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The First Colonial Governments


In the British Empire, all land belonged to the monarch, and it was his/her prerogative to divide it. Therefore, all colonial properties were partitioned by Royal Charter, a document that gives colonies the legal rights to exist.  There were three types: Royal, Proprietary, and Charter (Joint-stock).  


Colonial charters were empowered when the king gave a grant of exclusive powers for the governance of land to proprietors or a settlement companies. The charters defined the relationship of the colony to the mother country as free from involvement from the Crown. For the trading companies, charters vested the powers of government in the company in England. The officers would determine the administration, laws, and ordinances for the colony but only as conforming to the laws of England.  Proprietary charters gave governing authority to the proprietor, who determined the form of government, chose the officers, and made laws subject to the advice and consent of the freemen. All colonial charters guaranteed to the colonists the rights and privileges of Englishmen, which would later cause trouble during the Revolutionary Era.

These types of indirect rule eventually fell out of favor as the colonies became established.  As the English sovereigns sought to concentrate their power and authority, the colonies were converted to Crown colonies, i.e. governed by officials appointed by the King, replacing the people the King had previously appointed and under different terms.  This power-grab was a significant factor leading to the American Revolution.



There were three types or systems of Colonial Government - Royal, Proprietary, and Charter

However, they all operated using the following basic principles: 

All Colonial Government systems elected their own legislature (parliament).
All Colonial Government systems were democratic.
All Colonial Government systems had a Governor, a Governor's Court, and Court System that was based on the English government and Common Law.


When the colonists landed in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, they brought with them the English Common Law (the name given to the law that emerged as "common" throughout the realm of England and was then extended to include the 13 Colonies) which represented an extension of the English government, court systems, and common laws of England. 

Three Types of Colonial Charter Governments
There were 3 systems of government used within the 13 Colonial Governments.

Royal Colony
Royal colonies were owned by the king and ruled directly by the English monarchy.  These governments were appointed by the Crown and carried out the orders and wishes of the Crown as opposed to private or local interests.  By 1775 the Royal Colony system of government was in the Carolinas, Virginia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and New York.

Proprietary Colony
Proprietary Colonies were established in territories that had been granted by the English Crown to one, or more, proprietors who had full governing rights. In a Proprietary Colony, an individual, or small elite group, essentially owned the colony, controlling all of the actions and institutions of government, for which they would receive political or financial favors. The governors of the proprietary colonies reported directly to the king.   


King Charles II used the proprietary solution to reward allies and focus his own attention on Britain itself. He offered his friends colonial charters which facilitated private investment and colonial self-government. The charters made the proprietor the effective ruler, albeit one ultimately responsible to English Law and the King.  Charles II gave New Amsterdam to his younger brother The Duke of York, who named it New York.  He gave an area to William Penn who named it Pennsylvania.

Charter Colony
The Charter Colonies were generally self-governed.  Their charters were granted to the colonists (as opposed to proprietors) via a joint-stock company.  When created, the British King granted these colonies a charter establishing the rules of government, but he allowed the colonists a great amount of freedom within those rules.  The Charter system of government was in Rhode Island and Connecticut. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was a royal province under a charter.

A joint-stock company issued stock to investors to raise money; and, once success was achieved the company divided the profits among the investors. A joint-stock company organized and supported the colony through charters from the British government. While they worked with the government they made private profits. 

Changes to Systems of Government
The 3 systems of government in the 13 original British Colonies could change according to the political and economic changes in Great Britain.

Most began as Charter Companies and were then changed to either proprietary colonies or royal colonies.

The systems of government just before the American Revolutionary War were as follows:

There were 3 Propriety colonies: Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania
There were 3 Charter Colonies: Connecticut and Rhode Island. Massachusetts was a royal province while operating under a charter
There were 7 Royal Colonies: New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia


Colonial Government - Organization and Structure
The organization and structure of the Colonial Government were as follows:

A Governor held the executive power in the colony and represented the Crown (England) in the colonial government.
A Governor’s Council, composed of influential/powerful men who advised and supported the Governor, exercised judicial and administrative powers.
An Assembly elected by, and therefore representative of, the citizens of the towns and counties.

Colonial Government - The Role of the Governor
The role of the Governor was extremely important in Colonial Government, he was the representative of the King.  The 13 Colonies were governed and ruled by England and its monarchs. In order to rule the colonies from a long distance, a governor was appointed by the monarch. The role of the Governor was to oversee the colony and was the head of the colonial administration.  The governor was in charge of laws, taxes, and made decisions that affected the colony.  He was extremely powerful.  To help him in his role he had the authority to appoint various government officials.  He had the power to convene or dissolve the legislature. He also had the power to veto any of its laws. He had command of the militia so was able to enforce Colonial Government policies.


Colonial Government - The Role of the Legislature
Despite the differences in the types of Colonial Government all of the colonies had a legislature that was elected by the people:

The right to vote was limited to men who owned land, paid taxes, had an annual income, and were members of a Christian church.
The legislature consisted of two branches:

The lower house which the people elected delegates
The upper house, or council that was appointed by the governor
The powers of the legislatures in Colonial Government were limited and their acts were subject to review:

They could do nothing contrary to the laws of England.
Their actions and bills could be vetoed by the governors.
All laws passed by a colonial legislature and approved by a governor had to be sent to England to be examined by the King and could be vetoed by the King at any time within 3 years (except for Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maryland who were self-governed Charter Companies).  To avoid the Royal veto the legislatures would pass laws to run for just 2 years, and when that time expired would re-enact them for 2 years more.


Colonial Government - Administration
Administration at the local level varied between the three regions:

New England Colonies:  Town Meetings
Southern Colonies:          County Government
Middle Colonies:              Town Meetings and County Government


Colonial Government - Evolution to the U.S. Congress
As time passed Colonial Government evolved into systems of American self-government. 

The House of Burgesses was established in 1619.
The New England Confederation was established in 1643 and dissolved in 1684.
The Albany Congress was established in 1754 and disbanded in 1754.
The Stamp Act Congress was established on October 7, 1765, and disbanded on October 25, 1765.  
First Continental Congress: Established on September 5, 1774, and disbanded on May 10, 1775.   THE CONSTRUCTION DATES 1774 - 1776  OF TIARA EQUEST
Second Continental Congress: Established on May 10, 1775, and disbanded on March 6, 1781.      
Congress of the Confederation: Established on March 1, 1781, and disbanded on March 4, 1789.
United States Congress via the U.S. Constitution continues to the present.

john david sottile - wwwidcom_minuteman_