It was early in the sixteen hundreds, and four centuries after Magna Carta, that our ancestors began settling on the mild shores of Virginia and the hard, cold coasts of New England. There had been a gradual and substantial growth of the constitution in those four centuries.

Our ancestors' ideas of Magna Carta and the constitution were vague; but they had the very specific idea that they possessed the same rights as other Englishmen back in England—and under the English constitution. They were quite sure, for example, that they had the right of trial "by jury of the vicinage [vicinity]."

The people who came to Plymouth were Separatists or Dissenters who brought no fond memories of their better-fed Church of England brethren, or of the governing classes. The colonists as a whole were also very poor. Most of them had left England to escape religious or political persecution—or just because it was impossible to make a living. They had not had enough liberty, enough land. They saw in America a chance to be free, and freedom meant, of course, land. Frontier obstacles and opportunities developed self-reliance and self-government. Thus the American, sooner than his English brother across the sea, discovered the practical value of economic and personal liberty.

This migration of people had found a land with resources unparalleled in the world's history—soon the people had products from this rich land to sell to all the world. Merchants made money. Workers got good pay. Here was prosperity—and, of course, a lot of poverty—and, don't forget, slavery.

But when George III mounted the throne in 1760, he soon began to put the Royal Screws to the American colonists. He was tired of wars that left him with an empty colonial treasury. His colonies were poorly organized. His Royal Highness decided he was a businessman himself, and that it was time to reorganize these impudent plantations beyond the seas and get some coin of the realm out of them to help pay the expenses of their military defense.

By the time George came along, the colonists had come to possess practical economic independence, plus a considerable political independence, or autonomy. The merchants, the clergy (other than the Church of England clergy), the people in general were growing more determined not to surrender their newly enjoyed liberties.

They found in their earliest charters good support for their determination—guarantees of all the liberties, franchises, and immunitities in anywise appertaining, the said and aforesaid, and a lot of other big words "as if they had been abiding and born within this our Realm of England." Not only did they have their charters, they had the self-reliance and independence of men who have learned to govern themselves. They already had their own Burgesses, Representatives, Mr. Speakers, and the like.

So when the colonists saw their laws declared null and void by their Lordships of the King's Privy Council sitting across the seas in London, they naturally did not like it. For if any judges had such power, it meant the colonists did not have the kind of representative government and liberty they wanted.

During the years before the American Revolution, the Lords of the Privy Council of the King, acting as Supreme Judges, struck down approximately 500 colonial laws which had been written in America, by the Americans' elected representatives. The Privy Council, we should observe, was acting in a capacity similar to that of the United States Supreme Court when it declares the acts of Congress unconstitutional.

No court in England had any right, and would not dare attempt, to exercise any such usurpation of the powers of the elected British Parliament.

Obviously, too, the Privy Lords were representing the groups that were exploiting the people of the colonies, and the colonists were at their mercy.

Important laws were slashed down, laws necessary for the welfare of the people in America. Twenty essential and important laws were rejected by the King in Council in 1773. Jefferson said in 1774, "For the most trifling reasons, and sometimes for no conceivable reason at all, his majesty has rejected laws of the most salutary tendency."

For example, various colonies attempted to eliminate the slave trade. But every single act was declared null and void in a whole set of Dred Scott decisions denying representative bodies the right to govern. In 1768 Franklin said that this High Court power had "long been a great grievance to the plantations in general." Convicts were dumped on the colonists in spite of colonial laws to the contrary; the High Court merely voided such laws.

All this was detrimental to human dignity—and to the prospering commercial interests of large classes of Americans. It was a major cause of the Revolution to come. The "negation" of laws, the refusal of "assent," and various meddlings in colonial government are cited numerous times in the Declaration of Independence, adopted some years later.

There were various events which interpret the period leading up to the Revolution. There was the Albany Plan of Union in 1754, the French and Indian Wars, the Stamp Act Congress in 1765. During that time American-born leaders had begun to arise—businessmen, farmers, lawyers, military officers, sea captains, and "dangerous" agitators. Of all the agitators of the Revolution, Samuel Adams of Boston was about the best. From the time he was a young man, he was exhorting Americans to claim more rights.

His best job of propagandizing grew out of the "Boston Massacre." Some young men of the town had stoned and goaded the British troops into fury and had called them "bloody-backed bastards." The troops fired, killing several of them. Sam picked up this incident, and put the people into a rage over this "awefull massacre."

The "Boston Massacre" was the culmination of a series of incidents cooked up by the merchants of Boston. Many of them, including John Hancock, who was to be the first signer of the Declaration of Independence, were smugglers, according to the prevailing English law. The people in general were getting worked up more and more. The English over the seas knew it.

To mollify the colonists, Parliament repealed the especially obnoxious Townshend Acts. This led to the Boston Tea Party, in 1773, which in turn led to the Boston Port Act, shutting off the sea-borne trade. It tightened up restrictions governing the importation of tea, however, in favor of the East India Company monopoly to show the recalcitrant colonists that it would not give up the right of interference and taxation altogether.

Meantime, Americans were reaching a certain unanimity of opinion—through a vague combination of "opinions." Apparently, they wanted "liberty," and independent business; that is, they wanted more of their share in the land, and the way to get it was to eliminate the political and commercial domination of the Mother Country. This was a part of the newly forming constitutional stream. Their economic "rights" were being interfered with, and such intervention, they claimed, was in violation of the British Constitution.

Matters came to a head in Boston, June 17, 1774, where Sam Adams was continuing his effective job of starting a revolution. He and others insisted that delegates from all the colonies meet in Philadelphia or "other suitable place" upon September first, "to consult upon the present state of the Colonies, and the miseries to which they are and must be reduced . . . by Parliament," and to recommend what should be done "for the recovery and establishment of their just rights and liberties, civil and religious, and the restoration of union and harmony. . . ." It was an evidence of humanity's desire to step forward. As the nobility had demanded rights of King John in 1215 at Runnymede, as in England more groups wanted greater participation in the fruits of the land, here was a still wider group demanding more of the merchant nobility of England.

About the time the leaves of New England and the Eastern seaboard began to redden, earnest men began to move toward the star that shone over Philadelphia.