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traditions, many of which, it is instructive to remember, were then older than are our national traditions to-day. In form of government, however, especially in its higher ranges, the colonies presented striking similarities. Each had a governor, an assembly, and a judicial system, and the Common Law of England, as far as it was applicable and had not been changed by legislation, was binding everywhere.
In eight of the colonies, — Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, the governor was appointed by the king and recognized as the king's personal deputy.? He occupied a twofold position. On the one hand, he was the representative of British interests in the colony - the agent through whom the will of the British government was made known to the inhabitants, and the guardian who kept the crown informed on the state of the province. On the other hand, he was the highest executive official in the colony, charged with the conservation of the peace and advancement of the welfare of the colonists.” As a contemporary writer put it: “the crown delegates to the governor for the time being all its constitutional power and authority, civil and military the power of legislation so far as the crown has such its judicial and executive powers, its powers of chancery, admiralty jurisdiction, and that of supreme ordinary.”
As the chief executive, he supervised the enforcement of the laws and appointed, usually in connection with the advice of his council, the important civil officers. He could remove councillors 5 and officials for cause, and direct them in administration. By virtue of his position as chancellor, he was head of the highest court in the colony, which entertained appeals from lower tribunals and exercised important original jurisdiction in many
For Massachusetts' peculiar position, below, p. 5. 2 See Readings, p. 2, for a royal governor's commission. Greene, The Provincial Governor, chap. iv, p. 65.
Thomas Pownall, The Administration of the Colonies, pp. 85-86. The term "supreme ordinary” applies to the powers of the king as head of the Church of England. The royal governor was commissioned by the crown and commonly styled, “Captain-General, and Governor-inChief in and over the Province, and Chancellor, Vice-Admiral, and Ordinary of the same.”
• Not in Massachusetts.
matters. Moreover, he granted pardons and reprieves. He was commander-in-chief of the colonial forces, appointed the military officers of high rank, levied troops for defence, and enforced martial law in time of invasion, war, or rebellion. As the king's ecclesiastical representative, he collated to churches and benefices.
In connection with the colonial legislature, the royal governor also enjoyed extensive powers. In all of the eight colonies mentioned above, except Massachusetts, he nominated the council which composed the upper house of the legislature. He summoned, adjourned, and dissolved the assembly; he laid before it projects of law desired by the home government; and he vetoed laws which he thought objectionable. He was thus endowed by law with high authority, and often increased his political influence through his power of appointing local sheriffs who were the constituting officers at elections for the assembly. In short, the royal governor enjoyed such high prerogatives in colonial times that the first state constitution-makers, having learned by experience to fear executive authority, usually provided for the supremacy of the legislature and gave their governors very little power.'
The royal governor, however, was by no means an unlimited sovereign in his province, for he was bound by his instructions and by the restraints which the assembly imposed through its power of controlling the grants of money. Indeed, in the innumerable disputes which fill colonial history, the assembly usually triumphed over an obstinate governor because it was able to keep a firm grip on the purse-strings. Toward the eve of the Revolution, his appointing power was curtailed by the claims of the council to a share in the distribution of patronage. Moreover, complaints against his actions often went to the Board of Trade, while appeals from his decisions lay to the king in council across the sea.
Unlike the other colonies which had governors appointed by the king, Massachusetts had a charter that set forth, among other things, the general organization and powers of the legislature. The governor could adjourn, prorogue, and dissolve
See below, p. 87.
the assembly, but he could not appoint the council, or upper house, and he could choose the civil officers only with its consent. However, he enjoyed considerable military authority; he organized the militia, appointed the chief officers, commanded the armed forces, and declared martial law in case of rebellion or invasion. Naturally this division of authority invited conflicts, and it so happened that Massachusetts led the way in throwing off all royal authority.
In Rhode Island and Connecticut the governor occupied a peculiar position. In the first place, he was elected annually by a general assembly composed of the governor, assistants, and representatives chosen by the voters in each “city, town, or place.” In the second place, the governor did not stand out as a distinct official; he was little more than a figurehead, his functions being discharged only in coöperation with his assistants, or councillors. In each of these colonies, the governor and assembly were duly authorized to make all necessary laws and ordinances and manage corporate business with a large degree of freedom. There was accordingly no separation of legislative and executive powers as in the royal provinces, and the governor was constantly controlled in his office by the advisers who, like himself, were chosen by the general assembly. Furthermore, he enjoyed no veto power over legislation.?
The executive authority in the proprietary colonies of Maryland and Pennsylvania and Delaware stood on a different basis from that in the royal provinces or in Connecticut or Rhode Island. Each of the former was, as Professor Osgood points out, “a miniature kingdom of a semi-feudal type and the proprietor was a petty king." Each was a vast estate carved out of the royal domain and granted by the crown to a proprietor who, in theory at least, combined the rights of government with those of landlord, from which he derived large revenues. When the proprietor of Pennsylvania was in his province, he assumed executive au
1 For an extract from the Rhode Island Charter, Readings, p. 7. 2 The governor of Rhode Island was given the veto power in 1909.
Delaware was united to Pennsylvania under the proprietorship of Penn in 1682, and until 1704 the two colonies had a single legislature. In the latter year, however, separate legislatures were established, although they continued under the same proprietor, who appointed a governor for Delaware to represent himself.
thority himself, but when he was absent he vested it in a lieutenant-governor who served in the capacity of his agent. The Pennsylvania assembly successfully resisted the power of the governor to dissolve or prorogue, and the executive council did not serve as an upper chamber, as was the case in the legislatures of the other colonies, although it did enjoy a somewhat indefinite influence over legislation. In Maryland, “the proprietary held the title to all the land, was captain-general and head of the Church. All patronage, lay and clerical, amounting to fourteen or fifteen thousand pounds a year — from the governor with a salary of
fifteen hundred and fifty pounds down to the naval officers and sheriffs — was in his hands. He had a negative upon all laws, and the power of pardon. To the proprietary belonged all the quit-rents, the tobacco and tonnage duties, and the legal fines and forfeitures, although the assembly vigorously resisted this last source of emolument. ... To the governor, who was appointed by the proprietary, the exercise of all these sovereign powers was, as a rule, entrusted. The governor represented the proprietary in the province, summoned, prorogued, and dissolved the assembly, and assented to laws. He also claimed a veto on legislation, but this right was not admitted by the Burgesses. He made all appointments to office, issued pardons, signed the warrants for execution, and exercised great political influence.” 3 Nevertheless, under its power to control money grants, the popular branch of the legislature in Maryland succeeded, toward the Revolution, in securing a tolerably effective control over the governor in the exercise of these large powers.
Colonial Legislatures In all of the colonies, except Pennsylvania, there were two branches of the legislature, and only in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, was the upper house - to use the term in a general sense - elective. In these three New England colonies, the councillors, or assistants, as they were called, were chosen by the general assemblies, and thus did not occupy the
W. R. Shepherd, History of Proprietary Government in Pennsylvania (Columbia University Studies), p. 474.
? Ibid., P. 321.
same position of independence over against the representative branch, as did the councillors of the royal colonies. In the provincial colonies, the upper house, or council, was chosen by the king acting through the royal governor, who usually determined the selection himself. In the proprietary colonies, the proprietor or his representative selected the councillors.
In addition to the usual legislative powers, that is, the right to discuss and vote on laws, the council had executive and judicial functions. It advised the governor ; in conjunction with him it formed a judicial tribunal; it frequently controlled him in making appointments; and it discharged many of the official duties now vested in higher state officers, such as the secretary and treasurer. In Massachusetts, the governor and council appointed civil officers; in South Carolina the governor had to secure the approval of the council before taking any important action or making an official appointment; in Rhode Island the assistants shared the executive power of the governor; and in New Jersey it was only with the consent of the council that the governor appointed judges and civil, ecclesiastical, and military officials. Where the council was elected it tended to merge
with the legislature; in Pennsylvania, where it was the proprietor's advisory board, it lost almost all legislative power, and in the royal provinces it became an aristocratic body, sympathizing generally with the governor and king in the contests with the representative branch of the government.
In every colony there was an assembly of representatives chosen by popular vote, but, contrary to common impressions, there was nothing like universal manhood suffrage. In New York, for example, voters for members of the assembly — the lower branch of the legislature — were required to be freeholders of lands or tenements to the value of forty pounds free from all encumbrances, except that in New York City and Albany the suffrage was open to all freemen
that is, all men who had been regularly admitted to civic rights. In Virginia the voter had to be a freeholder of an estate of at least fifty acres of land, if there was no house on it; or twenty-five acres with a house twelve feet
Reference: A. E. McKinley, The Suffrage Franchise in the Thirteen English Colonies, University of Pennsylvania Publications — the standard authority on this problem.
2 For a fuller explanation of this term, see McKinley, ibid., pp. 208 ff.