By Lanny Carruthers:
Part 2 of 6: American Revolution and the period just before Secession. (Note: I had to break this series into 6 parts instead of 5 due to length.)
The ‘Great Migration’ was the term used to describe the wave of over 50,000 of English immigrants to America between 1620 and 1640 which led to the establishment of the first 13 Colonies: Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The colonies need cheap and plentiful labor. Most of the immigrants were poor and it is estimated that 80% of immigrants came as Indentured Servants. Read more here. (.
In May of 1637, the General Court of Massachusetts ordered that no town or person in the colony should receive or host any alien without permission from the authorities. John Winthrop, Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, defended the 1637 court order as follows:”…If we heere be a corporation established by free consent, if the place of our cohabitation be our owne, then no man hath a right to come into us without our consent… If we are bound to keep off whatsoever appears to tend to our ruine or damage, then may we lawfully refuse to receive such whose dispositions suite not with ours and whose society (we know) will be hurtful to us.” (spelling as observed in source)
For a period of several years, beginning with 1656, the records of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and indeed of all of the New England Colonies, except Rhode Island, are filled with legislation designed to prevent the coming of the Quakers and the spread of their ‘accursed tenets.’ Read more here.
Let’s fast forward to the American Revolution. It was the original secessionist movement in the United States and set the precedent. The original thirteen colonies ultimately decided that even though they shared a basic culture with England, they did not want the English form of society forced upon the colonies. From forced governmental leadership and especially taxation from England the colonists decided they wanted no part of it.
Before a pack of 6th-grade level, brain dead historians start barking that secession was and/or is illegal let’s review historical facts about the colonists’ secession from Great Britain. The ability of a British colony to break away from the British Crown or Parliament was not codified by word or precedent in British history. The British looked upon the act of independence and/or the American Revolution as treason due to no “legal mechanism” for secession existing in British case law. Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence created the American principle of self-determination. Along with the classification of the former colonies as “free and independent states”, the two ideas formed the basis of the American political tradition. Jefferson went on to state in the Declaration of Independence that “…these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown…” The Treaty of Paris of 1783 was negotiated by the United States and Great Britain ending the Revolutionary War and recognized American independence. Article I of the Treaty held that:
“His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free, sovereign and independent states; that he treats with them as such; and for himself, his heirs, and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety, and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof.”
The treaty did not refer to the United States to be the “free, sovereign collection of states comprised of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.” If they were not intended to be bestowed their own independent sovereignty why did the treaty see fit to name each and every state and not refer to them as a collective of states comprising the entity of the United States?
Many of limited vocabulary today may not recognize that “viz.” in the above Article is an old-fashioned adverb used to give more detail about something you have just written. Its use in the above is intended to clarify what state(s) and/or entity was under consideration in regards to the treaty.
Therefore, the idea of secession and independence of each colony/state was acknowledged not only among the founding fathers and colonists, but also the world by precedent.
“[R]ace prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere is it more intolerant than in those states where slavery was ever known.” – Alexis de Tocqueville (French political theorist and sociologist), Democracy in America (1835). Although taxed in New England, Northern freemen, like slaves, could not vote there in early colonial times, they could in the plantation colonies. Free blacks were required to work on roads a certain number of days a year in Massachusetts, at the discretion of the local selectmen. They could only use ferries under certain conditions in New England.
In South Kingstown, Rhode Island, they could not own horses or sheep. In Boston, they could not carry a cane unless they were unable to walk without one. Both Indiana (1816) and Illinois (1818) abolished slavery by their constitutions. And both followed the Ohio policy of preventing black immigration by passing laws requiring blacks moving into the state to produce legal documents verifying they were free and posting a bond to guarantee their good behavior. The bond requirements ranged as high as $1,000 which was prohibitive for black Americans in those days. Anti-immigration legislation passed Illinois in 1819, 1829 and 1853. In Indiana, such laws were enacted in 1831 and 1852. Michigan Territory passed such a law in 1827; Iowa Territory passed one in 1839 and another in 1851 after it became a state. Oregon Territory passed such a law in 1849. (That was missed in the popular Oregon Trail computer game back in the 1980s.) Blacks who violated the law faced punishments that included advertisement and sale at public auction (Illinois, 1853).
When the Civil War ended 19 of the 24 Northern states did not allow blacks to vote. Nowhere did they serve on juries before 1860. They could not give testimony in 10 states and were prevented from assembling in two. All of these immigration laws passed among different states during this time period practically acknowledge the free, sovereign and independent status that each state was afforded by precedent without being challenged to or overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Coming up next: Secession and Reconstruction in the U.S. The most misunderstood period of U.S. history.