History of the United States of America, from the Discovery of the Continent - Vol. 4

By George Bancroft | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I.
THE CONSTITUTION.
1787.

“THE American constitution is the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man;” but it had its forerunners.

England had suffered the thirteen colonies, as free states, to make laws each for itself and never for one of the others; and had established their union in a tempered subordination to the British crown. Among the many guides of America, there had been Winthrop and Cotton, Hooker and Haynes, George Fox and William Penn, Roger Williams and John Clarke; scholars of Oxford and many more of Cambridge; Gustavus Adolphus and Oxenstiern; the merchants of the United Netherlands; Southampton and Baltimore, with the kindliest influences of the British aristocracy; Shaftesbury with Locke, for evil as well as for good; all the great slavetraders that sat on thrones or were fostered by parliament; and the philanthropist Oglethorpe, who founded a colony exclusively of the free on a territory twice as large as France, and though he had to mourn at the overthrow of his plans for liberty, lived to see his plantation independent.

There were other precursors of the federal government; but the men who framed it followed the lead of no theoretical writer of their own or preceding times. They harbored no desire of revolution, no craving after untried experiments. They wrought from the elements which were at hand, and shaped them to meet the new exigencies which had arisen. The least possible reference was made by them to abstract doctrines;

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