Page images

I can conceive of some act of unassuming benevolence, some balm of consolation poured into the wounded spirit of a single sufferer; some delicate sympathy exerted for the relief of a suffering family – I can conceive of a yet more enlarged and extended benevolence, busying itself with the distressed of a whole community; of a nature so big with philanthropy as to extend its sympathies to suffering humanity, wherever within the range of its noble efforts wretchedness was found. Yes, I can conceive of such principles and such actions that would have conferred upon Napoleon Bonaparte more deserved fame, and handed down his name to posterity with a higher claim to its gratitude and veneration, than all the splendors of his military achievements, and all the trophies of his conspicuous victories.

These will be found to constitute the enviable basis upon which is erected the fame of the founder of Georgia. These will transmit his memory with an unfailing claim to the admiration of posterity.

He penetrated the recesses of the dungeons of England and gave life and liberty to many a suffering captive — he searched into their abuses, and humanity and kindness succeeded to cruelty and oppression - he dragged before the public the authors of these outrages, and the rigors of legal confinement became tempered with mercy. With paternal affection he gathered together the poor and destitute of his own country, and the wandering exile from Germany, the victims of religious intolerance;—with these he crossed the Atlantic and became in this western world the founder of a new State. Abandoning the honors and pleasures of the first court in Europe, he devoted the best years of his life to the interests and happiness of those whose welfare he had espoused. In this cause he expended a large portion of his fortune. To encourage the settlers to labor, he wielded with them the implements of labor — to protect them against the effects of French and Spanish intrigues upon the natives, he travelled four hundred miles through a desert wilderness without a path to guide or a house to lodge him, that he might drink with the Indian warrior the saf key and smoke the pipe of peace.* He legislated for them — he fought their battles - he never forgot them. When at the period

* His visit to the Coweta Towns.

of the Revolution the sword of England was tendered to him to subdue the American colonies, he refused to accept it, unless the ministry would authorize him to assure the colonies that justice would be done them. He used, upon this occasion, the memorable language: “I know the people of America well; they never will be subdued by arms, but their obedience will ever be secured by doing them justice.” Thus replied Oglethorpe, and Lord Howe became the commander of the British forces for America. He raised his voice against the slave trade long before the efforts of Wilberforce were commenced.

He was the advocate in the British parliament of a constitutional militia, and for the abolition of arbitrary impressment for the navy. He exemplified, in an eminent degree, the great principle of charity and brotherly love, which characterized the craft of which he was a brother; for Oglethorpe was a mason. Possessed of knowledge, wealth and rank, he devoted his talents, influence and fortune to the relief of the sufferer and the happiness of his fellow creatures.

Rich in every blessing himself, his benevolence for others “ will challenge a parallel in the history of human life.” Such was James Oglethorpe, the founder of Georgia. The evening of his life was spent in the quiet of domestic enjoyment in his native land. He became a patron of literature, and a friend of genius. The learned sought his association, enjoying the pleasures of intellect, and participating in the easy and elegant hospitality of his mansion. Orators proclaimed his worth in the senate; and the finest poets of England celebrated in song his virtues. The active, brilliant, enterprising and useful morning of life, was succeeded by an evening calm and serene as the western sun when he sets without a cloud to obscure him.

At the close of Oglethorpe's administration we suspend the consideration of the progress of the colony, very briefly to examine the principles of government and the regulations adopted by the Trustees, together with their practical bearing and consequences upon the prosperity and growth of the province.

There is more in this inquiry to gratify our curiosity, than to instruct by furnishing materials for useful historical reflection. The advancement of the proprietory to the royal gov

ernment had caused these regulations to be wholly superseded long before our Revolution, so as to preclude all connection between them and that event, or the institutions of the country which succeeded it. The utility of an acquaintance with the principles of government which obtained in the earlier history of a country is, chiefly, by the contrast which is furnished, by a comparison with its present institutions, exciting to a more lively appreciation of their value and importance.

There is but little room here for such observations, until we arrive at the period of the royal government. Our inquiry will, however, serve to illustrate the necessity of an adaptation and fitness of laws to the actual circumstances and condition of the people upon whom they are to operate; to shew, that the only intelligible and authoritative rule of government, to a people, is that which harmonizes with their condition; and that the introduction of a new system, however specious in theory, unaccommodated to those circumstances, unsupported by established practice, and conflicting with surrounding example, cannot be beneficially maintained.

The successive changes experienced in the political condition of the nations of Europe, and more particularly of England, between the darkness of the eleventh century and the bright morning which dawned upon the world at the commencement of the fifteenth, were but consequences of their changing circumstances. The relaxation of the feudal tenures; the substitution of pecuniary rents for personal services; the introduction and extension of leases; the abolition of the villeinage state; the vacillation of power between the aristocracy and the monarch; the finally growing importance of the commons, — were all changes in their political regulations accommodating the government to the improved circumstances and condition of the people, resulting from the gradual increase of knowledge, the introduction of, and greater attention bestowed upon the useful arts, agriculture, manufactures and commerce; and from an improved jurisprudence, resulting from the accidental discovery of a copy of Justinian's Pandects.

And here it is curious to remark, that when that long night, which overwhelmed in darkness the civilized world, approached, and began to throw its lengthening shadows around — when the lights of science began to burn dimly

when philosophy had become sophistry, and poetry and history barbarous, “the lawyers by the constant study and close imitation of their predecessors, were yet able to maintain the same good sense in their decisions and reasonings, and the same purity in their language and expression." * . And as the science of the law was thus the last light extinguished amid the universal gloom, so it was the first, at returning dawn, that emitted its rays to illumine and cheer a benighted world. A review of this portion of European history would demonstrate the necessity, in order that the machine of government should work well, of adapting and accommodating their political institutions to the condition and circumstances of the people. The failure of the fundamental constitution devised by the great philosopher John Locke, whose aid was invoked by the proprietors of South Carolina, when at a distance from, and ignorant of the climate and true situation, condition and wants of the people of Carolina, furnishes an illustration more closely in point; and imparted a lesson, which the Trustees of Georgia were constrained to learn, by a similar result of their benevolent and apparently judicious theory. The causes of difficulty may be embraced under three heads:— 1st. The tenure upon which the lands were granted; 2d. The means of cultivation ; 3d. The articles of culture.

Ist. The grant was in tail male, so that upon the death of the tenant leaving only daughters, the land reverted to the Trustees. The monstrous injustice of this principle of Salic law, so revolting to the best feelings and affections of our nature, renders its adoption and application, as a public law designed to regulate the inheritance of private property, in an agricultural and commercial colony, by civilized and enlightened lawgivers, a subject of wonder and astonishment a principle, as applied to private possessions, which finds little precedent or support among enlightened and civilized nations; and which refers for example, chiefly to the barbarous nations by whom the Roman empire was overwhelmed. The exclusion of females from succession existed among the Teutonic nations, and was found in the ancient codes of the Thuringians and Saxons. The Salian Francks, who conquered Gaul, carried this custom with them; and the Salic

* Hume.

law was supposed to have been enacted about the time of Clavis. But even by this law there existed a right of setting aside the law and admitting females to succession by testament.* This provision was supported, however, by two plausible reasons, viz. the great expense at which the Trustees had effected the settlement of the colony; and the necessity that the occupants should be persons capable of rendering military service for its protection against the Spaniards and Indians. But the freedom and security of property, and the absolute nature of the title is the strongest incentive to activity and industry ; whilst an uncertain and contingent tenure paralyzes effort and limits our views and exertions only to the present.

With regard to the means of cultivation, slavery was abso- . lutely prohibited, and the settlers had to rely upon their own labor. The inhibition of slavery resulted from the relative position Georgia was intended to bear towards South Carolina as a protection against the Spaniards and Indians; the better to fulfil which, it was deemed important to introduce this restriction; and also, because a large portion of the settlers were poor and unable to procure slaves, it was thought that the influence of the example of slavery would be unfavorable upon the industry of that portion of the whites who were thus constrained to personal labor. 3d. As a consequence of the prohibition of slavery, and the necessity of personal labor by the whites, as also from a supposed adaptedness of soil and climate the Trustees had fixed upon silk and wine as leading articles of culture, from which the most profitable results were anticipated. These restrictions tended greatly to paralyze the energy and industry of the colonists. The example furnished from South Carolina, where the lands were holden in fee and cultivated by slaves, was contagious and fatal.

The Georgians beheld their neighbors in the indulgence of the ease and enjoying the advantages of slave labor, and they thirsted for the same benefits and privileges. Confined to a culture of which they had no sufficient knowledge and experience, and from which they reaped no equivalent return for their labor and care, while their rich low lands remained neglected and uncultivated, they longed for the assistance of that species of force by which they could reclaim them.

* See Hallam.

« PreviousContinue »