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the basis of the relation between Great Britain and her Colonies - their past history, their present position, and their probable future-would be as advantageous to the members of the British legislature, as it would be a rare accomplishment; for if there be one department in our governmental system which, by its badness, inconsistency, and mischievousness, has deserved condemnation, it is the Colonial Office.
It is true that, partly by the talents and labours of the late Sir William Molesworth, and partly by the extraordinary growth and strength of certain of our colonies, the worst forms of the old, obnoxious, and foolish policy in vogue among English statesmen, has been modified. Light bas dawned in gleams upon their mind, but we see no generous principle in operation, which may secure the country hereafter from dangerous collision with her colonies, nor any guarantee that constitutional government shall, as a right, be applied when possible, to our countrymen, who leave their native shores to plant new nations in other climes.
Without principle or fixed policy-unless red-tape rules may be called principle, and a shifting accidental mode of alternate interference and neglect be termed a policy—the management connected with our colonies has been simply vicious; and though now improved, is still capricious, depending upon sundry chances for its application, as occasions and difficulties arise.
The work before us expresses in clear language, and with incontrovertible illustrations, the history of our colonial management, and the condition of our colonies in respect of their constitutional government. The history is one of a character humiliating to the imperial legislature, and affords evidence of how little is known of the real theory of the British constitution, of the rights of colonists, and generally of the philosophy of government. And yet, England has had lessons read to her, severe and unmistakable-in loss of honour, blood, and treasure, stern truths have been taught her. The history of the struggle of the United States, and its issue, ought to be enough to open the eyes of any people, however proud or indifferent to speculating on its future. These events, which should have been to the
nation "for reproof, for correction, and for instruction,” have not, we admit, been altogether lost to England for these purposes when a colonial crisis seemed at hand; but they have assuredly not been so regarded as to produce a consistent, living, and abiding rule of government.
The attempt to impose a stamp duty upon the North American colonies, was only the immediate and ostensible cause of the rebellion ; for it formed but a part of the selfish and shortsighted
; policy which had been transmitted from one generation of legislators to another, and had alienated the heart of the colonists from the parent state. In 1660, the produce of the colonies was virtually prohibited from being exported to any foreign country. Three years later, no production or manufacture of Europe was permitted to be imported into British plantations unless shipped from “England, Wales, or Berwick-upon-Tweed," and in English built ships. The charters of some of the American colonies gave them power to express by legal acts their discontent, and in some measure to exercise a sort of retaliation ; but this was inadequate to prevent the last act of unconstitutional folly of the British government of that day, which resulted in the assertion of their independence by the United States. Not, however, until the issue of the struggle was uncertain, did the parliament admit that “ taxation by the parliament for the purpose of raising a revenue in his Majesty's colonies, provinces, and plantations in North America, has been found by experience to create great uneasiness and disorders among his Majesty's faithful subjects.”
And it was then, moreover, that they saw the justice of enacting that “from and after the passing of this Act (18 Geo. III., c. 12), the king and parliament of Great Britain will not impose any duty, tax, or assessment whatever, payable in any of his Majesty's plantations in North America, or the West Indies, except only such duties as it may be expedient to impose for the regulation of commerce; the net produce of such duties to be always paid and applied to and for the use of the colony, provinces, or plantation, in which the same shall be respectively levied.” Though this concession came too late for the purpose of averting the impending disaster, yet it established a new and important and leading principle. Nevertheless, at the very time, Pitt, who approved of the enactment, and applauded the resistance of the colonists to the imposition of the odious tax, who himself had extorted from the government the declaration of this doctrine, was holding language calculated to alarm and disgust them, and invoking a tyranny as galling as that he denounced.
“Let the sovereign authority,” he exclaimed, " of this country over the colonies be asserted in as strong terms as can be desired, and be made to extend to every point of legislation whatever, that we may bind their trade, confine their manufactures, and exercise every power whatever, except that of taking money out of their pockets without their own consent.” Our monstrous trade and navigation laws were still to be maintained-s0 we lost America. Freedom, independence, self-government, were not to be granted voluntarily to our colonists, and so they seized them-their birthright and inheritance-and happily have since maintained them.
Mr. Bell remarks, truly enough we fear, that the policy of England has been based upon the doctrine of Mr. Pitt, that the imperial parliament has a supreme legislative power over the colonies; and that his practical application of that doctrine has been to produce another doctrine which Lord Sheffield applied to the North American and West Indian colonies, viz., that's the only use of them was the monopoly of their consumption, and of the carriage of their produce." The doctrine of England's supreme power over colonies, is, as Mr. Bell shews, in direct violation of the spirit of her constitution. The exercise of the power, he observes, has been limited to passing regulations, under the innocuously sounding names of "customs” and “navigation" laws; but the “truth will probably appear to be, that the rule of British colonies has been as despotic in its character as ever was that of the Spanish rule, and that the difference has been, not in the character of the rule, but in the extent to which it has been exercised.” At the same time it must be conceded (alas, for the idea of freedom in European states !) that, generally, the British
VOL. VIII. NO. XV,
colonial rule has been milder and more beneficent than that of any other modern country.
But what is an English colony? Is it every province peopled with Englishmen, or only those founded and settled by the state 3 In fact, the state has done very little primarily. The most com. mon mode whereby a state or private body of adventurers may acquire new territory, is by their taking possession of what is en. tirely or partially uninhabited, or occupied in that way in which we find many countries where uncivilized tribes are dwelling, But such pre-occupation cannot upon any received principle be held to oust the right of other emigrants also to enter on, use, and cultivate the soil of the new country which is not actually occupied, nor to prohibit them from multiplying and replenishing the earth, and subduing it.
The title by occupancy, then, made by new emigrants is essential for security and certainty, and for the prevention of dispute between-rival claimants; but how is the definition to be given of what land is occupied? Can an individual colonist till ten acres of a huge island, and claim a run of 50,000 square miles, so as to exclude new-comers? Under the shelter of this title, can any civilized government "occupy” a huge continent with a hundred colonists in a remote corner? The dog who colonized the manger might enunciate the principle to the amiable kine, so long as they only lowed and beheld the difficulty presented by the selfish brute, and whilst his teeth were more terrible than their horns. But they would not, under any circumstances, concur in the justice of this colonial policy, nor submit to it if they could resist.
On this subject Mr. Bell waxes very bold, and his view would shock the patriotism of many a cockney, and raise a storm of indignation on many a quarter-sessions bench. For he, a judge of the supreme court of the colony of the Cape of Good Hope, says that in: truth the title by occupancy, as that title has been practically understood in modern times, will not bear examination. Neither France, Great Britain, nor Portugal, paid much
fatteution to it when set up by Spain,' in order to exclude them from South America; and, so soon as it “shall be worth the while of any nation, it will have as little attention paid to it should we set up the title in order to secure our monopoly of Australia ;” and he quotes Vatel, who, in reference to the possession taken by navigators says :-
“ Communement ce titre a été respecté pourvû qu'une possession réele l'ait suivi de près ; mais c'est une question de savoir si une nation peut s'approprier ainsi par une simple prise de possession des païs, n'occupe pas réelement et s'en réserver de cette manière, beaucoup plus qu'elle n'est capable de peupler et de cultiver. Il n'est pas difficile de décider qu'une pareille prétention serait absolument contraire au droit naturel, et opposée aux vues de la nature qui destinait toute la terre aux besoins des hommes en général, ne donne à chacque peuple le droit de s'approprier un pais que pour les usages qu'il en tire, et non pour empêcher que d'autres n'en profitent.”
What is a reasonable claim to new territory, and what is a mere arbitrary capricious appropriation, without reference to the actual or prospective wants of the settlers, are questions for the most part not raised, owing to the present state of the world's population and national habits. The instances, however, mentioned by Mr. Bell, on which the title of the English government to land has been got up, are very instructive. One is derived from the history of Port Phillip :-Certain of the colonists of Van Dieman's land wished to form a settlement there, where it was actually unoccupied. The chief secretary for the colonies, Lord
, Aberdeen, refused to allow any settlement to be made there, as the object of the government was to concentrate rather than to disperse the population. Lord Glenelg, following his predecessor's sagacious policy, likewise opposed the Port Phillip settlement, whereupon the colonists, disregarding all ministerial prohibition, established themselves at the particular prohibited point, and made their own title to it. Twenty years after the far-famed
1 To the whole of South America, by virtue of a bull from the Pope of Rome.