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then been sufficient to teach her the important chap. VI. truth, that the many, as often as the few, are 1776. blind to the rights of others, when conflicting with their own interests; and can madly pursue injustice, without perceiving that they are in the wrong. That they too, not unfrequently, close their eyes against the light; and shut their ears against the plainest evidence, and the most conclusive reasoning. .
It was also urged, and with great reason, that foreign aid could more certainly be obtained, if the effect of that aid would be the dismemberment of the British empire; than if no such important inducement should be held out to the rivals of that nation.
American independence became the general theme of conversation; and more and more the general wish. This sentiment was increased by learning, that they were declared to be in a state of rebellion; that foreign mercenaries were to be employed against them; that the tomahawk and scalping knife were to be engaged in the British service; and that their slaves were to be seduced from their masters, and armed against them.
The measures of congress took their complexion from the temper of the people. Their proceedings against the disaffected became more and more vigorous; their language respecting the British government was less the language of subjects, and more calculated to VOL. II.
CHAP. VI turn the public attention towards congress, and 1776. the provincial assemblies, as the sole and
ultimate rulers of the country. General letters of marque and reprisal were granted; and the American ports were opened to all nations and people, not subject to the British crown.
At length, a measure was adopted, which was considered by congress, and by America in general, as decisive of the question of independence. Hitherto, it had been recommended to particular colonies, to establish temporary institutions for the conduct of their affairs during the existence of the contest; but now, a resolution was offered, recommending generally, without limitation of time, to such colonies as had not already established them, the adoption of governments adequate to the exigence. Mr. John Adams, mr. Rutledge, and mr. Richard Henry Lee, all zealous advocates for independence, were appointed a com
mittee to prepare a proper preamble to the Fifteenth. resolution. The report of these gentlemen
was agreed to in these words, “whereas, his Britannic majesty, in conjunction with the lords and commons of Great Britain, has, by a late act of parliament, excluded the inhabitants of these United Colonies from the protection of his crown; and whereas, no answer whatever to the humble petitions of the colonies for recress of grievances, and reconciliation with Great Britain, has been, or is likely to be
given; but the whole force of that kingdom, CHAP. VI. aided by foreign mercenaries, is to be exerted 1776. for the destruction of the good people of these colonies; and whereas, it appears absolutely irreconcilable to reason and good conscience for the people of these colonies now to take the oaths and affirmations necessary for the support of any government under the crown of Great Britain; and it is necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the said crown should be totally suppressed; and all the powers of government exerted under the authority of the people of the colonies for the preservation of internal peace, virtue and good order, as well as for the defence of their lives, liberties and properties, against the hostile invasions, and cruel depredations of their enemies; there. fore, resolved, that it be recommended to the respective assemblies and conventions of the United Colonies, where no government suffi. cient for the exigencies of their affairs hath been already established, to adopt such govern. ment as shall, in the opinion of the representa. tives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents in particular, and America in general.”
The provincial assemblies and conventions acted on this recommendation, and governments were generally established. In Connecticut and Rhode Island, it was deemed unnecessary to make any change in their actual situation,
CHAP. VI. because in those colonies, the executive as well 1776. as the whole legislature had always been elected
by themselves. In Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York, some hesitation was, at first, discovered; and the assemblies appeared unwil. ling to take so decisive a step. The public opinion, however, was in favour of it, and at length prevailed.
The several colonies, now contemplating themselves as sovereign states, and mingling with the arduous duty of providing means to repel a powerful enemy, the important and interesting labour of framing governments for themselves, and their posterity; exhibited the novel spectacle of matured and enlightened societies, uninfluenced by external, or internal force, devising, according to their own judgments, political systems for their own government.
With the exceptions already stated of Connecticut, and Rhode Island, whose systems had ever been in a high degree democratic, the novel principle of limiting the constituted airthorities, by the creation of a written constitu. tion prescribing bounds not to be transcended by the legislature itself, was every where adopted.
The solid foundations for a popular government were already laid in all the colonies. The institutions received from England were admirably well calculated to prepare the way
for a temperate and rational republic; and had chap. VI. accustomed them to the election of representa. 1776. tịves to compose the most numerous branch of the legislature, and, in some instances, of the second, or less numerous branch also. No hereditary powers had ever existed; and every authority had been derived either from the people, or the king. The powers of the crown being no longer acknowledged, the people remained the only source of legitimate autho. rity. The materials in their possession, as well as their habits of thinking, were adapted only to governments, in all respects, representative; and such governments were universally adopted. Under various modifications and varieties, produced in a great degree by former habits, the same great principles were established. In general, the legislative, executive, and judicial departments were rendered distinct; with the apparent intention of making them independent of each other, in a very consi. derable degree. The legislature was divided into two branches, and all persons holding offices of profit or trust, excluded from it. The executive too was constituted by election, and a strong jealousy of its powers was every where manifested. The judges received their appointments from the legislature, or executive, and in most instances held their offices during good behaviour.