Abbildungen der Seite

Nor when viewed in less attractive aspects, can America bc indifferent to the condition and policy of her trans-Atlantio rival. She is enterprising, ambitious, intriguing. Whitening the ocean with the sails of her commerce, she sends her tradesmen wherever the marts of men teem with traffic. Belting the earth with her colonies, dotting its surface with her forts, anchoring her navies in all its harbors, she rules one hundred. and sixty millions of men, giving law, not only to cultivated and refined States, but to dwarfed and hardy clans that shrivel and freeze among the ices of the polar regions, and to swarthy and languid myriads that repose in the orange groves or pant on the shrubless sands of the tropics. With retained spies in half the courts and cabinets of Christendom, she has for a century and a half caused or participated in nearly all the wars of Europe, Asia, and Africa, while by her arrogance, diplomacy, or gold, she has shaped the policy of the combatants to the promotion of her own ends. Ancient Rome, whose name is the synonym of resistless power and boundless conquest, could not, in the palmy days of her Cæsars, vie with Great Britain in the extent of her possessions and the strength of her resources. Half a century ago, her great statesman, sketching the resources of her territory, said, “The King of England, on whose dominions the sun never sets." An American orator, of kindred genius, unfolded the same idea in language which sparkles with the very effervescence of poetic beauty, when he spoke of her as “that Power, whose morning drum-beat, following the sun, and keeping company with the hours, encircles the earth daily with one continuous and unbroken strain of the martial airs of England.” In a word, she embodies, in her history and policy, in large measure, all the virtues and vices of that alternate blessing and scourge of mankind, THE AngloSAXON RACE.

Britain, once a land of savage pagans, was, long after the Norman Conquest, the abode of ignorance, superstition, and despotism. And though for centuries past she lias witnessed


a steady advance in knowledge, and civil and religious liberty --though her men of letters have sent down to their posterity works that shall live till science, philosophy and poetry are known no more-though her lawyers have gradually worn off the rugged features of the feudal system, till the common law of England has been adopted as the basis of our republican code—though her spiritual Bastile, the State Church, long since yielded to the attacks of non-conformity, and opened its gates to a qualified toleration--though all that was vital and dangerous in the maxim, “the King can do no wrong,” fell with the head of Charles I, in 1649—yet it is only within the last fifty years that she has discovered at work on her institutions a class of innovators, designated as “REFORMERS."

Humanity will find ample materials for despair, when contemplating the condition of the depressed classes in Great Britain and Ireland. But philanthropy will find abundant sources of hope in studying the character and deeds of their radical reformers. The past half century has seen an uprising, not of-“ the middle class” only, but of the very substratum of society, in a peaceful struggle for inherent rights. No for has been employed, except the force of circumstances; and the result has been eminently successful. This “middle class" (and the term has great significance in England) discovered its strength during the revolution under Hampden and Cromwell, and received an impulse then which it has never lost. The nobility and gentry have too often silenced the popular clamor by admitting its leaders to the rank and privileges of " the higher orders.” Still, concessions were made to the mass of middle men, which stimulated them to demand, and strengthened them to obtain more. But a truth, destined to be allpotent in the nineteenth century, remained to be discovered, viz: the identity in interest of the middle and lower classes. The lines which custom and prejudice had drawn between them grew fainter and fainter as the day approached for the full discovery of this truth. The earthquake shock of the

[ocr errors]

French Revolution overthrew a throne rooted to the soil by the growth of a thousand years. Britain felt the crash. Scales fell from all eyes, and the people of the realm discovered that subjects were clothed with Divine rights as well as kings. Englishmen said so, in public addresses and resolutions, not always expressed in courtly phrase, nor rounded off in the style of rhetorical adulation so grateful to regal ears.

The king, not having duly profited by the lesson the American rebels had taught him, indicted Hardy, Thelwall, Tooke, and their compatriots, for sedition and treason. These men were the representatives of both the middle and lower classes. Their constituents--THE PEOPLE OF ENGLAND—combined for their mutual safety against the common oppressor. The wall of partition was partially broken down, and, from that hour to this, the struggle between Right and Privilege, between the Subject and the Crown, has gone on, distinguished by alternate defeat and victory, by heroic constancy and dastardly treacherynoble martyrs dying, valiant combatants living to continue the good fight.

The Condition of Englandquestion as the Parliamentary phrase runs) was, a century ago, a matter of indifference to the masses. Lord Castlereagh but uttered the adage of a hundred years when he said, “the people have nothing to do with the laws, except to obey them.” Parliament was opened with a dull King's speech, to be followed by the opening of the annual budget of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, proposing to raise a loan for foreign wars, or a fund to sink the interest of the public debt. An oracular response was given by the Minister now and then to some query touching the relations of the kingdom to continental Powers, or the resources of some newly-acquired colony. An occasional bill was introduced to pamper the landlord aristocracy, or to increase the resources of the clergy, and enforce the collection of tithes in the manufacturing districts. Untitled manhood was held “ dog cheap;"> and all legislation (excepting the throwing of a bone now and

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

then to the Cerberus of “ vulgar clamor) looked to the conservation of the privileged classes, the dignity of the nobility, the wealth of the church, and the prerogatives of the Crown. How different now! The representatives of THE PEOPLE have broken into the sacred inclosure of the Government," and new men, with new opinions, have usurped the places of an ancient aristocracy, and its antiquated principles. Now,

the Condition of England” question takes cognizance of the rights and the wrongs of all, and involves searching examinations, and hot and irreverent discussions, in and out of Parliament, of poor laws, pension laws, game laws, corn laws, free trade, universal education, unrestricted religious toleration, standing armies, floating navies, Irish repeal, East and West India emancipation, colonial independence, complete suffrage, the ballot, annual Parliaments, law reform, land reform, entails, primogeniture, the life-tenure of judges, an hereditary peerage, the House of Lords, the Bench of Bishops, the Monarchy itself, with other matters of like import, about which the trader and the farmer of Queen Anne's time knew but little, and never dared to question above his breath, but which, in the days of Victoria, are the common talk of the artisan and yeo

Ay, more than this : reforms not dreamed of in 1805, by Fox, the liberal, are proposed and carried in 1845 by Peel, the conservative. “Oh, for the golden days of good Queen Bess," when the common people paid their tithes and ate what bread they could get, and left law-making to the Knights of the Shire and the Peers of the Realm !

But he must superficially read history who supposes that the fruitful Reforms, which now strike their roots so deep into British soil, and throw their branches so high and wide over the land, were planted by this century. Their seeds were sown long since, and watered with the tears and fertilized by the blood of men as pure and brave as God ever sent to bless and elevate our race. From the conquest of William the Norman, down to the coronation of Victoria the Saxon, one


fact stands prominently on the page of English history, viz : that there has been a gradual circumscribing of the powers of the nobles and the prerogatives of the Crown, accompanied with a corresponding enlargement of the liberties of the people. Omitting many, I will glance at some of the more conspicuous landmarks in this highway of reform.

The mitigation of the rigors of the feudal system by William Rufus, the son of the Conqueror, who established it. The general institution of trial by jury, in the succeeding reign of Henry II, and the granting of freedom to the towns of the realm by royal charters.-Old King John, at Runnymede, affixing his sign manual to Magna Charta, with trembling hand, at the dictation of his haughty barons and their retainers. The establishment of the House of Commons, about the middle of the thirteenth century, thus giving the commercial men of the middle class a voice in the Government. Edward I, “ the English Justinian,” encouraging the courts in those decisions which tended to restrain the feudal lords and protect their vassals; and approving a statute which declared that no tax or impost should be laid without the consent of the Lords and Commons.-The introduction into England, in the latter part of the fifteenth century, of the art of printing, and the consequent cheapness of the price of books, and the diffusion of that knowledge which is power.-The discovery of America, giving an impulse to British commerce, and increasing the importance of the trading classes, by placing in their hands those sinews of war which kings must have, or cease to make conquests. The Reformation, introduced into England in 1534, unfettering the conscience, and giving to the laity the Heaven-descended charter of human rights—the Bible.- The Petition of Right—the British Declaration of Independencesigned by Charles I, in 1628, by command of his Parliament, which materially curbed the royal prerogative.--His headless trunk on the scaffold at Whitehall, in 1649, when the aspiring blood of a Stuart sank into the ground, to appease the repub

« ZurückWeiter »