Page images
PDF
EPUB

cipline.-Having declared their affent to a confession of faith drawn up by one of the ministers, the greater number, agreeably to the {pirit of independence, figned an affociation, in August, 1629, which is extremely characteristic of them. “ We covenant, said they, with the Lord, and with one another, to walk together in all his ways, according as he is pleased to reveal himself to us; nor will we deal oppreflingly with any wherein we are the Lord's flewards." They immediately chose pastors and other ecclefiaftical oficers, who were separated to their several fun&ions by the imposition of che hancs of the brethren. A religious society, or church, being thus formed, several persons were received into it by giving teftimony of their Sober conversations : and none was admitted to communion with them without giving fatisfaction to the church concerning his faith and manners. But the mode how that should be given was left so the arbitrary discretion of the elders, as particular cases should arise: thus erecting in wilds, which freedom was to people and cultivate, that inquisitorial power which had laid waste the fruitfullet Euro. pean plains.

• It will be extremely difficult, if not imposible, to support the legality of the association before mentioned; except on principles of pure independence, or as a voluntary compact, which was obligatory on none but the associators. The emigrants carrying with them those laws of the realm which were suitable 10 their fituation, so much of the jurisprudence of England instantly became that of the colony. According to the ancient common law, which hath been declared by ftatute, there can be no provincial church etablished, nor any ecclefiaftical proceeding, without the consent of the King, the supreme head. These falutary principles of policy were expressly enforced by their charter, with a caution which seemed to foresee, though it could not prevent, what afterwards happened. Nor did they ask the approbation of the Governor and Company in England, who were invested, as we have seen, with a legislative authority over them. Yet, by the covenant itself, they promised “ to carry themfelves in all lawful obedience to those that are over them in church or commonwealth.” Those emigrants were men, however, above all worldly ordinances. The laws of England, so justly celebrated by the panegyric of nations, they considered as no: binding on them; because in applicable to fo godly a people. And the Jewish System of rules they almost literally adopted; because more suitable to their condition. Men of discernment perceived with regret the ruling principle of Massachusets for the first time disclosed. li verbally admitted the King to be supreme head of the church, and promised all lawful obedience to his power : but it aked not his asa sent when the church was established. And it would probably have deemed the royal interference as an invasion of its chartered rights.

Of all compacts not fridly legal, it is to be lamented as a misa fortune, that what in the beginning is merely voluntary too soon be. comes compulsory, when bigotry is accompanied with power. Among the first emigrants there were some persons of a religion extremely different from that of the members of the before-mentioned fociety; and they were persons too of eltates and consequence, and

нь 3

of

of the number of the first patentees. Observing that the minis ters did not use the book of common prayer, these men, with a laudable spirit of attachment to the usages of their fathers, established a separate meeting, according to the forms of the church of England. And this measure, it should seem, was equally seasonable as the former ; perhaps more consistent with the charter, aod more agreeable to the conftitutions of the llạte. The societies of the colony were founded on a principle of freedom and independence; wbich is always lo respectable even when productive of inconvenience. It is only to be deplored, that their zealous members did not, according to the admirable temper of Christianity, allow that liberty of choice and of action to others, which they had themselves exerted. The Governor, being nevertheless greatly alarmed, fummoned before him. the supporters of the church of Eogland, to give an account of their proceedings : thus considering nonconformity as a crime, wbich the civil magistrate ought to watch and to puoith. They accused, the minifters, in their defence, of departing from the order of the an. cient establishment: adding, “That they were Separatists, and would soon be Anabapiifts; but, as for themselves, they would hold fast to the forms of the church established by law.” The minister denied the charge, and infifted; " That they did not separate from the church of England, but only from her disorders; that, far from being Separatists or Anabaptists, they bad only come away from the common-prayer and ceremonies, because they judged the impofition of these things to be finful corruptions of the word of God." These answers, so agreeable to the sentiments of the majority, were genegally approved of: and two of their accusers, who were persons of consideration, on the pretence fo common on such occasions, of their endeavouring to raise a mutiny among the people, were expelled and fent to London. The expulsion of its chiefs inflicted a wound on the Church of England, which it never recovered ; and the liberal. minded exclaimed, that the same conduct has been invariably pussued at all times, and in every country ; the perfecuted, when they acquire power, will always persecule. With such a church, and such minifters, Blackstone, an episcopal clergyman, could never be induced to communicate : giving, for a reason, what ought to have. taught moderation to all ; thai, as he came from England, because he did not like the Lord bishops, so he would not join with them, because he could not be under the Lord-brethren.'

What must we think of the tolerating principles and spirit of a writer, who can pronounce it an illegal act, for a number of persons settled in a new colony, to “ covenant with the Lord and with one another, that they would walk together in all his ways, according as he hath revealed himself to them, and that they will not deal oppressively with any ;” and in confequence of this, to form themselves into a religious fociety, and make choice of proper persons to perform the offices of religion ? Were such proceedings more criminal in a Chriftian country, than they were under an heathen Emperor, when Pliny, in excuse for the Christians, said to Trajan, that "it was affirmed,

thas

$

that all the offence they had committed was, that they were accustomed to assemble before day-light, to sing an hymn to Christ as to a God, and to bind themselves by an oath not to be guilty of theft, adultery, deceit, treachery, or any other crimes ?” Was there any thing in this conduct in the New Englanders so inconsistent with subjection to civil authority, and destructive of the order of society, that the bold innovators must be ridiculed as men " above all ordinances,” who “ despised the authority of the laws of England, as inapplicable to so godly a people. In judging for themselves, and choosing their own form of religion, what did they more, than follow the example of those who first established the Church of England, which every one knows was a separation or dillent from the Church of Rome, and which would never have been accomplished had the reformers fuffered themselves to be governed by that “ laudable spirit of attachment to the usages of their fathers," which Mr. Chalmers appears so much to admire? If it would have been so agreeable to “ the admirable spirit of Christianity for these new fettlers to allow the liberty of choice and a&" to the Episcopalians, furely it could not be very contrary to the spirit of Christianity, or to its great law of equity, that we ought to do to others as we would that they should do to us, that they should be permitted to enjoy that liberty themselves.

The code of regulations instituted for Carolina by John Locke, and that framed for Pensylvania by William Penn, as might be expected, are treated by our Author with contempt. Concerning the latter he says; " Though it flattered the vanities of men, it was too theoretical to be practicable, too Aimsy to prove lafting, too complicated to ensure continual harmony, and too wild to be useful." Yet he acknowledges in another place, that in executing this plan, Penn at once “ promoted his own designs, and the happiness of the people;' and that, Pensylvania flourished exceedingly, and increased so fast in population, industry, and wealth, that the foon outstripped her neighbours, and in a short period became perhaps the most commercial, rich, and powerful of all the plantations. Could all this good arise in the state, and no share of the merit belong to the legillator? Or had a system which (though “ too wild to be useful”] “ promoted the happiness of the people,” no clainy tó“ praise from philosophers ?”

Our Author's political principles are fully explained in the last chapter of this volume, in which he attempts to lay open the grounds on which the Colonies were first settled, and on these grounds, to maintain the right of the British Parliament to tax America. In the course of these observations, Mr. Chalmers, by a kind of political legerdemain, metamorphoses

Whigs

Hh4

Whigs into Tories, ånd Tories into Whigs, in the following pery ingenious paragraph :

• Few doctrines are too absurd or destructive not to have been propagated and defended by the leaders of faclion at all times, and in every country. We ought not to be surprised, therefore, that even the juft authority of the legislature has been impugned by different men, with different views. In other times objection was only formed against one part of its authority. And it was formerly contended, with a greater Mare of plausibility than force, “ that insuficient was the power of parliament to change or regulate the descent of the crown.'' When we con&der, however, the various instances in which cbis es. sential right had been exerted from the acceffion of Henry IV. to that of Elizabeth, it must appear fingular that any doubt thould have been entertained of the extent of parliamentary power. We must attribute it to the extreme pertinacity of mankind, when influenced by party motives, that, notwithstanding the vigorous declarations of the Parliament during the reign of that Princess, the same objections were continued throoghout the subsequent age. And the year 1680 is remarkable in English annals, not only for being the epoch of the juftly exploded party names of Whig and Tory, but for those projects for exclading the Duke of York from the throne, which created To great a feriment towards the conclusion of the reign of his brother. Bat it was apparent to every one, that, were the authority of parliament 'incompetent to alter the succession, an act of exclusion would. pafs to little purpose. The two great parties of the nation prepared, The one to impeach, the other to defend, the power of the legislature. When the bill was debated by the Commons, the Whigs very properly contended in its favour: That, government being founded by accident rather than in natural right, the rules of mere positive inftitution must be subject to the legislature, since they derived their energy from its will; that there must be lodged consequently somewhere, in every state, an authority absolute and supreme, the great fountain of the laws, which all must revere and obey; that, in the English constitution, this transcendent power is happily placed where it is most fafe, in the Parliament, which, composed of every order of the ftate, must necessarily possess the will, the energy of the state; that whatsoever determination receives the powerful approbation of its fanction cannot afterwards admit of any dispute or controul, fince there would be no end to alteration, and the whole might be undone. But against reasonings, which, during those days, it was so difficult to answer, because they were popular, because they proceeded from the voice of the laws and the people, the courtiers and Tories in. fifted : That it was ridiculous to speak of an authority altogether absolute, since such was to be found under no form of government, and omnipotence itself can do nothing inconsistent or imposible; far less could such a power be invested in judicatories, composed of men subject to human infirmities, since every exertion must partake of their weakness; and, confequently, acts of parliament may easily be figured, which must neceffarily be deemed void, either from the defect of their formation, or from the impossibility of execution. The fate of the bill; the consequent acceflon of James II. the fol.

lowing resolution: all have been related by writers of the greatest talents, and are universally known. Upon the before-mentioned principles of the Whigs was founded the interesting event which placed William on the throne ; upon those principles has the present happy establishment been defended by the best and ablet friends of the Conttitution ; upon no other can the rectitude of both be posibly supported. The maxims of the law of England will be found too stubborn to give way to the speculations of theorists, however ingenious or respectable.

How amusing is it to contemplate the vicisitudes of those parties, which, under different forms, mult ever exist, while freedom animates the whole. How frequently do they infenfibly change their pris. ciples, and imperceptibly take the place of each other. All in their turns have employed force to support their sentiments, when they have found their reasonings and intrigues unsuccessful. Hence the various insurrections, wheiher. denominated rebellion or relifiance, which have disturbed the repose of the State, from the Revolution to the present day, have been uniformly directed again it the conftitutional authority of the Legislature before-mentioned, against the principles of the Whigs of 168c. Meanwhile, a new set of mea have arisen, who, adopting the fentiments of the Tories, though with very different views, have inferred : That, though a King of England may be bound, though the descent of the crown may be limited by Parliament, yet, that English subjects, living within the boundaries of the empire, claiming rights from Englith laws, are exempted from the authority of the English legitlature.'

Had the Author condescended to consult the writings of the Whigs, either of the period of which he is here treating, or of the present times, he would have found them incapable of the inconsistencies with which he charges them; he would have found it to be their invariable principle, that the original source of all power, and all law, refides in the Majesty of the People; and that all governors, by whatever names they are distinguished, are in reality the delegates, and (craving pardoa of those courtly gentlemen who have of late been so much offended by the word) we will add, the servants of the People, and ACCOUNTABLE to their masters for the important trust committed to them. It is solely on this principle of the Supremacy of the People, and on the supposition that their pleasure was expressed in the voice of the Parliament which changed the succession of the Crown at the Revolution, that this great transaction can be justified. However trite the maxim, while there is on earth a prince, minifter, or senator, who forgets it, let not the friends of mankind cease to repeat, Salus Populi ej fu

prema lex.

[To be concluded in our next ]

ART.

« PreviousContinue »