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This happened in 1620, and from that time forward the emigration went on. The religious and political passions which ravished the British empire during the whole reign of Charles I., drove fresh crowds of sectarians every year to the shores of America. In England the stronghold of puritanism was in the middle classes, and it was from the middle classes that the majority of the emigrants came. The population of New England increased rapidly; and while the hierarchy of rank despotically classed the inhabitants of the mother-country, the colony continued to present the novel spectacle of a community homogeneous in all its parts. A democracy, more perfect than any which antiquity had dreamed of, started in full size and panoply from the midst of an ancient feudal society.

The English government was not dissatisfied with an emigration which removed the elements of fresh discord and of future revolutions. On the contrary, everything was done to encourage it, and little attention was paid to the destiny of those who sought a shelter from the rigor of their country's laws on the soil of America. It seemed as if New England was a region given up to the dreams of fancy, and the unrestrained experiments of innovators.

The English colonies (and this is one of the main causes of their prosperity) have always enjoyed more internal freedom and more political independence than the colonies of other nations; but this principle of liberty was nowhere more extensively applied than in the states of New England.

It was generally allowed at that period that the territories of the New World belonged to that European nation which had been the first to discover them. Nearly the whole coast of North America thus became a British possession toward the end of the sixteenth century. The means used by the English government to people these new domains were of several kinds: the king sometimes appointed a governor of his own choice, who ruled a portion of the New World in the name and under the immediate orders of the crown;[23] this is the colonial system adopted by the other countries of Europe. Sometimes grants of certain tracts were made by the crown to an individual or to a company,[24] in which case all the civil and political power fell into the hands of one or more persons, who, under the inspection and control of the crown, sold the lands and governed the inhabitants. Lastly, a third system consisted in allowing a certain number of emigrants to constitute a political society under the protection of the mother-country, and to govern themselves in whatever was not contrary to her laws. This mode of colonization, so remarkably favorable to liberty, was adopted only in New England.[25]

In 1628,[26] a charter of this kind was granted by Charles I. to the emigrants who went to form the colony of Massachusetts. But, in general, charters were not given to the colonies of New England till they had acquired a certain existence. Plymouth, Providence, New Haven, the state of Connecticut, and that of Rhode Island,[27] were founded without the co-operation, and almost without the knowledge of the mother-country. The new settlers did not derive their incorporation from the head of the empire, although they did not deny its supremacy; they constituted a society of their own accord, and it was not till thirty or forty years afterward, under Charles II., that their existence was legally recognised by a royal charter.