Page images

to trace the progress of these respective without a parallel in the history of systems, to exhibit the circumstances mankind. under which they were developed, and Among the early Germans, the existthe leading features by which they are ence of separate landed property, or pricharacterized ; and, by contrasting their vileged classes in society, was utterly practical operation upon society, to unknown. They lived in separate comsatisfy the reader that the motive munities, governed by chiefs who were which has led to the creation of both elected with exclusive reference to their is essentially one and the same. merits. Their king was but the presid

To the proper understanding of the ing officer of their annual council, where feudal system, it will be necessary to re- everything pertaining to the interest of fer to the circumstances of its growth; the state was submitted to the free we shall therefore briefly trace it from voice of a popular assembly. All landed the period of its rise down to its final property was vested in the community development immediately after the pe- at large; and at the end of every year, riod of the Norman conquest.

distributed in the annual council to the The rude original of this singular chiefs, and by them redistributed in structure is to be found in the state of their respective communities. Every society, handed down to us by Tacitus, member of the community thus changof those nomadic German tribes, whọ ed his habitation yearly, and migratory; were subdued by the arms of the vic- and unsettled as this custom rendered torious Romans, and who, in their turn, them, it answered the purposes of a subjugated, and finally gave laws and people whose pursuits were limited to customs to their more polished conquer. ihe exercise of war, and to the rudest ors. The overthrow of the Roman em forms of agriculture. pire by these northern barbarians forms The Germans retained at first in a singular exception to the general con- their new possessions the outlines of sequence resulting from the conquest their primitive organization. They of a highly civilized nation by a rude retained their kings, among most of and barbarous people. In nearly every them their annual council, their origisimilar instance, the conquerors, as in nal mode of distributing lands, and the conquest of Greece by the earlier yearly change of habitation. Being Romans, have imbibed the arts of the scattered, however, over a large extent conquered, and have insensibly sụnk of country, their general assemblies beunder the dominion of their alluring came less frequent; and in proportion civilisation. But the terrible irruption as they declined, the power of their which effected the downfall of the Ro- kings and chiefs increased. With the man empire, swept away the whole decline of the general assemblies, the structure of ancient civilisation in Eu- kings appropriated to themselves the rope, and left little behind it but the rude exclusive power of distributing lands, organization of the warlike barbarians which they granted to the chiefs, who, by which the task of destruction had learning the value of permanent posbeen accomplished.

sessions, gradually assumed the ownerFrom the re-organization of society ship of them; and, as a consequence of which followed this mighty irruption, that ownership, established the herethe feudal system took its rise. As this ditary right to their possession in their new order of men turned to possess descendants. Immediately after the themselves of the countries they had conquest, large portions of lands were devastated, they introduced the laws, alloited to the more prominent of their customs, and manners with which they warlike leaders, who were followed to were familiar in the wilds of Germany. their new possessions by large bodies And as they gradually began to come of their subordinates, naturally desirous bine the scattered elements of social of adhering in their new condition to existence, and weave out of their de- those leaders to whom they had betached and irregular confederacies the come attached by a long companionmore settled plans of national organiza- ship in arms. The chiefs parcelled tion, they slowly perfected a political out their lands to their followers, in fabric of massive grandeur, which, from grants for life or at will, which, in the the compactness of its structure, the feudal law, were denominated benefiharmony of its parts and the compre- ciary estates; and from this disposihensiveness of its design, is entirely tion sprang up the feudal relation of

lord and vassal, which eventually devolved the duty of cultivating the spread itself over the whole structure earth and the performance of the labor of society. These feudal lords or ba- necessary for the support of their prirons increasing in wealth and influence vileged superiors. They were, in fact, by the gradual improvement and ex- the producing classes of their age, the tension of their estates, their protection really valuable members of the coin. and influence were sought by the minor munity, the foundation of society, which landed proprietors, as a security against in our age and in our country, is dignithe depredations and oppressions to fied by the honored appellation of the which they were exposed in a lawless people. From an utter disregard of the military age; and the more effectually value of labor, and a total insensibility to secure it, they granted their lands to the rights of humanity, they were to the barons in fee, and held them crushed to the earth, under the iron thereafter as their tenants or vassals. dominion of a most despicable serviFrom these and other causes, these tude. Fixed as bondmen to the soil, feudal barons became possessed of im- they were sold and transmitted with mense landed estates, cultivated and it. 'Their lives, like their liberties, improved by a host of dependent vas were equally subject to the caprice of sals. As the warlike propensities of their lords. They were prevented their age involved them in continual from acquiring property-all political quarrels with their neighbors, their rights denied them--from self-elevation first attention was directed to the effi- and individual advancement for ever cient military organization of their shut out by their condition, so elovassals, and the general cultivation of quently expressed by their name of the law of arms; to effect which ob- “villain,” which, surviving the causes ject, the lands which were formerly that gave rise to it, has descended to held at gift or at will, were granted to our age, as a characteristic appellation the tenants upon the tenure of military for all that is despicable and vile. service. Where the primitive institu The feudal barons reigned with

des. tion of things was not retained with polic power over their possessions. They the gradual increase of estates, new made war, or entered into alliances of states or kingdoms were formed, by the peace at pleasure, coined money, and combination of estates, either through administered supreme judicial power conquest, alliances by marriage, or by within their baronies. In their earlier union for mutual protection, until from condition, most of them were indethis primitive organization nations pendent of their kings, and made war sprang up, governed by kings, over- upon them, with the same indifference shadowed by nobles, and compactly as upon each other; but as the system knit together in that dependent rela- became more compact, and the necestion which pervaded every part of the sity of the dependant feudal relation feudal system.

more apparent, they assumed a suborFrom customs peculiar to the origi- dinate position; and, in the feudal innal Germans, many of them were re- stitution of vassalage, occupied about duced to a state of servitude, and the same position to their sovereign formed a considerable body at the that the inferior vassals occupied to period of the conquest of the Roman them. empire. After that period great num The feudal system was based upon bers of the conquered Romans were the predominant influence of landed reduced to a similar condition; and as property, and the necessity of efficient it was the custom of the feudal barons military organization. It was the orto reduce to slavery the captives taken ganization of a people, whose pursuits in their wars, this inferior class, who were confined to war and agriculture, were known by the appellation of serfs and in which land, the most valuable and villains, became in the progress of quality in an agricultural state, was time a body of prodigious extent. As converted into a means for effectually the tenants or vassals, in conformity establishing a powerful and permanent with the requirement of their tenures, military organization. Through the and in the indulgence of the ruling whole feudal relation, the performance passion of their age, devoted them- of military service was the condition selves almost exclusively to the pur- by which land was possessed and ensuit of arms, upon those serfs or villains joyed. By the principles of the feudal

law the king was the supreme lord and the tendency of the few to encroach owner of the soil, and all who pos- upon the rights of the many. In its sessed it held mediately or immediate- growth, we observe the gradual devely from him. The barons held it upon lopment of this principle, toiling upthe tenure of military service, and the wards, through the slow progress of tenants held from the barons by the centuries, without revolution or social same tenure. The tenants were bound dismemberment, to a state of more to the performance of military service perfect organization, until the whole whenever required by their lords, and machinery of society was effectually the barons, at the head of their vas. constructed for the concentration of sals, were bound to the performance of power at one unnatural point, which, the same, whenever required by their radiating from this common centre, sovereign.

was felt through every part of the

structure which secured it. From the “My castles are my king's alone king downward, it presented one comFrom turret to foundation stone," mon feature of political inequality,

more unequal as it approached the is the exclamation that Scott puts in great mass of society, until a total dethe mouth of Douglas, and in this de privation of political rights was realclaration the fiery old baron but frank- ized in the person of the down-trodden ly expresses the ruling sentiment of serf. What in this age is regarded as his age. The king, from uniting in the common heritage of man, was enhimself the supreme control of the joyed in the feudal only as the gift of the military power with the general own- sovereign. The laws were the king's ership of the land, concentrated in his laws, graciously vouchsafed to the peoown person a control over the two great ple; the courts, the king's courts; the leading elements of the state, and dis- peace of the community, the king's tributed its exercise through the de- peace; the people, the king's subjects. pendent parts of the whole feudal rela- Even a holy religion, bestowed upon tion. A structure was thus reared, the world for the common benefit of presenting the same aspect in civil so- man, lent its sanction to establish the ciety that the Egyptian pyramid pre- divine right of a political ruler; and sents in architecture, massive and the presuming mortal, thus placed deeply laid in its foundations, each above his race, rioted in authority as layer of the structure supporting and “the Lord's Anointed." supported by another, diminishing as In the causes which contributed to it rose, gradation upon gradation, to its the decline of the feudal system, we topmost stone, which, as the crowning discover the germs of a new and enpoint, to the elevation of which every tirely different state of society. Eupart was subservient, filled the mind rope, in slowly emerging from the igof the observer, when contrasted with norance and superstition of the midthe mass beneath it, with an over- dle ages, was operated upon by a variwhelming sense of its utter insignifie ety of influences, eminently calculated cance.

to shake the stability of the feudal The great object of this structure is fabric. The pure spirit of Christianity, embraced in one word-power. It pre- though faintly struggling, was slowly sents us with one of the most striking advancing upon the mere physical proexamples that history has afforded of pensities of the age; and even the inthe successful labor of the few, in esta- stitution of chivalry, though warlike blishing a permanent control over the in its objects, cast an elevating influinterests and welfare of the many. ence over the face of society. The The history of the ancient world fur- domestic feelings which civilisation nishes many examples of the over- engenders, inspired the tenants with a throw of a people's liberties by some love of home; and as, stimulated by vigorous despot, and the successful this genial influence, they turned their establishment of himself and descend- attention to the assiduous cultivation of ants in the permanent exercise of their lands, personal military service power. But the growth of the feudal became an onerous and oppressive exsystem exhibits, on the grandest scale, action. To relieve themselves from the silent workings of one of the the burdens imposed by their tenures, strongest principles of human action, they began at first by the employment

of military substitutes, and finally com- tion it established between nations, enmuted for the service altogether, by larged the field of individual enterthe payment to their lords of a stipu- prise, and broke up that local exclulated rent for their lands. The haughty siveness by which the feudal system arrogance of the nobles brought them was mainly sustained. The wants and into constant collision with the sove- luxuries resulting from a more extendreign; and the sovereign, to check ed intercourse, and an advancing civilitheir growing power, courted the alli- sation, increased the mutual dependance and extended the privileges of ence of the different parts of society; the people. The long and distant and the more equal distribution of wars, connected with the crusades, wealth, a greater individuality, and the gave rise to the institution of merce- gradual enjoyment of political liberty, nary armies, in place of the uncertain followed the new impulse thus stimuservice of military vassals; and the te- lated through the active channels of nants, shaking off the more onerous re- trade. The possession of wealth, as strictions imposed upon their lands, the fruits of individual exertion, will gradually assumed the more elevated eventually make itself felt, whatever position of independent proprietors. may be the condition of society, and To these causes, together with the in- the dignity of labor be gradually acstitution of free burghs or towns, the knowledged, from the influence its exgrowing importance of the class of ercise commands. This elevating remerchants and traders, and the gra- sult the commercial spirit has gradudual increase of the commercial upon ally effected in the condition of society; the agricultural interests of the people, and through its instrumentality, the is the decline of this system mainly to haughty baron with his host of dependbe attributed. The rise of the free ent vassals has sunk into political inburghs or towns exhibits the best significance before the independent tilpractical workings of the causes ler of the soil, the industrious artizan, which contributed to its overthrow. the merchant, and the trader. PerThe burgher enjoyed privileges un- sonal property, which might scarcely known to the feudal tenant of the be said to have had a legal existence in country. He was governed by the the feudal ages, has become, through by-laws of his own corporation, enjoyed the instrumentality of commerce, the property in his own right, and was un- available capital of the larger portion of fettered in the exercise of his skill and mankind, and the more equal possesindustry, by the grasping avarice of a sion and independent control of properfeudal proprietor. The oppressed vil- ty in general the distinguishing mark of lain, if he could escape from his mas a more improved condition, of a more ter's estate to the protecting limits of a advanced civilisation. free burgh, and conceal himself from In the change which the spirit of pursuit for a year and a day, was re- commercial enterprise has wrought in leased from his servitude for ever, and the political condition of the world, we took his rank among his fellow towns- discover the gradual development of

as a freeman and an equal. new means of power, growing out of Causes so congenial operated power- the altered pursuits and changed confully upon these thriving little burghs, dition of society. One of the princiand speedily raised them to the condi- pal of these is the superior influence tion of active democracies, illustrating, effected through the powerful instruin the heart of the feudal system, the mentality of money. From the nature unfailing tendency of the principles of of the feudal organization, the parapolitical equality:

mount influence of money was unfelt. The spirit of maritime adventure in The feudal baron, when unoccupied by the fifteenth century, and the migra- war, dwelt among his retainers and tory influence it exercised upon socie- dependents; and whatever was proty, gave a new impulse to the political duced by the community, which he condition of Europe. With it arose governed was required for its own imthe commercial age, and the restraints mediate consumption. When engaged which the feudal system had imposed in war he was attended by an unpaid upon society insensibly yielded to the soldiery; and whatever became necessilent and equalizing influence of traf- sary for the support of his troops was fic. The more frequent communica« obtained from the bountiful hospitality


of his allies, or plundered from the de- ance to these expeditions. It was exfenceless fields of his enemies. But the clusively a bank of deposit, and contifirst development of the trading spirit nued in existence as such for more than in Europe called into active exercise six hundred years. The next bank this polent agent of modern civilisa- was established in Genoa. It was tion; and the revolution which com- founded in 1345, and effectually estabmerce has effected in the condition of lished in 1407, after this enterprising mankind has given to it, as an element republic had destroyed the commercial of wealth and power, a vigorous vital- superiority of its rival, Pisa, and superity. What was acco

ccomplished in the seded Venice in the trade of the eastmiddle ages through the possession of ern archipelago. It originated in loans land, is now effected through the in- furnished by the wealthy citizens to strumentality of money. As the ex- the State, which it continued to supchanging product of all other commo- ply, deriving its interest from imposts dities, and the universally recognized pledged to it by government, to the standard of value, it has become the period of the destruction of the republic great engine of society, and its subtle by Napoleon. Genoa, of all the Itarepresentative, Credit, the means lian States, dealt most extensively in through which its influence is dissemi- the business of money and exchange; nated, for the welfare or misery of mil- and the bank, taking its character lions. The former distinctions of so- from the prevailing pursuits of the ciety, and even the purposes of govern- people, enlarged upon the sphere of its ment, yield to the potency of its com- predecessor of Venice, by uniting the bined and directed energies ; the anta- business of granting loans to that of gonist principles, passions, and preju- receiving deposites. The next in the dices of men, meet and fraternize at its order of succession was established at common altar, and even the inspiration Barcelona, in Spain. It was founded of genius and the far-soaring spirit of in 1350, by an ordinance of the King philosophic abstraction stoop to ac- of Arragon, granting banking privileges knowledge the supremacy of its sway: to the cloth merchants of that city,

which they continued to exercise for “ The age of bargaining hath come, about fifty years, when the control of

the bank was assumed by the city, and And noble name and cultured land,

it was conducted thereafter as a muniPalace and park, and vassal band, Are powerless to the notes of hand

cipal institution. of Rothschilds and the Barings.”

The commercial superiority of the

Italian states having yielded to the For the rise of the system, by which vigorous enterprise and indomitable this controlling element of modern perseverance of the Dutch, Holland, in times has been rendered an instrument the fulness of commercial prosperity, of power in the hands of the few, we became flooded with the coin of other must turn our attention to those Italian nations. This coin, from being clipstates which, from the tenth to the ped and otherwise debased below its fifteenth century, maintained the limit- standard, became of uncertain value,and ed commerce then known to Europe, the commercial transactions conducted To them are we indebted for the origin through a medium so uncertain became of many of the facilities by which the exceedingly complicated and difficult. present commercial intercourse of the To remedy this defect, the Bank of Amworld is regulated, and, among others, sterdam was established in the year to the origin of banking. The word 1609. The bank received this irregubank is derived from the Italian word lar coin upon deposit, ascertained its banco, or bench, and owes its present proper weight and fineness, and issued signification to the stalls, or benches, its own bills for the actual standard in the market-places of the principal value of the coin it received. These Italian cities, where the Jews, in the bills rose into high repute, and became infancy of European commerce, sat for exceedingly valuable instruments for the purpose of loaning money. The carrying on the extensive commerce of first institution of the kind was the this prosperous and enterprising people. Bank of Venice. It was established This bank was followed by the estabin the year 1157, during the Crusades, lishment of the Bank of Hamburgh, and for the purpose of rendering assist- upon the same principle, in 1619; by

« PreviousContinue »