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Colonial Governments.


officers. In the chartered colonies, the governor sometimes possessed little executive power, or, indeed, power of any kind.

In Rhode Island he had no more authority than any other member of the Board of Assistants over whose deliberations he presided. The representative bodies throughout the colonies had acquired considerable strength through the exercise of the right to levy and apportion the taxes. In Virginia, for example, the assembly appointed the treasurer, who at this time was the Speaker of the popular branch of the legislature. Throughout the colonies, the governors, judges, and other royal officials, outside of the customs service, were dependent upon the assemblies for the payment of their stipends, which were frequently withheld, or voted as the price of some concession on the part of the government. The efficacy of this means of coercing a governor may be ascertained from the fact that the proprietary of Pennsylvania was obliged to put successive governors of that colony under bonds to veto legislation contrary to the proprietary's interest. Notwithstanding the great authority possessed by the king and Parliament, the people of the several colonies substantially governed themselves before 1760. It was well said that “Grenville lost America because he read the despatches, which none of his predecessors had done." Occasionally the Bishop of London or some especially aggrieved colonist would bring a case before the Privy Council or the Board of Trade and thus arouse the interest of a few persons in the administration of colonial affairs. But such interest was short-lived, and the colonists were soon left to settle their affairs in their own way. Had it been otherwise, it is improbable that the colonies of Connecticut and Rhode Island would have been permitted long to continue in their position of partial independence.

The charters of these two colonies erected the voters of those dominions into “corporations upon the place.” They elected their governors and enacted laws without any


The Chartered Colonies.

to the home government. So liberal were these charters that they survived the shock of the Revolution and remained the

constitutions of the States of Connecticut and Rhode Island until 1818 and 1842 respectively.

There was no representative of the king in either colony, except one or two customs officers. The charters of these colonies were substantially codifications of the government which existed in Massachusetts at the time they were granted (1662 and 1663). The colony charter, under which Massachusetts had been founded, was vacated in 1684, and was not regranted after the Revolution of 1688. Instead, an attempt was made to establish there a government which may be described as a compromise between the royal and charter forms. By the Massachusetts charter of 1691, the governor was to be appointed by the king and to have in general the same powers as the royal governors. On the other hand, provision was made for a House of Representatives to be elected on a low property franchise. The Council, which advised the governor and formed an upper house of the legislature, instead of being appointed by the king, as in the royal provinces, was chosen by the House of Representatives, subject to the approval of the governor. The salaries of the governor and of the judges, who were appointed by him, were voted by the Representatives. There was great possibility of friction between the representatives of the king and of the people. The government had been in operation but a short time when disputes began, and they continued with scarcely a break until 1774, when the government under the charter was suspended by act of Parliament. Political warfare breeds politicians, and the political leaders of Massachusetts, like Samuel Adams and John Hancock, may be regarded as the first American politicians. As a matter of fact, government was so decentralized in New England that the form of the general government was of less importance there than in any of the other colonies.


Local Government.


The New


The New England town-system was the continuation of the old English parish-system before the days of closed vestries, while it was yet a popular England towninstitution. Many changes had been made, of course, to adapt the institutions of Elizabethan England to the needs of communities living in a wilderness. Strong as was the town organization, it was not older than the central governments, and it cannot be said that the State was founded on the towns. The two developed side by side, the Congregational or Independent method of‘Church organization, which gave nearly all power in religious matters to the local religious bodies, strongly influencing the civil organization in the same direction. The town became the administrative unit and absorbed a large part of the business of the colony. Affairs were discussed and concluded at a general meeting of all the voters in the town. Certain persons were selected to carry on the town's business according to instructions given them by the voters in town meeting. These selectmen were the agents of the town and had such authority as the voters of the town, to whom they were directly responsible, might give them and no more. The New Englanders, therefore, had a direct personal interest in the management of their affairs, and acquired skill in the transaction of political and public business. Where government was so decentralized it was difficult to bring about an administrative chaos. The dissolution of the legislative body or the abdication of a governor were regarded as of little moment. It may also be observed that whenever the inhabitants of any considerable number of these towns were opposed to any measure of the central government they could inaugurate a very formidable opposition to the central government without performing any act which could be regarded as against the law.

Outside of New England the local administration was organized on a less popular basis. It becomes more and more aristocratic and centralized as one proceeds southward, until,

ment in the South.

Plans of

in South Carolina, local administration is merged in the general

administration of the colony. In Virginia, for Local govern

instance, the functions of local government were

exercised through the vestries of the parishes and through the county courts. The vestries were close corporations in 1760, and the members of the county courts were appointed by the central government. The parishes and the counties were often coterminous, and the members of the two governing boards were frequently the same persons. Thus the leading men in each county exercised nearly all local power. It happened that at the time of the Revolution the leaders of Virginian politics and society were the chiefs of the opposition to the British government; and, in this way, the local institutions of Virginia proved to be a source of strength, rather than of weakness, to the American cause. The people of the several sections of the English-American

colonies were wide apart in their institutional Union.

and social arrangements in 1760, and their material interests were also different. He would have been a bold prophet who would have foretold that in six years they would voluntarily send delegates to an inter-colonial Congress. Many schemes of union had been proposed. Most of them had not gone beyond the works of their proposers, and only two need be even mentioned. In 1754 delegates from many colonies met at Albany in response to the invitation of the British Board of Trade. They assembled to discuss and arrange means for concerted action against the French, and to adopt some common policy towards the Indians. The outcome of their deliberations was the Albany Plan of Union. This provided for the appointment of a President-General by the king, and for the election of a Grand Council by the colonial legislatures. The scheme was rejected by the English government, and by the colonial legislatures, on exactly opposite grounds the one because it was too democratic, the


Plans of Union.


other because it seemed to increase the power of the Crown. From these reasons Dr Franklin, its principal author, concluded that it must have been a good plan. Another scheme proposed during the great war was the work of the Lords of Trade, and was known as the Halifax Plan, from the name of the chairman of the board. This provided for a military co-operation between the governments of the several colonies. It was further suggested that each colony's proportion of the necessary charges should be ascertained by commissioners, to be appointed by the councils and assemblies of the colonies. But nothing came of this scheme, and in 1760 there was no bond of union between the people of the different colonies save the British blood which flowed in the veins of the dominant race and the common subordination of all the colonies to the Crown and to Parliament. That union for which philosophers and jurists had schemed was to be suddenly brought about in a most unexpected manner by the passage of the Stamp Act in 1765.

The colonists had evinced a determined spirit of independence from the outset. In the seventeenth

Early differcentury several colonies had refused obedience to the representatives of the Crown, and one colony had paid no attention to the decisions of the courts at Westminster. The first part of the eighteenth century was a period of almost incessant bickering and petty strife between the representatives of the British government on the one hand and the popular branches of the colonial legislatures on the other hand. These disputes were usually confined to local politics; they never assumed the form of a combination between two or more colonies to resist the authority of Great Britain.

During the French and Indian War these altercations threatened to assume a more serious aspect

Change in owing to the attempts of British officials to enforce obedience to acts of Parliament as to


ences between Britain and the colonies.


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