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THE THIRTEEN COMMONWEALTHS.
"The times that tried men's souls are over," said Thomas Paine in the last number of the "Crisis," which he published after hearing that the negotiations for a treaty of peace had been concluded. The preliminary articles had been signed at Paris on the 20th of January, 1783. The news arrived in America on the 23d of March, in a letter to the president of Congress from Lafayette, who had returned to France soon after the victory at Yorktown. A few days later Sir Guy Carleton received his orders from the ministry to proclaim a cessation of hostilities by land and sea. A similar proclamation made by Congress was formally communicated to the army by Washington on the 19th of April, the eighth anniversary of the first bloodshed on Lexington green. Since Wayne had driven the British from Georgia, early in the preceding year, there had been no military operations between the regular armies. Guerrilla warfare between Whig and Tory had been kept up in parts of South Carolina and on the frontier of New York, where Thayendanegea was still alert and defiant; while beyond the mountains the tomahawk and scalping-knife had been busy, and Washington's old friend and comrade, Colonel Crawford, had been scorched to death by the fire-brands of the red demons; but the armies had sat still, awaiting the peace which every one felt sure must speedily come. After Cornwallis's surrender, Washington marched his army back to the Hudson, and established his headquarters at Newburgh. Rochambeau followed somewhat later, and in September joined the Americans on the Hudson; but in December the French army marched to Boston, and there embarked for France. After the formal cessation of hostilities on the 19th of April, 1783, Washington granted furloughs to most of his soldiers; and these weather-beaten veterans trudged homeward in all directions, in little groups of four or five, depending largely for their subsistence on the hospitality of the farm-houses along the road. Arrived at home, their muskets were hung over the chimney-piece as trophies for grandchildren to be proud of, the stories of their exploits and their sufferings became household legends, and they turned the furrows and drove the cattle to pasture just as in the "old colony times." Their furloughs were equivalent to a full discharge, for on the 3d of September the definitive treaty was signed, and the country was at peace. On the 3d of November the army was formally disbanded, and on the 25th of that month Sir Guy Carleton's army embarked from New York. Small British garrisons still remained in the frontier posts of Ogdensburg, Oswego, Niagara, Erie, Sandusky, Detroit, and Mackinaw, but by the terms of the treaty these places were to be promptly surrendered to the United States. On the 4th of December a barge waited at the South Ferry in New York to carry General Washington across the river to Paulus Hook. He was going to Annapolis, where Congress was in session, in order to resign his command. At Fraunces's Tavern, near the ferry, he took leave of the officers who so long had shared his labours. One after another they embraced their beloved commander, while there were few dry eyes in the company. They followed him to the ferry, and watched the departing boat with hearts too full for words, and then in solemn silence returned up the street. At Philadelphia he handed to the comptroller of the treasury a neatly written manuscript, containing an accurate statement of his expenses in the public service since the day when he took command of the army. The sums which Washington had thus spent out of his private fortune amounted to $64,315. For his personal services he declined to take any pay. At noon of the 23d, in the presence of Congress and of a throng of ladies and gentlemen at Annapolis, the great general gave up his command, and requested as an "indulgence" to be allowed to retire into private life. General Mifflin, who during the winter of Valley Forge had conspired with Gates to undermine the confidence of the people in Washington, was now president of Congress, and it was for him to make the reply. "You retire," said Mifflin, "from the theatre of action with the blessings of your fellow-citizens, but the glory of your virtues will not terminate with your military command; it will continue to animate remotest ages." The next morning Washington hurried away to spend Christmas at his pleasant home at Mount Vernon, which, save for a few hours in the autumn of 1781, he had not set eyes on for more than eight years. His estate had suffered from his long absence, and his highest ambition was to devote himself to its simple interests. To his friends he offered unpretentious hospitality. "My manner of living is plain," he said, "and I do not mean to be put out of it. A glass of wine and a bit of mutton are always ready, and such as will be content to partake of them are always welcome. Those who expect more will be disappointed." To Lafayette he wrote that he was now about to solace himself with those tranquil enjoyments of which the anxious soldier and the weary statesman know but little. "I have not only retired from all public employments, but I am retiring within myself, and shall be able to view the solitary walk and tread the paths of private life with heartfelt satisfaction. Envious of none, I am determined to be pleased with all; and this, my dear friend, being the order of my march, I will move gently down the stream of life until I sleep with my fathers."
In these hopes Washington was to be disappointed. "All the world is touched by his republican virtues," wrote Luzerne to Vergennes, "but it will be useless for him to try to hide himself and live the life of a private man: he will always be the first citizen of the United States." It indeed required no prophet to foretell that the American people could not long dispense with the services of this greatest of citizens. Washington had already put himself most explicitly on record as the leader of the men who were urging the people of the United States toward the formation of a more perfect union. The great lesson of the war had not been lost on him. Bitter experience of the evils attendant upon the weak government of the Continental Congress had impressed upon his mind the urgent necessity of an immediate and thorough reform. On the 8th of June, in view of the approaching disbandment of the army, he had addressed to the governors and presidents of the several states a circular letter, which he wished to have regarded as his legacy to the American people. In this letter he insisted upon four things as essential to the very existence of the United States as an independent power. First, there must be an indissoluble union of all the states under a single federal government, which must possess the power of enforcing its decrees; for without such authority it would be a government only in name. Secondly, the debts incurred by Congress for the purpose of carrying on the war and securing independence must be paid to the uttermost farthing. Thirdly, the militia system must be organized throughout the thirteen states on uniform principles. Fourthly, the people must be willing to sacrifice, if need be, some of their local interests to the common weal; they must discard their local prejudices, and regard one another as fellow-citizens of a common country, with interests in the deepest and truest sense identical.
The unparalleled grandeur of Washington's character, his heroic services, and his utter disinterestedness had given him such a hold upon the people as scarcely any other statesman known to history, save perhaps William the Silent, has ever possessed. The noble and sensible words of his circular letter were treasured up in the minds of all the best people in the country, and when the time for reforming the weak and disorderly government had come it was again to Washington that men looked as their leader and guide. But that time had not yet come. Only through the discipline of perplexity and tribulation could the people be brought to realize the indispensable necessity of that indissoluble union of which Washington had spoken. Thomas Paine was sadly mistaken when, in the moment of exultation over the peace, he declared that the trying time was ended. The most trying time of all was just beginning. It is not too much to say that the period of five years following the peace of 1783 was the most critical moment in all the history of the American people. The dangers from which we were saved in 1788 were even greater than the dangers from which we were saved in 1865. In the War of Secession the love of union had come to be so strong that thousands of men gave up their lives for it as cheerfully and triumphantly as the martyrs of older times, who sang their hymns of praise even while their flesh was withering in the relentless flames. In 1783 the love of union, as a sentiment for which men would fight, had scarcely come into existence among the people of these states. The souls of the men of that day had not been thrilled by the immortal eloquence of Webster, nor had they gained the historic experience which gave to Webster's words their meaning and their charm. They had not gained control of all the fairest part of the continent, with domains stretching more than three thousand miles from ocean to ocean, and so situated in geographical configuration and commercial relations as to make the very idea of disunion absurd, save for men in whose minds fanaticism for the moment usurped the place of sound judgment. The men of 1783 dwelt in a long, straggling series of republics, fringing the Atlantic Coast, bordered on the north and south and west by two European powers whose hostility they had Some reason to dread. But nine years had elapsed since, in the first Continental Congress, they had begun to act consistently and independently in Common, under the severe pressure of a Common fear and an immediate necessity of action. Even under such circumstances the war had languished and come nigh to failure simply through the difficulty of insuring concerted action. Had there been such a government that the whole power of the thirteen states could have been swiftly and vigorously wielded as a unit, the British, fighting at such disadvantage as they did, might have been driven to their ships in less than a year. The length of the war and its worst hardships had been chiefly due to want of organization. Congress had steadily declined in power and in respectability; it was much weaker at the end of the war than at the beginning; and there was reason to fear that as soon as the common pressure was removed the need for concerted action would quite cease to be felt, and the scarcely formed Union would break into pieces. There was the greater reason for such a fear in that, while no strong sentiment had as yet grown up in favour of union, there was an intensely powerful sentiment in favour of local self-government. This feeling was scarcely less strong as between states like Connecticut and Rhode Island, or Maryland and Virginia, than it was between Athens and Megara, Argos and Sparta, in the great days of Grecian history. A most wholesome feeling it was, and one which needed not so much to be curbed as to be guided in the right direction. It was a feeling which was shared by some of the foremost Revolutionary leaders, such as Samuel Adams and Richard Henry Lee. But unless the most profound and delicate statesmanship should be forthcoming, to take this sentiment under its guidance, there was much reason to fear that the release from the common adhesion to Great Britain would end in setting up thirteen little republics, ripe for endless squabbling, like the republics of ancient Greece and medieval Italy, and ready to become the prey of England and Spain, even as Greece became the prey of Macedonia.
As such a lamentable result was dreaded by Washington, so by statesmen in Europe it was generally expected, and by our enemies it was eagerly hoped for. Josiah Tucker, Dean of Gloucester, was a far-sighted man in many things; but he said, "As to the future grandeur of America, and its being a rising empire under one head, whether republican or monarchical, it is one of the idlest and most visionary notions that ever was conceived even by writers of romance. The mutual antipathies and clashing interests of the Americans, their difference of governments, habitudes, and manners, indicate that they will have no centre of union and no common interest. They never can be united into one compact empire under any species of government whatever; a disunited people till the end of time, suspicious and distrustful of each other, they will be divided and subdivided into little commonwealths or principalities, according to natural boundaries, by great bays of the sea, and by vast rivers, lakes, and ridges of mountains." Such were the views of a liberal-minded philosopher who bore us no ill-will. George III. said officially that he hoped the Americans would not suffer from the evils which in history had always followed the throwing off of monarchical government: which meant, of course, that he helped they would suffer from such evils. He believed we should get into such a snarl that the several states, one after another, would repent and beg on their knees to be taken back into the British Empire. Frederick of Prussia, though friendly to the Americans, argued that the mere extent of country from Maine to Georgia would suffice either to break up the Union, or to make a monarchy necessary. No republic, he said, had ever long existed on so great a scale. The Roman republic had been transformed into a despotism mainly by the excessive enlargement of its area. It was only little states, like Venice, Switzerland, and Holland, that could maintain a republican government. Such arguments were common enough a century ago, but they overlooked three essential, differences between the Roman republic and the United States. The Roman republic in Caesar's time comprised peoples differing widely in blood, in speech, and in degree of civilization; it was perpetually threatened on all its frontiers by powerful enemies; and representative assemblies were unknown to it. The only free government of which the Roman knew anything was that of the primary assembly or town meeting. On the other hand, the people of the United States were all English in speech, and mainly English in blood. The differences in degree of civilization between such states as Massachusetts and North Carolina were considerable, but in comparison with such differences as those between Attika and Lusitania they might well be called slight. The attacks of savages on the frontier were cruel and annoying, but never since the time of King Philip had they seemed to threaten the existence of the white man. A very small military establishment was quite enough to deal with the Indians. And to crown all, the American people were thoroughly familiar with the principle of representation, having practised it on a grand scale for four centuries in England, and for more than a century in America. The governments of the thirteen states were all similar, and the political ideas of one were perfectly intelligible to all the others. It was essentially fallacious, therefore, to liken the case of the United States to that of ancient Rome.
But there was another feature of the case which was quite hidden from the men of 1783. Just before the assembling of the first Continental Congress James Watt had completed his steam-engine; in the summer of 1787, while the Federal Convention was sitting at Philadelphia, John Fitch launched his first steamboat on the Delaware River; and Stephenson's invention of the locomotive was to follow in less than half a century. Even with all other conditions favourable, it is doubtful the American Union could have been preserved to the present time without the railroad. But for the military aid of railroads our government would hardly have succeeded in putting down the rebellion of the southern states. In the debates on the Oregon Bill in the United States Senate in 1843, the idea that we could ever have an interest in so remote a country as Oregon was loudly ridiculed by some of the members. It would take ten months — said George McDuffie, the very able senator from South Carolina for representatives to get from that territory to the District of Columbia and back again. Yet since the building of railroads to the Pacific coast, we can go from Boston to the capital of Oregon in much less time than it took John Hancock to make the journey from Boston to Philadelphia. Railroads and telegraphs have made our vast country, both for political and for social purposes, more snug and compact than little Switzerland was in the Middle Ages or New England a century ago.
At the time of our Revolution the difficulties of travelling formed an important social obstacle to the union of the states. In our time the persons who pass in a single day between New York and Boston by six or seven distinct lines of railroad and steamboat are numbered by thousands. In 1783 two stage-coaches were enough for all the travellers, and nearly all the freight besides, that went between these two cities, except such large freight as went by sea around Cape Cod. The journey began at three o'clock in the morning. Horses were changed every twenty miles, and if the roads were in good condition some forty miles would be made by ten o'clock in the evening. In bad weather, when the passengers had to get down and lift the clumsy wheels out of deep ruts, the progress was much slower. The loss of life from accidents, in proportion to the number of travellers, was much greater than it has ever been on the railway. Broad rivers like the Connecticut and Housatonic had no bridges. To drive across them in winter, when they were solidly frozen over, was easy; and in pleasant summer weather to cross in a row-boat was not a dangerous undertaking. But squalls at some seasons and floating ice at others were things to be feared. More than one instance is recorded where boats were crushed and passengers drowned, or saved only by scrambling upon ice-floes. After a week or ten days of discomfort and danger the jolted and jaded traveller reached New York. Such was a journey in the most highly civilized part of the United States. The case was still worse in the South, and it was not so very much better in England and France. In one respect the traveller in the United States fared better than the traveller in Europe: the danger from highway-men was but slight.
Such being the difficulty of travelling, people never made long journeys save for very important reasons. Except in the case of the soldiers, most people lived and died without ever having seen any state but their own. And as the mails were irregular and uncertain, and the rates of postage very high, people heard from one another but seldom. Commercial dealings between the different states were inconsiderable. The occupation of the people was chiefly agriculture. Cities were few and small, and each little district for the most part supported itself. Under such circumstances the different parts of the country knew very little about each other, and local prejudices were intense. It was not simply free Massachusetts and slave-holding South Carolina, or English Connecticut and Dutch New York, that misunderstood and ridiculed each the other; but even between such neighbouring states as Connecticut and Massachusetts, both of them thoroughly English and Puritan, and in all their social conditions almost exactly alike, it used often to be said that there was no love lost. These unspeakably stupid and contemptible local antipathies are inherited by civilized men from that far-off time when the clan system prevailed over the face of the earth, and the hand of every clan was raised against its neighbours. They are pale and evanescent survivals from the universal primitive warfare, and the sooner they die out from human society the better for everyone. They should be stigmatised and frowned down upon every fit occasion, just as we frown upon swearing as a symbol of anger and contention. But the only thing which can finally destroy them is the widespread and unrestrained intercourse of different groups of people in peaceful social and commercial relations. The rapidity with which this process is now going on is the most encouraging of all the symptoms of our modern civilization. But a century ago the progress made in this direction had been relatively small, and it was a very critical moment for the American people.
The thirteen states, as already observed, had worked in concert for only nine years, during which their cooperation had been feeble and halting. But the several state governments had been in operation since the first settlement of the country, and were regarded with intense loyalty by the people of the states. Under the royal governors the local political life of each state had been vigorous and often stormy, as befitted communities of the sturdy descendants of English freemen. The legislative assembly of each state had stoutly defended its liberties against the encroachments of the governor. In the eyes of the people it was the only power on earth competent to lay taxes upon them, it was as supreme in its own sphere as the British Parliament itself, and in behalf of this rooted conviction the people had gone to war and won their independence from England. During the war the people of an the states, except Connecticut and Rhode Island, had carefully remodelled their governments, and in the performance of this work had withdrawn many of their ablest statesmen from the Continental Congress; but except for the expulsion of the royal and proprietary governors, the work had in no instance been revolutionary in its character. It was not so much that the American people gained an increase of freedom by their separation from England, as that they kept the freedom they had always enjoyed, that freedom which was the inalienable birthright of Englishmen, but which George III. had foolishly sought to impair. The American Revolution was therefore in no respect destructive. It was the most conservative revolution known to history, thoroughly English in conception from beginning to end. It had no likeness whatever to the terrible popular convulsion which soon after took place in France. The mischievous doctrines of Rousseau had found few readers and fewer admirers among the Americans. The principles upon which their revolution was conducted were those of Sidney, Harrington, and Locke. In remodelling the state governments, as in planning the union of the states, the precedents followed and the principles applied were almost purely English. We must now pass in review the principal changes wrought in the several states, and we shall then be ready to consider the general structure of the Confederation, and to describe the remarkable series of events which led to the adoption of our Federal Constitution.
It will be remembered that at the time of the Declaration of Independence there were three kinds of government in the colonies. Connecticut and Rhode Island had always been true republics, with governors and legislative assemblies elected by the people. Pennsylvania; Delaware, and Maryland presented the appearance of limited hereditary monarchies. Their assemblies were chosen by the people, but the lords proprietary appointed their governors, or in some instances acted as governors themselves. In Maryland the office of lord proprietary was hereditary in the Calvert family; In Delaware and Pennsylvania, which though distinct commonwealths with separate legislatures, had the same executive head, it was hereditary in the Penn family. The other eight colonies were viceroyalties, with governors appointed by the king, while in all alike the people elected the legislatures. Accordingly in Connecticut and Rhode Island no change was made necessary by the Revolution, beyond the mere omission of the king's name from legal documents; and their charters, which dated from the middle of the seventeenth century, continued to do duty as state constitutions till far into the nineteenth. During the Revolutionary War all the other states framed new constitutions, but in most essential respects they took the old colonial charters for their model. The popular legislative body remained unchanged even in its name. In North Carolina its supreme dignity was vindicated in its title of the House of Commons; in Virginia it was called the House of Burgesses; in most of the states the House of Representatives. The members were chosen each year, except in South Carolina, where they served for two years. In the New England states they represented the townships, in other states the counties. In all the states except Pennsylvania a property qualification was required of them.
In addition to this House of Representatives all the legislatures except those of Pennsylvania and Georgia contained a second or upper house known as the Senate. The origin of the senate is to be found in the governor's council of colonial times, just as the House of Lords is descended from the Witenagemot or council of great barons summoned by the Old-English kings. The Americans had been used to having the acts of their popular assemblies reviewed by a council, and so they retained this revisory body as an upper house. A higher property qualification was required than for membership of the lower house, and, except in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and South Carolina, the term of service was longer. In Maryland senators sat for five years, in Virginia and New York for four years, elsewhere for two years. In some states they were chosen by the people, in others by the lower house. In Maryland they were chosen by a college of electors, thus affording a precedent for the method of electing the chief magistrate of the union under the Federal Constitution.
Governors were unpopular in those days. There was too much flavour of royalty and high prerogative about them. Except in the two republics of Rhode Island and Connecticut, American political history during the eighteenth century was chiefly the record of interminable squabbles between governors and legislatures, down to the moment when the detested agents of royalty were clapped into jail, or took refuge behind the bulwarks of a British seventy-four. Accordingly the new constitutions were very chary of the powers to be exercised by the governor. In Pennsylvania and Delaware, in new Hampshire and Massachusetts, the governor was at first replaced by an executive council, and the president of this council was first magistrate and titular ruler; of the state. His dignity was imposing enough, but his authority was merely that of a chairman. The other states had governors chosen by the legislatures, except in New York where the governor was elected by the people. No one was eligible to the office of governor who did not possess a specified amount of property. In most of the states the governor could not be re-elected, he had no veto upon the acts of the legislature, nor any power of appointing officers. In 1780, in a new constitution drawn up by James Bowdoin and the two Adamses, Massachusetts led the way in the construction of a more efficient executive department. The president was replaced by a governor elected annually by the people, and endowed with the power of appointment and a suspensory veto. The first governor elected under this constitution was John Hancock. In 1783 New Hampshire adopted a similar constitution. In 1790 Pennsylvania added an upper house to its legislature, and vested the executive power in a governor elected by the people for a term of three years, and twice reëligible. He was intrusted with the power of appointment to offices, with a suspensory veto, and with the royal prerogative of reprieving or pardoning criminals. In 1792 similar changes were made in Delaware. In 1789 Georgia added the upper house to its legislature, and about the same time in several states the governor's powers were enlarged.
Thus the various state governments were repetitions on a small scale of what was then supposed to be the triplex government of England, with its King, Lords, and Commons. The governor answered to the king with his dignity curtailed by election for a short period, and by narrowly limited prerogatives. The senate answered to the House of Lords, except in being a representative and not a hereditary body. It was supposed to represent more especially that part of the community which was possessed of most wealth and consideration; and in several states the senators were apportioned with some reference to the amount of taxes paid by different parts of the state. The senate of New York, in direct imitation of the House of Lords, was made a supreme court of errors. On the other hand, the assembly answered to the House of Commons, save that its power was really limited by the senate as the power of the House of Commons is not really limited by the House of Lords. But this peculiarity of the British Constitution was not well understood a century ago; and the misunderstanding, as we shall hereafter see, exerted a very serious influence upon the form of our federal government, as well as upon the constitutions of the several states.
In all the thirteen states the common law of England remained in force, as it does to this day save where modified by statute. British and colonial statutes made prior to the Revolution continued also in force unless expressly repealed. The system of civil and criminal courts, the remedies in common law and equity, the forms of writs, the functions of justices of the peace, the courts of probate, all remained substantially unchanged. In Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey, the judges held office for a term of seven years; in all the other states they held office for life or during good behaviour. In all the states save Georgia they were appointed either by the governor or by the legislature. It was Georgia that in 1812 first set the pernicious example of electing judges for short terms by the people,1 — a practice which is responsible for much of the degradation that the courts have suffered in many of our states, and which will have to be abandoned before a proper administration of justice can ever be secured.
In bestowing the suffrage, the new constitutions were as conservative as in all other respects. The general state of opinion in America at that time, with regard to universal suffrage, was far more advanced than the general state of opinion in England, but it was less advanced than the opinions of such statesmen as Pitt and Shelburne and the Duke of Richmond. There was a truly English irregularity in the provisions which were made on this subject. In New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and South Carolina, all resident freemen who paid taxes could vote. In North Carolina all such persons could vote for members of the lower house, but in order to vote for senators a freehold of fifty acres was required. In Virginia none could vote save those who possessed such a freehold of fifty acres. To vote for governor or for senators in New York, one must possess a freehold of $250, clear of mortgage, and to vote for assemblymen one must either have a freehold of $50, or pay a yearly rent of $10. The pettiness of these sums was in keeping with the time when two daily coaches sufficed for the traffic between our two greatest commercial cities. In Rhode Island an unincumbered freehold worth $134 was required; but in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania the eldest sons of qualified freemen could vote without payment of taxes. In all the other states the possession of a small amount of property, either real or personal, varying from $33 to $200, was the necessary qualification for voting. Thus slowly and irregularly did the states drift toward universal suffrage; but although the impediments in the way of voting were more serious than they seem to us in these days when the community is more prosperous and money less scarce, they were still not very great, and in the opinion of conservative people they barely sufficed to exclude from the suffrage such shiftless persons as had no visible interest in keeping down the taxes. At the time of the Revolution the succession to property was regulated in New York and the southern states by the English rule of primogeniture. The eldest son took all. In New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and the four New England states, the eldest son took a double share. It was Georgia that led the way in decreeing the equal distribution of intestate and property, both real and personal; and between 1784 and 1796 the example was followed by all the other states. At the same time entails were either definitely abolished, or the obstacles to cutting them off were removed. In New York the manorial privileges of the great patroons were swept away. In Maryland the old manorial system had long been dying a natural death through the encroachments of the patriarchal system of slavery. The ownership of all ungranted lands within the limits of the thirteen states passed from the crown not to the Confederacy, but to the several state governments. In Pennsylvania and Maryland such ungranted lands had belonged to the lords proprietary. They were now forfeited to the state. The Penn family was indemnified by Pennsylvania to the amount of half a million dollars; but Maryland made no compensation to the Calverts, inasmuch as their claim was presented by an illegitimate descendant of the last Lord Baltimore.
The success of the American Revolution made it possible for the different states to take measures for the gradual abolition of slavery and the immediate abolition of the foreign slave-trade. On this great question the state of public opinion in America was more advanced than in England. So great a thinker as Edmund Burke, who devoted much thought to the subject, came to the conclusion that slavery was an incurable evil, and that there was not the slightest hope that of the trade in slaves could be stopped. The most that he thought could be done by judicious legislation was to mitigate the horrors which the poor Negroes endured on board ship, or to prevent wives from being sold away from their husbands or children from their parents. Such was the outlook to one of the greatest political philosophers of modern times just eighty-two years before the immortal proclamation of President Lincoln! But how vast was the distance between Burke and Bossuet, who had declared about eighty years earlier that "to condemn slavery was to condemn the Holy Ghost!" It was equally vast between Burke and his contemporary Thurlow, who in 1799 poured out the vials of his wrath upon "the altogether miserable and contemptible" proposal to abolish the slave-trade. George III. agreed with his chancellor, and resisted the movement for abolition with all the obstinacy of which his hard and narrow nature was capable. In 1769 the Virginia legislature had enacted that the further importation of Negroes, to be sold into slavery, should be prohibited. But George III. commanded the governor to veto this act, and it was vetoed. In Jefferson's first draft of the Declaration of Independence, this action of the king was made the occasion of a fierce denunciation of slavery, but in deference to the prejudices of South Carolina and Georgia the clause was struck out by Congress. When George III. and his vetoes had been eliminated from the case, it became possible for the states to legislate freely on the subject. In 1776 Negro slaves were held in all, the thirteen states, but in all except South Carolina and Georgia there was a strong sentiment in favour of emancipation. In North Carolina, which contained a large Quaker population, and in which estates were small and were often cultivated by free labour, the pro-slavery feeling was never so strong as in the southernmost states. In Virginia all the foremost statesmen — Washington, Jefferson, Lee, Randolph, Henry, Madison, and Mason — were opposed to the continuance of slavery; and their opinions were shared by many of the largest planters. For tobacco-culture slavery did not seem so indispensable as for the raising of rice and indigo; and in Virginia the Negroes, half-civilized by kindly treatment, were not regarded with horror by their masters, like the ill-treated and ferocious blacks of South Carolina and Georgia. After 1808 the policy and the sentiments of Virginia underwent a marked change. The invention of the cotton-gin, taken in connection with the sudden and prodigious development of manufactures in England, greatly stimulated the growth of cotton in the ever-enlarging area of the Gulf states, and created an immense demand for slave-labour, just at the time when the importation of Negroes from Africa came to an end. The breeding of slaves, to be sold to the planters of the Gulf states, then became such a profitable occupation in Virginia as entirely to change the popular feeling about slavery. But until 1808 Virginia sympathized with the anti-slavery sentiment which was growing up in the northern states; and the same was true of Maryland. Emancipation was however, much more easy to accomplish in the north, because the number of slaves was small, and economic circumstances distinctly favoured free labour. In the work of gradual emancipation the little state of Delaware led the way. In its new constitution of 1776 the further introduction of slaves was prohibited, all restraints upon emancipation having already been removed. In the assembly of Virginia in 1778 a bill prohibiting the further introduction of slaves was moved and carried by Thomas Jefferson, and the same measure was passed in Maryland in 1783, while both these states removed all restraints upon emancipation. North Carolina was not ready to go quite so far, but in 1786 she sought to discourage the slave-trade by putting a duty of £5 per head on all Negroes thereafter imported. New Jersey followed the example of Maryland and Virginia. Pennsylvania went farther. In 1780 its assembly enacted that no more slaves should be brought in, and that all children of slaves born after that date should be free. The same provisions were made by New Hampshire in its new constitution of 1783, and by the assemblies of Connecticut and Rhode Island in 1784. New York went farther still, and in 1785 enacted that all children of slaves thereafter born should not only be free, but should be admitted to vote on the same conditions as other freemen. In 1788 Virginia, which contained many free Negroes, enacted that any person convicted of kidnapping or selling into slavery any free person should suffer death on the gallows. Summing up all these facts, we see that within two years after the independence of the United States had been acknowledged by England, while the two southernmost states had done nothing to check the growth of slavery, North Carolina had discouraged the importation of slaves; Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey had stopped such importation and removed all restraint upon emancipation; and all the remaining states, except Massachusetts, had made gradual emancipation compulsory. Massachusetts had gone still farther. Before the Revolution the anti-slavery feeling had been stronger there than in any other state, and cases brought into court for the purpose of testing the legality of slavery had been decided in favour of those who were opposed to the continuance of that barbarous institution. In 1777 an American cruiser brought into the port of Salem a captured British ship with slaves on board, and these slaves were advertised for sale, but on complaint being made before the legislature they were set free. The new constitution of 1780 contained a declaration of rights which asserted that all men are born free and have an equal and inalienable right to defend their lives and liberties, to acquire property, and to seek and obtain safety and happiness. The supreme court presently decided that this clause worked the abolition of slavery, and accordingly Massachusetts was the first of American states, within the limits of the Union, to become in the full sense of the words a free commonwealth. Of the Negro inhabitants, not more than six thousand in number, a large proportion had already for a long time enjoyed freedom; and all were now admitted to the suffrage on the same terms as other citizens.
By the revolutionary legislation of the states some progress was also effected in the direction of a more complete religious freedom. Pennsylvania and Delaware were the only states in which all Christian sects stood socially and politically on an equal footing. In Rhode Island all Protestants enjoyed equal privileges, but Catholics were debarred from voting. In Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, the old Puritan Congregationalism was the established religion, The Congregational church was supported by taxes, and the minister, once chosen, kept his place for life or during good behaviour. He could not be got rid of unless formally investigated and dismissed by an ecclesiastical council. Laws against blasphemy, which were virtually laws against heresy, were in force in these three states, In Massachusetts, Catholic priests were liable to imprisonment for life. Anyone who should dare to speculate too freely about the nature of Christ, or the philosophy of the plan of salvation, or to express a doubt as to the plenary inspiration of every word between the two covers of the Bible, was subject to fine and imprisonment. The tithing-man still arrested Sabbath-breakers and shut them up in the town-cage in the marketplace; he stopped all unnecessary riding or driving on Sunday, and haled people off to the meeting-house whether they would or not. Such restraints upon liberty were still endured by people who had dared and suffered so much for liberty's sake. The men of Boston strove hard to secure the repeal of these barbarous laws and the disestablishment of the Congregational church; but they were out-voted by the delegates from the rural towns. The most that could be accomplished was the provision that dissenters might escape the church-rate by supporting a church of their own. The nineteenth century was to arrive before church and state were finally separated in Massachusetts. The new constitution of New Hampshire was similarly illiberal, and in Connecticut no change was made, Rhode Island nobly distinguished herself by contrast when in 1784 she extended the franchise to Catholics.
In the six states just mentioned the British government had been hindered by charter, and by the overwhelming opposition of the people, from seriously trying to establish the Episcopal church. The sure fate of any such mad experiment had been well illustrated in the time of Andros. In the other seven states there were no such insuperable obstacles. The Church of England was maintained with languid acquiescence in New York. By the Quakers and Presbyterians of New Jersey and North Carolina, as well as in half-Catholic, half-Puritan Maryland, its supremacy was unwillingly endured; in the turbulent frontier commonwealth of Georgia it was accepted with easy contempt. Only in South Carolina and Virginia had the Church of England ever possessed any real hold upon the people, The Episcopal clergy of South Carolina, men of learning and high character, elected by their own congregations instead of being appointed to their livings by a patron, were thoroughly independent, and in the late war their powerful influence had been mainly exerted in behalf of the patriot cause. Hence, while they retained their influence after the close of the war, there was no difficulty in disestablishing the church. It felt itself able to stand without government support. As soon as the political separation from England was effected, the Episcopal church was accordingly separated from the state, not only in South Carolina, but in all the states in which it had hitherto been upheld by the authority of the British government; and in the constitutions of New Jersey, Georgia, and the two Carolinas, no less than in those of Delaware and Pennsylvania, it was explicitly provided that no man should be obliged to pay any church rate or attend any religious service save according to his own free and unhampered will.
The case of Virginia was peculiar. At first the Church of England had taken deep root there because of the considerable immigration of members of the Cavalier party after the downfall of Charles I. Most of the great statesmen of Virginia in the Revolution — such as Washington, Madison, Mason, Jefferson, Pendleton, Henry, the Lees, and the Randolphs — were descendants of Cavaliers and members of the Church of England. But for along time the Episcopal clergy had been falling into discredit. Many of them were appointed by the British government and ordained by the Bishop of London, and they were affected by the irreligious listlessness and low moral tone of the English church in the eighteenth century. The Virginia legislature thought it necessary to pass special laws prohibiting these clergymen from drunkenness and riotous living. It was said that they spent more time in hunting foxes and betting on race-horses than in conducting religious services or visiting the sick; and according to Bishop Meade, many dissolute parsons, discarded from the church in England as unworthy, were yet thought fit to be presented with livings in Virginia. To this general character of the clergy there were many exceptions. There were many excellent clergymen, especially among the native Virginians, whose appointment depended to some extent upon the repute in which they were held by their neighbours. But on the whole the system was such as to illustrate all the worst vices of a church supported by the temporal power. The Revolution achieved the discomfiture of a clergy already thus deservedly discredited. The parsons mostly embraced the cause of the crown, but failed to carry their congregations with them, and thus they found themselves arrayed in hopeless antagonism to popular sentiment in a state which contained perhaps fewer Tories in proportion to its population than any other of the thirteen.
At the same time the Episcopal church itself had gradually come to be a minority in the commonwealth. For more than half a century Scotch and Welsh Presbyterians, German Lutherans, English Quakers, and Baptists, had been working their way southward from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and had settled in the fertile country west of the Blue Ridge. Daniel Morgan, who had won the most brilliant battle of the Revolution, was one of these men, and sturdiness was a chief characteristic of most of them. So long as these frontier settlers served as a much-needed bulwark against the Indians, the church saw fit to ignore them and let them build meeting-houses and carry on religious services as they pleased. But when the peril of Indian attack had been thrust westward into the Ohio valley, and these dissenting communities had waxed strong and prosperous, the ecclesiastical party in the state undertook to lay taxes on them for the support of the Church of England, and to compel them to receive Episcopal clergymen to preach for them, to bless them in marriage, and to bury their dead. The immediate consequence was a revolt which not only overthrew the established church in Virginia, but nearly effected its ruin. The troubles began in 1768, when the Baptists had made their way into the centre of the state, and three of their preachers were arrested by the sheriff of Spottsylvania. As the indictment was read against these men for "preaching the gospel contrary to law," a deep and solemn voice interrupted the proceedings. Patrick Henry had come on horseback many a mile over roughest roads to listen to the trial, and this phrase, which savoured of the religious despotisms of old, was quite too much for him. "May it please your worships," he exclaimed, "what did I hear read? Did I hear an expression that these men, whom your worships are about to try for misdemeanour, are charged with preaching the gospel of the Son of God!" The shamefast silence and confusion which ensued was of ill omen for the success of an undertaking so unwelcome to the growing liberalism of the time. The zeal of the persecuted Baptists was presently reinforced by the learning and the dialectic skill of the Presbyterian ministers. Unlike the Puritans of New England, the Presbyterians were in favour of the total separation of church from state. It was one of their cardinal principles that the civil magistrate had no right to interfere in any way with matters of religion. By taking this broad ground they secured the powerful aid of Thomas Jefferson, and afterwards of Madison and Mason. The controversy went on through all the years of the Revolutionary War, while all Virginia, from the sea to the mountains, rang with fulminations and arguments. In 1776 Jefferson and Mason succeeded in carrying a bill which released all dissenters from parish rates and legalized all forms of worship. At last in 1785 Madison won the crowning victory in the Religious Freedom Act, by which the Church of England was disestablished and all parish rates abolished and still more the Religious, all religious tests were done away with. In this last respect Virginia came to the front among all the American states, as Massachusetts had come to the front in the abolition of Negro slavery. Nearly all the states still imposed religious tests upon civil office-holders, from simply declaring a general belief in the infallibleness of the Bible to accepting the doctrine of the Trinity. The Virginia statute, which declared that "opinion in matters of religion shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect civil capacities," was translated into French and Italian, and was widely read and commented on in Europe.
It is the historian's unpleasant duty to add that the victory thus happily won was ungenerously followed up. Theological and political odium combined to overwhelm the Episcopal church in Virginia. The persecuted became persecutors. It was contended that the property of the church, having been largely created by unjustifiable taxation, ought to be forfeited. In 1802 its parsonages and glebe lands were sold, its parishes wiped out, and its clergy left without a calling. "A reckless sensualist," said Dr. Hawks, "administered the morning dram to his guests from the silver cup" used in the communion service. But in all this there is a manifest historic lesson. That it should have been possible thus to deal with the Episcopal church in Virginia shows forcibly the moribund condition into which it had been brought through dependence upon the extraneous aid of a political sovereignty from which the people of Virginia were severing their allegiance. The lesson is most vividly enhanced by the contrast with the church of South Carolina which, rooted in its own soil, was quite able to stand alone when government aid was withdrawn. In Virginia the church in which George Washington was reared had so nearly vanished by the year 1830 that Chief Justice Marshall said it was folly to dream of reviving so dead a thing. Nevertheless, under the noble ministration of its great bishop, William Meade, the Episcopal church in Virginia, no longer relying upon state aid, but trusting in the divine persuasive power of spiritual truth, was even then entering upon a new life and beginning to exercise a most wholesome influence.
The separation of the English church in America from the English crown was the occasion of a curious difficulty with regard to the ordination of bishops. Until after the Revolution there were no bishops of that church in America, and between 1783 and 1785 it was not clear how candidates for holy orders could receive the necessary consecration. In 1784 a young divinity student from Maryland, named Mason Weems, who had been studying for some time in England, applied to the Bishop of London for admission to holy orders, but was rudely refused. Weems then had recourse to Watson, Bishop of Llandaff, author of the famous reply to Gibbon. Watson treated him kindly and advised him to get a letter of recommendation from the governor of Maryland, but after this had been obtained he referred him to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said that nothing could be done without the consent of Parliament. As the law stood, no one could be admitted into the ranks of the English clergy without taking the oath of allegiance and acknowledging the king of England as the head of the church. Weems then wrote to John Adams at the Hague, and to Franklin at Paris, to see if there were any Protestant bishops on the Continent from whom he could obtain consecration. A rather amusing diplomatic Correspondence ensued, and finally the king of Denmark, after taking theological advice, kindly offered the services of a Danish bishop, Who was to perform the ceremony in Latin. Weems does not seem to have availed himself of this permission, probably because the question soon reached a more satisfactory solution.2 About the same time the Episcopal church in Connecticut sent one of its ministers, Samuel Seabury of New London, to England, to be ordained as bishop. The oaths of allegiance and supremacy stood as much in the way of the learned and famous minister as in that of the young and obscure student. Seabury accordingly appealed to the non-juring Jacobite bishops of the Episcopal church of Scotland, and at length was duly ordained at Aberdeen as bishop of the diocese of Connecticut. While Seabury was in England, the churches in the various states chose delegates to a general convention, which framed a constitution for the "Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America." Advowsons were abolished, some parts of the liturgy were dropped, and the tenure of ministers, even of bishops, was to be during good behaviour. At the same time a friendly letter was sent to the bishops of England, urging them to secure, if possible, an act of Parliament whereby American clergymen might be ordained without taking the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. Such an act was obtained without much difficulty, and three American bishops were accordingly consecrated in due form. The peculiar ordination of Seabury was also recognized as valid by the general convention, and thus the Episcopal church in America was fairly started on its independent career.
This foundation of a separate episcopacy west of the Atlantic was accompanied by the further separation of the Methodists as a distinct religious society. Although John Wesley regarded the notion of an apostolical succession as superstitious, he had made no attempt to separate his followers from the national church. He translated the titles of "bishop" and "priest" from Greek into Latin and English, calling them "superintendent" and "elder," but he did not deny the king's headship. Meanwhile during the long period of his preaching there had begun to grow up a Methodist church in America. George Whitefield had come over and preached in Georgia in 1737, and in Massachusetts in 1744, where he encountered much opposition on the part of the Puritan clergy. But the first Methodist church in America was founded in the city of New York in 1766. In 1772 Wesley sent over Francis Asbury, a man of shrewd sense and deep religious feeling, to act as his assistant an representative in this country. At that time there were not more than a thousand Methodists, with six preachers, and all these were in the middle and southern colonies; but within five years, largely owing to the zeal and eloquence of Asbury, these numbers had increased sevenfold. At the end of the war, seeing the American Methodists cut loose from the English establishment, Wesley in his own house at Bristol, with the aid of two presbyters, proceeded to ordain ministers enough to make a presbytery, and thereupon set apart Thomas Coke to be "superintendent" or bishop for America. On the same day of November, 1784, on which Seabury was consecrated by the non-jurors at Aberdeen, Coke began preaching and baptizing in Maryland, in rude chapels built of logs or under the shade of forest trees. On Christmas Eve a conference assembled at Baltimore, at which Asbury was chosen bishop by some sixty ministers present, and ordained by Coke, and the constitution of the Methodist church in America was organized. Among the poor white people of the southern states, and among the Negroes, the new church rapidly obtained great sway; and at a somewhat later date it began to assume considerable proportions in the north.
Four years after this the Presbyterians, who were most numerous in the middle states, organized their government in a general assembly, which was also attended by Congregationalist delegates from New England in the capacity of simple advisers. The theological difference between these two sects was so slight that an alliance grew up between them, and in Connecticut some fifty years later their names were often inaccurately used as if synonymous. Such a difference seemed to vanish when confronted with the newer differences that began to spring up soon after the close of the Revolution. The revolt against Roman the doctrine of eternal punishment was already beginning in New England, and among the learned and thoughtful clergy of Massachusetts the seeds of Unitarianism were germinating. The gloomy intolerance of an older time was beginning to yield to more enlightened views. In 1789 the first Roman Catholic church in New England was dedicated in Boston. So great had been the prejudice against this sect that in 1784 there were only 600 Catholics in all New England. In the four southernmost states, on the other hand, there were 2,500; in New York and New Jersey there were 1,700; in Delaware and Pennsylvania there were 7,700; in Maryland there were 20,000; while among the French settlements along the eastern bank of the Mississippi there were supposed to be nearly 12,000. In 1786 John Carroll, a cousin of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, was selected by the Pope as his apostolic vicar, and was afterward successively made bishop of Baltimore and archbishop of the United States. By 1789 all obstacles to the Catholic worship had been done away with in all the states.
In this brief survey of the principal changes wrought in the several states by the separation from England, one cannot fail to be struck with their conservative character. Things proceeded just as they had done from time immemorial with the English race. Forms of government were modified just far enough to adapt them to the new situation and no farther. The abolition of entails, of Primogeniture, and of such few manorial privileges as existed, were useful reforms of far less sweeping character than similar changes would have been in England; and they were accordingly effected with ease. Even the abolition of slavery in the northern states, where Negroes were few in number and chiefly employed in domestic service, wrought nothing in the remotest degree resembling a social revolution. But nowhere was this constitutionally cautious and precedent-loving mode of proceeding more thoroughly exemplified than in the measures just related, whereby the Episcopal and Methodist churches were separated from the English establishment and placed upon an independent footing in the new world. From another point of view it may be observed that all these changes, except in the instance of slavery, tended to assimilate the states to one another in their political and social condition. So far as they went, these changes were favourable to union, and this was perhaps especially true in the case of the ecclesiastical bodies, which brought citizens of different states into cooperation in pursuit of specific ends in common.
At the same time this survey most forcibly reminds us how completely the legislation which immediately affected the daily domestic life of the citizen was the legislation of the single state in which he lived. In the various reforms just passed in review the United States government took no part, and could not from the nature of the case. Even today our national government has no power over such matters, and it is to be hoped it never will have. But at the present day our national government performs many important functions of common concern, which a century ago were scarcely performed at all. The organization of the single state was old in principle and well understood by everybody. It therefore worked easily, and such changes as those above described were brought about with little friction. On the other hand, the principles upon which the various relations of the states to each other were to be adjusted were not well understood. There was wide disagreement upon the subject, and the attempt to compromise between opposing views was not at first successful. Hence, in the management of affairs which concerned the United States as a nation, we shall not find the central machinery working smoothly or quietly. We are about to traverse a period of uncertainty and confusion, in which it required all the political sagacity and all the good temper of the people to save the half-built ship of state from going to pieces on the rocks of civil contention.__________
1 In recent years Georgia has been one of the first states to abandon this bad practice.
2 I suppose it was this same Mason Weems that was afterward known in Virginia as Parson Weems, of Pohick parish, near Mount Vernon. See Magazine of American History, iii. 465-472; v. 85-90. At first an eccentric preacher, Parson Weems became an itinerant violin-player and book-peddler, and author of that edifying work, The Life of George Washington, with Curious Anecdotes equally Honourable to Himself and Exemplary to his Young Countrymen. On the title-page the author describes himself as "formerly rector of Mount Vernon Parish," — which Bishop Meade calls preposterous. The book is a farrago of absurdities, reminding one, alike in its text and its illustrations, of an overgrown English chap-book of the olden time. It has had an enormous sale, and has very likely contributed more than any other single book toward forming the popular notion of Washington. It seems to have been this fiddling parson that first gave currency to the everlasting story of the cherry-tree and the little hatchet.