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of that breach as much as possible. Nothing could be further from their thoughts than to make a clean sweep of existing political institutions. On the contrary they preserved as much as possible of the older buildings, and to those they made the necessary additions and improvements. The whole controversy preceding the actual appeal to arms shows that the revolt was due to the conviction that the king and parliament were obstinately bent on depriving the colonists of rights which they, like other Englishmen, had inherited from their forefathers. Hence, largely, what one might call the legal atmosphere, in which so often the disputes were conducted, and which contrasts so strongly with those agitations that generally presage great national conflicts. And, as customary in English constitutional development, lawyers and legal actions also played their part here. Appeals, indeed, were made not only to legal precedent but also to the rights of man,' but one often feels that such appeals are, in part, declamatory, whilst the gravamen of the complaint seems to be that the colonists felt that something that belonged to them as Englishmen was being taken from them.
It is true that in solemnly enacting a number of abstract political principles the Americans were setting a new precedent, and one destined to have important consequences in other lands. This step is, as we saw, what distinguishes them most sharply from their English ancestors and approaches them most closely to the men of 1789. But, except for the fact that they promulgated such principles as the natural rights of man, even here the break with the past was in practice not so serious as might at first appear. It may be that the rights of man are subject neither to time nor place, as was urged in the course of the debates in the National Assembly, yet it is no less true that the leaders of American opinion identified the Laws of Nature with the fundamental provisions of the British Constitution. It is one who has good claims to be regarded as the father of American Revolutionary thought, James Otis, that wrote: 'It is the glory of the British Prince and the happiness of all his subjects, that their Constitution hath its foundation in the immutable laws of Nature.' And in his celebrated pamphlet, The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved (1764), whilst arguing that the title of the American colonists to their rights comes to them as men, and not from the charters of the king or even from
the British Constitution itself, yet, on the whole, he identifies the content of the unalienable rights of man with the fundamental rights of the British citizen. For Otis “the British Constitution comes nearest the idea of perfection of any that has been reduced to practice.'
We have here an example of an interesting phenomenon, the tendency of abstract speculation to be influenced and even guided, not entirely by 'pure reason, but, unconsciously it may be, by the surroundings of the philosopher. Thus the political theories of Hobbes are deeply coloured by the Great Civil War, those of Locke by the Glorious Revolution,' whilst the readers of Rousseau's classic ought never lose sight of the influence exercised on that most abstract' of political philosophers by the Constitution of his native city of Geneva.
So strong was the conservative spirit of the Americans of the Revolution that it has been said with some justification of the Constitution of the Union (1789): There is little in this constitution that is new, much that is as old as Magna Charta.'
Even the idea of an authority superior to Executive and Legislature, as well as the idea of limits set to their competence, though not legally known to the British Constitution, was by no means unfamiliar to the colonists. Their colonial constitutions had come to them from a superior authority, which defined limits and competence. When the 'Sovereign People' had replaced the Crown it was not such a very revolutionary step to retain to themselves the rights of making and altering their Constitution.
Furthermore, though there were no legal limits in England to the political powers of King, Lords, and Commons, yet there were what might be termed 'moral' limits.
1 Cf. Burke, Reflections: “It is indeed difficult, perhaps impossible, to give limits to the mere abstract competence of the supreme power, such as was exercised by parliament at that time [of the English Revolution] ; but the limits of a moral competence, subjecting, even in powers more indisputably sovereign, occasional will to permanent reason, and to the steady maxims of faith, justice, and fixed fundamental policy, are perfectly intelligible and perfectly binding upon those who exercise any authority, under any name, or under any title, in the State.' James Otis goes further; in 1761, arguing against General Wiits of Assistance, he held that even if they had the authority of an express Act of Parliament, this would not make them valid, for ‘no Act of Parliament can establish such a writ. ... An Act of Parliament against the Constitution is void.' From these words dates the revolutionary party in Massachusetts. Similarly in 1764, op cit., he urged that ‘such an imposition of taxes, whether on trade, or on land, on houses, or ships, on real or personal, fixed or floating property, in the Colonies, is absolutely irreconciliable with the rights of the colonists as British subjects and as men. Acts of Parliament against the fundamental principles of the British Constitution are void.'
Certain types of legislation would have been regarded as
unconstitutional,' though no logic arguing from general axioms might be able to demonstrate in what precisely this unconstitutional' character consists.
In appealing to the laws of God and of Nature the colonists meant to give a more solemn and sacred sanction to their claims ; yet the actual rights which they claimed as theirs were in no sense conceived as rights into the enjoyment of which they were now about to enter for the first time. Thus the Bills of Rights may be regarded as a specially solemn expression of the determination of the Americans to preserve their ancient rights, whereas the Declaration of 1789 was a very definite indication on the part of the French of their intention of breaking with the past. Herein consists the great difference in the practical meaning of these principles for the Americans and for the French.
Another circumstance in connexion with the American declarations
be borne in mind ; they were the announcements of a people long schooled in political activity and accustomed to popular assemblies and to self-government. Their realization did not call to the head of the nation a class which had no experience of practical politics. Here, as elsewhere, the change consequent on the Revolution and on the acceptance of its principles was slight and along the lines of normal political development.
Finally, in America the principles of the Bills of Rights implied no widespread social revolution. On the renunciation of allegiance to King George the very circumstances seemed to impose republicanism and democracy. There was no deep-rooted feudalism to be eradicated, no ‘privileged' classes to stand in the way of equality. In
' France, in the teeth of autocracy and long established class prejudice, a violent effort was made by a people without traditions of self-government, to set up a democracy; in America democracies, already in existence, succeeded in shaking off a foreign yoke. There was, in fact, in America no such sudden bouleversement of the whole political, social, and economic outlook as took place in France in 1789.1
1 It may not be out of place to note that where there was a completo breach with the past America was also threatened with chaos and disaster. The power of the Crown which had been rejected was the principal bond of unity between the Colonies prior to 1776. It was found an affair of extra. ordinary difficulty to find a substitute for the function of the Crown in this
For all these circumstances which made the enunciation of the principles of the Bills of Rights so comparatively uneventful in America, were absent in France. There were two great obstacles to be overcome, autocracy and privilege. The realization of the rights of man would mean a revolution, upsetting almost all political authority hitherto established, and effecting a profound change in the relations between the different strata of society.
Up to the Meeting of the States-General in May, 1789, practically all the political power in France was concentrated in the hands of the king and his council. Even the smallest matters, not only of national, but of local interest, had to be referred to them for decision. This power was held in check by, and was responsible to, no representatives of the people, or of any class among the people. The Intendants who governed the different divisions of France enjoyed similar autocratic powers over their districts, but were cornpletely dependent on the Central Government at Paris and could be dismissed by it at will. Thus France had no traditions of self-government in national, and little in local affairs; the people of France were accustomed to be governed, not to govern. Any survivals of a contrary tendency that had come down from the Middle Ages were in no sense 'popular,' and had been to a great extent suppressed by Richelieu and Louis XIV.
But though these statesmen had deprived the nobles of their political powers, they had left them many valuable economic and fiscal privileges, which the succeeding reigns failed to remove. Heavy were the dues that the peasant had to pay to his feudal lord, and irksome the services that he had to render. They were made still more galling by the fact that any raison d'être they may once have hade.g., as a reasonable return to the lord for political services rendered to the district, at a time when the activity of the central government was not so all-embracing—was now gone. And this class, whose privileges weighed so heavily on the peasant, contributed very little to the expenses of government. Here, again, the main burden was on the shoulders of the peasant. This unfortunate man had to bear the expenses of two governments-of one that oppressed
respect. Some of the most humiliating episode in American history, both during the War of Independence and in the years that followed, prior to the adoption of the Constitution, are connected with the difficulties of getting the individual States loyally to support any sort of effective working union.
rather than helped him in the present, and of one that was no more, feudalism. Little remained out of his yearly earnings when he had paid the tax-gatherer, the feudal lord, and the Church. The citizen class in the towns, though not liable to the same charges, had their grievances also. They felt themselves more and more the equal of the aristocracy, both in education and in national importance, yet the gulf separating them from the nobility was not to be bridged. They had lent their money to the government, yet they had no voice in controlling its policy. They could do nothing to avert a national bankruptcy which would so gravely affect their interests.
There can be no doubt of the urgent need of reform in France. Great changes were desirable, and perhaps inevitable. But what direction should these reforms take ? There were in France few, if any, institutions capable of development along the lines desiderated by the majority of Frenchmen, especially in the direction indicated by the Declaration of Rights. Whatever remnants of “liberty had survived the pulverizing effect of the monarchical policy, stood not for reform and equality but for privilege, and the Frenchman of 1789 was more an enemy of privilege than a friend of liberty. The significance of this absence of institutions capable of improvement in a democratic sense, was by no means lost on the deputies to the National Assembly or on their constituents. As we have already seen, Clermont-Tonnerre, in his résumé of the cahiers, , emphasized the fact that the line of cleavage between opponents and partisans of a Declaration of Rights coincided with that between those who believed in the advisability of “regenerating the nation' by the development of institutions already in existence and those who insisted that the coming Constitution of France should be something entirely new. It is, therefore, not strange that the Revolution, in so far as it followed the lines marked out by the Declaration, should have developed into one of the most determined attempts known to history on the part of a people to cut its destiny in two, to divide the future from the past by an impassable gulf.:
It is clear, then, that when the French, in 1789, spoke of rights' they were not speaking of anything which they claimed to have long enjoyed, but which was now threatened by a tyrannical government. Here there was no liberty and equality, bred in the bone by long years of