Modern Americans, too often getting their knowledge of political history and social developments only from English sources, have been apt to forget e truths. Seeing how distinctly English in origin are most of our institutions and in how democratic a temper they are administered and by the people indorsed, they fail to understand that while Eng land did largely give us our belief in the rights of the citizen and in the practicability of republicanism, it was not the well-spring of our democratic ideals. These developed in evitably on colonial soil, and their growth was helped much less by British precept or practice than in the beginning by Dutch influences variously transmitted and in later years by French teaching and example. The great inequality in social station and in property which the English have inherited from the Middle Ages they maintain because they have 'the religion of inequality,' Matthew Arnold once wrote; and Gladstone affirmed: There is no broad political idea which has entered less into the formation of the political system of this country than the idea of equality. The love of justice, as distinguished from equality, is strong among our countrymen; the love of equality, as distinguished from justice, is very weak. . . . The love of freedom itself is hardly stronger in England than the love of aristocracy. . . .
In Mr. Henry Cabot Lodge's Short History of the English Colonies in America he says, as many others have said or implied, that in Massachusetts in 1634 'representative democ racy was fairly established and the Puritan system of a. united church and state was on trial.' But this is a self contradictory statement. The Bay Colony was an aristo cratic republic. It asserted much more boldly than New Netherland the right of commonwealths to govern them selves; but not until the republican system which was based on t syingico-oligarchical foundations came to an end did dem possY get a fair chance to develop in Massachusetts.
Earl ew England, except in the Rhode Island offshoots which it hated and despised, understood far less clearly than New Netherland the right of every man to as much personal independence as his neighbors — the right of the individual, rich or poor, gentle or simple, wise or untutored, to think, to believe, and within the bounds of honesty and decency to speak and to act as he might prefer. This democratic temper which recognized, as the English temper did not, the parity in importance of liberty and equality, New Netherland trans mitted to New York; and New York never lost it although a strong leaven soon began to work among its people toward the development of undemocratic modes of thought and feeling.
In line with the Dutch traditions of the province were the three great achievements by which it rendered service to the colonies at large. One of them was the conservation of the friendship of the Iroquois. This, wrote an English governor of the province, William Tryon, in 1774, was due to the fact that his predecessors had followed 'the system of policy' inaugurated by the Dutch. More explicitly Cad wallader Colden wrote that, while in the early days of the province the Dutch were often useful to the French 'in saving those of them that were prisoners from the cruelty of the Indians,' on the other hand they had 'gained the hearts of the Five Nations by their kind usage' ; their alliance with these tribes 'continued without any breach on either side till the English gained this country' ; and then the English `likewise immediately entered into a friendship' with them which had continued 'without the least breach to this day' which, in fact, continued until the War of the Revolution broke out.
Another of the great general services rendered by New York was the permanent establishment of the right of free speech, effected in 1735 by the acquittal, forced by local public opinion, of John Peter Zenger, a printer indicted for libelling the government. The third service was the preser vation of religious liberty. ' The partial establishment of re ligious toleration,' writes President Eliot, has been `the main work of civilization during the past four centuries' ; and the absolute divorce of church from state, says Mr. Bryce, is of all the differences `between the Old World and the New . . . perhaps the most salient.' Toleration, of course, now prevails in all lands that can rightly be called civilized. But ours was the first nation that made full religious liberty an article of organic law; and only here and in Japan does it yet exist — that complete separation of church from state which frees the mind of man entirely from ecclesiastical dictation and frees his churches from the dictation of the secular power.
For the establishment of this kind of liberty no other colony fought so long and determined a fight as New York. Only New York and Virginia proclaimed it when the nascent States were framing or altering their constitutions; and New York then stood in advance of Virginia which preserved its ecclesiastical establishment until 1788 while New York, by its constitution of 1777, at once effected the absolute divorce of things civil and ecclesiastical. Massachusetts did not do the same until 1833, Connecticut not until 1834. New Hampshire retained religious tests for officeholders until 1877.
It is difficult to estimate the extent of the general, in tangible influence that New Netherland and New York exerted upon the other colonies, for it was not a controlling but a modifying force; it was not so much political as mental, temperamental, and social in the broader meaning of the word; and it was aided by the strong influences which, from the beginning of American colonization, the Low Countries exerted through other channels. Also, the influence of America itself must prominently be borne in mind. Here was a vast new world unhampered by the accumulation of the soil in hands comparatively few, little troubled by out side interference, and virgin of courts and camps, of ancient aristocracies, hierarchies, and binding customs and traditions. Its rich possibilities worked with its pressing needs to en courage or compel its inhabitants to follow paths which as a whole tended toward democracy, toward a general develop ment of individualism. Beyond a doubt American conditions themselves inspired many of those American ideas and ex periments in the domains of free thought and free govern ment upon which much critical labor has been spent in the effort to trace them back to European sources. Similarly, it is labor misdirected to seek for proofs of a fructifying in fluence exerted by one colony on another in every case where one followed or kept pace with another along a path of progress.
For example, the relative mildness of the criminal laws of New Netherland should not be over-emphasized; all colonial codes were mild as compared with those of Europe. Again, Americans who inherited England's love of civic liberty would in any case eventually have learned the value of natural liberty : they would have learned that the personal rights of man should not be affected by accidents of birth or by sectarian differences. And they would have developed that readiness to believe in the possible excellence of un familiar ideas and expedients which is typically American but the reverse of what is meant by the term 'insular.' Never theless, the intermingling of many strains of blood which began on Manhattan and remained the marked characteristic of the Middle Colonies undoubtedly hastened this New World work of education. ' The variety of nationalities in New York,' wrote Horatio Seymour, 'saved it from provincial prejudices' and from 'the narrowness engendered in the minds of those who hear but one side of questions and wit ness but one phase of teaching.' To this root he traced the peculiar excellence of the first State constitution of New York as compared with those of the other States, and also the wide, strong, and beneficent influence which after the Revo lution the jurisprudence of New York exerted.
President Eliot says, again, when writing of America's service to the world : These five contributions to civilization—peace-keeping, religious tolerance, the development of manhood suffrage, the welcoming of new-comers, and the diffusion of well-being—I hold to have been eminently characteristic of our country.
Three of these characteristics were displayed by cosmopolitan New Netherland as they were not by its English neighbors when the American type of civilization was still in embryo. And it cannot be questioned that, while this type was gradu ally developing, the descendants of the New Netherlanders, aided by the colonists who flocked from many lands into the province established by William Penn, exerted a modifying, moulding influence upon the descendants of the English Puritan at the north, of the English churchman at the south.