Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

had actuated their forefathers in Europe. In 1627 Quebec fell into their hands, but was restored by the treaty of St Germain : in 1709 an attempt was made upon Montreal, which failed, it is asserted, from the dissensions among the officers in command of the naval and land forces; while many petty attacks, too numerous to be described, filled up the interval, all of which bore the character of border warfare. So fatal had the continuance of these wars been to the progress of the colony, that while the English settlements in the same continent could raise upwards of 60,000 men capable of bearing arms, Canada could not muster 4500. A protracted state of tranquillity now proved favourable to the colony, which might have continued much longer had not the governor, the Marquis du Quesne, invaded the British territories, and in 1757 taken Fort George, where the barbarities committed by the Indians were such that the indignation of the whole nation was roused against the French. Active preparations for vengeance were immediately set on foot. A simultaneous attack was determined upon. Forts Niagara, Triconderago, Crown Point, and Quebec itself, were assailed at the same time. The defence and assault of the lastmentioned place were conducted by men of equal. bravery and equal generosity, and both fell in the engagement. Wolfe, who directed and led the British up the steep of Abraham's Heights, was wounded in the onset, and expired in the moment of victory. The Marquis de Montcalm, who sustained the attack with no less courage and intrepidity, received several injuries from which he died a few days afterwards. Thus, in the acquisition of this extensive territory, the joy was shaded by the loss of her commander on the part of Britain, whilst the French had to bewail a twofold calamity-her influence in the West departed with the life of him who fought and fell to maintain it.

The attempts made to colonise Louisiana proved ruinous to those who undertook the enterprise. Many were lured from their homes to explore its wild and inhospitable tracts in the hope of finding gold, and discovered upon their arrival that the country was totally destitute of even the commonest necessaries of life. The delusive 'expectations held out by the government and the projectors of the Mississippi Scheme are so well known, that an allusion to them here is all that is requisite. The settlement at Biloxi, to which many emigrants flocked in 1718 and 1719, proved pestilential: many perished by disease, some of starvation, while others penetrated into the woods and became morally as well as socially mingled with the Indians. Some, wandering up the long course of the Mississippi

, found a refuge in the settlements of Canada; and five years later the rest were transferred to the mouth of that vast river, to establish another colony, of which the city of New Orleans was to be the capital. The local disadvantages of the new city were great, yet it struggled against them; the social difficulties it had to contend with were not few, yet it has surmounted them all. When it was ceded to Spain by France it contained 6000 inhabitants; it was afterwards sold to the United States, and now forms a very valuable and important emporium of that Union.

The first attempts of the English to found a colony in North America terminated in the same disasters which the French had to encounter in Newfoundland, Canada, and Louisiana. The name of Sir Walter Raleigh is connected with two expeditions which, however, failed; and so late

18

as 1602 no English settlement existed in the Western Continent. The first permanent establishment was effected at James's River in Virginia—a name then given to all of North America facing the Atlantic-on a site calculated to add strength and security to the town, which, in honour of the reigning sovereign, was called James's Town. Ample power was vested in the hands of a council for the administration of the affairs of this new settlement, a proceeding which exhibited the prudence and foresight of the British government. The liberty of enacting its local laws was granted, together with the right of inflicting punishment, except in the case of death, when the power was reserved for the crown; land was held by the same tenure as in England, and a community of labour enjoined for five years. Among other causes that tended to foster a spirit of emigration, religious persecution was not the least. The Huguenots of France and Switzerland were the most enterprising colonists in Canada and Nova Scotia, and endured hardships and privations with a fortitude and patience that nothing but the fervour of faith could inspire. In England the same kind of intolerance which drove these men from their homes was exhibited on the part of the church and state in their efforts to carry out a plan of uniformity in worship, obnoxious to many good and conscientious men, who chose rather to incur the penalty of disobedience than comply with what they in their hearts could not assent to. Others conceived and organised a system of colonisation as a means of escape from beyond the sphere of the church's authority. Accordingly, in 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers left their native land, and sought a new home and a new country on the shores of Massachusetts Bay. This district they called New England, and its capital Boston. In 1623 the Catholics, following the examples of the Puritans, colonised Maryland; and in 1682 Pennsylvania was colonised by the Quakers. The illustrious founder of this colony conceiving that the natives were the true owners of the land, by the unalienable law of occupancy, purchased it fairly from the Indians- a circumstance which created a friendly feeling between his people and the natives, and the benefit of which he afterwards experienced in the amicable intercourse carried on between them. Such was the rapid growth of his settlement, that within one year from its foundation the town consisted of eighty houses and cottages for the workmen and merchants.

To these colonies the same privileges had been granted which the settlers in Virginia enjoyed. But in 1663 a plan of colonisation was introduced of a very different character, and which proved highly unsatisfactory. An attempt was made to introduce the feudal system, and to establish an aristocracy of landed power and great influence. For this purpose a royal charter was bestowed upon several noblemen, and an immense tract of territory in Carolina. The constitution framed for this settlement placed the supreme power in the hands of the lords, who received the honourable appellation of Lords-Proprietors. They gave their assent or veto to all laws, appointed all offices, and bestowed all titles of dignity. Two other branches were established analogous to the legislature of England. Three ranks or classes of nobility were created, according to the extent of their landed possessions, and were called barons, cassiques, and landgraves. This body was the Upper House; the representatives of the different towns and provinces formed the Lower House. Thus the parliament of Carolina was

assimilated to the parliament of this country. Charleston was made the capital, and £12,000 was quickly expended on the new settlement. Universal toleration was one grand feature in its fundamental laws. Numerous dissenters consequently flocked to this quarter and speedily outnumbered the party of the established church. An attempt to exclude the new-comers from political privileges on the ground of religious opinion soon kindled a Aame of contention that could not be extinguished. Riots and tumults ensued, and the whole colony was violently distracted. The lords-proprietors also fell into grievous disputes with the people, and a species of civil-war raged amongst them; the Indians, who had been provoked by some unjust and dishonest conduct, were hovering over the borders of the province like a cloud, and the condition of the colony was becoming every hour more and more critical, when the resignation of the lords-proprietors of their charter restored order and peace, and saved the settlement, the constitution of which was then assimilated to that of the other states of Anglo-America. So rapidly had the spirit of colonisation progressed, that within forty years settlements had been formed in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Massachusetts

, Pennsylvania, and North and South Carolina, all of which continued in a flourishing condition, and amply rewarded the activity and industry of the colonists.

We are now arrived at a period when a mighty revolution changed the destinies of these rising states, and an era of unexampled brilliance was about to open upon them. The struggle for independence which the AngloAmericans carried on so bravely against the stubborn political bigotry of England, and which achieved for them a glory, an empire, and a name, was not unprovoked or unpremeditated. So far back as the year 1755 the government of Great Britain began to change its policy with regard to its American colonies. A jealousy of their increasing wealth induced it to discourage the manufactures of the States; and for this purpose

each province was restricted to the use of its own. As the suppression of the contraband trade with the Spanish American settlements had cut off the only supply of gold the Americans possessed, a commercial panic was created, which affected the merchants of Great Britain. Protests were accordingly made both by the English merchants and the colonists against the measure, but they received no redress, the government being deaf to all appeal. In 1763 the treaty consequent upon the conquest of Canada gave England a preponderating influence in North America. From the arctic regions to the Floridas her sovereignty was acknowledged. But this vast acquisition only dazzled her with vain glory, and impelled her into a course of action at once unjust and impolitic, which proved that in the midst of the elements of strength there is frequently a principle at work which eventually subverts the brightest hopes of ambition.

The expenses that had been incurred during the late war, and especially the war with Canada, had increased the national debt to an enormous amount. It was suggested, that as America had profited by this war, she should also contribute her share to the liquidation of the national burden. But here was involved a great principle: she was unrepresented in the British parliament, and refused to be taxed without her own consent. They thought of Hampden and the ship-money of Charles I., which had driven their forefathers to those very shores ; and they resisted, unanianously but firmly, every attempt of the British parliament to enact a law which placed them in a position little above that of bondsmen. In 1765 the Stamp Act was passed by the Grenville administration ; but in consequence of the disturbances produced by it in all the provinces, and especially in Massachusetts and Virginia, it was repealed the following year by the Rockingham ministry; but the addition of an obnoxious and irritating clause, to the effect that parliament was supreme in all cases, qualified the good it might have produced by calming the minds of the people. In 1767 duties on tea, paper, glass, and colours were established by the Revenue Act. The same opposition was renewed by the colonists to the right of the English to impose taxes; and an agreement was entered into by the several States to make use of no British commodities. To appease the Americans, the repeal of the duties upon all articles except tea was carried into effect in 1770, but failed to remedy the evil, since it was not the amount of taxation that was complained of, but the principle of taxation without representation; and the passing this partial measure was not only injudicious in itself, but exposed the weakness of the English government. Still more to shew the spirit of their determination, the people of Boston, during the night of the memorable 26th of December 1773, threw overboard into the harbour a cargo of tea which had lately arrived. This gave the finishing stroke to their opposition; and the government at home clearly saw that its authority could only be maintained by force of arms. Accordingly Boston was occupied by the king's troops on the 25th of March 1774.

Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia, readily united in the common cause, and convoked a congress, which met at Philadelphia. The men who were delegated to attend this general assembly were persons of education and experience, and the total absence on this occasion of what may vulgarly be called a mob distinguishes one great feature in the character of the people of the United Provinces. Hence this great revolution is to be considered as effected by a body of able, prudent, practical men, banded together for the defence of their natural rights, and having faith in the uprightness of their cause, rather than likened to the violent popular commotions of other countries, where social distinctions are great, and the line of demarcation between the governed and the governing broadly and deeply engraven; where political outbursts are the struggles of exasperated men, uneducated, oppressed, and demoralised, without law, without principle, and without aim. At the meeting of this congress a resolution was passed deprecating the conduct of Great Britain, and determining to suspend all communications with her, which left the latter no alternative than to comply with the demands of the colonists. Chatham and Burke in the British parliament poured forth their powerful arguments against the unnatural war with all the warmth and vigour of their patriotic eloquence, while the more dispassionate amongst the Americans endeavoured to avert the impending evil by representing in the most effective and affectionate language their loyalty to Britain, and the injustice they suffered; but to no effect. The battle of Lexington, 19th of April, commenced those hostilities which were only to close with the entire separation of the United States from England, and the loss of her power over them for ever.

The war thus begun by the colonies was necessarily defensive on their part, and the plan of operations confined, like that of Fabius, or afterwards Lord Wellington in the Peninsula, to a guerilla warfare, harassing and distressing to the enemy rather than decisive for themselves. The general chosen to command the forces of the Union on this critical occasion was George Washington, a man in whom were united the highest attributes of a soldier and statesman, and who owed solely to his personal merits and tested virtues his high elevation. It is not our intention to enter into the details of this war, which belong more properly to the pen of the historian. The Declaration of Independence by the thirteen United States, July 4, 1776, established them at once as a distinct nation, and enabled them to open negotiations with foreign powers upon their own responsibilities. France, which was smarting from the recent loss of Canada, was the first to listen to proposals, and quickly promised her aid to the struggling independents. This conduct on the part of the French involved the English in another war with them; which, instead of being confined to the colonies, became a general maritime war, communicating itself to every quarter of the globe, and including France, Spain, and Holland in the number of the belligerent powers. Land, not water, however, was destined to be the theatre on which American independence was to be fought. It is unnecessary to enumerate the various engagements that took place, or the disasters inflicted upon the country as the inevitable result of war: the surrender of Lord Cornwallis, October 19, 1781, extinguished whatever hope the English might have had of regaining their sovereignty. Consequent upon this event, the preliminaries of peace were prepared and signed at Versailles, November 30, 1782, in which the independence of the United States was acknowledged, the boundaries so fixed that the great western territory was relinquished to them, and the navigation of the Mississippi left common to both parties.' Thus, after a struggle of a few years, was erected on the shores of America a system of government and a power of wholly a new character, resting its fabric on the basis of democracy, recognising the political equality of all its citizens, and challenging the opinion of the world as to its stability and duration. No war, no revolution of any country or of any time has been attended with such important consequences as have attached themselves to the establishment of this republic.

Notwithstanding that the alienation of the above States from the crown of Great Britain considerably abridged her territories in North America, she still retained an extensive empire, stretching from the waters of the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. It included on the east New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton, Prince Edward's Island, Newfoundland, Labrador, and Lower Canada; in the interior, Upper Canada and the extensive country around Hudson's Bay; and on the west an indefinite tract, comprising Columbia and the disputed territory of Oregon. The mighty river St Lawrence, with its 10,000 islets, swelling sometimes into the likeness of an inland sea, but always preserving a magnificent channel, flowed through the most valuable districts. The physical aspect of this extensive region is wonderfully diversified,

« ForrigeFortsæt »