Page images

otherwise begun? Who would desire the power of going back to the ages of fable? Who would wish for an origin obscured in the darkness of antiquity? Who would wish for other emblazoning of his country's heraldry, or other ornaments of her genealogy, than to be able to say, that her first existence was with intelligence, her first breath the inspiration of liberty, her first principle the truth of Divine religion ?

Local attachments and sympathies would ere long spring up in the breasts of our ancestors, endearing to them the place of their refuge. Whatever natural objects are associated with interesting scenes and high efforts, obtain a hold on human feeling, and demand from the heart a sort of recognition and regard. This Rock soon became hallowed in the esteem of the Pilgrims, and these hills grateful to their sight. Neither they nor their children were again to till the soil of England, nor again to traverse the seas which surrounded her. But here was a new sea, now open to their enterprise, and a new soil, which had not failed. to respond gratefully to their laborious industry, and which was already assuming a robe of verdure. Hardly had they provided shelter for the living, ere they were summoned to erect sepulchres for the dead. The ground had become sacred, by enclosing the remains of some of their companions and connections. A parent, a child, a husband, or a wife, had gone the way of all flesh, and mingled with the dust of New England. We naturally look with strong emotions to the spot, though it be a wilderness, where the ashes of those we have loved repose. Where the heart has laid down what it loved most, there it is desirous of laying itself down. No sculptured marble, no enduring monument, no honourable inscription, no ever-burning taper that would drive away the darkness of the tomb, can soften our sense of the reality of death, and hallow to our feelings the ground which is to cover us, like the consciousness that we shall sleep, dust to dust, with the objects of our affections.

In a short time other causes sprang up to bind the Pilgrims with new cords to their chosen land. Children were born, and the hopes of future generations arose, in the spot of their new habitation. The second generation found this the land of their nativity, and saw that they were bound to its fortunes. They beheld their fathers' graves around them, and, while they read the memorials of their toils and labours, they rejoiced in the inheritance which they found bequeathed to them.

Under the influence of these causes, it was to be expected that an interest and a feeling should arise here, entirely differ. ent from the interest and feeling of mere Englishmen; and all the subsequent history of the Colonies proves this to have


actually and gradually taken place. With a general acknowl. edgment of the supremacy of the British Crown, there was, from the first, a repugnance to an entire submission to the control of British legislation. The Colonies stood upon their charters, which, as they contended, exempted them from the ordinary power of the British Parliament, and authorized them to conduct their own concerns by their own counsels. They utterly resisted the notion that they were to be ruled by the mere authority of the government at home, and would not endure even that their own charter governments should be established on the other side of the Atlantic. It was not a controlling or protecting board in England, but a government of their own, and existing immediately within their limits, which could satisfy their wishes. It was easy to foresee, what we know also to have happened, that the first great cause of colli. sion and jealousy would be, under the notion of political econ. omy then and still prevalent in Europe, an attempt on the part of the mother country to monopolize the trade of the Colonies. Whoever has looked deeply into the causes which produced our Revolution, has found, if I mistake not, the original principle far back in this claim, on the part of England, to monopolize our trade, and a continued effort on the part of the Colonies to resist or evade that monopoly; if indeed it be not still more just and philosophical to go further back, and to con. sider it decided that an independent government must arise here, the moment it was ascertained that an English colony, such as landed in this place, could sustain itself against the dangers which surrounded it, and, with other similar establishments, overspread the land with an English population. Acci. dental causes retarded at times, and at times accelerated, the progress of the controversy. The Colonies wanted strength, and time gave it to them. They required measures of strong and palpable injustice, on the part of the mother country, to justify resistance; the early part of the late King's reign furnished them. They needed spirits of a high order, of great daring, of long foresight, and of commanding power, to seize the favouring occasion to strike a blow, which should sever, for ever, the tie of colonial dependence; and these spirits were found, in all the extent which that or any crisis could demand, in Otis, Adams, Hancock, and the other immediate authors of our independence.


THE second century opened upon New England under circumstances which evinced that much had already been accomplished, and that still better prospects and brighter hopes were before her. She had laid, deep and strong, the foundations of her society. Her religious principles were firm, and her moral habits exemplary. Her public schools had begun to diffuse widely the elements of knowledge; and the College, under the excellent and acceptable administration of Leverett, had been raised to a high degree of credit and usefulness.

The commercial character of the country, notwithstanding all discouragements, had begun to display itself, and five hundred vessels, then belonging to Massachusetts, placed her in relation to commerce, thus early, at the head of the Colonies. An author who wrote very near the close of the first century says : “New England is almost deserving that noble name, so mightily hath it increased; and, from a small settlement at first, is now become a very populous and flourishing government. The capital city, Boston, is a place of great wealth and trade ; and by much the largest of any in the English empire of America ; and exceeded by but few cities, perhaps two or three, in all the American world."

But if our ancestors at the close of the first century could look back with joy, and even admiration, at the progress of the country, what emotions must we not feel, when, from the point in which we stand, we also look back and run along the events of the century which has now closed? The country which then, as we have seen, was thought deserving of a “noble name"; which then had “mightily increased,” and become very populous”; what was it, in comparison with what our eyes behold it?

At that period a very great proportion of its inhabitants lived in the eastern section of Massachusetts proper, and in Plymouth Colony. In Connecticut, there were towns along the coast, some of them respectable, but in the interior all was a wilderness beyond Ilartford. On Connecticut river settlements had proceeded as far up as Deerfield, and Fort Dummer had been built near where is now the south line of New Hampshire. In New IIampshire no settlement was then begun thirty miles from the mouth of Piscataqua river, and, in what is now Maine, the inhabitants were confined to the coast. The aggregate of the whole population of New England did not exceed one hundred and sixty thousand. Its present amount is probably one million seven hundred thousand. Instead of being confined to its former limits, her population has rolled back


ward and filled up the spaces included within her actual local boundaries. Not this only, but it has overflowed those boundaries, and the waves of emigration have pressed further and further toward the West. The Alleghany has not checked it; the banks of the Ohio have been covered with it. New England farms, houses, villages, and churches spread over and adorn the immense extent from the Ohio to Lake Erie, and stretch along from the Alleghany onwards, beyond the Miamis, and toward the Falls of St. Anthony. Two thousand miles westward from the rock where their fathers landed, may now be found the sons of the Pilgrims, cultivating smiling fields, rearing towns and villages, and cherishing, we trust, the patrimonial blessings of wise institutions of liberty and religion. The world has seen nothing like this. Regions large enough to be empires, and which, half a century ago, were known only as remote and unexplored wildernesses, are now.teeming with population, and prosperous in all the great concerns of life ; in good governments, the means of subsistence, and social happi.

It may be safely asserted that there are now more than a million of people, descendants of New England ancestry, living free and happy, in regions which, hardly sixty years ago, were tracts of unpenetrated forest. Nor do rivers, or moun. tains, or seas resist the progress of industry and enterprise. Ere long, the sons of the Pilgrims will be on the shores of the Pacific. The imagination hardly keeps up with the progress of population, improvement, and civilization.

It is now five-and-forty years since the growth and rising glory of America were portrayed in the English Parliament, with inimitable beauty, by the most consummate orator of modern times. Going back somewhat more than half a cen. tury, and describing our progress as foreseen from that point by his amiable friend Lord Bathurst, then living, he spoke of the wonderful progress which America had made during the period of a single human life. There is no American heart, I imagine, that does not glow, both with conscious, patriotic pride, and admiration for one of the happiest efforts of eloquence, so often as the vision of “that little speck, scarce visi. ble in the mass of national interest, a small seminal principle, rather than a formed body," and the progress of its astonishing development and growth, are recalled to the recollection. But a stronger feeling might be produced, if we were able to


6 It is hardly needful to observe how this prediction has been fulfilled in the settlement of California, and its incorporation as a State of the Union.

7 The allusion is to a very celebrated passage in Burke's Speech on Concilia. tion with America, which is given in an earlier part of this volume. See page 152.

take up this prophetic description where he left it, and, placing ourselves at the point of time in which he was speaking, to set forth with equal felicity the subsequent progress of the country. There is yet among the living a most distinguished and venerable name, a descendant of the Pilgrims; one who has been attended through life by a great and fortunate genius; a man illustrious by his own great merits, and favoured of Heaven in the long continuation of his years. The time when the English orator was thus speaking of America preceded but by a few days the actual opening of the Revolutionary drama at Lexington. He to whom I have alluded, then at the age of forty, was among the most zealous and able defenders of the violated rights of his country. He seemed already to have filled a full measure of public service and attained an honourable fame. The moment was full of difficulty and danger, and big with events of immeasurable importance. The country was on the very brink of a civil war, of which no man could foretell the duration or the result. Something more than a courageous hope, or characteristic ardour, would have been necessary to impress the glorious prospect on his belief, if, at that moment, before the sound of the first shock of actual war had reached his ears, some attendant spirit had opened to him the vision of the future ;- if it had said to him, “The blow is struck, and America is severed from England for ever!”. if it had informed him that he himself, the next annual revolution of the Sun, should put his own hand to the great instrument of Independence, and write his name where all nations should behold it and all time should not efface it; that ere long he himself should maintain the interest and represent the sovereignty of his new-born country in the proudest Courts of Europe ; that he should one day exercise her supreme magistracy; that he should yet live to behold ten millions of fellowcitizens paying him the homage of their deepest gratitude and kindest affections; that he should see distinguished talent and high public trust resting where his name rested ; that he should even see with his own unclouded eyes the close of the second century of New England, who had begun life almost with its commencement, and lived through nearly half the whole history of his country; and that on the morning of this auspicious day Ke should be found in the political councils of his native State,' revising, by the light of experience, that system of gov. ernment which forty years before he had assisted to frame

[ocr errors]


8 Referring to John Adams, the second President of the United States.

9 At the time when this was spoken, Mr. Adams was a member, as Webster himself also was, of a Convention of Massachusetts, which assembled, in the Fall of 1820, to revise and amend the Constitution of the State,

« PreviousContinue »