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HE new nation which our fathers brought forth upon this continent was conceived in liberty.
And this was natural, for it was the love of liberty in various forms which brought many of the original colonists to America.
Some came to seek religious freedom. Of those who came to Plymouth after first fleeing to Holland, Bradford writes :
They could not long continue in any peaceable condition, but were hunted and persecuted on every side, so as their former afflictions were but as fleabitings in comparison of these which now came upon them. For some were taken and clapt up in prison, others had their houses besett and watcht night and day, and hardly escaped their hands; and ye most were faine to flye and leave their howses and habitations, and the meanes of their livelehood.
Seeing themselves thus molested, and that ther was no hope of their continuance ther, by a joynte consente they resolved to goe into ye Low Countries, where they heard was freedom of religion for all men.
Others of the colonists came largely to find a better opportunity than the Old World afforded them. They did not think especially about civil or political liberty, nor in fact about government at all. But when they found themselves in a wilderness, thousands of miles from the home country, they were soon forced to settle many matters for themselves.
They had to defend themselves against Indians. They had to portion out new lands, build meetinghouses, and keep order. They felt in a sense more independent than they had been in England. But they considered themselves to be still Englishmen and to have all the rights of Englishmen. When the early charters were taken away from certain of the colonies, protests were made; but it was the Stamp Tax which called out united resistance and brought out a statement of some of the important rights. The case was very much like that of a boy who goes a thousand miles from home. He becomes used to managing his own affairs. Perhaps he has been in the habit of sending home part of his earnings from time to time. If now, all of a sudden, he should receive a letter informing him that he must send his father a fixed sum, and that a collector would call upon him for it, and arrest him if he should not pay at once, he would very likely be angry and refuse to pay.
Something of the sort seems to have stirred the The Americans when the Stamp Tax was suddenly imposed. undoubted They assembled at Albany and, while professing respect
Englishfor the king and the Parliament, declared:
That his majesty's liege subjects in these colonies are entitled to all the inherent rights and privileges of his natural born subjects within the kingdom of Great Britain.
That it is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people, and the undoubted rights of Englishmen, that no taxes should be imposed upon them but with their own consent, given personally or by their representatives.
That the people of these colonies are not, and from their local circumstances, cannot be represented in the House of Commons in Great Britain.
“That the only representatives of the people of these colonies are persons chosen therein by themselves; and
that no taxes ever have been, or can be constitutionally imposed on them, but by their respective legislatures.
That all supplies to the crown, being free gifts of the people, it is unreasonable and inconsistent with the principles and spirit of the British constitution for the people of Great Britain to grant to his majesty the property of the colonists.
That trial by jury is the inherent and invaluable right of every British subject of these colonies." (Declaration of Rights and Grievances of the Colonists in America.)
The reason why they insisted on granting aids through their own bodies instead of having them fixed by Parliament is well put by Benjamin Franklin:
Their opinion is, that when aids to the crown are wanted, they are to be asked of the several assemblies according to the old established usage, who will, as they always have done, grant them freely. . . The granting aids to the crown is the only means they have of recommending themselves to their Sovreign, and they think it extremely hard and unjust, that a body of men, in which they have no representatives should make a merit to itself of giving and granting what is not its own, but theirs, and deprive them of a right they esteem of the utmost value and importance, as it is the security of all their other rights."
James Otis urges that the right “ to be free from all taxes but what he consents to in person or by his representative is part of the common law, part of a British subject's birthright."
So far it was the rights of Englishmen, of British subjects, on which the Americans stood. But ten years later, when the Revolution began, a deeper foundation was sought for rights and liberty. These men of "76 found it in the doctrine of natural rights which had been laid down by Locke and Blackstone in England,
and by Rousseau in France. To say that men had certain rights by nature, even before there was any government, seemed to give a stronger foundation for liberty. To say that God had created men equal, and had endowed them with rights, made the foundation still stronger and more sacred. Both these ways of stating the doctrine are found in declarations of rights made during the Revolution.
The Virginia Declaration of Rights adopted June 2, 1776, declares:
That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity, namely the enjoyment of life and liberty with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
This was to emphasize the “natural ” character of rights. The great Declaration of Independence, adopted July 4, 1776, takes the second way of statement:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
These declarations then go on to give their view of Govern. government. Governments are instituted " to secure ments these rights," deriving their just powers from the are to consent of the governed.” The Virginia Declaration
“That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.”
The specific rights claimed
As we have seen, the British government did not actually begin in this way. It began with the strong arm of the king and his warriors. And even if we go back as far as records carry us we do not find any state of nature in which men had such complete rights. So far as England, at least, was concerned, these rights had been gained step by step. But the men of "76 were not really trying to give a history. They were trying to say in the strongest way possible that men ought to be free, that governments ought to be for the people, and not for their own advantage, and that they ought to be responsible to the people and controlled by law.
What were the specific kinds of rights which were claimed by those who fought the Revolutionary War? They were very largely the “civil rights ” with which we have already become familiar in Chapter XI. "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness the three rights which the Great Declaration sets first; the Virginia Declaration adds “ the means of acquiring and possessing property." When we go on further in the Virginia Declaration we find several more definite claims which we may regard as the “ platform of 1776." The more important may be grouped under:
(1) The Government. All power is in the people, the magistrates are trustees. If a government does not act for the common benefit, the majority has a right to reform or abolish it. So far we have the views of Milton and Locke. But now we meet a new point. “ The legislative, executive, and judicial powers should be separate and distinct”; their members should at fixed periods retire to private life, and frequent elections should be held.
(2) Political rights. All should have the right of