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AMERICAN ARCHIVES PREFACE: BY PETER FORCE

 

AMERICAN ARCHIVES PREFACE: BY PETER FORCE

We now submit to the People of the United States, the first fruits of our long and arduous

labours. We offer the present Volume as a specimen of the manner in which our Work will be

accomplished. The undertaking in which we have embarked is, emphatically, a National one:

National in its scope and object, its end and aim.

The tendency of the present age has been justly and philosophically designated as

historick. At no former period of the world has this characteristick been so strikingly manifested.

The learning, the industry, and the sagacity of the most profound intellects have been devoted in

new and valuable lights have been thrown even upon the antiquities of Egypt, of Greece, and of

Rome.

The same tendency has been exhibited in developing the early history of existing Nations.

Ancient records have been disinterred from the dust of ages, the most obscure receptacles of

historick materials have been explored, almost obliterated records have been restored, scattered

documents have been collected, and forgotten writers have been republished. A combined and

vigorous, effort appears to be making, throughout the civilized world, together, to preserve and

to scrutinize all the memorials which can rescue the history of the past from the obscurity m

which time has enveloped them.

Nor has this important subject been allowed to depend, exclusively, upon individual

means and private enterprise. In England, and in France especially, the Government has long

since perceived and recognized the truth, that the national character and the national interests, are

intimately connected with the success of these undertakings. The Publick Offices have been laid

open and their rich treasures submitted to the inspection of the inquirer after historick truth. With

a liberality deserving of the highest commendation, this privilege has been extended as well to

foreigners as to natives, and Brequigny and Von Reaumer are not the only instances in which the

records of one Nation have been employed by the historian of another. This liberty has, in several

instances, been recorded to our own citizens, and the Publick Offices in London have been

opened, and Documents allowed to be transcribed, for the purpose of verifying the general

history of the Umted States.

Nor has this publick interest been confined within these limits. Large pecuniary

expenditures have been made with the view to promote these objects, and to aid in publications

for the completion of which the resources of individuals were inadequate. In some instances

Governments have, themselves, undertaken the work, and by the instrumentality of their own

agents, and the employment of their own means, have laboured in the dissemination of such

information as was calculated to illustrate their past history. The Record Commission of England,

and that organized in France, under the supervision of the Minister of Publick Instruction, in

conformity with the recommendation of M. Guizot, are too well known to require more than this

general allusion to them.

If in Europe there exist sufficient motives to prompt to such undertakings, how infinitely

more weighty and more efficient ought they to be among us. These inquiries, originating in the

liberal and inquisitive character of the age, may be expected to be most zealously pursued in

exploring the deepest recesses, .and in gathering the most widely scattered rays, for the purpose

of pouring their concentrated lights upon the history of th.e past. The.Annals of the remotest

ages, and the most distant countries, have been examined with equal diligence and learning, and

those countries where freedom prevails. Designed, as they are, to exhibit the fundamental

principles of government, they might naturally be expected to be the most warmly cherished,

where free institutions exist. Independently of this, all our historical memorials are of

comparatively recent date, they are written in a language familiar to all, they tend to illustrate

existing institutions, and a history which still retains all its personal interest. A complete

collection of the materials for a history of this country would not only be a proud monument to

the memory of our ancestors, whose deeds they commemorate and whose opinions they embody,

but would serve as an invaluable guide to us and to our posterity, by exhibiting the vital spirit

which has pervaded the past, the true foundations upon which our institutions rest, and the

essential principles upon which their existence and perpetuity depend. It would furnish an ample

vindication of those who have preceded us upon this stage, from the imputations which ignorance

and prejudice have laboured to cast upon their motives and their acts; and our free institutions, by

having their foundations laid open to the word, and the whole plan of their structure exhibited,

will recommend themselves, more and more, to the philosophical inquirer, and to the affection

and imitation of mankind.

If history be philosophy teaching by example, how infinitely instructive must be the

history of such a country as this. The example which it presents is the purity of principle, the

singleness of effort, the stern adherence to constitutional right, the manly subordination to law,

the indignant hostility to usurpation, which are manifested in every page of our past history; the

philosophy it inculcates is that the same purity of motive, the same respect for lawful authourity,

the same opposition to tyranny, the same vigilance in detecting the first insidious approaches of

despotism, the same stern resolution in resisting its progress, which made us a Nation, are equally

essential, as the means of preserving those liberties our fathers bequeathed to us, and those

institutions which they flamed.

Even to this day much ignorance and much misapprehension prevail as to the principles of

the American Revolution, and the true character and tendency of our institutions. Nor is this

ignorance altogether confined to foreigners, it exists, to a great extent, among ourselves. By

many superficial persons, it is supposed that the American Revolution began with the battle of

Lexington, and terminated with the evacuation by the British Troops of these United States. It

seems to be the opinion of such, that the whole history of that Revolution is to be found in the

narrative of the campaigns of that War. Widely different from this is the truth, as developed by

history; widely different was the opinion of those who mainly aided in severing the connection

with Great Britain. "What do we mean by the American Revolution?" asks one of the most

prominent actors in those days: "Do we mean the American War? The Revolution was effected

before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the mind and heart of the people. The

radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real

American Revolution."

Even this language may, without due reflection, be understood in a sense not

contemplated by its illustrious author. A full and careful examination of the history of the times

will abundantly show, that so far as regards the nature and extent of their rights, at the

foundations upon which they were claimed, there was, substantially, no revolution or change in

the principles of the American People. The first emigrants to these shores brought with. them, in

their full vigour, in their original purity, and in their complete development, the principles of the

American Revolution. They abandoned their native homes, they crossed the ocean, braved the

horrours of an inhospitable clime, encountered the perils of the tempest, of war, and of famine, to

escape the burthen of governmental oppression. They braved all, and encountered all, in the same

cause for which their sons subsequently fought and bled. From the moment they placed their feet

upon the soil of this Western Hemisphere, they asserted and maintained their independency of the

Parliamentary power of taxation, and denied, to that extent, the authority of a Legislature in

which they were not, themselves, represented. Although the Colonies were, originally, settled by

individual enterprise, and by insulated rather than combined efforts, yet the Colonists, at a very

early period, perceived the advantages of union in repelling or resisting a common foe.

The Colonial history is replete will evidence of the truth of the preceding remarks. The

first Legislative Assembly held in America was convened at Jamestown, in Virginia, as early as

1619. The proceedings of the Provincial Assemblies of Plymouth, in 1686, of Maryland in 1650,

or Rhode Island, in 1663, of New York, in 1691, and of Massachusetts, in 1692, may be referred

to, as showing how deeply rooted and how widely diffused, even at these remote periods, were

the true and essential principles which, subsequently expanding into maturity, produced the fruits

of the American Revolution. In 1696 a pamphlet was published, recommending the imposition or

taxes in the Colonies by authority of Parliament. It did not escape the notice of the vigilant

friends of American Liberty. Two answers to this publication appeared, which seem to have

attracted general attention, and in which the doctrine was broadly asserted and maintained, that

no such right existed in Parliament, because the Colonies were not represented in that body.

The idea of combining their efforts in matters of common interest to all may be traced

back to a period nearly as remote. In 1690 a communication was addressed by the General Court

of Massachusetts to the Governours of the neighbouring Colonies, desiring them to appoint

Commissioners to meet, advise, and conclude upon suitable methods in assisting each other, for

the safety of the whole land. Such a meeting was, accordingly, held, and evidence exists

inducing the belief, that it was styled by the now familiar and revered name of Congress.

Nor did the principles for which the Colonists contended originate on this side of the

Atlantic. The doctrine that representation and taxation were essentially and indissolubly

connected, was claimed as a portion of English Liberty, as interwoven in the very structure of the

English Constitution, and as recognised among the most ancient and firmly established principles

of the Common Law. It was no innovation, serving as a cloak for rebellion and revolution. It was

drawn from the most ancient and pure fountains of Liberty, and sanctioned by the authority of the

most eminent judicial characters in the British Parliament.

It is a source of honest pride, in reverting to the contemporaneous history of England, to

contrast the characters of the individuals who, at times, it is true, with some modifications, yet

concurring in the great and essential principles upon which our ancestors placed themselves,

sustained the doctrines which were designated as American, with those who originated and

defended those measures of the Ministry which drove the Colonists first to resistance, and,

finally, to a dissolution of the political connection by which they had so long been bound to the

Mother Country. Such an examination will conduct to the conclusion, that had the questions

upon which the controversy turned, assumed a judicial instead of a political character, and been

carried for decision before the English Courts, the same eminent Judge, who first decided against

the legality of general warrants, would have pronounced it to be the law of the land that these

Colonists were not subject to the taxing power of Parliament.

The Work, of which the present volume is a specimen, will clearly unfold and develop the

whole foundation of American principles, and will exhibit to the world the most conclusive

evidence that they were, without exception, grounded in strict right, based upon constitutional

Law, and upon the well settled doctrines of the English Government: that there was no taint or

tinge of anarchy, of insubordination to all authority, no novelty, no innovation. The important,

practical truth will be clearly deductible from these premises, that if such be the foundations they

must ever constitute the support of our institutions. Their beautiful simplicity, their fair

proportions, their majestick symmetry, and their stable grandeur, will equally recommend them to

our love and veneration, and to the respect and imitation of others.

In the examination of the contents of these Volumes, a casual observer may, perhaps, at

the first view, be struck with the character of much of the material which we have collected. A

more mature consideration will satisfy, we apprehend, every mind, that although much of it has

been drawn from perishable and ephemeral sources, no faithful portrait of the times could be

presented, formed from other ingredients.

A distinguished foreign jurist has said, that laws are not to be created, but must create

themselves; and the observation is equally true in its application to all that comes within the

scope of legislation, whether political or municipal in its immediate character. Burke has, with his

accustomed philosophical sagacity, remarked, that to follow, not to force, ʺthe publick

inclination, to give a direction, a form, a technical dress, and a specifick sanction to the general

sense of the community, is the true end of legislation.

If this be true in any country, and under any institutions, most emphatically is it true, and

ever has been true, among us. Without concurring altogether in the observation of De

Tocqueville, that the journals are the only historical monuments of the United States, it may,

without fear of contradictiction, be asserted, that there exist no sources of historical information in

a free and enlightened country, so rich and so valuable, as its publick journals, and the

proceedings and debates of its publick bodies and associations. It is peculiarly the case, at such

times as those comprehended within the scope of our Work. Constitutions were to be formed,

the whole frame of Government to be constructed, legislative bodies to be organized, and in this

preliminary action, as well as in the movements of the machine when brought into life, publick

opinion was to be the efficient and vital principle. This publick opinion must, necessarily, be

created, as well as manifested, through the instrumentality of the means which have been

indicated.

It was urged on more than one occasion and by high authority in England, that the

American contest originated in, and was sustained by, the selfish or ambitious designs of a few

leading individuals. That personal interest gave it birth, and sustenance, and support. This was

only one of the palpable misrepresentations and gross delusions of the times. The present Work

will show, beyond the possibility of future rational doubt, that the roots of American freedom had

penetrated into every comer of our land and drew their active and living nourishment from every

family fountain. Every reader of this compilation will perceive as one of the most distinctly

marked facts which it establishes, that the American Revolution was the act of the whole

American People, and that all our institutions are the work of the same creator. This we esteem

as one of the most precisely taught lessons of our history, and if properly appreciated and

applied, the most valuable which it inculcates. We shall learn that unless the People, as such, had

worked out their own rescue from the oppression, which was rather seen in perspective than

actually endured, all the personal influence and intellect of the great men of the day would have

failed to accomplish this result. Happy will it be for our beloved country, if, drawing the obvious

inference from this history of the past, every American citizen shall be impressed with the

conviction that as he is individually interested, in the blessings which freedom confers, so there is

imposed upon him the personal duty and sacred trust of vigilantly watching and manfully

sustaining that liberty which has been transmitted to him.

It would be unnecessary, on this occasion, to enter into a minute detail of the sources

from which we have drawn the materials of this compilation. It may not be unnecessary,

however, to observe that, in the prosecution of our labours, we have, personally, examined the

publick records in each of the thirteen original States. We regret to say, that we have found

these, in some instances, in a lamentable state of deterioration, confusion, and decay; many

important documents and publick proceedings appear to be irretrievably lost. We have, however,

the satisfaction of believing, that the inquiries and examinations we have instituted, have, in some

instances, been instrumental in rescuing many of inestimable value from the very jaws of

destruction; and, in others, in awakening a feeling of interest in the memorials of our past history,

which promises to result in a more persevering search for such as may still remain in existence,

and a more careful preservation of such as have survived the hazards to which they have been

exposed. No doubt is entertained, but that there still exist, not only in publick places of deposite,

but in family archives, papers of great importance as illustrating the history of the times, and we

would earnestly press upon individuals, in whose possession such documents may be found, a

minute examination among them, and a careful preservation of such as possess general interest;

more particularly, the correspondence of the members of the various Committees, Conventions,

Assemblies, and Congresses. Any communication made to the Editor of copies of such

documents, or a notification of their existence, with the liberty of inspecting and using them, will

confer not only a personal favour, but promote the general good. Papers belonging to the period

of time embraced by the present Volume, which may be obtained hereafter

will be inserted in a Supplement to this Series of the work.

Peter Force

Soon you'll be able to download digital (pdf) files of the each volume (Series Four - Vols I - VI; Series Five Vols I - III) using my secure shopping cart and credit card processing through PayPal, until then you can order them from me directly at $9 a volume. hopefarm@hopefarm.com

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