Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub
[graphic]
[graphic][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed]
[blocks in formation]

It was in the middle of the fifth century that Hengist and Horsa, with their band of sturdy Saxons, first landed on the shores of Britain, and how vast the change they have effected in her destiny! The fathers of the English race, they infused a new and Saxon energy into the stagnant life-blood of the native Briton, and gave once more to the effeminate slave the erect posture and manly bearing of the freeman.* They drove back the Scot to his mountain fastnesses, and after struggling through the disorders of the Heptarchy, they founded that kingdom which still honors their memory by the proud name of England. They brought with them from their home in ihe North the great principles of civil freedom, and having sown them on British soil, they bequeathed them to their descendants, to produce for coming generations the rich harvest of English liberty. They planted the acorn, and, behold, their children sit beneath the shadow of the British oak! The statutes of the great King Alfred are still the basis of the common law of England,—the common law, which, like the element of water, keeps alive every green thing in the world of social happiness, and makes the wilderness of society to bud and blossom as the rose. The Township system of his day is to this hour the glory of our own New England, and, according to that high authority, De Tocqueville, constitutes the very corner-stope of " · Democracy in America."

Those subsequent invaders, the Danes and Normans, sprung from the same original stock, and in love with the same free, unfettered life, introduced in their train like principles and similar institutions. The

* History informs us, that the immediate result of the Saxon invasion was to reduce the Britons to a still deeper degradation; but as the two nations became amalgamated to form the English race, its ultimate effect was, as we have said, to infuse the Saxon spirit into the natives of the soil, and to form all we so well admire in the Anglo-Saxon character.

31

VOL. XI.

Feudal system itself, which entered with William the Conqueror, became the handmaid of freedom, and was for centuries the chief safeguard of the subject against the oppressions of the sovereign. Under its broad shield was Magna Charta wrested from the grasp of the reluctant John. Secured from the fear of punishment by the power it gave them, the rebel barons frequently treated with their king on terms of equality, and extorted at the point of the sword those privileges which constitute at this day the dearest rights of Englishmen: De Montfort died the first martyr in the cause of freedom, and watered with his blood the tree of liberty. The haughty race of Stuart, madly attempting to reëstablish absolute power on the ruins of the constitution, and to wrest from the subject his most valued rights, soon found that they had stirred a fever in the Saxon blood, which all the drugs and opiates of royal diplomacy could not alleviate. The nation rose in its might, and hurled the tyrant from his throne, and the imperious Charles discovered too late, that ENGLISHMEN WILL NOT BE SLAVES. The days of the commonwealth evinced the same sturdy Saxon spirit ; and the Protector himself, though enthroned in the affections of the people, was forced to behold those who had published scandalous libels upon his government, torn from the hands of the law by a fearless jury. In the revolution of 1688, a second Stuart paid the forfeit of his rashness, and the accession of William the Third introduced a new era in constitutional freedom. Since the commencement of the eighteenth century, and under the mild sway of the House of Hanover, the progress of free principles, although scarcely less rapid than before, has been marked by fewer important crises, and distinguished by fewer great and sudden changes.

Thus we see that the stream of English liberty, from the period of the Saxon invasion down to our own time, has been ever deepening, widening, and receiving accessions from every age and from every reign, until at this day it rolls on with its present majestic flow, until "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," have become sacred privileges and " inalienable rights." That magnificent structure, the British constitution, was, like the church of St. Peter, the work of centuries; and it has at length attained a grandeur and completeness to which forty generations have contributed their lahors and their blood. Of the truly Gothic order of governmental architecture, its sublimity inspires the beholder at once with admiration and awe. The parent of our own institutions, we owe to it all the blessings we enjoy under our own free government. As the human form affords the model after which the sculptor shapes his creations of beauty to an ideal perfection, thus by imitating the excellences and avoiding the defects of the British constitution, our noble ancestors have elaborated the matchless perfections of our own, and have almost realized the ideal in this favored land. Such is English liberty ; such is the rich inheritance of every Englishman, hallowed by the associations of the past, and by the blood so freely shed to secure it, replete with blessings for the present and with hopes for the future. Like the dew of heaven, it distills unnumbered blessings upon the head of the subject.

But in this age of radicalism and of progressive democracy, there is a certain class of men, who, notwithstanding the antiquity, the massive grandeur, the blood-bought freedom of the British government, are prone to indulge in dark forebodings of the future. They can read in the book of destiny nought but destruction and death. Revolution and civil war stare out upon them from every page of England's future history. They can already see the prophetic hand-writing on the wall, “ Behold, the glory is departed from thee!" They will point you with exultation to the supposed democratic tendency of all the European states, which is to overturn and overturn, until all the kingdoms of ihe world shall enjoy the blessings of popular government. They will tell you of a French revolution. They will point you to Switzerland, Belgium, Poland, and Spain, where the uprisings of popular violence have bailled the wisdom, and shivered to atoms the elaborate workmanship of the Holy Alliance; or, if repressed, could only be put down at the point of the sword, and by the utmost exercise of arbitrary power. The leaven of democracy, say they, is even already beginning to work beneath the surface of English society, and will soon extend its influence to every atom of mind in the kingdom. In proof of this, they alledge that the mobs of Birmingham, the disturbances of Scotland, Wales, and Kent, the million of Chartist petitions, the Chartist riots now so common all over England, -all show that she is but a slumbering volcano, and an eruption may break forth at any moment. The Repeal agitation, say they, is destined to shake the British government to its centre, and Ireland will be free, or involve England in her own destruction. The extreme density of her population affords another dark ground of fear; the great problem of the age now is, how to feed the many mouths which are crying for sustenance, and Malthusian barbarities have already been proposed, and even tried, in order to prevent the farther increase of population. These evils, too, are greatly aggravated, say the radicals, by her iniquitous system of Corn Laws, and all her legislation, they tell us, is adjusted to the express purpose of grinding down the faces of the poor. T'he oppressions and wrongs of the English operative are descanted upon in glowing language. The numberless evils entailed by the Feudal System, say they, still cling to her skirts. Riches and landed property, instead of being distributed among the masses, are all concentrated in the hands of the few. Her immense national debt is a millstone about her neck, which, unless cast off, will sink her in the sea of revolution and anarchy. A fearful catalogue of national sins rises up to call down curses on her head. The blood of oppressed Ireland “crieth from the ground" against her. Her unscrupulous rapacity has become a by-word all over the world. Her Indian enormities will yet demand a fearful retribution. Her Chinese wars and Australian cruelties will yet receive their recompense in blood.

After having thus enumerated all those ominous clouds which overhang the political horizon of Great Britain, men of this stamp, terrified by the phantoms they have conjured up, will whisper in our ears dark prophecies of the future. They tell us the day of retribution is at hand. All the horrors of the French revolution, before a century has passed

« ForrigeFortsæt »