« PreviousContinue »
SUMMARY OF EVENTS WHICH LED TO THE DECLARATION OF
THE venerated emigrants who first planted America, and most of their distinguished successors who laid the foundation of our civil liberty, have found a resting place in the peaceful grave. But the virtues which adorned both these generations; their patience in days of suffering; the courage and patriotic zeal with which they asserted their rights; and the wisdom they displayed in laying the foundations of our government; will be held in lasting remembrance.
It has, indeed, been said, that the settlement of America, and the history of her revolution, are becoming "a trite theme." The remark is not founded in truth. Too well does the present generation appreciate the excellence of those men, who guided the destinies of our country in days of bitter trial; too well does it estimate the glorious events, which have exalted these United States to their present elevation, ever to be weary of the pages which shall record the virtues of the one, and the interesting character of the other. The minuter portions of our history, and the humbler men who have acted a part therein, must, perhaps, pass oblivion. But the more important transactions, and the more distinguished characters, instead of being lost to the remembrance and affections of posterity, will be the more regarded and admired the farther "we roll down the tide of time." Indeed, "an event of real magnitude in human history," as a recent literary journal has well observed, "is never seen, in all its grandeur and importance, till some time after its occurrence has elapsed. In proportion as the memory of small
men, and small things, is lost, that of the truly great becomes more bright. The contemporary aspect of things is often confused and indistinct. The eye, which is placed too near the canvass, beholds, too distinctly, the separate touches of the pencil, and is perplexed with a cloud of seemingly discordant tints. It is only at a distance, that they melt into a harmonious, living picture."
Nor does it detract from the honour of the eminent person ages, who were conspicuous in the transactions of our earlier history, that they foresaw not all the glorious consequences of their actions. Not one of our pilgrim fathers, it may be safely conjectured, had a distinct anticipation of the future progress of our country. Neither Smith, Newport, nor Gosnold, who led the emigrants of the south; nor Carver, Brewster, Bradford, or Standish, who conducted those of the north; looked forward to results like those which are witnessed by the present generation. But is the glory of their enterprise thereby diminished? By no means; it shines with an intenser light. They foresaw nothing with certainty, but hardships and sacrifices. These, they deliberately and manfully encountered. They went forward unassured, that even common prosperity would attend their enterprise They breasted themselves to every shock; as did the vessel which bore them, to the waves of the ocean.
Or, to take an example which has a more direct reference to the work before us; it may be fairly conjectured, that not a member of the illustrious assembly that declared the Independence of America, had any adequate conception of the great events which were disclosed in the next half century. But, will this detract from their merit in the estimation of posterity? again we say, it will enhance that merit. In the great national crisis of 1775, the minds of the leading men were wrought up to the highest pitch of fervour. They glowed with the loftiest enthusiasm.. The future was, indeed, indistinct; but it was full of all that was momentous. What the particular consummation would be, they could not foresee. But conscious of their own magnanimous designs, and in a humble reliance on divine providence, they pledged to each.
other, their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honour, either to die in the assertion of their unalienable rights, or to establish American liberty upon a solid foundation. The merit of these men, and of all who contributed to the happy condition of our republic, should be measured, by the grandeur of the actual consequences of their enterprise, although the precise extent of those consequences could not then have been foreseen.*
In a work, whose professed object is, to speak of men who lived and flourished in the days of our revolutionary struggle, we have little to do with the motives which induced the first settlers of our country to seek an asylum in what was then an unexplored wilderness. Nor is this the place to record the thousand sufferings which they endured, before the era of their landing; or their numberless sorrows and deprivations, while establishing themselves in the rude land of their adoption. The heroic and christian virtues of our fathers will occupy a conspicuous page in history, while the world shall stand.
Nor does it belong to our design, to enter minutely into the early history of the colonies, interesting as that history is. An outline, only, will be necessary, to understand the causes of that memorable event in the history of our country-The Declaration of American Independence—and to introduce to our more particular notice, the eminent men who proclaimed that independence to the world.
The year 1607 is the era of the first settlement of the English in America. During the interval between this date, and the year 1732, thirteen colonies were established; Virginia being the first, and Georgia the last. The others were Massachusetts, Connecticut, New-Hampshire, Rhode Island, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and the two Carolinas.
In the settlement of these colonies, three forms of government were established. These were severally denominated, charter, proprietary, and royal governments. This differ
* North American Review.