Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

a

same in the Carolinas until the year 1791. In New York, indeed, “ the common law course of descents appears to have been silently but exclusively followed ; and perhaps New York was more close in the adoption of the policy and legislation of the parent country before the Revolution than any other colony."* In Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Plymouth, the eldest son, in case of intestacy, was to have a double portion. The sole exception among these States to this course of policy was Maryland, in which estates were made partible among all the children.

In this large group of States, therefore, comprising ten out of the original thirteen, a moderate system of representative government, with a full acknowledgment of and acquiescence in the due prerogatives of the Crown, subsisted from the period of their first charters of government, down to their separation from this country; and at the same time, during the whole of that period, embracing, in most of the cases, upwards of a

* $ 114.

§

century, the habits and feelings engendered by such a form of government, and by the descent of property in more or less strict conformity with the custom of the mother country, existed in full force in each of those colonies.

The remaining three only of the thirteen original colonies—New Plymouth, Connecticut, and Rhode Island—were in their first organisation thoroughly democratic. The first of these, the brave and hardy colonists before mentioned, * in number only forty-one adult 'males, who landed at Cape Cod in the depth of an American winter, drew up and signed before their landing, on the 11th November, 1620, the memorable compact by which they established for themselves a simple form of government, “in its essence a pure democracy,” and under which they proceeded to elect a governor and other officers, and to enact laws. Connecticut, or rather the three towns that then formed the State, framed in 1638 its own constitution, by which it was provided that there should be two general assemblies annually, and that there should be annually elected by the freemen, a governor and six assistants, and as many other officers as might be found requisite. The towns were to send deputies to the general court, apportioned according to the number of freemen; in which general court was vested the supreme power—legislative, executive, and judicial. Rhode Island, settled by refugees from the religious tyranny of the Independents of Massachusetts, in 1636-8, established a form of government for themselves, which was subsequently confirmed in the main by the Charter of Charles II. ; a charter which, with the characteristic indifference of the day, sanctioned the democratic principle of the election of the governor and all the other official persons. The executive

* Page 7.

. power was vested in the governor, deputygovernor, and ten assistants; the legislative in the general assembly.

Although the New Plymouth colonists soon sought the aid of the authority of the Crown in support of their legislation, and “under the colour of delegated. sovereignty” (a Charter

[ocr errors]

from the Plymouth Company in England, which was never recognised by the Crown), exercised all the powers of government until they were finally incorporated with the province of Massachusetts under the Charter of William and Mary, in 1691 ; and although Connecticut, “ aware of the doubtful nature of its title,” obtained in 1662 a Charter of government from Charles II., and Rhode Island, in the same manner sought the support of the Crown, as above adverted to; the example of their bold and independent course, in founding for themselves a form of government resting on the broadest principles of civil freedom, strengthened the spirit of liberty, which had already a legitimate field of action in all the other States. Rhode Island also “enjoys the honour of having been, if not the first, at least one of the earliest of the colonies, and indeed of modern States, in which liberty of conscience, and freedom of worship, were boldly proclaimed among its fundamental laws.” The charter, on the petition of the inhabitants, for “full liberty in religious concerno

ments,” declares the royal will and pleasure, “ that no person within the colony shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion.”

It is remarkable, that in Rhode Island, notwithstanding the democratic principles on which its constitution was founded, the counterbalance of the law of entail was maintained with the greatest tenacity. Mr. Justice Story thus describes the general course of legislation on that subject :

“In respect to the descent of real estates, the canons of the common law were adopted, and the eldest son took the whole inheritance by primogeniture. This system was for a short period repealed by an Act (4 & 5. Geo. I., 1718), which divided the estate among all the children, giving the eldest son a double share. But the common law was soon afterwards (in 1728) reinstated by the public approbation, “as necessary to prevent the destruction of family estates,"* and so remained to regulate descents until a short period (1770) before the Revolution.”+

Connecticut also directed, that in cases of intestacy in respect to real estate, a double

[blocks in formation]
« AnteriorContinuar »