Page images

of the first. This it was ordained should be written at Jamestown and Plymouth. The French, though excelling all other nations of the world in the art of communicating for temporary purposes with savage tribes, seem, still more than the Spaniards, to be destitute of the august skill required to found new States.* I do not know that there is such a thing in the world as a colony of France growing up into a prosperous commonwealth. Half a million of French peasants in Lower Canada, tenaciously adhering to the manners and customs which their fathers brought from Normandy two centuries ago, and a third part of that number of planters of French descent in Louisiana, are all that is left to bear living witness to the amazing fact, that in the middle of the last century France was the mistress of the better half of North America.

It was on the Atlantic coast, and in the colonies originally planted or soon acquired by England, that the great work of the seventeenth century was performed, - slowly, toilsomely, effectively. A mighty work for America and mankind, of which even we, fond and proud of it as we are, do but faintly guess the magnitude! It could hardly be said, at the time, to prosper in any of its parts. It yielded no return to the pecuniary capital invested. The political relations of the colonies from the first were those of encroachment and resistance; and even the moral principle, as far as there was one, on which they were founded, was not consistently carried out. There was conflict with the savages, war with the French and Spaniards, jarring and feud between neighboring colonies, persecution of dissenting individuals and sects, perpetual discord with the crown and the proprietaries. Yet, in the main and on the whole, the WORK was done. Things that did not work singly worked together; or if they did not work together, they worked by reaction and collision. Feeble germs of settlement grew to the consistency of powerful colonies; habits of civil government rooted themselves in a soil that was continually stirred by political agitation; the frame of future republics knit itself, as it were in embryo, under a monarchical system of colonial rule; till in the middle of the eighteenth century the approach of mighty changes began to be dimly foreseen by gifted spirits. A faint streak of purple light blushed along the eastern sky.

* “ La France saura mal coloniser et n'y réussira qu'avec peine." — Victor Hugo, Le Rhin, Tom. II. p. 280.

Two things worth mentioning contributed to the result. One was the absence of the precious metals. The British colonies were rich in the want of gold. As the abundance of gold and silver in Mexico and Peru contributed, in various ways, to obstruct the prosperity of the Spanish colonies, the want of them acted not less favorably here. In the first settlement of a savage wilderness the golden attraction is too powerful for the ordinary routine of life. It produces a feverish excitement unfavorable to the healthy growth and calm action of the body politic. Although California has from the first had the advantage of being incorporated into a stable political system, of which, as a sister State, she forms an integral part, it is quite doubtful whether, looking to her permanent well-being, the gold is to be a blessing to her. It will hasten her settlement; but that would at any rate have advanced with great rapidity. One of the most intellectual men in this country, the author of an extremely interesting and valuable work, I mean “ Two Years before the Mast,” once remarked to me, that “ California would be one of the finest countries in the world to live in, if it were not for the gold.”

The other circumstance which operated in the most favorable manner upon the growth of the Anglo-American colonies was the fact, that they were called into existence less by the government than the people; that they were mainly settled, not by bodies of colonists, but by individual immigrants.

The crown gave charters of government and grants of land, and a considerable expenditure was made by some of the companies and proprietors who received these grants; but upon the whole, the United States were settled by individuals, — the adventurous, resolute, high-spirited, and, in many cases, persecuted men and women, who sought a home and

a refuge beyond the sea; and such was the state of Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that it furnished a succession of victims of a long series of political and religious disasters and persecutions, who found, one after another, a safe and a congenial retreat in some one of the American colonies.

This noble theme has been treated with a beauty and a power, by one whom I need not name in this presence, (the historian of the United States,) which, without impairing their authenticity, have converted the severe pages of our history into a magnificent Odyssey of national adventure. I can but glance at the dates. The first settlement, that of Virginia, was commenced in the spirit of worldly enterprise, with no slight dash, however, of chivalry and romance on the part of its leader. In the next generation this colony became the favorite resort of the loyal cavaliers and gentlemen who were disgusted by the austerities of the English Commonwealth, or fell under its suspicion. In the mean time, New England was founded by those who suffered the penalties of non-conformity. The mighty change of 1610 stopped the tide of immigration to New England, but recruited Virginia with those who were disaffected to Cromwell. In 1624 the island of Manhattan, of which you have perhaps heard, and if not, you will find its history related with learning, judgment, and good taste, by a loyal descendant of its early settlers, (Mr. Brodhead,) was purchased of the Indians for twenty-four dollars. This sum of money seems rather small for twenty-two thousand acres of land, including the site of this great metropolis; but, if put out at compound interest at seven per cent. in 1624, it would not perhaps fall so very much below even its present value; though I admit that a dollar for a thousand acres is quite cheap for choice spots on the Fifth Avenue. Maryland next attracted those who adhered to the ancient faith of the Christian world. New Jersey and Pennsylvania were mainly settled by persecuted Quakers; but the latter offered an asylum to the Germans whom the sword of Louis the Fourteenth drove from the Palatinate. The French Huguenots, expelled from France by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, scattered themselves from Massachusetts to Carolina. The Dutch and Swedish settlements on the Hudson and the Delaware provided a kindred home for such of their countrymen as desired to try the fortune of the new world. The whigs of England who rebelled against James the Second in 1685, and were sent to the transatlantic colonies, lived long enough to meet in exile the adherents of his son, who rebelled against George the First, in 1715. The oppressed Protestants of Salzburg came with General Oglethorpe to Georgia; and the Highlanders who fought for Charles Edward, in 1745, were deported by hundreds to North Carolina. They were punished by being sent from their bleak hills and sterile moors to a land of abundance and liberty; they were banished from oatmeal porridge to meat twice a day. The Gaelic language is still spoken by their descendants, and thousands of their kindred at the present day would no doubt gladly share their exile.

There is no doubt that the hardships which awaited the immigrant at that early day were neither few nor slight, though greatly exaggerated for want of information. Goldsmith, in “ The Deserted Village," published in 1769, gives us a somewhat amusing picture of the state of things as he supposed it to exist beyond the ocean at that time. As his local allusion is to Georgia, it is probable that he formed his impressions from the accounts which were published at London about the middle of the last century by some of the discontented settlers of that colony. Goldsmith, being well acquainted with General Oglethorpe, was likely enough to have had his attention called to the subject. Perhaps you will allow me to enliven my dull prose with a few lines of his beautiful poetry. After describing the sufferings of the poor in London at that time, reverting to the condition of the inhabitants of his imaginary Auburn, and asking whether they probably shared the woes he had just painted, he thus answers his question:

“ Ah, no! To distant climes, a dreary scene,
Where half the convex world intrudes between,

Through torrid tracts with fainting steps they go,
Where wild Altama murmurs to their woe.
Far different there from all that charmed before,
The various terrors of that horrid shore:
Those blazing suns that dart a downward ray,
And fiercely shed intolerable day;
Those matted woods, where birds forget to sing,
But silent bats in drowsy clusters cling;
Those poisonous fields with rank luxuriance crowned,
Where the dark scorpion gathers death around,
Where, at each step, the stranger fears to wake
The rattling terrors of the vengeful snake, -
Where crouching tigers wait their hapless prey,
And savage men more murderous still than they;
While oft in whirls the mad tornado flies,
Mingling the ravaged landscape with the skies.”

In this rather uninviting sketch, it must be confessed that it is not easy to recognize the natural features of that thriv. ing State, which possesses at the present day a thousand miles of railroad, and which, by her rapidly increasing population, her liberal endowment of colleges, schools, and churches, and all the other social institutions of a highly improved community, is fast earning the name of the “ Empire State" of the South.

After repeating these lines, it is scarcely necessary to say that there was much ignorance and exaggeration prevailing in Europe as to the state of things in America. But a few years after Goldsmith's poem appeared, an event occurred which aroused and fixed the attention of the world. The revolt of the Colonies in 1775, the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the battles of the Revolutionary war, the alliance with France, the acknowledgment of American Independence by the treaty of 1783, the establishment of a great federative republic, the illustrious career of Lafayette, the European reputation of Franklin, and, above all, the character of Washington, gave to the United States a great and brilliant name in the family of nations. Thousands in every part of Europe then probably heard of America, with any distinct impressions, for the first time, and they now heard of it as a region VOL. III.


« PreviousContinue »