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A

BRIEF VIEW

OF THE

Constitution of the United States.

CHAPTER I.

PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS.

SECTION 1.-State of the Colonies before and during the Reroa

lution.

BEFORE the revolution the British colonies in Ameri. ca were independent of each other, but separately dependent on the king, and in some measure on the parliament of Great Britain. The extent of that dependence was not accurately defined; its general principles were, however, sufficiently understood, so that, at least ever since the final expulsion of the Stuarts from the throne of Great Britain, in 1688, the mother country and the colonies went on harmoniously together, without any but trifling differences, which did not interrupt

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their union. It was understood that in return for the protection which the former afforded to the latter, particularly against their neighbours, the French, who, until a few years before the revolution, were in possession of Canada, and also against the Indians in alliance with them, she had a right to monopolize their commerce, and with that view, to restrict it by laws and regulations. The crown also interfered in various ways in their internal government, which was, in general, modelled upon that of Great Britain, though the forms differed in several particulars, which did not, however, affect the substantial principles of the British constitution, to which they all clung with enthusiastic affection; and, of course, their governments, though differing in some details, were all founded on the representative combined with the monarchical principle. Trial by jury, in civil as well as in criminal cases, the writ of habeas corpus, and the liberty of the press, were among the privileges which they most cherished, and were incorporated in all their codes. enjoyed as much civil and political liberty as could come to the share of dependent states; and, above all, the precious right of not being obliged to part with their money, but by their free will and consent; without which, colour it as you will, every form of government, however free or republican in its outward appearance, is but slavery in disguise. Otherwise, the crown of England possessed great power and influence in their separate governments. In most of the colo

Thus they

nies, the executive branch was dependent upon it; the governors being appointed by the king; and the judges, as well as many other officers, held their offices medi. ately or immediately under him. The crown, moreover, had a negative on all the laws passed by the colonial legislature, which it exercised through its governors or through the council of state. So that, on the whole, the mother country possessed powers sufficient to enforce her colonial system, and keep her American possessions in check, while these were left at liberty to regulate their internal affairs in the manner best suited to their peculiar situation, and to promote among themselves all the arts, that did not interfere with the interests or policy of Great Britain.

In this situation the British colonies prospered beyond any other of the European settlements in America. They were happy and contented. They were proud of being constituent parts of a great empire; they gloried in the name of English subjects, and never would have thought (at least for a long time) of changing their condition, if the parliament of Great Britain, in an evil hour, had not formed and avowed the project of reducing them to an absolute subjection to their power.

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We have said above that no freedom can exist, where the people can be compelled to part with their money, without their consent, or that of their representatives. The people of the colonies were not represented in the

British parliament; therefore, it was evident that that body had no right to impose upon them taxes of any kind, unless they were absolutely necessary for the regulation of their commerce. The practice had been, when the mother country wanted funds for some objects in which the colonies were interested, to apply for aid to their respective legislatures, which they, in general, freely granted. But scarcely had Great Britain, with the assistance of those colonies, made the conquest of Canada, and compelled France and Spain to submit to humiliating treaties, that there were no bounds to her ambition; and she began to look on her colonies as sources from whence she might draw money at her pleasure. Intoxicated with success, she not only claimed the right of taxing them without any limitation; but, as if that were not sufficient, she also claimed that of binding them by her statutes in all cases what

This was slavery without disguise. Yet the colonies might have suffered the parent state to enjoy her theories, if she had not attempted to carry them into practice, and to enforce their execution by her The means that she took for that

purpose,

and the resistance that was made, are within the province of history. Suffice it to say, that in consequence of these, serious differences arose, and a civil war, at last, was kindled between the colonies and the mother country, which resulted in the separation of thirteen of those colonies, and their declaring themselves free and independent states.

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arms.

This declaration, as every one knows, took place on the memorable 4th of July, 1776. At that moment, and by virtue of that solemn act, each of these colonies became a free, sovereign, and independent state; each became free to act as it should think proper; sovereign within its limits, and independent of the whole world besides.

A union, however, subsisted between them at the time of this declaration. A congress had been assembled at Philadelphia, towards the end of the year 1774, consisting of delegates from the different colonies, who had no powers given to them, but to consult and advise on the best means of obtaining the redress of their grievances from Great Britain, and restoring harmony with the mother country. When this plan was adopted, hopes of a reconciliation were still entertained. Consequently the first congress confined themselves to sending humble petitions to the British king and parliament, and spirited addresses to their fellow-subjects in the various parts of the empire. To these and some recommendations to the people of the colonies, which were punctually obeyed, the proceedings of this congress were confined; and after a short session, they separated.

A second congress was convened to meet at the same place on the 10th of May, 1775, invested with no greater powers than the former. When this new assembly met, the face of affairs had considerably changed.

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