THE RISE OF FEEE COMMONWEALTHS.
FREEDOM is of all races and of all nationalities. It is older than bondage, and ever rises from the enslavements of violence or custom or abuse of power; for the rights of man spring from eternal law, are kept alive by the persistent energy of constant nature, and by their own indestructibility prove their lineage as the children of omnipotence.
In an edict of the eighth of August 1779, Louis XVI. announced “his regret that many of his subjects were still without personal liberty and the prerogatives of property, attached to the glebe, and, so to say, confounded with it.” To all serfs on the estates of the crown he therefore gave back their freedom. He had done away with torture, and he wished to efface every vestige of a rigorous feudalism; but he was restrained by his respect for the laws of property, which he held to be the groundwork of order and justice. “While the delivering up of a runaway serf was in all cases forbidden, for emancipation outside of his own domains he did no more than give leave to other proprietors to follow his example, to which even the clergy declined to conform. But the words of the king spoken to all France deeply branded the wrong of keeping Frenchmen in bondage to Frenchmen.
In Overyssel, a province of the Netherlands, Baron van der Capellen tot den Pol, the friend of America, sorrowed over the survival of the ancient system of villeinage; and, in spite of the resistance and sworn hatred of almost all the nobles, he, in 1782, brought about its complete abolition.