Constitutional History of England (Vol II)


IT has been the destiny of the Anglo-Saxon race to spread through every quarter of the globe their courage and endurance, their vigorous industry and love of freedom. Wherever they have founded colonies they have borne with them the laws and institutions of England, as their birthright, so far as they were applicable to an infant settlement. In territories acquired by conquest or cession, the existing laws and customs of the people were respected, until they were qualified to share the franchises of Englishmen. Some of these, held only as garrisons, others peopled with races hostile to our rule or unfitted for freedom, were necessarily governed upon different principles. But in quitting the soil of England to settle new colonies, Englishmen never renounced her freedom. Such being the noble principle of English colonization, circumstances favored the early development. of colonial liberties. The Puritans, who founded the New England colonies, having fled from the oppression of Charles I., carried with them a stern love of civil liberty, and established republican institutions. The persecuted Catholics who settled Maryland, and the proscribed Quakers who took refuge in Pennsylvania, were little less democratic. Other colonies founded in America and the West Indies, in the seventeenth century, merely for the purposes of trade and cultivation, adopted institutions, less democratic indeed, but founded on principles of freedom and self-government. Whether established as proprietary colonies, or under charters held direct from the Crown, the colonists were equally free.

The English constitution was generally the type of these colonial governments. The governor was the viceroy of the Crown ; the legislative council, or upper chamber, appointed by the governor, assumed the place of the House of Lords ; and the representative assembly chosen by the people was the express image of the House of Commons. This miniature Parliament, complete in all its parts, made laws for the internal government of the colony. The governor assembled, prorogued, and dissolved it; and signified his assent or absent to every act agreed to by the chambers; the upper house mimicked the dignity of the House of Peers ; and the lower house insisted on the privileges of the Commons, especially that of originating all taxes and grants of money for the public service. The elections were also conducted after the fashion of the mother country. Other laws and institutions were imitated not less faithfully. Jamaica, for example, maintained a court of King’s bench, a court of common pleas, a court of exchequer, a court of chancery, a court of admiralty, and a court of probate. It had grand and petty juries, justices of the peace, courts of quarter sessions, vestries, a coroner, and constables.

Every colony was a little state, complete in its legislature, its judicature, and its executive administration. But, at the same time, it acknowledged the sovereignty of the mother country, the prerogatives of the Crown, and the legislative supremacy of Parliament. The assent of the king, or his representative, was required to give validity to acts of the colonial legislature; his veto annulled them; while the Imperial Parliament was able to provided for their own defence against the Indians and the enemies of England. During the seven years’ war, the American colonies maintained a force of 25,000 men, at a cost of several millions. In the words of Franklin, ” they were governed, at the expense to Great Britain, of only a little pen, ink, and paper: they were led by a thread.”

But little as the mother country concerned herself in the political government of her colonies, she evinced a jealous vigilance in regard to their commerce. Commercial monopoly, indeed, was the first principle in the colonial policy of England, as well as of the other maritime states of Europe. She suffered no other country but herself to supply their wants; she appropriated many of their exports ; and, for the sake of her own manufacturers, insisted that their produce should be sent to her in a raw, or unmanufactured state. By the Navigation Acts, their produce could only be exported to England in English ships. This policy was avowedly maintained for the benefit of the mother country, for the encouragement of her commerce, her shipping, and manufactures, to which the interests of the colonies were sacrificed. But, in compensation for this monopoly, she gave a preference to the produce of her own colonies, by protective and prohibitory duties upon foreign commodities. In claiming a monopoly of their markets, she, at the same time, gave them a reciprocal monopoly of her own. In some cases she encouraged the production of their staples by bounties. A commercial policy so artificial as this, the creature of laws striving against nature, marked the dependence of the colonies, crippled their industry, fomented discontents, and even provoked war with foreign states. But it was a policy common to every European government, until enlightened by economical science bind the colony by its acts, and to supersede all local legislation. Every colonial judicature was also subject to an appeal to the king in council, at Westminster. The dependence of the colonies, however, was little felt in their internal government. They were secured from interference by the remoteness of the mother country, and the ignorance, in difference, and preoccupation of her rulers. In matter of imperial concern, England imposed her own policy ; but otherwise left them free. Asking no aid of her, they es caped her domination. All their expenditure, civil and military, was defrayed by taxes raised by themselves. The and commercial advantages were, for upwards of a century, nearly the sole benefit which England recognized in the possession of her colonies.

In all ages, taxes and tribute had been characteristic of a dependency. The subject provinces of Asiatic monarchies, in ancient and modern times, had been despoiled by the rapacity of satraps and pashas, and the greed of the central government. The Greek colonies, which resembled those of England more than any other dependencies of antiquity, were forced to send contributions to the treasury of the parent state. Carthage exacted tribute from her subject towns and territories. The Roman provinces ” paid tribute unto Cesar.” In modern times, Spain received tribute from her European dependencies, and a revenue from the gold and silver mines of her American colonies. It was also the policy of France, Holland, and Portugal to derive a revenue from their settlements.

But England, satisfied with the colonial trade, by which her subjects at home were enriched, imposed upon them alone all the burdens of the state. Her costly wars, the interest of her increasing debt, her naval and military establishments, adequate for the defence of a widespread empire, were all maintained by the dominant country herself. James II. would have levied taxes upon the colonies of Massachusetts; but was assured by Sir William Jones that he could no more “levy money without their consent in an assembly, than they could discharge themselves from their allegiance.” Fifty years later, the shrewd instinct of Sir Robert Walpole revolted against a similar attempt. But at length, in an evil hour, it was resolved by George III. and his minister Mr. Grenville, that the American colonies should be required to contribute to the general revenues of the government. This new principle was apparently recommended by many considerations of justice and expediency. Much of the national debt had been incurred in defence of the colonies, and in wars for the common cause of the whole empire. Other states had been accustomed to enrich them selves by the taxation of their dependencies ; and why was England alone to abstain from so natural a source of revenue? If the colonies were to be exempt from the common burdens of the empire, why should England care to defend them in war, or incur charges for them in time of peace? The benefits of the connection were reciprocal; why, then, should the burdens be all on one side? Nor, assuming the equity of imperial taxation, did it seem beyond the competence of Parliament to establish it. The omnipotence of Parliament was a favorite theory of lawyers; and for a century and a half, the force of British statutes had been acknowledged without question, in every matter concerning the government of the colonies.

No charters exempted colonists from the sovereignty of the parent state, in matters of taxation ; nor were there wanting precedents, in which they had submitted to imperial imposts without remonstrance. In carrying out a restrictive commercial policy, Parliament had passed numerous act providing for the levy of colonial import and export duties. Such duties, from their very nature, were unproductive, imposing restraints upon trade, and offering encouragements to smuggling. They were designed for commercial regulation rather than revenue ; but were collected by the king’s officers, and payable into the Exchequer. The state had further levied postage duties within the colonies.

But these considerations were outweighed by reasons on the other side. Granting that the war expenditure of the mother country had been increased by reason of her colonies, who was responsible for European wars and costly armaments? Not the colonies, which had no voice in the government, but their English rulers, who held in their hands the destinies of the empire. And if the English treasury had suffered, in defence of the colonies; the colonists had taxed themselves heavily for protection against the foes of the mother country, with whom they had no quarrel. But, apart from the equity of the claim, was it properly within the jurisdiction of Parliament to enforce it? The colonists might be induced to grant a contribution, but could Parliament constitutionally impose a tax, without their consent? True, that this imperial legislature could make laws for the government of the colonies; but taxation formed a marked exception to general legislation. According to the principles, traditions, and usage of the constitution, taxes were granted by the people, through their representatives. This privilege had been recognized for centuries, in the parent state; and the colonists had cherished it with traditional veneration, in the country of their adoption. They had taxed themselves, for local objects, through their own representatives; they had responded to requisitions from the Crown for money; but never, until now, had it been sought to tax them directly for imperial purposes, by the authority of Parliament.

A statesman imbued with the free spirit of our constitution could not have failed to recognize these overriding principles. He would. have seen, that if it were fit that the colonies should contribute to the imperial treasury, it was for the Crown to demand their contributions through the governors; and for the colonial legislatures to grant them. But neither the king nor his minister were alive to these principles. The one was too conscious of kingly power, to measure nicely the rights of his subjects; and the other was blinded by a pedantic reverence for the authority of Parliament.

In 1764, an act was passed, with little discussion, imposing customs’ duties upon several articles imported into The stamp the American colonies, the produce of these duties being reserved for the defence of the colonies them selves. At the same time, the Commons passed a resolution, that “it may be proper to charge certain stamp duties” in America, as the foundation of future legislation. The colonists, accustomed to perpetual interference with their trade, did not dispute the right of the mother country to tax their imports; but they resolved to evade the impost, as far as possible, by the encouragement of native manufactures. The threatened stamp act, however, they immediately denounced as an invasion of the rights of Englishmen, who could not be taxed otherwise than by their representatives. But, deaf to their remonstrances, Mr. Grenville, in the next session, persisted in his stamp bill. It attracted little notice in this country; the people could bear with complacency the taxation of others; and never was there a Parliament more indifferent to constitutional principles and popular rights. The colonists, however, and their agents in this country, remonstrated against the proposal.

Their opinion had been invited by ministers; and, that it might be expressed, a year’s delay had been agreed upon. Yet when they petitioned against the bill, the Commons re fused to entertain their petitions, under a rule, by no means binding on their discretion, which excluded petitions against a tax proposed for the service of the year. An arbitrary temper and narrow pedantry prevailed over justice and sound policy. Unrepresented communities were to be taxed, — even without a hearing. The bill was passed with little opposition ; but the colonists combined to resist its execution. Mr. Pitt had been ill in bed when the stamp act was passed ; but no sooner were the discontents in America brought into discussion than he condemned taxation with out representation, and counselled the immediate repeal of the obnoxious act. ” “When in this House,” he said, ” we give and grant, we grant what is our own. But in an American tax, what do we do? We, Your Majesty’s Commons for Great Britain, give and grant to Your Majesty, what? Our own property? No; we give and grant to Your Majesty, the property of Your Majesty’s Commons of America.” At the same time, he proposed to save the honor of England by an ad declaratory of the general legislative authority of Parliament over the colonies. Lord Rockingham, who had succeeded Mr. Grenville, alarmed by the unanimity and violence of the colonists, readily caught Repeal of the at Mr. Pitt’s suggestion. The stamp act was repealed, notwithstanding the obstinate resistance of the king, and his friends, and of Mr. Grenville and the supporters of the late ministry. Mr. Pitt had desired expressly to except from the declatory Act the right of taxation without the consent of the colonists; but the Crown lawyers and Lord Mansfield denied the distinction between legislation and the imposition of taxes which that great constitutional statesman had forcibly pointed out ; and the bill was introduced without that exception. In the House of Lords, Lord Camden, the only great constitutional lawyer of his age, supported with remarkable power the views of Mr. Pitt; but the bill was passed in its original shape, and maintained the unqualified right of England to make laws for the colonies. In the same session some of the import duties imposed in 1764 were also repealed, and others modified. The colonists were appeased by these concessions; and little regarded the abstract terms of the declaratory act. They were, indeed, encouraged in a spirit of in dependence by their triumph over the English Parliament; but their loyalty was as yet unshaken.

The error of Mr. Grenville had scarcely been repaired, when an act of political fatuity caused an irreparable breach between the mother country and her colonies. Lord Chatham, by his timely intervention, had saved England her colonies ; and now his ill-omened administration was destined to lose them. His witty and accomplished, but volatile and incapable Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Charles Townshend, having lost half a million of his ways and means by an adverse vote of the Commons on the land tax, ventured, with incredible levity, to repeat the disastrous experiment of colonial taxation. The Americans, to strengthen their own case against the stamp act, had drawn a distinction between internal and external taxation, a distinction plausible and ingenious, in the hands of so dexterous a master of political fence as Dr. Franklin,1 but substantially without foundation. Both kinds of taxes were equally paid by the colonists themselves; and if it was their birthright to be taxed by none but representatives of their own, this doctrine clearly comprehended customs, no less than excise. But, misled by the supposed distinction which the Americans themselves had raised, Mr. Townshend proposed a variety of small colonial customs duties, — on glass, on paper, on painters’ color, and lastly, on tea. The estimated produce of these paltry taxes amounted to no more than 40,000l. Lord Chatham would have scornfully put aside a scheme, at once so contemptible and impolitic, and so plainly in violation of the principles for which he had himself recently contended; but he lay stricken and helpless, while his rash lieutenant was rushing headlong into danger. Lord Camden would have arrested the measure in the Cabinet; but standing alone, in a dis organized ministry, he accepted under protest a scheme, which none of his colleagues approved. However rash the financier, however weak the compliance of ministers, Parliament fully shared the fatal responsibility of this measure. It was passed with approbation, and nearly in silence. Mr. Townshend did not survive to see the mischief he had done; but his colleagues had soon to deplore their error. The colonists resisted the import duties, as they had resisted the stamp act; and, a second time, ministers were forced to recede from their false position. But their retreat was effected awkwardly, and with a bad grace. They yielded to the colonists, so far as to give up the general scheme of import duties; but persisted in continuing the duties upon tea.

This miserable remnant of the import duties was not calculated to afford a revenue exceeding 12,000l; and its actual proceeds were reduced to 300l. by smuggling and the determination of the colonists not to consume an article to which the obnoxious impost was attached. The insignificance of the tax, while it left ministers without justification for continuing such a cause of irritation, went far to secure the acquiescence of the colonists. But their discontents, met without temper or moderation, were suddenly inflamed by a new measure, which only indirectly concerned them. To assist the half bankrupt East India Company in the sale of their teas, a drawback was given them, of the whole English duty on shipments to the American plantations. By this concession to the East India Company, the colonists, exempted from the English duty, in fact received their teas at a lower rate than when there was no colonial tax. The Company were also empowered to ship their teas direct from their own warehouses. A sudden stimulus was thus given to the export of the very article, which alone caused irritation and dissension. The colonists saw, or affected to see, in this measure, an artful contrivance for encouraging the consumption of taxed tea, and facilitating the further extension of colonial taxation. It was met by a daring outrage The first tea-ships which reached Boston were boarded by men disguised as Mohawk Indians, and their cargoes cast into the sea. This being the crowning act of a series of provocations and insults, by which the colonists, and especially the people of Boston, had testified their resentment against the stamp act, the import duties, and other recent measures, the government at home regarded it with just indignation. Every one agreed that the rioters deserved punishment ; and that reparation was due to the East India Company. But the punishment inflicted by Parliament, at the instance of Lord North, was such as to provoke revolt. Instead of demanding compensation, and attaching penalties to its refusal, the flourishing port of Boston was summarily closed: no ship could lade or unlade at its quays ; the trade and industry of its inhabitants was placed under an interdict. The ruin of the city was decreed; no penitence could avert its doom; but when the punishment had been suffered, and the atonement made; when Boston, humbled and contrite, had kissed the rod; and when reparation had been made to the East India Company, the king in council might, as an act of grace, remove the fatal ban.1 It was a deed of vengeance, fitter for the rude arbitrament of an eastern prince, than for the temperate equity of a free state.

Nor was this the only act of repression. The republican constitution of Massachusetts, cherished by the descendants of the Pilgrim fathers was superseded. The council, hitherto elective, was to be nominated by the Crown; and the appointment of judges, magistrates, and sheriffs, was transferred from the council to the governor. And so much was the administration of justice suspected, that, by another act, accused persons might be sent for trial to any other colony, or even to England. Troops were also despatched to overawe the turbulent people of Massachusetts.

The colonists, however, far from being intimidated by the rigors of the mother country, associated to resist them. Nor was Massachusetts left alone in its troubles. A congress of delegates from twelve of the colonies was assembled at Philadelphia, by whom the recent measures were condemned, as a violation of the rights of Englishmen. It was further agreed to suspend all imports from, and exports to, Great Britain and her dependencies, unless the grievances of the colonies were redressed. Other threatening measures were adopted, which proved too plainly that the stubborn spirit of the colonists was not to Le overcome. In the words of Lord Chatham, “the spirit which now resisted taxation in America, was the same spirit which formerly opposed loans, benevolences, and ship money in England.”

In vain Lord Chatham, reappearing after his long prostration, proffered a measure of conciliation, repealing the obnoxious acts, and explicitly renouncing imperial taxation, but requiring from the colonies the grant of a revenue to a king a measure might even yet have save the colonies; but it was contemptuously rejected by the Lords, on the first reading.

Lord North himself soon afterwards framed a conciliatory proposition, promising that, if the colonists should make provision for their own defence and for the civil government, no imperial tax should be levied. His resolution was agree to; but, in the present temper of the colonists, its conditions were impracticable. Mr. Burke also proposed other resolutions, similar to the scheme of Lord Chatham, which were rejected by a large majority.

The Americans were already ripe for rebellion, when an unhappy collision occurred at Lexington between the royal troops and the colonial militia. Blood was shed; and the people flew to arms. The war of independence was commenced. Its sad history and issue are but too well known. In vain Congress addressed a petition to the king, for redress and conciliation. It received no answer. In vain Lord Chatham devoted the last energies of his wasting life to effect a reconciliation, without renouncing the sovereignty of England. In vain the British 1778. Parliament, humbling itself before its rebellious subjects, repealed the American tea duty, and renounced its claims to imperial taxation. In vain were Parliamentary commissioners empowered to suspend the acts of which the colonists complained, to concede every demand but that of independence, and almost to sue for peace. It was too late to stay the civil war. Disasters and defeat befell the British arms, on American soil ; and, at length, the independence of the colonies was recognized.’

Such were the disastrous consequences of a misunderstanding of the rights and pretensions of colonial communities, who had carried with them the laws and franchises of Englishmen. And here closes the first period in the constitutional history of the colonies.

We must now turn to another class of dependencies, not originally settled by English subjects, but acquired from other states by conquest or cession. To these a different rule of public law was held to apply. They were dominions of the crown; and governed, according to the laws prevailing at the time of their acquisition, by the king in council. They were distinguished from other settlements as crown colonies. Some of them, however, like Jamaica and Nova Scotia, had received the free institutions of England, and were practically self governed, like other English colonies.

[In reference to Nova Scotia: Edwards, ii. 419; Haliburton’s Nova Scotia, ii. 319]

Canada, the most important of this class, was conquered from the French, in 1759, by General “Wolfe, and ceded to England, in 1763, by the treaty of Paris. In 1774, the administration of its affairs was intrusted to a council appointed by the crown; but, in 1791, it was divided into two provinces, to each of which representative institutions were granted. It was no easy problem to provide for the government of such a colony. It comprised a large and ignorant population of French colonists, having sympathies with the country whence they sprung, accustomed to absolute government and feudal institutions, and under the influence of a Catholic priesthood. It further comprised an active race of British settlers, speaking another language, professing a different religion, and craving the liberties of their own free land. The division of the provinces was also a separation of races ; and freedom was granted to both alike. The immediate objects of this measure were to secure the attachment of Canada, and to exempt the British colonists from the French laws; but it marked the continued adhesion of Parliament to the principles of self-government. In discussing its policy, Mr. Fox laid down a principle, which was destined, after half a century, to become the rule of colonial administration. ” I am convinced,” said he, “that the only means of retaining distant colonies with advantage, is to enable them to govern themselves.” In 1785, representative institutions were given to New Brunswick, and, so late as 1832, to Newfoundland; and thus, eventually, all the British American colonies were as free, in their forms of government, as the colonies which had gained their independence. But the mother country, in granting the:;e constitutions, exercised, in a marked form, the powers of a dominant state. She provided for the sale of waste lands, for the maintenance of the church establishment, and for other matters of internal polity.

England was soon compensated for the loss of her colonies in America, by vast possessions in another hemisphere. But the circumstances under which Australia was settled were unfavorable to free institutions. Transportation to the American plantations, commenced in the reign of Charles II., had long been an established punishment for criminals. The revolt of these colonies led to the establishment of penal settlements in Australia. New South Wales was founded in 1788, and Van Diemen’s Land in 1825. Penal settlements were necessarily without a constitution, being little more than state prisons. These fair countries, instead of being the homes of free Englishmen, were peopled by criminals sentenced to long’ terms of punishment and servitude. Such an origin was not promising to the moral or political destinies of Australia; but the attractions which it offered to free emigrants gave early tokens of its future greatness. South Australia and New Zealand, whence convicts were excluded, were afterwards fount.led, in the same region, without free constitutions. The early political condition of the Australian colonies forms, indeed, a striking contrast to that of the older settlements, to which Englishmen had taken their birthrights. But free emigration developed their resources, and quickly reduced the criminal population to a subordinate element in the society; and, in 1828, local legislatures were granted to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land.

While these colonies were without an adequate population, transportation was esteemed by the settlers, as the means of affording a steady supply of labor; but as free emigration advanced , the services of convicts became less essential to colonial prosperity; and the moral taint of the criminal class was felt more sensibly. In 1838, Sir William Molesworth’s committee exposed the enormities of transportation as part of a scheme of colonization; and in 1840 the sending of convicts to New South wales was discontinued. In Van Diemen’s Land, after various at tempts to improve the system of convict labor and discipline, transportation was finally abolished in 1854. Meanwhile, an attempt to send convicts to the Cape of Good Hope in 1848, had been resisted by the colonists, and abandoned. In the following year, a new penal settlement was founded in Western Australia.

The discontinuance of transportation to the free colonies of Australia, and a prodigious increase of emigration and productive industry, were preparing them for a further development of freedom at no distant a period.

From the period of the American war the home government, awakened to the importance of colonial administration, displayed greater activity, and a more ostensible disposition to interfere m the affairs of the colonies. Until the commencement of the difficulties with America, there had not even been a separate department for the government of the colonies; but the board of trade exercised a supervision, little more than nominal, over colonial affairs. In 1768, however, a third secretary of state was appointed, to whose care the colonies were intrusted. In 1782, the office was discontinued by Lord Rockingham, after the loss of the American provinces ; but was revived in 1794, and became an active and important department of the state. Its influence was felt throughout the British colonies. However popular the form of their institutions, they were steadily governed by British ministers in Downing Street.

In crown colonies, acquired by conquest or cession, Colonies the dominion of the crown was absolute ; and the authority of the colonial-office was exercised directly, by instructions to the governors. In free colonies it was exercised, for the most part, indirectly, through the influence of the governors and their councils. Self-government was there the theory; but in practice, the governors, aided by dominant interests in the several colonies, contrived to govern according to the policy dictated from Downing Street. Just as at home, the crown, the nobles, and an ascendant party were supreme in the national councils, so in the colonies, the governors and their official aristocracy were generally able to command the adhesion of the local legislatures.

A more direct interference, however, was often exercised. Ministers had no hesitation in disallowing any colonial acts of which they disapproved, even when they concerned the internal affairs of the colony only. They dealt freely with the public lands, as the property of the crown, often making grants obnoxious to the colonists ; and peremptorily insisting upon the conditions under which they should be sold and settled. Their interference was also frequent regarding church establishments and endowments, official salaries and the colonial civil lists. Misunderstandings and disputes were constant; but the policy and will of the home government usually prevailed.

Another incident of colonial administration was that of Patronage. patronage. The colonies offered a wide field of employment for the friends, connections, and political partisans of the home government. The offices in England available for securing parliamentary support, fell short of the demand, and appointments were accordingly multiplied abroad. Of these, many of the most lucrative were executed by deputy. The favored friends of ministers, who were gratified by the emoluments of office, were little disposed to suffer banishment in a distant dependency. Infants in the cradle were endowed with colonial appointments, to be executed through life by convenient deputies. Extravagant fees or salaries were granted in Downing Street, and spent in England ; but paid out of colonial revenues. Other offices again, to which residence was attached, were too frequently given to men wholly unfit for employment at home, but who were supposed to be equal to colonial service, where indolence, incapacity, or doubtful character might escape exposure. Such men as these, however, were more mischievous in a colony, than at home. The higher officers were associated with the governor in the administration of affairs ; the subordinate officers were subject to less control and discipline. In both, negligence and unfitness were injurious to the colonies. As colonial societies expanded, these appointments from home further excited the jealousy of colonists, many of whom were better qualified for office, than the strangers who came amongst them to enjoy power, wealth, and distinction, which were denied to themselves. This jealousy and the natural ambition of the colonists, were among the principal causes which led to demands for more complete self-government. As this feeling was increasing in colonial society, the home government were occupied with arrangements for insuring the permanent maintenance of the civil establishments out of the colonial revenues. To continue to fill all the offices with Englishmen, and at the same time to call upon the jealous colonists to pay them, was not to Le at tempted. And accordingly the home government surrendered to the governors all appointments under 200l a year; and to the greater number of other offices, appointed colonists recommended by the governors. A colonial grievance was thus redressed, and increased influence given to the colonists; while one of the advantages of the connection was renounced by the parent state.

While England was entering upon a new period of extended liberties, after the Reform Act, circumstances materially affected her relations with the colonies; and this may be termed the third and last period of colonial history. First, the abolition of slavery, in 1833, loosened the ties by which the sugar colonies had been bound to the mother country. This was followed by the gradual adoption of a new commercial policy, which overthrew the long-established protections and monopolies of colonial trade. The main purpose for which both parties had cherished the connection was lost. Colonists found their produce exposed to the competition of the world; and, in the sugar colonies, with restricted labor. The home consumer independent of colonial supplies, was free to choose his own market, wherever commodities were best and cheap est. The sugars of Jamaica competed with the slave-grown sugars of Cuba; the woods of Canada with the timber of Norway and the Baltic.

These new conditions of colonial policy seriously affected the political relations of the mother country with her dependencies. Her interference in their internal affairs having generally been connected with commercial regulations, she had now less interest in continuing it; and they, having submitted to it for the sake of benefits with which it was associated, were less disposed to tolerate its exercise. Meanwhile the growing population, wealth, and intelligence of many of the colonies, closer communications with England, and the example of English liberties, were developing the political aspirations of colonial societies, and their capacity for self-government.

Early in this period of transition, England twice had occasion to assert her paramount authority ; but learned at the same time to estimate the force of local opinion, and to seek in the further development of free institutions the problem of colonial government. Jamaica, discontented after the abolition of slavery, neglected to make adequate provision for her prisons, which that measure had rendered necessary. In 1838, the Imperial Parliament interposed, and promptly supplied this defect in colonial legislation. The local assembly, resenting this act of authority, was contumacious, stopped the supplies, and refused to exercise the proper functions of a legislature. Again Parliament asserted its supremacy. The sullen legislature was commanded to resume its duties ; and submitted in time to save the ancient constitution of Jamaica from suspension.

At the same period, the perilous state of Canada called forth all the authority of England. In 1837 and 1838, the discontents of Lower Canada exploded in insurrection. The constitution of that province was immediately suspended by the British Parliament ; and a provisional government established, with large legislative and executive powers. This necessary act of authority was followed by the reunion of the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada into a single colony, under a governor-general.

But while these strong measures were resorted to, the British Government carefully defined the principles upon which parliamentary legislation was justified. “Parliamentary legislation,” wrote Lord Glenelg, the colonial minister,” on any subject of exclusively internal concern to any British colony possessing a representative assembly is, as a general rule, unconstitutional. It is a right of which the exercise is reserved for extreme cases, in which necessity at once creates and justifies the exception.” Never before had the rights of colonial self government been so plainly acknowledged.

But another principle was about to be established in Canada, which still further enlarged the powers of colonial assemblies, and diminished the influence of the mother country. This principle is known as the doctrine of responsible government. Hitherto the advisers of the governor in this, as in every other colony, were the principal officers appointed by the crown, and generally holding permanent offices. whatever the fluctuations of opinion in the legislature or in the colony, whatever the unpopularity of the measures or persons of the executive officers, they continued to direct the councils of the colony. For many years, they had contrived, by concessions, by management and influence, to avoid frequent collisions with the assemblies ; but as the principles of representative government were developed, irresponsible rulers were necessarily brought into conflict with the popular assembly. The advisers of the governor pursued one policy, the assembly another. Measures prepared by the executive were rejected by the assembly; measures passed by the assembly were refused by the council, or vetoed by the governor. And whenever such collisions arose, the constitutional means were wanting, for restoring confidence between the contending powers. Frequent dissolutions exasperated the popular party, and generally resulted in their ultimate triumph. The hostility between the assembly and permanent and unpopular officers became chronic. They were constantly at issue ; and representative institutions, in collision with irresponsible power, were threatening anarchy. These difficulties were not confined to Canada, but were common to all the North American colonies; and proved the incompatibility of two antagonistic principles of government.

After the reunion of the Canadian provinces, a remedy was sought for disagreements between the executive and the legislature in that principle of of responsible government ministerial responsibility, which had long been accepted as the basis of constitutional government in England. At first, ministers at home were apprehensive lest the application of that principle to a dependency should lead to a virtual renunciation of control by the mother country. Nor had Canada yet sufficiently recovered from the passions of the recent rebellion, to favor the experiment But arrangements were immediately made for altering the tenure of the principal colonial offices; and in 1847, responsible government was fully established under Lord Elgin. From that time, the governor-generals elected his advisers from that party which was able to command a majority in the legislative assembly, and accepted the policy recommended by them. The same principle was and other adopted, about the same time, in Nova Scotia ; colonies. and has since become the rule of administration in other free colonies.

[Concerning Nova Scotia: Despatch of Earl Grey to Sir John Harvey, Nov. 3d, 1846; Parl. Paper, 1848, No. 621, p. 80]

By the adoption of this principle, a colonial constitution has become the very image and reflection of parliamentary government in England. The governor, like the sovereign whom he represents, holds himself aloof from and superior to parties ; and governs through constitutional advisers, who have acquired an ascendency in the legislature. He leaves contending parties to fight out their own battles; and by admitting the stronger party to his councils, brings the executive authority into harmony with popular sentiments. And as the recognition of this doctrine, in England, has practically transferred the supreme authority of the state from the crown to Parliament and the people, so in the colonies has it wrested from the governor and from the parent state the direction of colonial affairs. And again, as the crown has gained in ease and popularity what it has lost in power, – so has the mother country, in accepting to the full the principles of local self-government, established the closest relations of amity and confidence between her self and her colonies.

There are circumstances, however, in which the parallel is not maintained. The Crown and Parliament have a common interest in the welfare of their country; but England and her colonies may have conflicting interests, or an irreconcilable policy. The crown has, indeed, reserved its veto upon the acts of the colonial legislatures ; but its practical exercise has been found scarcely more compatible with responsible government in the colonies than in England. Hence colonies have been able to adopt principles of legislation inconsistent with the policy and interests of the mother country. For example, after England had accepted free trade as the basis of her commercial policy, Canada adhered to protection, and established a tariff injurious to English commerce. Such laws could not have been disallowed by the home government without a revival of the conflicts and discontents of a former period ; and in deference to the principles of self-government, they were reluctantly confirmed.

But popular principles, in colonial government, have not rested here. While enlarged powers have been intrusted to the local legislatures, those institutions again have been reconstituted upon a more democratic basis. The constitution granted to Canada in 1840, on the reunion of the provinces, was popular, but not democratic. It was composed of a legislative council, nominated by the crown, and of a representative assembly, to which freeholders or roturiers to the amount of 500l. were eligible as members. The franchise comprised 40s. free holders, 5l. house-owners, and 10l. occupiers; but has since been placed upon a more popular basis by provincial acts.

Democracy has made more rapid progress in the Australian colonies. In 1842, a new constitution had been granted to New South Wales, which, departing from the accustomed model of colonial constitutions, provided for the legislation of the colony by a single chamber.

The constitution of an upper chamber in a colonial society, without an aristocracy, and with few per-sons of high attainments and adequate leisure, has ever been a difficult problem. Nominated by the governor and consisting mainly of his executive officers, it has failed to exercise a material influence over public opinion; and has been readily overborne by the more popular assembly. The experiment was, therefore, tried of bringing into a single chamber the aristocratic and democratic elements of colonial government. It was hoped that eminent men would have more weight in the deliberations of the popular assembly, than sitting apart and exercising an impotent veto. The experiment has found favor with experienced statesmen; yet it can scarcely be doubted that it is a con cession to democracy. Timely delays in legislation, a cautious review of public measures, resistance to the tyranny of a majority, and the violence of a faction, the means of judicious compromise, are wanting in such a constitution. The majority of a single chamber is absolute.

In 1850, it became expedient to divide the vast territories of New South Wales into two, and the southern portion was erected into the new colony of Victoria. This opportunity was taken of revising the constitutions of these colonies, and of South Australia and Van Diemen’s Land. The New South Wales model was adhered to by Parliament; and a single chamber was constituted in each of these colonies, of which one third were nominated by the crown, and two thirds elected under a franchise, restricted to persons holding freehold property worth 100l, and 10l. householders or leaseholders. A fixed charge was also imposed upon the colonial revenues for the civil and judicial establishments and for religious worship. At the same time, powers were conceded to the governor and legislative council of each colony, with the assent of the queen in council, to alter every part of the constitution so granted. There could be little doubt that the tendency of such societies would be favorable to democracy; and in a few years the limited franchise was changed, in nearly all of these colonies, for universal suffrage and vote by ballot. It was open to the queen in council to disallow these laws, or for Parliament itself to interpose and suspend them ; but, in deference to the principle of self-government, these critical changes were allowed to come into operation.

In 1852, a representative constitution was introduced, after some delay, into New Zealand, and, about the same period, into the Cape of Good Hope.

To conclude this rapid summary of colonial liberties, it must be added that the colonies have further enjoyed municipal institutions, a free press, and religious freedom and equality. No liberty or franchise prized by Englishmen at home, has been withheld from their fellow-countrymen in distant lands.

Thus, by rapid strides, have the most considerable dependencies of the British crown advanced, through successive stages of political liberty, until an ancient monarchy has become the parent of democratic republics in all parts of the globe. The constitution of the United States is scarcely so democratic as that of Canada, or the Australian colonies. The president’s fixed tenure of office and large executive powers, the independent position and authority of the senate, and the control of the supreme court, are checks upon the democracy of congress. But in these colonies the nominees of a majority of the democratic assembly, for the time being, are absolute masters of the colonial government. In Canada, the legislative council can offer no effectual resistance ; and in Australia even that check, how ever inadequate, is wanting. A single chamber dictates its conditions to the governor, and indirectly to the parent state. This transition from a state of control and pupilage to that of unrestrained freedom, seems to have been too precipitate. Society, — particularly in Australia, — had scarcely had time to prepare itself for the successful trial of so free a representation. The settlers of a new country were suddenly intrusted with uncontrolled power, before education, property, traditions, and usage had given stability to public opinion. Nor were they trained to freedom, like· their English brethren, by many ennobling struggles and the patient exercise of public virtues. But such a transition, more or less rapid, was the inevitable consequence of responsible government, coupled with the power given to colonial assemblies, of reforming their own constitutions. The principle of self government, once recognized, has been carried out without reserve or hesitation. Hitherto there have been many failures and discouragements in the experiment of colonial democracy; yet the political future of these thriving communities affords far more ground for hope than for despondency.

England ventured to tax her colonies, and lost them ; she endeavored to rule them from Downing Street, and provoked disaffection and revolt. At last, she gave freedom, and found national sympathy and contentment. But, in the mean time, her colonial dependencies have grown into affiliated states. The tie which binds them to her, is one of sentiment, rather than authority. Commercial privileges, on either side, have been abandoned ; transportation, — for which some of the colonies were founded, — has been given up ; patronage has been surrendered, the disposal of public lands waived by the Crown, and political dominion virtually renounced. In short, their dependence has become little more than nominal, except for purposes of military defence.

We have seen how, in the earlier history of the colonies, they strove to defend themselves. But during the prolonged hostilities of the French revolutionary war, assaults upon our colonies naturally formed part of the tactics of the enemy, which were met, on our part, by costly naval and military armaments. And after the peace, England continued to garrison her colonies with large military forces, — wholly paid by herself, — and to construct fortifications, requiring still larger garrisons. Wars were undertaken against the natives, as in the Cape of Good Hope and New Zealand, — of which England bore all the cost, and the colonies gained all the profit. English soldiers have further performed the services of colonial police. Instead of taxing her colonies, England has suffered herself to be taxed heavily on their account. The annual military expenditure, on account of the colonies, ultimately reached £3,225,081, of which £1,715,246 was incurred for free colonies, and £1,509,835 for military garrisons and dependencies, maintained chiefly for imperial purposes. Many of the colonies have already contributed towards the maintenance of British troops, and have further raised considerable bodies of militia and volunteers ; but Parliament has recently pronounced it to be just that the colonies which enjoy self-government, should undertake the responsibility and cost of their own military defence. To carry this policy into effect must be the work of time. But whenever it may be effected, the last material bond of connection with the colonies will have been severed; and colonial states, acknowledging the honorary sovereignty of England, and fully armed for self-defence, — as well against herself as others, — will have grown out of the dependencies of the British Empire. They will still look to her, in time of war, for at least naval protection; and, in peace, they will continue to imitate her laws and institutions, and to glory in the proud distinction of British citizenship. On her part, England may well be prouder of the vigorous freedom of her prosperous sons, than of a hundred provinces subject to the iron rule of British pro-consuls. And, should the sole remaining ties of kindred, affection, and honor be severed, she will reflect, with just exultation, that her dominion ceased, not in oppression and bloodshed, but in the expansive energies of freedom, and the hereditary capacity of her manly offspring for the privileges of self-government.

Other parts of the British empire have — from the conditions of their occupation, the relations of the state to the native population, and other circumstances — been unable to participate in the free institutions of the more favored colonies; but they have largely that spirit of enlightened liberality, which, during the last twenty years, has distinguished the administration of colonial affairs.

Of all the dependencies of the British crown, India is the most considerable in territory, in population, in revenue, and in military resources. It is itself a great empire. Originally acquired and governed by a trading company, England was responsible for its administration no further than was implied in the charters and Acts of Parliament, by which British subjects were invested with sovereignty over The East distant regions. Trade was the first, dominion India company. the secondary object of the company. Early in the reign of George III. their territories had become so ex· tended, that Lord Chatham conceived the scheme of claiming them as dominions of the crown. This great scheme, however, dwindled, in the hands of his colleagues, into an agreement with the company to pay £400,000 a year, as the price of their privileges. This tribute was not long enjoyed, for the company, impoverished by perpetual war, and mal-administration, fell into financial difficulties ; and in 1773, were released from this ouligation. And in this year, Parliament, for the first time, undertook to regulate the constitution of the government of India. The court of directors, consisting of twenty-four members, elected by the proprietors of India stock, and virtually independent of the government, became the home authority, by whom the governor-general was appointed, and to whom alone he was responsible. An Asiatic empire was still intrusted to a company, having an extensive civil and military organization, making wars and conquests, negotiating treaties, and exercising uncontrolled dominion. A trading company had grown into a corporate emperor. The genius of Clive and Warren Hastings had acquired the empire of the Great Mogul.

But power exercised by irresponsible and despotic rulers was naturally abused; and in 1773, and again in 1780, the directors were placed under the partial control of a secretary of state. Soon afterwards some of the most glaring excesses of Indian misrule were forced upon the notice of Parliament. English statesmen became sensible that the anomalies of a government, so constituted, could no longer be endured. It was not fit that England should suffer her subjects to practise the iniquities of Asiatic rule, without effective responsibility and control. On Mr. Fox and the coalition ministry first devolved the task of providing against the continued oppression and misrule, which recent inquiries had exposed. They grappled boldly with the evils which demanded a remedy. Satisfied that the government of an empire could not be confided with safety or honor to a commercial company, they proposed at once to transfer it to an other body. But to whom could such a power be in trusted? Not to the crown, whose influence they had already denounced as exorbitant; not to any department of the executive government, which could become accessory to Parliamentary corruption. The company had been, in great measure, independent of the crown and of the ministers of the day; and the power which bad been abused, they now proposed to vest in an independent board. This important body was to consist of seven commissioners, appointed in the first instance, by Parliament, for a term of four years, and ultimately by the crown. The leading concerns of the company were to be managed by eight assistants, appointed first by Parliament, and afterwards by the proprietors of East India stock. It was a bold and hazardous measure, on which Mr. Fox and his colleagues staked their power. Conceived in a spirit of wisdom and humanity, it recognized the duty of the state to redress the wrongs and secure the future welfare of a distant empire; yet was it open to objections which a fierce party contest discolored with exaggeration. The main objections urged against the bill were these : that it violated the chartered rights of the company, that it increased the influence of the crown, and that it invested the coalition party, then having a Parliamentary majority, with a power superior to the crown itself. As regards the first objection, it was vain to contend that Parliament might not lawfully dispossess the company of their dominion over millions of men, which they had disgraced by fraud, rapine, oppression, cruelty, and bloodshed. They had clearly forfeited the political powers intrusted to them for the public good. A solemn trust, having been flagrantly violated, might justly be revoked. But had they forfeited their commercial privileges? They were in difficulties and debt; their affairs were in the utmost confusion ; the grossest mismanagement was but too certainly proved. But such evils in a commercial company, however urgently needing correction, scarcely justified the forfeiture of established rights. The two latter objection were plainly contradictory. The measure could not increase the influence of the crown, and at the same time exalt a party above it. The former was, in truth, wholly untenable, and was relinquished ; while the king, the opposition, the friends of the company, and the country, made common cause in maintaining the latter. And assuredly the weakest point was chosen for attack. The bill nominated the com missioners, exclusively from the ministerial party; and in trusted them with all the power and patronage of India, for a term of four years. At a time when corrupt influence was so potent in the councils of the state, it cannot be doubted that the Commissioners would have been able to promoted the political interests of their own party. To add to their weight, they were entitled to sit in Parliament. Already the Parliamentary influence of the Company had aroused jealousy; and its concentration in a powerful and organized party naturally excited alarm. However exaggerated by party violence, it was unquestionably a well-founded objection, which ought to have been met and counteracted. It is true that vacancies were to be filled up by the crown, and that the appointment of the commissioners was during good behavior; but, practically, they would have enjoyed an in dependent authority for four years. It was right to wrest power from a body which should never have been permitted to exercise it, and by whom it had been flagrantly abused; but it was wrong to constitute the new government an instrument of party, uncontrolled by the crown, and beyond the immediate reach of that Parliamentary responsibility which our free constitution recognizes as necessary for the proper exercise of authority. The error was fatal to the measure itself, and to the party by whom it was committed.

Mr. Fox’s scheme having been overthrown, Mr. Pitt proceeded to frame a measure, in which he dexterously evaded all the difficulties under which his rival had fallen. He left the Company in possession of their large powers; but subjected them to a board of control representing the crown. The Company was now accountable to ministers, in their rule; and ministers, if they suffered wrong to be done, were responsible to Parliament. At the same time, however, power and responsibility were divided; and distracted councils, an infirm executive, and a cumbrous and perplexed administration, were scarcely to be avoided in a double government. The administration of Indian affairs came frequently under the review of Parliament; but this system of double or divided government was continued, on each successive renewal of the privileges of the Company. In 1833, the first great change was effected in the position of the Company. Up to this time, they had enjoyed the exclusive trade with China, and other commercial privileges. This monopoly was now discontinued, and they ceased to be a trading company ; but their dominion over India was con firmed for a further period of twenty years. The right of Parliament, however, to legislate for India was then reserved. It was the last periodical renewal of the powers of the Company. In 1853, significant changes were made; India Bill, their powers being merely continued until Parliament should otherwise provide, and their territories being held in trust for the crown. The Court of Directors was reconstituted, being henceforth composed of twelve elected members and six nominees of the crown. At the same time, the council of the Governor-General in India was enlarged, and invested with a more legislative character. The government of India being thus drawn into closer connection with ministers, they met objections to the increase of patron age, which had been fatal to Mr. Fox’s.scheme, by opening the civil and medical services to competition. This measure prepared the way for a more complete identity between the executive administration of England and India. It had a short and painful trial. The mutiny of the native army in 1857, disclosed the perils and responsibilities of England, and the necessity of establishing a single and supreme authority.

The double government of Mr. Pitt was at length condemned ; the powers and territories of the Company were transferred to the Queen ; and the administration was entrusted to a secretary of State, and Council. But this great change could not be accomplished without a compromise ; and of the fifteen members of the council, seven were elected by the Board of Directors, and eight appointed by the crown. And again, with a view to restrict the state patronage, cadet ships in the engineers and artillery were thrown open to competition.

The transfer of India to the crown was followed by a vigorous administration of its vast dominions. Its army was amalgamated with that of England; the constitution of the council of India was placed upon a wider basis; 1 the courts of judicature were remodelled; the service enlarged; and the exhausted revenues of the country regenerated. To an empire of subjugated states and Asiatic races, self-government was plainly impossible. But it has already profited by European civilization and statesmanship; and while necessarily denied freedom, its ruler; are guided by the principles upon which free states are governed ; and its interests are protected by a free English Parliament, a vigilant press, and an enlightened and humane people.

Beyond these narrow isles, England has won, indeed, a Freedom of vast and glorious empire. In the history of the world, no other state has known how to govern territories so extended and remote, and races of men so diverse; giving to her own kindred colonies the widest liberty and ruling, with enlightened equity, dependencies unqualified for freedom. To the Roman, Virgil proudly sang,

“Tu regere imperio populos, Romane, memento: Hae tibi erunt artes.”

To the Englishman may it not be said with even juster pride, “having won freedom for thyself, and used it wisely, thou hast given it to thy children, who have peopled the earth; and thou hast exercised dominion with justice and humanity!”

May, Thomas Erskine. The constitutional history of England since the accession of George Third, -1860. New York, W.J. Widdleton, -77, 1876. Pdf. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,