companions, who voluntarily attached themselves to their respective leaders. They were the chieftain's ornament and pride in peace; in war, the chief source of
The only tie which bound them to his person was that of honor and affection. He considered it his duty to reward their services; but his rewards were not regarded in the light of pay. The notion of obligatory or purchased service was repudiated by the chief no less than by his free companions. In such estimation was this institution held, that every freeman was, for a long time, required to be connected with some chieftain, who was called his hlaford, i. e. lord, although his choice was wholly unrestrained as to the particular chieftain under whom he placed himself. The freeman did not become a vassal, and still less a slave, to his superior. Their connection was a simple social contract, freely entered into both by lord and man, and might be terminated at the choice of either. While it lasted, they were bound to mutual de
fence against all wrongs and enemies whatever. The lord was the man's legal surety and the champion of his man's right, and to fail in this regard was held to be dishonor. On the other hand, the man was present and took part in the lord's courts and councils, and attended him in war. Desertion of the standard of his lord in open fight was treason; but he was at liberty at any other time to leave his lord and choose another.
Evidently this relationship of lord and freeman must have exercised a potent influence in the development of Anglo-Saxon institutions. The settlements of the Germanic tribes in Britain were effected at successive times, in different localities, and under different leaders, who established on the soil of Britain many tribes which, though of kindred blood and speech, were not identical. Eight independent kingdoms therefore soon appeared, in all of which the public polity was of the same free type, although their mutual independence necessarily prevented uniformity. Of the various steps whereby these different kingdoms were at length united under one crown, it is not our purpose now to speak at length. Suffice it, for the present, to observe that the union of the crowns did not at all imply a union of the kingdoms. These, as we shall see, remained distinct, and unless when voluntary coalitions were effected, they retained their own laws, with their independent witepa-gemotes or parliaments.
In sketching such a simple system as the Anglo-Saxon, the most ready way of giving a complete view is to begin with the Individual. This we have already done, and shown sufficiently that every Saxon man was in the best and highest sense a freeman. Slaves, among the Anglo-Saxons, were their subjugated enemies. We are now to show the various institutions and divisions of the people which made
up the sum of the Anglo-Saxon government; and we shall find throughout the whole, that its one animating principle was that of Local SOVEREIGNTY. Consolidated power was totally unknown among them. From the least matters to the greatest, every right of jurisdiction vested in the local power alone, to the exclusion of all others whatsoever. In a word, the local powers were sovereign and independent in all local matters.
The first and elemental division of the Anglo-Saxon people was