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Lectures delivered in a Course before the Lowell Institute, in Boston, by Members of the Massachusetts Historical Society, on Subjects relating to the Early History of Massachusetts. Boston: Published by the Society. 1869. 8vo. pp. 498.
THE founders of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay were men of sturdy convictions and resolute will, who came hither with well-defined aims and purposes. Yet, strangely enough, it has become matter of controversy what those aims and purposes were, and how far those single-minded and singlehearted men were true to their own idea of a Christian Commonwealth. It was with the view of presenting in a popular way a restatement of their avowed purposes and of the methods by which they sought to accomplish their objects, but with no wish to excite fresh controversy, that this course of Lowell Lectures was originally planned, and that the several lectures have now been printed, most of them in an enlarged form. The design was as praiseworthy as it was difficult of execution; and too much credit cannot be awarded to the Rev. Dr. Ellis, by whom the preparation of such a course of lectures was first suggested, and through whose zeal, energy, and perseverance as chairman of the committee of arrangements, the plan was successfully carried out. We need scarcely add that their preparation and subsequent publication afford new evidence of the value of the munificent gift
VOL. LXXXVII. - NEW SERIES, VOL. VIII. NO. II.
which was designed to furnish precisely such mental food to the citizens of Boston, and which has, from the first, been administered with rare ability and success.
The subjects selected for treatment all relate to the period under the first charter; and throughout the volume a certain unity of plan and a general harmony of views on the more important questions are apparent. But on incidental points there is considerable diversity of opinion, and each lecture is more or less shaped and colored by the personal tastes and habits of its author. Not only is there the variety of style which one would expect to find in the productions of any twelve gentlemen not under editorial supervision, but we find also two entirely distinct kinds of composition, the popular lecture, and.the elaborate essay. To the first class belongs the admirable discourse of Mr. Eliot on the "Early Relations with the Indians," which, in the narrow limits of twelve pages and a half, presents an eloquent and altogether satisfactory account of the efforts to Christianize the natives; and to the second class belongs Judge Parker's thorough examination of "The First Charter and the Early Religious Legislation of Massachusetts," which, if it is not conclusive as to the intent of the persons by whom the charter was procured, at least leaves little room for doubt on the subject, and which fully justifies its claim to fill eighty-two pages. Between these two extremes, which may very properly be taken as types of two distinct methods of dealing with the subjects selected for consideration, the lectures or essays vary in length from nineteen pages to fifty pages, and not more than two or three of the lectures could have been read within the allotted space of one hour.
The key-note to the whole discussion was struck by Dr. Ellis at the very commencement of his first lecture, in a citation from Governor Winthrop's "Model of Christian Charity," written on board the Arbella on her passage to New England. After describing his companions as persons who professed themselves fellow-members of Christ, their great leader declared that the work which they had in hand was "by a mutual consent, through a special overruling Providence and a
more than an ordinary approbation of the churches of Christ, to seek out a place of cohabitation and consortship under a due form of government, both civil and ecclesiastical." It is this avowed purpose of the Fathers to establish here a Christian Commonwealth, "that ourselves and posterity may be the better preserved from the common corruptions of this evil world, to serve the Lord and work out our own salvation under the power and purity of his holy ordinances," which each of the lecturers assumes as the basis of his discourse, and seeks to illustrate with more or less of fulness.
A detailed examination of each lecture would require more space than we have at command; but a brief enumeration of the subjects will show the general plan of the course, and indicate in some degree the manner in which it has been executed. The Introductory, by the Hon. Robert C. Winthrop, has, indeed, a wide scope, and might seem at the first glance disconnected from those which follow; but on a more careful reading it will be found to be entirely in harmony with them, and to present some important considerations in regard to the influence of the physical conditions by which the Fathers were surrounded, on their character and history. Such a discussion was altogether appropriate to the time and place; and no one who is familiar with Mr. Winthrop's polished and graceful style need be told how admirably he has here done all that he undertook to do. His discourse is replete with felicitous statements and illustrations, and opens up many sug gestive trains of thought. The remaining lectures of the course, besides the two already referred to, are: "The Aims and Purposes of the Founders of the Massachusetts Colony," and "Treatment of Intruders and Dissentients by the Founders of Massachusetts," both by Rev. George E. Ellis, D.D., of Charlestown; "History of Grants under the Great Council for New England," by Mr. Samuel F. Haven, of Worcester; "The Colony of New Plymouth and its Relations to Massachusetts," by Mr. William Brigham; "Slavery as it once prevailed in Massachusetts," by the Hon. Emory Washburn, of Cambridge; "Records of Massachusetts under its First Charter," by the Hon. C. W. Upham, of Salem; "The Medical
Profession in Massachusetts," by Dr. O. W. Holmes; "The Regicides sheltered in New England," by the Rev. Chandler Robbins, D.D.; "Puritan Politics of England and New England," by Rev. Edward E. Hale; and " Education in Massachusetts Early Legislation and History," by Mr. George B. Emerson. All are the productions of gentlemen thoroughly conversant with the facts and arguments bearing on the subjects assigned to them, and in each case the treatment is such as might have been anticipated from a knowledge of the special qualifications of the several lecturers. Among the best of the lectures are several to which the plan of this article will not permit further reference, although they deal with subjects of great interest. In the few remarks which we intend to offer, we shall confine ourselves to three or four points in the early history of Massachusetts, about which there are the greatest misapprehension and misrepresentation.
Perhaps the most important questions discussed in any of the lectures, are those relating to the transfer of the charter, and to the rights of the founders of Massachusetts under that instrument. These questions, indeed, underlie all the rest; and according to the answer which we give them, must be our estimate of the Fathers. If the transfer of the charter was merely a piece of successful trickery, and the government which was set up here was merely a successful usurpation, it will be impossible to vindicate the character of Winthrop and his associates. If the transfer of the govern ment and the patent could not be done legally, the acts of Sir Edmund Andros and his dependants were not infringements of the rights of the inhabitants of Massachusetts, and our ancestors had little just ground of complaint against him. On the other hand, if the founders of the colony had the rights and powers which they claimed to have, then the judgment against the Massachusetts charter did not differ in kind from the proceedings against the municipal and other corporations in England, the New-England Revolution of 1689 was as "glorious" as the English Revolution of 1688, and our ancestors had as good cause for imprisoning Andros, as the people of
England had for driving James II. from the kingdom. It is to a consideration of these questions that Judge Parker devotes a large part of the lecture to which we have already referred; and in it he maintains these five propositions: that the charter is not, and was not intended to be, merely an act of incorporation for a trading company; that it authorized the establishment of the government of the colony within the limits of the territory to be governed; that it gave ample powers of legislation and of government for the plantation or colony, in the manner in which the grantees and their associates claimed and exercised the legislative power; that it authorized the exclusion of all persons whom the grantees and their associates should see fit to exclude from the colony, and the exclusion of those already settled as a punishment for offences; and that it authorized the creation and erection of courts to determine causes and render judgment, without any appeal to the English courts.
These propositions, which we have given very nearly in Judge Parker's own words, cover the whole ground; and if they can be successfully maintained, the right of the founders of Massachusetts to transfer the government and patent across the Atlantic, to exercise plenary authority here, and to banish or otherwise punish Antinomians, Quakers, and all other persons whose presence they thought dangerous to the peace and well-being of the Commonwealth, cannot be denied. The question is not as to the expediency of their laws or of their proceedings under those laws, but it is as to their right under the charter to set up a popular government here, and to enact such laws as they deemed to be necessary for the protection of the community. The transfer of the charter, as we know from abundant evidence, was a deliberate and carefully considered act; and it is beyond the possibility of doubt that the founders of the colony believed that they had a legal right to make the transfer. In the agreement executed at Cambridge, Aug. 26, 1629, and signed by Saltonstall, Dudley, Winthrop, and nine others, it was expressly stipulated as the condition of their removal to America, "that before the last of September next, the whole gov