Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

190

SPIRIT OF THE VIRGINIANS.

CHAP. a twelvemonth. The commissioner unfortunately

died on his passage to Europe.? 1624. The spirit of liberty had planted itself deeply among

the Virginians. It had been easier to root out the staple produce of their plantations, than to wrest from them their established franchises. The movements of their government display the spirit of the place and the aptitude of the English colonies for liberty. A faithless clerk, who had been suborned by one of the commissioners to betray the secret consultations of the Virginians, was promptly punished. In vain was it attempted, by means of intimidation and promises of royal favor, to obtain a petition for the revocation of the charter. It was under that charter, that the assembly was itself convened; and, after prudently rejecting a proposition which might have endangered its own existence, it proceeded to memorable acts of independent legislation.3

The rights of property were strictly maintained against arbitrary taxation. « The governor shall not lay any taxes or ympositions upon the colony, their lands or commodities, other way than by the authority of the general assembly, to be levyed and ymployed as the said assembly shall appoynt.” Thus Virginia, the oldest colony, was the first to set the example of a just and firm legislation on the management of the public money. We shall see others imitate the example, which could not be excelled. The rights of personal liberty were likewise asserted, and the power of the executive, circumscribed. The several governors had in vain attempted, by penal statutes, to promote the culture of corn; the true remedy was now discovered

1 Hening, 1. 128, Act 35. 2 Burk, i. 277.

3 Hening, i. 122–128. Burk, 1 278_286. Stith, 3184322.

SPIRIT OF THE VIRGINIANS

191

[ocr errors]

by the colonial legislature. “For the encouragement CHAP of men to plant store of corn, the price shall not be an stinted, but it shall be free for every man to sell it as 1624 deare as he can.” The reports of controversies in England, rendered it necessary to provide for the public tranquillity by an express enactment, “that no person within the colony, upon the rumor of supposed change and alteration, presume to be disobedient to the present government.” The law was dictated by the emergency of the times; and, during the struggle in London, the administration of Virginia was based upon a popular decree. These laws, so judiciously framed, show how readily, with the aid of free discussion, men become good legislators on their own concerns; for wise legislation is the enacting of proper laws at proper times; and no criterion is so nearly infallible as the fair representation of the interests to be affected.

While the commissioners were urging the Virginians to renounce their right to the privileges which they exercised so well, the English parliament assembled; and a gleam of hope revived in the company, as it forwarded an elaborate petition to the grand inquest of the kingdom. It is a sure proof of the unpopularity of the corporation, that it met with no support from the commons ;? but Sir Edwin Sandys, more intent on the welfare of Virginia than the existence of the company, was able to secure for the colonial staple complete protection against foreign tobacco, by a petition of grace, which was followed by a royal proclamation. Sept. The people of England could not have given a more earnest proof of their disposition to foster the plantations

1 Stith, 324–328.

bett's Parl. Hist. i. 1489_1497. 2 Chalmers, 65, 66. Burk, i. 291. The commons acted by petition.

3 Stith, 328, refers to the nine Hazard, i. 193. grievances; erroneously. See Cob- 4 Hazard, i. 193—198.

192

DISSOLUTION OF THE LONDON COMPANY.

V.

CHAP. in America, than by restraining all competition in their

own market for the benefit of the American planter. 1624. Meantime, the commissioners arrived from the col

ony, and made their report to the king. They enumerated the disasters which had befallen the infant settlement; they eulogized the fertility of the soil and the salubrity of the climate; they aggravated the neglect of the company in regard to the encouragement of staple commodities; they esteemed the plantations of great national importance, and an honorable monument of the reign of King James; they expressed a preference for the original constitution of 1606; they declared, that the alteration of the charter to so popular a course, and so many hands, referring, not to the colonial franchises, but to the democratic form of the London company, could lead only to confusion and contention; and they promised prosperity only by a

recurrence to the original instructions of the monarch. June. Now, therefore, nothing but the judicial decision

remained. The decree, which was to be pronounced by judges who held their office by the tenure of the royal pleasure, could not long remain doubtful; at the Trinity term of the ensuing year, judgment was given against the treasurer and company, and the patents were cancelled.

Thus the company was dissolved. It had fulfilled its high destinies; it had confirmed the colonization of Virginia, and had conceded a liberal form of govern

i Hazard, i. 190, 191. Burk, i. charter, only upon a failer, or mis291, 292.

take in pleading." See a Short 2 Story's Com. i. 27.

Collection of the most Remarkable 3 Stith, 329, 330, doubts if judg- Passages from the Originall to the mcnt were passed. The doubt may Dissolution of the Virginia Combe removed. “Before the end of pany; London, 1651, p. 15. See, the same term, a judgment was also, Hazard, 1. 191 ; Chalmers, 62; declared by the Lord Chief Justice Proud's Pennsylvania, i. 107. Ley against the company and their

VIRGINIA RETAINS ITS LIBERTIES.

193

[ocr errors]

ment to Englishmen in America. It could accomplish CHAP no more. The members were probably willing to escape from a concern which promised no emolument, 1624 and threatened an unprofitable strife; the public acquiesced in the fall of a corporation which had of late maintained but a sickly and hopeless existence; and it was clearly perceived, that a body rent by internal factions, and opposed by the whole force of the English court, could never succeed in fostering Virginia. The fate of the London company found little sympathy; in the domestic government and franchises of the colony, it produced no immediate change. Sir Francis Wyatt, though he had been an ardent friend of the London company, was confirmed in office; and he and his 47 council, far from being rendered absolute, were only empowered to govern “as fully and amplye as any governor and council resident there, at any time within the space of five years now last past." This term of five years was precisely the period of representative government; and the limitation could not but be interpreted as sanctioning the continuance of popular assemblies. The king, in appointing the council in Virginia, refused to nominate the imbittered partisans of the court faction, but formed the administration on the principles of accommodation. The vanity of the 1625 monarch claimed the opportunity of establishing for the colony a code of fundamental laws; but death pre- Mar vented the royal legislator from attempting the task, which would have furnished his self-complacency so grateful an occupation.

[ocr errors]

1 Hazard, i. 189. 192. Burk, ii. 11, from ancient records. VOL 1.

25

CHAPTER VI.

RESTRICTIONS ON COLONIAL COMMERCE.

VI.

vas

CHAP. ASCENDING the throne in his twenty-fifth year,

an Charles I. inherited the principles and was governed 1625. by the favorite of his father. The rejoicings in conMar. 27. sequence of his recent nuptials, the reception of his

bride, and preparations for a parliament, left him little leisure for American affairs. Virginia was esteemed by the monarch as the country producing tobacco; its inhabitants were valued at court as planters, and prized according to the revenue derived from the staple of their industry. The plantation, no longer governed by a chartered company, was become a royal province and an object of favor; and, as it enforced conformity to the church of England, it could not be an object of suspicion to the clergy or the court. The king felt an earnest desire to heal old grievances, to secure the personal rights and property of the colonists, and to promote their prosperity. Franchises were neither conceded nor restricted; for it did not occur to his pride, that, at that time, there could be in an American province any thing like established privileges or vigorous political life ; nor was he aware that the seeds of

liberty were already germinating on the borders of the April Chesapeake. His first Virginian measure was a proc

lamation on tobacco; confirming to Virginia and the Somer Isles the exclusive supply of the British market,

OU

[ocr errors]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »