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Discovery of America and contemporaneous events-Common origin of the British and American people and their institutions-Primitive character of the colonists and their final separation from the mother country-important dif. ferences in the condition of the two nations—The American constitution was planned by Congress, is a legislative experiment, and is not a precedent to be followed by this country.
The invention of printing, the Reformation, and the discovery of America, occurring in the order of Divine Providence very near the same period, combined to produce the most important and beneficial results to mankind. The art of printing, by which thought is transmitted rapidly and extensively from mind to mind and from age to age, performed its noblest office as an auxiliary to the Reforination. And after the Reformation had made considerable progress, the religious differences which arose in England, led many of our ancestors to seek an asylum in the recently-discovered continent of North America. Thither they carried the reformed doctrines, which are now professed by millions of their descendants in the new world, and are propagated by their missionaries in various parts of the globe.
The discovery of America tended, in connection with other causes, to render the moderns more original and more independent of antiquity. It opened a wide field for geographical and scientific discovery, for mercantile adventure, and daring enterprise. To the young, the hopeful, the disappointed, the ambitious, America was a land of promise, and for many generations innumerable emigrants from the civilized societies of the old world, have started forward in that ample region, in a new and more prosperous course. The Anglo-American colonies especially, have immensely extended commerce and manufactures, have changed the distribution of wealth, and modified the influence of hereditary rank and fortune in the parent state. Their successful struggle for independence had an important bearing on the political condition of European kingdoms; and to Englishmen especially, the study of their history and institutions is essential, and full of the most interesting and valuable instruction.
The American continent extends almost from pole to pole; its loftiest mountains surpass the highest Alps; its lakes, resembling inland seas, supply the mightiest rivers of the earth; its immense plains of exhaustless fertility yield the various productions of tropical and temperate regions; and its climate is generally far more favourable to man than that of Asia or of Africa. Such is the magnificent abode prepared from the beginning by the all-bountiful Creator, but which was reserved till these latter days, to receive the overflowing population of the ancient kingdoms of the earth.
The first settlers on the shores of the Antilles and of South America, were gladdened by the discovery of islands of extraordinary beauty, in a sea calm, clear, and sparkling beneath the glowing sky of the tropics. The peaceful inhabitants of that paradise of the South were soon subdued and enslaved, and were forced by their avaricious conquerors to toil and perish in the mines. The colonists themselves soon became enervated and debased, and the treasures of gold and silver which they obtained by so many and so cruel wrongs, brought with them a curse. Impoverished Spain has lost her South American colonies by revolt; and those young republics, the æra of whose independence it was confidently foretold would be the commencement of a bright period of prosperity, of glory, and of happiness, have ever since their separation from the mother country been the theatre of revolutions, assassinations, and civil wars, which have disappointed the ardent hopes that were entertained of their rising greatness.
Between the Atlantic and the eastern base of the Alleghany mountains, whose mean distance from the sea is about one hundred miles, the bleak and barren shores of New England extend for nine hundred miles. On that in hospitable coast the first settlers from England landed. Rocks and gloomy forests seemed to bar their way. Farther inland lay a wilderness, inhabited by tribes of warlike savages, where alternate vegetation and decay had for ages been preparing a richly productive soil for the plough. The great valley which lies between the eastern and western range of the mountains of North America, comprehends a space of one million three hundred and forty-two thousand square miles, being twenty-six times larger than England and Wales. Through that valley the majestic Mississippi takes its course of two thousand five hundred miles, having a mean depth of fifteen feet, even at the distance of one thousand three hundred and sixty miles from its mouth. The Rhine and the Danube are streamlets in comparison with that mighty river, whose descriptive Indian name is the “Father of waters.” Fifty-seven great navigable rivers pour their tributary waters into its tide, and of these, the Missouri flows about two thousand five hundred miles, the Arkansas one thousand three hundred miles, the Red River one thousand miles. To the west of the Mississippi the woods disappear, and there are plains of unknown extent.
If the first British settlers on the American continent had quitted their native country, either at an earlier and less enlightened period of our history, or in the present age, doubtless the character of the American people and of their institutions, would have been materially different from what they became. The colonies in New England were the exemplar of all the rest, and the primitive character of the colonists was derived from that of the mother country at the time of their departure. It is therefore important to advert briefly to the state of society in England at that period, and subsequent to the Reformation.
The great social changes of former times were generally produced by conquest, the arts of human policy, the struggles of men for power, wealth, glory, or freedom. The Reformation was a revolution caused by the powerful influence of truth. It gave an impulse to society which will be felt to the end of time. Several devout and humble men, in different parts of Europe, were almost simultaneously led to perceive scriptural truths, that had long been corrupted and concealed. The great theme of revelation filled their souls,-inspired them with fervent zeal and lofty courage. Their words, instinct with life and power, were eloquent to stir men's deepest and strongest feelings of attachment or of enmity. Their adversaries were confident in their numbers, in their secular and ecclesiastical power, in their scholastic theology, and controversial skill; but they could not resist nor gainsay the spirit and wisdom of the first Reformers, who believed and taught the pure gospel, who suffered, who died for it, and have handed down to us that precious treasure and inheritance, with liberty of conscience and freedom of thought.
Many of the kings of Europe combined with the Pope to arrest the progress of the Reformation in their dominions, by force. In that design they were permitted to succeed. But none may reject the truth with impunity: and doubtless those kingdoms would have made far higher attainments, and would have enjoyed greater and more uninterrupted happiness, if Christianity had shed its purest light over all Europe. For it is to a Reformation confined to a part only of Europe, that we owe our deliverance from the spiritual and intellectual bondage of the dark ages. The Reformation, although it was partial and limited in its operation, did bring glorious light and liberty. Touched by its rays, genius and talents of the highest order sprung up in exuberant fertility, and the long imprisoned currents of thought and of enterprise flowed afresh. In England especially, the remarkable change resembled the return of spring after a long polar winter, when the renovated earth suddenly teems with luxuriant vegetation, and the frozen streams gush out, and sparkle in perpetual day.
It was not until Elizabeth ascended the throne, that the Reformation was established, either in England or in Scotland. Now, from the middle of her reign till about a century afterwards, is an unrivalled historical period, surpassing the best days of Greece, the Augustan age of Rome, the times of the Medici in modern Italy, the age of Louis the Fourteenth in France, and that of Queen Anne in England. The illustrious men of that time were of vast capacity and creative genius, who made large additions to science, or produced literary works of high and enduring excellence. Bacon, who prepared the way for all the great discoveries of modern times; Spenser, Shakspere, and Milton; Barrow