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ernments, who were parties to it, acted, in fact, as independent sovereignties; and circumstances enabled and encouraged them to assume an exemption from the control of any superior power.
By the charters from the crown, under which they had been founded, and which prescribed their respective forms of government, and settled its fundamental principles, the people of those colonies were authorized, by the suffrages of the freemen of the several towns, to elect, not only their immediate representatives in the popular branch of their legislatures, but also the chief executive magistrate, or governor, and his assistants, or councillors, who formed a second and co-ordinate branch of those provincial assemblies. The supremacy, therefore, of the British crown or Parliament over the colonies in question had, at all times, been little more than nominal, in comparison with the authority exercised over those provinces, where the governors and councillors were appointed by the crown, and held their offices at its pleasure, and which in other respects, also, were kept in closer and more immediate subjection. The civil war in which Great Britain was at that time plunged occupied, moreover, her whole attention ; and this measure of her colonies, tending so directly to future independence, was suffered to pass without much notice, and without any animadversion.
From the terms of this association, it may justly be regarded as the first step towards the establishment of independent government in America; with some occasional alterations, it subsisted for nearly half a century, and for a part of that time with the countenance of the British government; nor was it dissolved until the charters of the New-England provinces were, in effect, annulled by James the Second. Subsequently, however, to that arbitrary procedure, congresses of governors and commissioners from the other colonies, as well as from New-England, were held from time to time, to consult on matters relative to their common welfare, and to adopt measures for the protection of the frontiers. An assembly of this description took place at Albany in 1722. But a more general and memorable convention was held at the same place in 1754, consisting of commissioners from all the New-England colonies, and from the provinces of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.
This Congress was called at the instance of the government in England; and although the object of the ministry in proposing it was merely to promote and facilitate the negotiation of treaties with the Indians, the colonial legislatures, who promptly acceded to the proposal, evidently entertained more extensive views with respect to the proceeding. Two of the provinces expressly instructed their delegates to enter into articles of confederation with the other colonies, for their general security in time of peace, as well as in war; and one of the first acts of the commissioners, when they assembled, was a unanimous resolution that a union of the colonies was absolutely necessary for their preservation. After rejecting several proposals for the division of the colonies into separate confederacies, they agreed to a plan of federal government for the whole, consisting of a president-general, to be appointed by the crown, and a general legislative council, to meet once in every year, and to be composed of delegates chosen triennially, by the provincial assemblies.
This celebrated plan of union was draw up by Doctor Franklin, who attended as a delegate from Pennsylvania, and is to be found in the more recent
editions of his works, together with an exposition of the reasons and motives which guided him in forming it. The confederacy was to embrace all the then existing colonies; and the rights of war and peace, in respect to the Indian nations, were vested in the general council of the confederates, subject to the immediate negative of the president-general, and the ultimate approval of the crown. It was to possess the farther power “ to raise troops and build forts for the defence of the colonies, and to equip vessels of war to guard the coasts and protect commerce ;" and for these purposes the general council was to have power to levy such general imposts and taxes as should seem most just and equal.
Besides the venerable name of Franklin, there were enrolled among the delegates to this Congress some others of the greatest distinction in our colonial history. In the course of their proceedings, these enlightened men asserted and promulgated those principles, the reception of which, in the minds of the people of this country, prepared them for future independence, and laid the foundations of our present national government. But the times were not yet propitious—the season had not yet arrived, nor were public sentiment and intelligence sufficiently matured for so comprehensive and liberal a proposition. The master-minds who governed that assembly had gone before their age; and their bold project of continental union had the singular fate of being rejected, not only in England, but by every provincial legislature. By the mother-country, it was probably supposed that union would soon reveal to her colonies the secret of their strength, and afford them the opportunity and the means of giving it effect; while on the part of the colonies, a dread of the preponderating influence of the royal prerogative, in the opera.
tion of the proposed system, condemned them to remain for some years longer separate and insignificant communities, emulous in their obedience to the parent state, and in devotion to her interests, but jealous of each other's prosperity ; gradually estranged by conflicting pretensions and narrow views of local policy; and in some instances kept apart by mutual prejudices, or the dissimilarity of their institutions and manners. The necessity of union had, nevertheless, been felt; its advantages perceived; its principles explained, and the way to it clearly pointed out; and at length, the sense of common danger and oppression brought the colonies once more together, and led them to adopt the same measures of defence and security, not, indeed, against the vexatious and irregular warfare of the savage tribes, but in resistance to the formidable claims, and still more formidable power, of the mother-country.
When the first attack was made by Parliament upon the chartered privileges of the colonists, and their inherent rights as subjects of the English law, by the celebrated Stamp Act of 1763, a congress of deputies from all the colonial assemblies was recommended by the popular branch of the Massachu. setts Legislature; and in the month of October, in that year, delegates from most of the provinces assembled at New-York. Without delay or hesitation, they published a declaration of the rights and griev ances of the colonists, in which they asserted their title to the enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of British subjects, and especially the exclusive power of taxing themselves. They complained more particularly of the act of Parliament imposing stamp duties, and other direct taxes in the colonies; and their remonstrances were so far successful that this obnoxious measure was rescinded, although its re
peal was accompanied by a declaratory assertion of the power of Parliament to tax the colonies in all cases whatever.
This reservation, however, of the abstract right gave little umbrage to the colonists, who regarded it merely as an emollient for the offended pride-a salvo for the wounded honour of Great Britain, and verily believed that no new attempt would be made to reduce the principle to practice. But it was soon discovered that they had reposed too much faith in the intelligence, prudence, and moderation of the British statesmen of that day. Before two years had elapsed, the very men who had consented to the repeal of the Stamp Act brought into Parliament a bill equally objectionable in principle, though less odious in its features and oppressive in its operation; and this bill became a law, almost without opposition. After a long course of patient remonstrance and constitutional resistance to the execution of this act, a general congress was proposed at town meetings in New-York and Boston, and more formally recommended by a majority of the Virginia Assembly, upon the dissolution of that body in consequence of its opposition to the claims of Parliament. The committees of correspondence established in the several colonies selected the city of Philadelphia as the place, and appointed the tenth of September, 1774, as the time of meeting of the first Continental Congress.
The members of that illustrious body were in general elected by the colonial legislatures; but in some instances a different method was pursued, which, for the most part, was adopted from necessity. In New-Jersey and Maryland, the elections were made by committees chosen in the several counties for that purpose ; and in New-York, where the