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Great Britain, on repealing the Stamp Act, rejected this assumed fundamental compact and declared its “right,” through its Parliament, to * legislate so as to bind the Colonies “ in all cases whatsoever." Such a "right” necessarily implied a legally-unlimited power of legislation for the Colonies; and a legally-unlimited power of legislation of course implied a legally-unlimited power of taxation, since taxation is only a kind of legislation.
The Colonies at once met the British claim of legally-unlimited power by a claim that the power of Great Britain over the Colonies was limited, and set themselves to determine the kind of power which Great Britain ought to exercise over the Colonies, hoping to have the question settled by a new and express fundamental compact between the two countries and thus to avoid the question concerning the origin of the limitations which they were asserting. During this period -- from 1766 to 1775 the conclusion was reached in America that the power of Great Britain over the Colonies was either executive power pure and simple, or executive power accompanied by a power of executive legislation sufficient to make the executive power effective. The leaders of the party holding the former opinion were Adams and Jefferson. Dickinson and Washington led the other party. In 1773, Great Britain, after some years of indecision, concluded to adhere to the claim of legally-unlimited power. The attempt to enforce the tax on tea — a tax itself wholly insignificant – was an overt act on the part of Great Britain evidencing its design to enforce its claim of legally-unlimited power, and as such. was met by the Americans with prompt resistance. All expectation that Great Britain would agree that its powers over the Colonies were legally-limited being thus nearly at an end, the Americans were driven to consider what was the nature of the law under which the powers of Great Britain was legally-limited. The argument based on an assumed extension of the British Constitution to the Colonies was weak, because they could not prove that that Constitution had been so extended, and when they came to examine the British Constitution they found that it was nothing but a fiction ; for though the conception of a true British Constitution which should be the supreme law of the land had been evolved in England during the period from 1688 to 1710, the idea had been strangled at its birth by the British Parliament claiming to be at once the constitutional convention and the general legislature.
Nor could the Americans rely upon the colonial charters, for in one of them at least the power of Parliament over the Colonies was asserted in such a
way as to give a basis for the British claim. When the Continental Congress met in 1774, the Americans thus found themselves in a position where they felt it was doubtful whether they could safely rest their case upon a law which had for its basis the British Constitution or the colonial charters, and where they began to realize that it might be nécessary to base their case on the fundamental principles of natural law and justice. John Adams, in his Diary, narrating the proceedings of the Committee on Resolutions, and describing their deliberations, says:
The two points which labored the most were: 1. Whether we should recur to the law of nature, as well as to the British Constitution and our American charters and grants. Mr. Galloway and Mr. Duane were for excluding the law of nature. I was very strenuous for retaining and insisting on it, as a resource to which we might be driven by Parliament much sooner than we were aware. 2. The other great question was, what authority we should concede to Parliament; whether we should deny the authority of Parliament in all cases; whether we should allow any authority to it in our internal affairs; or whether we should allow it to regulate the trade of the Empire with or without any restrictions.
The result was that in the preamble of the Declaration of Rights and Grievances of October 14, 1774, the proposition of the American Colonies that the powers of Great Britain over them were legally-limited was based on “the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English Constitution, and the several charters and compacts."
By the second Address to the King of July 8, 1775, the Americans, in order to make it clear that the dissolution of the British Empire, if it occurred, should not be attributable to their action, formally petitioned the King to use his efforts to have the dispute settled by Imperial conference or, in the last resort, through Imperial arbitration by the British Crown. When this petition was ignored, the Americans abandoned as impracticable any further attempt to rest their claim on the British Constitution or the colonial charters, and in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence based themselves solely upon “the law of nature and of nature’s God,” asserting that all rightful governmental power everywhere is legally-limited by this universal supreme law, and that hence it was under this universal supreme law that the powers of Great Britain over the Colonies were legally-limited. The preamble of the Declaration contained the steps in the argument for the existence of such a universal supreme law, as those steps were determined by the Continental Congress during their long discussion. This "law of nature and of nature's God” was declared to have its origin in the common and
equal necessity of all men to preserve the attributes of life, motion and prehension, which are common to all, and which, as necessary to all, and arising equally by "endowment of the Creator," are self-evidently “unalienable.” From the proposition that each man, equally with all others, by reason of his creation by a Creator, possesses certain attributes which are necessary to self-preservation and “unalienable” without self-destruction, the existence of a supreme universal law was inferred under which each man as against all individuals, governments and states has “rights” which are “unalienable.” These rights are spoken of as “certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and evidently correspond to the attributes of life, motion and prehension, which are equal, common and necessary to all. This supreme universal law was declared to rest upon “ the opinions of mankind,” which are entitled to "a decent respect." Thus at the outset this nation asserted rights against Great Britain under international law — that law being regarded as an international equity based on the common experience and formulated by the common opinion of civilized mankind. The existence of rights necessarily involves legal limitation of the powers of the party against whom the right exists, and the assertion by Great Britain of a claim of legally-unlimited power, persistently followed by acts evidencing an intention to enforce this claim, was rightly held by the Colonies to be a dissolution of the social bond and hence a dissolution of the political connection between the two countries.
By the Declaration of Independence, therefore, the issue raised was, whether a state or a government sufficiently strong to enforce its will may rightfully exercise legally-unlimited power, or whether the conception of legally-unlimited power is rationally impossible and unthinkable, being opposed to a self-evident supreme universal law by which the powers of all states and all governments are legally-limited. The success of the Americans in the War of Independence left the United States free to carry into effect the principle for which the war had been fought. The principle was accepted by each of the States simultaneously with the announcement of it in the Declaration of Independence, each State making its own interpretation of this supreme law by forming a written Constitution assumed to emanate from the common conscience and common intelligence of the people of the State and limiting the powers of government. In 1787, the principle was applied to the whole United States by the adoption of a written Constitution which was declared to be the supreme law of the land." In 1796, the principle was applied by President Washington, in his Farewell Address, to all American foreign relations; and in 1823 the South American states, having accepted the principle, received from the United States a guarantee of the maintenance of the principle through the declaration by President Monroe of the Monroe Doctrine. In recent years, the principle has been applied by the Supreme Court of the United States as governing the relations between this nation and the countries under its jurisdiction.
In the opinion of the reviewer, therefore, the author is far from being correct in “omitting ” what he calls " the constitutional question,” since the Revolution was fought on a question of political theory of the most far-reaching kind, and did in fact result in determining the question according to the American contention. The failure of the author in this respect -- if there be a failure, as the reviewer believes — does not, however, affect the value of the book as a history of Canada from 1763 to 1812; for during that period American ideas had little influence in Canada; but a history of Canada from 1812 to the present time which should take no account of the effect upon Canadian institutions of those American political ideas which have their beginning in the American Revolution would indeed be imperfect.
Some of the conclusions of the author regarding the effect of the success of the American Colonies in the Revolution upon the development of the British Empire are profound and interesting. Summing up the results of the Treaty of Peace of 1783, he says (pp. 206, 207):
Though the United States, in the war and in the treaty which followed it, attained in the fullest possible measure the objects for which they had contended, it is a question whether, of all the countries concerned in that war, Canada did not really gain most.
Had the United States remained British possessions, Canada must eventually have come into line with them, and been more or less lost among the stronger and more populous provinces. The same result would have followed, had the British Government entertained, as their emissary Oswald did, Franklin's proposal that Canada should be ceded to the United States.
The result of the War of American Independence was to make the United States a great nation; but it was a result which, whether with England or without, they must in any case have achieved. The war had also the effect, and no other cause could have had a like effect, of making possible a national existence for Canada, which possibility was to be converted into a living and potent fact by the second American war, the war of 1812.
Of the effect of the War of Independence on the development of the British Empire, he says (pp. 32, 204, 205):
What would have happened if the revolting colonies had not made good their revolt must be a matter of speculation, but it is difficult to believe that if the
United States had remained under the British flag, Australia would ever have become a British colony. There is a limit to every political system and every empire, and, with the whole of North America east of the Mississippi for her own, it is not likely that England would have taken in hand the exploiting of a new continent. At any rate, it is significant that, within four years of the date of the treaty which recognized the independence of the United States, the first English colonists were sent to Australia.
The present broad-based Imperial system of Great Britain was for two reasons the direct outcome of that war. While the United States were still colonial possessions of Great Britain, they overshadowed all others; and, had they remained British possessions, their preponderance would in all probability have steadily increased. It is quite possible that the centre of the Empire might have shifted to the other side of the Atlantic; it is almost certain that the colonial expansion of Great Britain would have been mainly confined to North America. Nothing has been more marked and nothing sounder in our recent colonial history than the comparative uniformity of development in the British Empire. In those parts of the world which have been settled and not merely conquered by Europeans, and which are still British possessions, in British North America, Australasia, and South Africa, there has been on the whole parity of progress. No one of the three groups of colonies has in wealth and population wholly outdistanced the others. This fact has unquestionably made for strength and permanence in the British Empire, and it is equally beyond question that the spread of colonization within the Empire would have been wanting, had Great Britain retained her old North American colonies. Unequalled in history was the loss of such colonies, and yet by that loss, it may fairly be said, Great Britain has achieved a more stable and a more world-wide colonial dominion.
The book shows the same painstaking study and attention to details as the Historical Geography of the British Empire and the others written or edited by the author. It is an important addition to the works on the general history of the British Colonies in America as well as to those on the history of Canada.
ALPHEUS HENRY Snow.
British Colonial Policy, 1754-1765. By George Louis Beer. New York:
The Macmillan Company. 1907. pp. vii, 316. As the title shows, this book is concerned with the relations between Great Britain and the American Colonies from 1954 to 1765. The author presents a valuable mass of facts, drawn from his personal investigation of foreign archives, concerning both the war-relations of Great Britain and the American Colonies with France during this period, under the beads of imperial defence and requisitions for this purpose, and the peace-relations between the two countries, under the heads of