صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

molestation. They opened a negotiation, through the instrumentality of a Mr. White, a distinguished nonconforming minister, with the council established at Plymouth; and in March, 1627, procured from them a grant to Sir Henry Rosewell and others of all that part of New-England lying three miles south of Charles river and three miles north of Merrimack river, and extending from the Atlantic to the South Sea.

§ 22. Other persons were soon induced to unite with them, if a charter could be procured from the crown, which should secure to the adventurers the usual powers of government. Application was made for this purpose to King Charles, who, accordingly, in March 1628, granted to the grantees and their associates the most ample powers of government. The charter confirmed to them the territory already granted by the council established at Plymouth, to be holden of the crown, as of the royal manor of East Greenwich, "in free and common soccage, and not in capite, nor by knight's service," yielding to the crown one fifth part of all ore of gold and silver, &c, with the exception, however, of any part of the territory actually possessed or inhabited by any other Christian prince or state, or of any part of it within the bounds of the southern colony [of Virginia] granted by King James. It also created the associates a body politic by the name of "The Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New-England," with the usual powers of corporations. It provided, that the government should be administered by a governor, a deputy governor, and eighteen assistants, from time to time elected out of the freemen of the company, which officers should have the care of the general business and affairs of the lands and plantations, and the government of the people there; and it appointed the

first governor, deputy governor, and assistants by name. It further provided, that a court or quorum for the transaction of business should consist of the governor, or the deputy governor, and seven or more assistants, which should assemble as often as once a month for that purpose, and also, that four great general assemblies of the company should be held in every year. In these great and general assemblies, (which were composed of the governor, deputy, assistants, and freemen present,) freemen were to be admitted free of the company, officers were to be elected, and laws and ordinances for the good and welfare of the colony made; "so as such laws and ordinances be not contrary or repugnant to the laws and statutes of this our realm of England." At one of these great and general assemblies held in Easter Term, the governor, deputy, and assistants, and other officers were to be, annually chosen by the company present. The company were further authorized to transport any subjects or strangers willing to become subjects of the crown to the colony, and to carry on trade to and from it, without custom or subsidy for seven years, and were to be free of all taxation of imports or exports to and from the English dominion for the space of twentyone years, with the exception of a five per cent. duty. The charter further provided, that all subjects of the crown, who should become inhabitants, and their children born there, or on the seas going or returning, should enjoy all liberties and immunities of free and natural subjects, as if they and every of them were born within the realm of England. Full legislative authority was also given, subject to the restriction of not being contrary to the laws of England, as also for the imposition of fines and mulcts "according to the course of other corporations in England." Many other provis

ions were added, similar in substance to those found in the antecedent colonial charters of the crown.

§23. Such were the original limits of the colony of Massachusetts Bay, and such were the powers and privileges conferred on it. It is observable, that the whole structure of the charter presupposes the residence of the company in England, and the transaction of all its business there. The experience of the past had not sufficiently instructed the adventurers, that settlements in America could not be well governed by corporations resident abroad; or if any of them had arrived at such. a conclusion, there were many reasons for presuming, that the crown would be jealous of granting powers of so large a nature, which were to be exercised at such a distance, as would render any control or responsibility over them wholly visionary.

§ 24. But a bolder step was soon afterwards taken by the company itself. It was ascertained, that little success would attend the plantation, so long as its affairs were under the control of a distant government, knowing little of its wants and insensible to its difficulties. Many persons, indeed, possessed of fortune and character, warmed with religious zeal, or suffering under religious intolerance, were ready to embark in the enterprise, if the corporation should be removed, so that the powers of government might be exercised by the actual settlers. The company had already become alarmed at the extent of their own expenditures, and there were but faint hopes of any speedy reimbursement. They entertained some doubts of the legality of the course of transferring the charter. But at length it was determined in August, 1629, "by the general consent of the company, that the government and patent should be settled in New-England." This resolution infused

new life into the association; and the next election of officers was made from among those proprietors, who had signified an intention to remove to America. The government and charter were accordingly removed; and henceforth the whole management of all the affairs of the colony was confided to persons and magistrates resident within its own bosom. The fate of the colony was thus decided; and it grew with a rapidity and strength, that soon gave it a great ascendancy among the New-England settlements, and awakened the jealousy, distrust, and vigilance of the parent country.

§ 25. The government of the colony immediately after the removal of the charter was changed in many important features; but its fundamental grants of territory, powers, and privileges were eagerly maintained in their original validity. It is true, as Dr. Robertson has observed, that as soon as the Massachusetts emigrants had landed on these shores, they considered themselves for many purposes as a voluntary association, possessing the natural rights of men to adopt that mode of government, which was most agreeable to themselves, and to enact such laws, as were conducive to their own welfare. They did not, indeed, surrender up their charter, or cease to recognise its obligatory force. But they extended their acts far beyond its expression of powers; and while they boldly claimed protection from it against the royal demands and prerogatives, they nevertheless did not feel, that it furnished any limit upon the freest exercise of legislative, executive, or judicial functions. They did not view it, as creating an English corporation under the narrow construction of the common law; but as affording the means of founding a broad political government, subject to the crown of England, but yet enjoying many exclusive privileges.

§ 26. It may be well to state in this connexion, that the council established at Plymouth in a very short period after the grant of the Massachusetts charter (in 1635) finally surrendered their own patent back to the crown. They had made other grants of territory, which we shall hereafter have occasion to notice, which had greatly diminished the value, as well as importance of their charter. But the immediate cause of the surrender was the odious extent of the monopolies granted to them, which roused the attention of Parliament, and of the nation at large, and compelled them to resign, what they could scarcely maintain against the strong current of public opinion. The surrender, so far from working any evil, rather infused new life into the colonies, which sprung from it, by freeing them from all restraint and supervision by a superior power, to which they might perhaps have been held accountable. Immediately after this surrender legal proceedings were instituted against the proprietors of the Massachusetts charter. Those who appeared were deprived of their franchises. But fortunately the measure was not carried into complete execution against the absent proprietors acting under the charter in America.

§ 27. After the fall of the first colonial charter in 1684, Massachusetts remained for some years in a very disturbed state under the arbitrary power of the crown. At length a new charter was in 1691 granted to the colony by William and Mary; and it henceforth became known as a province, and continued to act under this last charter until after the Revolution. The charter comprehended within its territorial limits all the old colony of the Massachusetts Bay, the colony of New-Plymouth, the Province of Maine, the territory called Acadia, or Nova Scotia, and all the lands lying between Nova

« السابقةمتابعة »