Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

I. THE TOWN TYPE.

[ocr errors]

68. The Puritan Ideas.-The English Puritans desired to diminish the consequence of the higher clergy in Church government, and to increase that of the local pastors and of the lay membership. They also desired to add to the importance of the plain people in all matters of government. To carry out these ideas, was the main object sought by those Puritans who came to New England. Furthermore, the first to come came as Church societies accompanied by their ministers, not as individuals. Moreover, they mainly belonged to the English middle class, which tended to foster a feeling of equality and to render society homogeneous.

69. The First Towns.-Such a Church society, landing on the New England coast, would naturally make choice of some suitable spot where they could build a village or group of houses, and so all go to the same church. This they did, and continued to do as they moved westward. The first towns on the Connecticut River were founded by similar congregations migrating from Massachusetts. Such settlements were favored by the Massachusetts government, which made grants of land to similar societies wishing to live near together and attend one church. In later times, emigrations were sometimes made to the West in the same manner.

70. Influence of Physical Conditions.- Physical conditions tended strongly to develop the village feature of New England civilization. Large farms or plantations devoted to a single staple, as tobacco or rice, were an impossibility; the country admitted only of small farms and small farming. Then villages could be better defended against Indian attacks than scattered farms and houses. The rigor of the winter climate also drove the people together. Besides, the Colonists interested themselves in commerce and fishing, and finally in manufacturing, as well as in agriculture; the coast was indented with natural harbors: and

these circumstances favored compact societies and trading marts.

71. Education and Schools.-The founders of New England were educated as well as religious men. They believed thoroughly in schools and in education, and the school, as well as the church, tended to centralize the common life. The first school law of Massachusetts, enacted in 1647, ordered." that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty householders, shall then forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read,

; also that, where any town shall increase to the number of one hundred householders, they shall set up a grammar school, the master thereof being able to instruct youth as far as they may be fitted for the university." A public school system was also established at an early day in Connecticut.

72. The Old New England Town.—The primal cell of the New England political organism was a reproduction of the English parish under the name of the town, and it presented both a civil and an ecclesiastical phase. As a civil organization, it regulated, in town meeting and by its magistrates, all civil matters of merely domestic concern, and for this purpose imposed and collected taxes. It had its own representation in the Colonial Assembly, and its own militia company. As an ecclesiastical organization, it was a Church society, choosing its own minister and other officers, and regulating its own ecclesiastical affairs. In 1643 counties were first organized in Massachusetts. Each county had its own regiment, as each town had its own company. The county cut a small figure in New England.

73. Influence of the System.-The influence of local self-government upon New England life was very great. It proved an excellent training school in the science and the art of politics. Samuel Adams, who had more to do with preparing the public mind of Massachusetts for the Revolution than any other one man, has been called the man of the town-meeting. Mr. Jefferson expressed great admiration for town government, and strove to introduce it into Virginia. He said: “These wards, called townships in New England, are the vital principle of their governments, and have proved themselves the wisest invention ever devised by the wit of man for the perfect exercise of self-government and for its preservation." And again : "These little republics would be the main strength of the great one. We owe to them the vigor given to our Revolution in its commencement in the Eastern States."

II. THE COUNTY TYPE.

74. Early Virginia Life.-In social factors Virginia differed from Massachusetts. First, the emigrants did not bring with them democratic ideas in relation to religion and civil affairs, but were content with the English Church and State systems. They did not come as organized societies, but as individuals. Secondly, social distinctions were far more inarked in the emigration ; there were paupers and criminals as well as gentlemen and trades-people. Thirdly, the physical conditions were very different. The rivers, which have been called "fingers of an ocean hand,' brought sea-going vessels to the planter's own dock, thus rendering commercial towns at first unnecessary. Lands were granted to individuals, not to communities, and in any quantity that they desired. Men of capital bought large tracts suitable for growing tobacco, just as men of capital in our time buy similar tracts in Dakota suitable for growing wheat. Previous to 1776, when entails were abolished, the oldest son commonly inherited his father's landed estate. There were small farms, but the tendency was to large plantations. Plantation life compelled men to live in the country, while a genial climate and a picturesque nature rendered country life very attractive and enjoyable. In time the absence of towns became a serious inconvenience; there was little trade and less manufacturing; transportation, save on the rivers, was difficult, and the people were mainly dependent upon foreign merchants. Efforts were now made to stimulate the building of towns, but they were commonly fruitless. Few towns were built, and these were small.

75. The Virginia Parish.—This was a reproduction, with some changes, of the English parish. The parish authority was the vestry, composed of twelve men, who were at first elected by the people, but who afterwards filled the vacancies that occurred in their own number. The vestry levied the parish taxes, appointed the church wardens, looked after the poor, and settled the minister of the parish. The sexton and the parish-clerk may also be mentioned. There were no schools or town-meetings.

76. The Virginia County.-This was the political unit of the Colony. But as the county could not well meet in county.meeting, as the New England town met in town-meeting, local government was representative, not democratic. The justices of the peace, usually eight in number, formed the county court. They were appointed by the Governor, commonly on the nomination of the court itself, which made the court a close corporation like the vestry. The court appointed its own clerk, who kept the county as well as the court records, and nominated a list of three candidates from whom the Governor appointed the sheriff. Besides its judicial functions, the court had charge of the construction of roads, highways, and bridges, appointed the constables, had charge of ferries, admitted attorneys to the practice of the law, licensed innkeepers, and, in early times, divided the county into parishes. The other county officers were the coroner, the surveyor, and the lieutenant, who was chief commander of the militia and administrator of the military laws. The county was represented by two burgesses in the House of Burgesses.

77. Taxation.-The vestry had a limited power of levying taxes for parish purposes. The courty court made the county levy, and the General Assembly the Colonial

[ocr errors]

levy. The sheriff was the fiscal officer, " He was not only collector of both public and county levies, and sometimes that of the parish, but he was the custodian of the tobacco received, paying it out on the proper warrant and rendering account therefor to the county or provincial court. He was, in short, ex officio county treasurer-there being no officer bearing that name in Virginia." I

78. The Southern States.-Conditions similar to those that prevailed in Virginia in Colonial days prevailed also in the other Southern Colonies. This likeness of conditions tended to create likeness of social and political ideas and institutions. Besides, the influence of Virginia on the whole South was considerable. As a result, the County system of government, with minor modifications, was established in all these Colonies.

79. Influence of the System.---The County system in Colonial times tended to create an aristocratic and centralized local government. And yet Virginia, in 1776, was as well prepared for independence as Massachusetts. Hence we must seek out the popular element in her political life. The vestrymen were usually the most discreet farmers; distributed through the parish, they were acquainted with the details and economy of private life, and they found ample inducements to execute their duties well in their philanthropy, in the approbation of their neighbors, and in the resulting distinction. The parish and county government was open to the public eye. On the political stump, which originated in pre-Revolutionary days, were discussed the rights of the Colonies and their relations to England, The centralized administration created able political leaders just as the town-meeting created a well-instructed democ racy ; while the forces of American life tended to array both alike against the Crown and Parliament.

III. THE MIXED TYPE. 80. The Middle Colonies.-The Mixed System was due to a variety of causes. First, population was less

1 Howard: Local Constitutional History of the U. S., Vol, I., p. 399.

« AnteriorContinuar »