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Liberty, Slavery, and Tyranny

2nd half

Return to Chapter 5 part 1 

Pace-such was the settler's name did not wait for confirmation of the tale; indeed, as he ran to the paddock to get his pack horse, he could see the smoke burning cabins rising in the still air, and could he; far off, the yells of the savages as they plied their work.

He sprang on the horse's back, with his musket across the withers, and set off at a gallop toward Jamestown. Most of the colonists lived in that neighborhood; if could get there in time many lives might be saved. As he rode he directed his course to the cabins, on the right hand. and on the left, that lay in his way, and gave the alarm. Many of the savages, who had not yet begun their work, at once took to flight; they would not face white men when on their guard. In other places the warning came too late. The missionary, who had devoted his life to teaching the heathen that men should love one another, was inhumanly butchered. Pace arrived in season to avert the danger from the bulk of the little population; but, of the four thousand scattered over the countryside, three hundred and forty seven died that morning with. the circumstances of hideous atrocity which were the invariable accompaniments of Indian massacre. The colonists were appalled, and for a time it seemed as if the purpose of Opechankano would be realized. Two thousand settlers came in from the outlying districts, panic-stricken, and after living for a while crowded together in unwholesome quarters in the vicinity of Jamestown, took ship and returned to England. Hardly one in ten of the plantations was not deserted. The bolder spirits, who remained, organized a war of extermination, in which they were supported and reenforcedced by the company, who sent over men and weapons as soon as the news was known in England. But the campaign resolved itself into long and harassing attacks, ambuscades, and reprisals, extending over many years. There could be no pitched battles with Indians; they gave way, but only to circumvent and surprise. The whites were resolved to make no peace and to give no quarter to man, woman, or child. The formerly peaceful settlement became inured to blood and cruelty. But the redmen could not be wholly driven away. Just twenty years after the first massacre the same implacable chief, now a decrepit old man, planned a second one; some hundreds were murdered, but the colonists were readier and stronger now, and they gathered themselves up at once and inflicted a crushing vengeance. The ancient chief was finally taken, and either died of wounds received in fight or was slain by a soldier after capture. After 1646 the borders of Virginia were set. There is no redeeming feature in this Indian warfare which fitfully survived in many of the remote parts our country. It aided, perhaps, to train the race of peoples and frontiersmen who later became one of t most remarkable features of our early population. Contact with the savage races inoculated us, perhaps, with a touch of their stoicism and grimness. But in of conflicts with them there was nothing noble or inspiring; and there could be no object in view on either sip but extermination. Our Indian fighters became as so age and merciless as the creatures they pursued. The Indian must be fought by the same tactics he adopts cunning, stealth, surprise, and then unrelenting slaughter, with the sequel of the scalping knife. They cotipel us to descend to their level in war, and we ha, utterly failed to raise them to our own in peace. Son of them have possessed certain harshly masculinetrai which we can admire; some of them have showed broad and virile intelligence, the qualities of a general, diplomatist, or even of a statesman. There have beep and are, so-called tame Indians; but such were not worth taming. As a whole, the red tribes have resist all attempts to lift them to the civilized level and kept them there. Roger Williams and the "apostle," Job Eliot, were their friends, and won their regard; but neither Williams's influence nor Eliot's Bible left an lasting trace upon them. The Indian is irreclaimable disappointment is the very mildest result that await the effort to reclaim him. He is wild to the marrow no bird or beast is so wild as he. He is a human embodiment of the untrodden woods, the undiscovered rivers, the austere mountains, the pathless prairies of all those parts and aspects of nature which are never brought within the smooth sway of civilization, because as soon as civilization appears, they are, so far as their essential quality is concerned, gone. To hear the yell of the coyote, you must lie alone in the sagebrush near the pool in the hollow of the low hills by moonlight it will never reach your ears through the bars of the menagerie cage. To know the mountain, you must confront the avalanche and the precipice uncompanioned, and stand at last on the breathless and awful peak which lifts itself and you into a voiceless solitude remote from man and yet no nearer to God; but if you journey with guides and jolly fellowship to some mountain house, ever so airily perched, you would as well visit a panorama. To comprehend the ocean you must meet it in its own inviolable domain, where it tosses heavenward its careless nakedness and laughs with death; from the deck of a steamboat you will never find it, though you sail as far as the' Flying Dutchman. But the solitude which nature reveals, and which alone reveals her, does but prepare you for the in approachableness that shines out at you from the Indian's eyes. Seas are shallow and continents but a span compared with the breadths and depths which separate him from you. The sphinx will yield her mystery, but he will not unveil his; you may touch the poles of the planet, but you can never lay your hand on him. The same God that made you made him also in His image; but if you try to bridge the gulf between you, you will learn something of God's infinitude.

Sir George Yeardley and Sir Francis Wyatt both held the office of Governor twice, and with good repute; in 1630 Sir John Harvey succeeded the former. He was the champion of monopolists; he would divide the land among a few and keep the rest in subjection. He fought with the Legislature from the first; he could not wring their rights from them, but he distressed and irritated the colony, levying arbitrary fines and browbeating all and sundry with the brutality of an ungoverned temper. His chief patron was Lord Baltimore, a Roman Catholic, and therefore disfavored by the Protestant colony, who would not suffer him to plant in their domain. He bought a patent authorizing him to establish a colony in the northern part of Virginia, which was afterward called Maryland, being cut off from the older colony; and this diminution of their territory much displeased the Virginians. But Harvey supported him throughout, and permitted mass to be said in Virginia. He likewise prevented the settlers from carrying on the border warfare with the Indians, lest it should disturb his perquisites from the fur trade. Violent scenes took place in the hall of Assembly, and hard words were given and exchanged; the planters were men of hot passions, and the conduct of the Governor became intolerable to them. Matters came to a head during the last week in April of 1635. An unauthorized gathering in York complained of an unjust tax and of other malfeasances, whereupon Harvey cried mutiny and had the leaders arrested. But the boot was on the other leg. Several members of council, with a company of. musketeers at their, back, came to his house,; Matthews, with whom the Governor had lately had a fierce quarrel, and the other planters, tramped into the broad hall of the dwelling, with swords in their hands and threatening looks, and confronted hint. John Utie brought down his hand with staggering force on his shoulder, exclaiming: "I arrest you for treason!" "How, for treason?" queried the frightened Governor. "You have betrayed our forts to our enemies of Maryland," replied several stern voices. Harvey glanced from one to another; in the background were the musketeers; plainly this was no time for trifling. He offered to do whatever they demanded. They required the release of prisoners, which was immediately done, and bade him prepare to answer before the Assembly. They would listen to no arguments and no excuses; he was told by Matthews, with a menacing look, that the people would have none of him. "You intend no less than the subversion of Maryland," protested Harvey; but he promised to return to England, and John West, who had already acted as an interim Governor while Harvey was on his way to Virginia, was at once elected in his place.

This incident showed of what stuff the Virginians were made. It was an early breaking out of the American spirit, which would never brook tyranny. In offering violence to the King's Governor they imperiled their own lives; but their blood was up, and they heeded no danger. When Harvey presented himself before Charles at the privy council, his Majesty remarked that he must be sent back at all hazards, because the sending him to England had been an assumption on the colonists' part of regal power; and, tobacco or no tobacco, the line must be drawn there. .If the charges against him were sustained, lie might stay but a day; if not, his term should be extended beyond the original commission. A new commission was given him, and back he went; but this shuttlecock experience seems to have quelled his spirit, and we hear no more of quarrels with the Virginia council. Wyatt relieved him in 1639; and in 1642 came Sir William Berkeley. This man, who was born about the beginning of the century, was twice Governor; his present term, lasting ten years, was followed by a nine years' interval; reappointed again in, 1660, he was in power when the rebellion broke out which was led by Nathaniel Bacon. Little is known of him outside of his American record; in his first term, under Charles I, he acted simply as the creature of that monarch, and aroused no special animosities on his own account : ,during the reign of Cromwell he disappeared; but when Charles II ascended the throne, Berkeley, though then an old man, was thought to be fitted by his previous experience for the Virginia post, and was returned thither. But years seemed to have soured his disposition, and lessened his prudence, and, as we shall see, his bloodthirsty conduct after Bacon's death was the occasion of his recall in disgrace; and he died, like Andros more than half a century later, with the curse of a people on his grave.

But his first appearance was auspicious; he brought instructions designed to increase the reign of law and order in the colony, without infringing upon its existing liberties. Allegiance to God and the King were enjoined, additional courts were provided for, traffic with the Indians was regulated, annual assemblies, with a negative voice upon their acts by the governor, were commanded. The only discordant note in the instructions referred to the conditions of maritime trade, afterward known in history as the Navigation Acts. The colony desired free trade, which, as it had no manufactures, was obviously to its benefit. But it was as obviously to the interest of the King that he alone should enjoy the right of controlling all imports into the colony, and absorbing all its exports; and his rulings were framed to secure that end. But for the present the acts were not carried into effect; and, on the other hand, the prospect was held out that there should be no taxation except what was voted by the people themselves; and their contention that they, who knew the conditions and needs of their colonial existence, were better able to regulate it than those at home, was allowed. Byway of evincing their recognition of this courtesy, the Assembly passed, among other laws, one against toleration of any other than the Episcopalian form of worship; and when Charles was beheaded, in 1649, it voted to retain Berkeley in office. But when, in the next year, the fugitive son of the dead King undertook to issue a commission confirming him in his place, Parliament intervened. Virginia was brought to her bearings; and the Navigation Acts were brought up again. Cromwell, no less than Charles, appreciated the advantages of a monopoly.

Restrictions on commerce, first imposed by Spain, were first resisted by the Dutch, with the result of rendering them the leading maritime power. Cromwell wished to appropriate or share this advantage; but instead of adopting the means employed for that purpose by the Dutch, he decreed that none but English ships should trade with the English colonies, and that foreign ships should bring to England only the products of their own countries. The restriction did little harm to Virginia so long as England was able to take all her products and to supply all her needs; but it brought on war with Holland, in which both the moral and the naval advantage was on the side of the Dutch. But England acquired a foothold in the West Indies, and her policy was maintained. Virginia asked that she should have representatives to act for her in England, and when a body of commissioners was appointed to examine colonial questions, among them were Richard Bennett and William Clayborne, both of them colonists, and men of force and ability. In the sequel the liberties of the colony were enlarged, and Bennett was made Governor by vote of the Assembly itself, which continued to elect governors during the ascendancy of Parliament in England. When Richard Cromwell, who had succeeded the great Protector, resigned his office, the Virginia burgesses chose Sir William Berkeley to rule over them, and he acknowledged their authority. Meanwhile the Navigation Acts were so little enforced that smuggling was hardly illegal; and in 1658 the colonists actually invited foreign nations to deal with them. This was the period of Virginia's greatest freedom before the Revolution. The suffrage was in the hands of all taxpayers; in religious matters all restrictions except those against the Quakers were removed; loyalists and Roundheads mingled amicably in planting and legislation, and the differences which had arrayed them against one another in England were forgotten. The population increased to thirty thousand, and the inhabitants developed among themselves an ardent patriotism. It is not surprising. Their country was one of the richest and loveliest in the world; everything which impairs the enjoyment of life was eliminated or minimized; hucksters, pettifoggers, and bigots were scarce as June snowflakes; indentured servants, on their emancipation, were speedily given the suffrage; it might almost be said that a man might do whatever he pleased within the limits of criminal law. Assuredly, personal liberty was far greater at this epoch in Virginia than it is to-day in New York City or Chicago. The instinct of the Virginians, in matters of governing, was so far as possible to let themselves alone; the planters, in the seclusion of their estates, were practically subject to no law but their own pleasure. There was probably no place in the civilized world where so much intelligent happiness was to be had as in Virginia during the years immediately preceding the Restoration.

What would have been the political result had the absence of all artificial pressure indefinitely continued? Two tendencies were observable, working, apparently, in opposite directions. On one side were the planters, many of them aristocratic by origin as well as by circumstance; who lived in affluence, were friendly to the established church, enjoyed a liberal education, and naturally assumed the reins of power. The law which gave fifty acres of land to the settler who imported an emigrant, while it made for the enlargement of estates, created also a large number of tenants and dependents who would be likely to support their patrons and proprietors, who exercised so much control over their welfare. These dependents found the conditions of existence comfortable, and even after they had become their own masters, they would be likely to consult the wishes of the men who had been the occasion of their good fortune. Neither education nor religious instruction were so readily obtainable as to threaten to render such a class discontented with their condition by opening to them hitherto unknown gates of advantage; and the suffrage, when by ownership of private property they had qualified themselves to exercise it, would at once appease their independent instincts, and at the same time make them willing, in using it, to follow the lead or suggestion of men so superior to them in intelligence and in political sagacity. From this standpoint, then, it seemed probable that a self-governing community of the special kind existing in Virginia would drift. toward an aristocratic form of rule.

But the matter could be regarded in another way. Free suffrage is a power having a principle of life within itself; it creates in the mind that which did not before exist, and educates its possessor first by prompting him to ask himself of what improvement his condition is susceptible, and then by forcing him to review his desire by the light of its realization-by practical experience of its effects, in other words: a method whose teachings are more thorough and convincing than any school or college is able to supply. The use of the ballot, in short, as a means of instruction in the problems of government, takes the place of anything else; it will of itself build up a people both capable of conducting their own-a affairs, and resolved to do so. The plebeians of Virginia, therefore, who began by being poor and ignorant emigrants, or indentured servants, to whom the planters accorded such privileges because it had never occurred to them that a plebeian can ever become anything else-these men, unconsciously to themselves perhaps, were on the road which leads to democracy. The time would come when they would cease to follow the lead of the planters; when their interests and the planters' would clash. In that collision their numbers would give them the victory. With a similar community planted in the old world, such might not be the issue; the strong influence of tradition would combat it, and the surrounding pressure of settled countries, which offered no escape or asylum for the man of radical ideas. But the boundaries of Virginia were the untrammeled wilderness; any man who could not have his will in the colony had this limitless expanse at his disposal; there could be no finality for him in the decrees of assemblies if he possessed the courage of his convictions in sufficient measure to make him match himself against the red man, and be independent not only of any special form of society, but of society itself. The consciousness of this would hearten him to entertain free thoughts and to strive for their embodiment. It was partly this, no doubt, which, in the Seventeenth Century, drove hundreds of Ishmaels into the interior, where they became the Daniel Boones and the Davy Crocketts of legend and romance. So, although Virginia was as little likely as any of the colonies to breed a democracy, yet even there it was a more than possible outcome of the situation, even with no outside stimulus. But the old world, because it desired the oppression of America, was to become the immediate agent of its emancipation.

There was rejoicing in Virginia when Charles II acceded to power; on the part of the planters, because they saw opportunity for political distinction; on the part of the plebeians, as the expression of a loyalty to kingship which centuries had made instinctive in them. Berkeley, putting himself in line with the predominant feeling, summoned the Assembly in the name of the King, thus announcing without rebuke the termination of the era of self-government. The members who were elected were mostly royalists. They met in 1661. It was found that the Navigation Acts, which had been a dead letter ever since their passage, were to be revived in full force; and the increase of the colony in the meanwhile made them more than ever unwelcome. The exports were much larger than before, and unless the colony could have a free market for them the profits must be materially lessened. And again, since England was the only country from which the Virginian could purchase supplies, her merchants could charge him what they pleased. This was galling alike to royalists and Roundheads in Virginia, and quickly healed the breach, such as, it was, between the parties. Charles's true policy would have been to widen the gulf between them; instead of that he forced them into each other's arms. It was determined to send Berkeley to England to ask relief; he accepted the commission, but his sympathies were not with the colonists, and he obtained nothing. Evidently there could be no relief but in independence, and it was still a hundred years too early for that. The exasperation which this state of things produced in the great land owners did more for the cause of democracy than could decades of peaceful evolution. But the colonists could no longer have things their own way. Liberal laws were repealed, and intolerance and oppression took their place. Heretics were persecuted; the power of the church in civil affairs was increased; and fines and taxes on the industry of the colony were wanton and excessive. The King of England directly ruled Virginia. The people were forced to pay Berkeley a thousand pounds sterling as his salary, and he declared he ought to get three times as much even as that. His true character was beginning to appear. The judges were appointed by the King, and the license thus given them resulted in a petty despotism; when an official wanted money he caused a tax to be levied for the amount. Appeals were vain, and were long were prohibited. The Assembly, partisans of the King, declared themselves permanent, so that all chance for the people to be better represented was gone, and as the members fixed their own pay, and fixed it at a preposterous figure, the colony began to groan in earnest. But worse was to come. The suffrage was restricted to freeholders and householders, and at a stroke all but a fraction. of the colonists were deprived of any voice in their own government. The spread of iducation, never adequate, was stopped altogether. "I thank God there are no free schools nor printing," Sir William Berkeley was able to say, "and I hope we shall not have, these hundred years; for learning has brought disobedience and heresy and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best government. God keep us from both!" This was a succinct and full formulation of the spirit which has ever tended to make the earth a hell for its inhabitants. "The ministers," added the Governor, "should pray oftener and preach less." But he spoke in all solemnity; there was not the ghost of a sense of humor in his whole insufferable carcass.

The downward course was not to stop here. Charles, with the freehandedness of a highwayman, presented two of his favorites in 1673, for a term of one and thirty years, with the entire colony! This act stirred even the soddenness of the Legislature. At the time of their election, a dozen years before, they had been royalists indeed, but men of honor, intending the good of the colony; and had tried, as we saw, to stop the enforcement of the Navigation Acts. But when they discovered that they could continue themselves in office indefinitely, with such salary as they chose to demand, they soon became indifferent about the Navigation Acts or anything else which respected the welfare and happiness of their fellows. Let the common folk do the work and the better sort enjoy the proceeds: that was the true and only respectable arrangement. We may say that it sounds like a return to the Dark Ages; but perhaps if we enter into our closets and question ourselves closely, we shall find that precisely the same principles for which Berkeley and his Assembly stood in 1673 are both avowed and carried into effect in this same country, in the very year of grace which is now passing over us. A nation, even in America, takes a great deal of teaching.

But the generosity of Charles startled the Assembly out of their porcine indifference, for it threatened to bring to bear upon them the same practices by which they had destroyed the happiness of the colony. If the King had given over to these two men all sovereignty in Virginia, what was to prevent these gentlemen from dissolving the Assembly, who had become, as it were, incorporate with their seats, and had hoped to die in them-and ruling the country And them without any legislative medium whatever? Accordingly, with grantings of dismay, they chose three agents to sail forthwith to England and expostulate with the merry monarch. The expostulation was couched in the most servile terms, as of men who love to be kicked, but hope to live, if only to be kicked again. Might the colony, they concluded, be permitted to buy itself out of the hands of its new owners, at their own price? And might the people of Virginia be free from any tax not approved by their Assembly? That was the sum of their petition.

The King let his lawyers talk over the matter, and when they reported favorably, good-naturedly said: "So let it be then!" and permitted a charter to be drawn up. But before the broad seal could be affixed to it he altered his mind, for causes satisfactory to him, and the envoys were sent home, poorer than they came. But before relating what awaited them there we must advert briefly to the doings of George Calvert Lord Baltimore in the Irish peerage, in his new country of Maryland.