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ART. II.-Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
Vols. I. and II., and Part 1 of Vol. III. Philadelphia.
The above volumes, together with three annual discourses in a pamphlet form, (the last delivered in 1834,) embrace all the productions of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania which have yet seen the light. Sufficient time has elapsed since the last publication to authorize the expectation of additional contributions to the history of the state, which, we trust, will not be long withheld. At present, our design is to draw public attention afresh to the labours of a very valuable society, which deserve to interest the whole community.
A lawyer is said but to discharge a mere social duty, when he casts in his mite of learning or research to the common stock of professional contributions. He lives not and labours not for himself alone. Although success brings him a fruitful harvest, his nights of watchful study and his days of painful labour are not merely to confer upon him present competence and future renown. No; he is one of the suitors of a jealous mistress, who demands that he shall proffer to her the valuable results of his well-spent years of mental exertion, that she may add them to her storehouse of legal treasures, the foundations of which were laid by a Bracton and a Littleton, and into which she welcomes the youthful student. This demand, the members of that profession are found, at all times, willing most cheerfully to obey; and the science of the law has, therefore, never needed votaries to record and illustrate her principles. But, are the claims of a single profession upon its members, however strong, superior to those of a state upon its citizens ? Has the latter not as powerful demands upon her subjects to secure the transmission to posterity of the best and amplest means of investigating and recording her history? Is no blame or neglect to attach to a generation, if facts perish, or are discoloured or perverted, because their proofs have been swallowed up in the gulf of time? Is not this especially the case in communities which have not been the product of chance or accident, but have been advisedly planted with reference to certain great maxims whose validity they were nourished to test, and whose value their success has so nobly proved ?
Our ancestors made experiments. They sowed the seed. They tilled the ground and nourished the young plant upon certain axioms, till then never put into full and fair operation. We are the fruit. Dropping the metaphor; we are here with certain principles instilled into our very nature, which we retain with unconquerable tenacity; with certain physical and moral peculiarities of constitution and character-with
capabilities immense, though scarcely yet fully appreciated; and with a destiny which nothing short of prophetic vision would dare to measure; and our country demands, with unanswerable propriety, that we neglect no opportunity of recording, for the guidance and instruction of our descendants, all that may throw light upon the dawn of our nation-upon the character, views and principles of its founders-upon the aims of its early statesmen; in a word, upon the maxims and career of our forefathers.
We have seen, with the most lively satisfaction, a spirit of this description growing up among us during the last few years. Contributions to the history of our Union, in the publication of the lives and writings of our revolutionary worthies, have been presented to the public, which have served not only to increase the stock of historic information, but to adorn the literature of America. Histories and biographies indeed the useful rather than ornamental—seem to accord with the national taste; and though we may occasionally desire to anticipate the era of refined and imaginative literature, (which we trust will one day shine upon our land,) yet we are far from disposed to repine at our lot. There is, however, notwithstanding this growing taste for national history, a comparative indifference towards the particular history of any state; the special circumstances under which she was planted, and the effect these have produced upon the character of her institutions and people. This, in a country like ours, a federative, not a consolidated republic, is a consideration of vast importance; and to one disposed to speculate upon the capacity and destiny of any particular portion of our empire, essential to the formation of a right judgment. The different sections of the United States have been settled under widely diverse circumstances; by people differing in their religious tenets, their tastes, prejudicies, antipathies and predilections, nay, even in their degrees of democratic fervour; these, too, more or less modified by physical diversities of soil and climate. The Revolution happily induced a mixture of such duration as to give rise to a considerable homogeneity, which our union has most fortunately preserved and increased. Still the circumstances of origin have proved so powerful in their influence, that certain quarters of our land exhibit natives differing from each other quite as much as some of us do from our English brethren, and, except in language, as entirely as Frenchmen and Spaniards.
The advantages, then, of Historical Societies in the several states are many and obvious. They would serve not merely to collect and perpetuate details which might otherwise be entirely lost, but each state would thus be enabled to gather whatever was peculiar or characteristic of herself; to enlist in
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her cause the affections and exertions of her own sons; and, in very many cases, the warm tribute of family reverence and pride.
The more early this praiseworthy project is perfected, the better for the history of any country. There are incidents of the infancy of every settlement, and traits in the character of all settlers, which find no faithful contemporary chronicler, but rest in the memory of aged though living witnesses. There are documents, too, such as original letters and memoranda, often highly important in their bearings upon public events, which misfortune or time may sweep from existence. For all such a receptacle is opened in a society of this kind, to which recourse by the future historian may readily be had.
These institutions are, of course, intended to furnish collections of materials for history, not histories themselves. The general subject, which, to be complete, necessarily embraces so many particulars, is subdivided into its several heads, which are assigned to as many different committees, who direct their undivided attention to the particular matter allotted to them. Upon this, therefore, it may fairly be presumed that all the information possible will be collected.
These obvious views arrested the attention of reflecting individuals in portions of our country, some years ago, and the result was the formation of Historical Societies or Institutes. The reputation of some of these, in a few of the older states of the Union, is already established; and to their proportion of well merited approbation in this particular, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania may confidently lay claim.
No state was more entitled to the exertion in her behalf, or offered a more fruitful field for research and for philosophical disquisition and investigation, than Pennsylvania. She was settled as no other nation on earth was settled. A plain, simple, unaffected and pious man-blessed with the purest and most enlightened principles of rational liberty, and with a heart warm with sympathy for his kind and able to resist the temptation of encroachment upon his fellow-men, though defenceless and ignorant, projects the foundation of an empire in another hemisphere. He calls around him men of his own persuasion, who had been taught by bitter experience the value of freedom of conscience, and had learnt to prize it above the honours and the splendours of the world ; he tells them that they are to direct their course across the ocean, to shores inhabited by the wandering savage, and that by the blessed arts of peace, by negotiation and purchase, they are to obtain the soil for the building of a city of brotherly love. He lays before them the charter of his government, where the pure principles of humanity and republicanism (for they are essentially the same) are embodied; where provision is made for the full developement of all the powers of the human mind ; unlimited, unfettered freedom of exertion; unfettered, save by the dictates of morality and religion. The views of this legislator are not narrowed to his own day or generation, but are calculated for all times and to endure with all men, for they are based upon reason, religion and justice. This project, which the mass of men would laugh at as visionary, or sneer at as simple, is steadily pursued and triumphantly consummated ; and an empire is founded in the midst of savages ; whose annals are stained by no blood, polluted by no craft or treachery, and disgraced by no persecution for conscience sake.
The character, therefore, of the founder; his principles, as compared with those of his age; his morality; his religion; his statesmanlike views; his equity; his prudence and his firmness; above all, his pure and stainless life; form one prolific theme for the pen of the essayist.
The lives of the companions of Penn-the history of the first settlements made beyond the capital; the growth of the different towns and townships; the planting and increase of the various religious sects with which the state is now covered ; and the different sources whence the population of the state, more than ordinarily heterogeneous, was originally deduced ; present an equally abundant topic. Another, and certainly one of the most important, is the influence necessarily exerted over the future destinies of Pennsylvania by the peculiar characteristics of her settlers; the effect of these upon her laws; her social condition ; her police, her criminal jurisprudence, her literature, and the developement of her resources and energies. And, as connected with this last, the history of her jurisprudence; her efforts in the cause of humanity and philanthropy, and for the amelioration of the miseries and the reformation of the crimes of poor human nature, and the striking features of liberality and equity which characterize all her institutions. But the themes are by no means exhausted. Others are presented by a consideration of the natural advantages of the state for agriculture, commerce and manufactures, and for internal trade; the history of her system of internal improvement; the native fertility and mineral wealth of the state, and the manner in which her mighty resources have been developed. The origin, fluctuations, embarrassments, and subsequent healthy condition of her currency-her banking system; the foundation and growth of her corporations-stand prominently forth as objects of interest. Her party history is of deep moment to politicians; for the demon of party emptied the vials of her wrath upon the land at a comparatively early day; nor is the importance of this topic confined to mere politicians ; for the knowledge may be gained from such a survey, whether the effects of these bitter contests have not been to depress the just influence of Pennsylvania in the Union, and to exclude many of her ablest and best men from her councils.
To but one more subject of historical importance shall we allude, before asking our reader's attention to what has been done in this wide field. We refer to the deeply interesting consideration of the condition of the aboriginal inhabitants of the state, at the time of its first settlement, and their gradual extinction; the peculiarities of their race; their advancement in refinement and civilization ; their customs and religious . belief and ceremonies. Their supposed origin, which hurries us back to remote antiquity, and their national vicissitudes, must ever excite our curiosity and sympathy, however we may differ as to the abstract right of acquiring their lands. Pennsylvanians are especially attracted to the story of one, probably the noblest and once the most powerful of all their tribes, the Delawares or Lenni Lenape: for they roamed in undisputed sway over her valleys, and claimed the dominion of her highest hills; and though they have now passed from the scene, been blotted out from the list of nations, and “their place knows them no more," yet the descendant of Penn looks back with anxious curiosity to the fate of those with whom the great founder smoked the pipe of peace and opened a negotiation, as with sovereigns of the soil.
In dwelling upon this head, with which the history of Pennsylvania seems to be especially connected, feelings of much more excitement than those of mere romance are enkindled. While the imagination is awakened, the heart is touched : and the deepest sensations of awe are felt at the inscrutable decrees of that Providence, before whose fiat populous and powerful nations have vanished like the air-built castles of a dream.Indian horrors and Indian heroics are the tales of our childhood, the experience of some, it may be, of our fathers; but they will soon be the record of tribes who, having "fretted their hour upon the stage” of life, are, now," heard no more ;" and their remains, but the occasional tunulus or time-worn implement of battle, which the antiquarian will scrutinize as attentively as he now scans the strange hieroglyphics of the Egyptians. Through all time, then, will the Pennsylvanian lay the unction to his soul,--not flatteringly deceptive if it prove the prompter to a constant adherence to rectitude,—that the stranger cannot point his finger to the page in her statutebook, or the act of one of her founders, by which a Delaware was driven to raise the loud cry of vengeance or even to whisper the suppressed moanings of oppression.
Prior to the formation of this society, in 1825, comparatively little had been done in Pennsylvania to illustrate her history.