English Administration of the Colonies
Britain’s 13 North American colonies reflected different structures of government: provincial, proprietary, and charter.
Differentiate between the three different types of colonies
- By 1776, Britain had evolved three different forms of government for its North American colonies: provincial, proprietary, and charter. All were subordinate to the king in London and had no explicit relationship with the British Parliament.
- Provincial colonies, also known as royal colonies, were under the direct control of the King, who usually appointed a royal governor. These colonies included New Hampshire, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and eventually Massachusetts.
- Proprietary colonies, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland, were were owned by a person or family (known as Lords Proprietors ) who could make laws and appoint officials as they pleased.
- Charter colonies, also known as corporate colonies or joint stock companies, included Rhode Island, Providence Plantation, and Connecticut; Massachusetts began as a charter colony in 1684, but became a provincial colony in 1691.
- royal colonies: Another term for provincial colonies; colonies that were under the direct control of the King, who usually appointed a Royal Governor.
- proprietary colonies: Owned by a person (always a white male) or family, who could make laws and appoint officials as he or they pleased.
- letters patent: A type of legal document which is an open letter issued by an authority granting a right, monopoly, title, or status to a person or organization.
- charter colonies: Also known as corporate colonies or joint stock companies. One of the three classes of colonial government established in the 17th-century English colonies of Rhode Island, Connecticut, and originally Massachusetts Bay. The King allowed the colonial government to establish the rules under which the colony was to be governed.
- Board of Trade: A committee of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, first established as a temporary committee of inquiry in the 17th century that evolved gradually into a government department with a diverse range of functions.
- Lords Proprietor: A position akin to head landlord or overseer of a territory; a person who oversaw a territory on behalf of a higher sovereign.
By 1776, Britain had evolved three different forms of government for its North American colonies: provincial, proprietary, and charter. These governments were all subordinate to the king in London and had no explicit relationship with the British Parliament. Beginning late in the 17th century, the administration of all British colonies was overseen by the Board of Trade, a committee of the Privy Council. Each colony had a paid colonial agent in London to represent its interests.
Provincial colonies, also known as royal colonies, were under the direct control of the king, who usually appointed a royal governor. Provincial colonies included New Hampshire, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and eventually Massachusetts. The governor was invested with general executive powers and authorized to call a locally elected assembly. The governor’s council would advise the governor and sit as an upper house when the assembly was in session.
Assembly members included representatives elected by the freeholders and planters (landowners) of the province. The assembly’s role was to conceive all local laws and ordinances and to ensure that local laws were not inconsistent with the laws of England. The governor had the power of absolute veto and could prorogue (i.e., delay) and dissolve the assembly at will. Laws could be examined by the Board of Trade, which also held veto power of legislation. Over time, many of the provincial assemblies sought to expand their powers and limit those of the governor and crown.
Proprietary colonies included Pennsylvania (which included Delaware at the time), New Jersey, and Maryland. Proprietary colonies were owned by a person (always a white male) or family, who could make laws and appoint officials as he or they pleased. This person or family was given the title of Lords Proprietor. Proprietary colonies were governed much as provincial colonies except that Lords Proprietors, rather than the king, appointed the governor. Typically, they enjoyed greater civil and religious liberties than provincial colonies.
Charter colonies, also known as corporate colonies or joint stock companies, included Rhode Island, Providence Plantation, and Connecticut. Massachusetts began as a charter colony in 1684 but became a provincial colony in 1691. In a charter colony, Britain granted a charter to the colonial government establishing the rules under which the colony was to be governed. A joint stock company was a project in which investors would buy shares of stock in building a new colony. Depending on the success of the colony, each investor would receive some of the profits in proportion to the number of shares he bought.
Charter governments were political corporations created by letters patent, giving the grantees control of the land and the powers of legislative government. The charters provided a fundamental constitution and divided powers among legislative, executive, and judicial functions, with those powers being vested in officials. The charters of Rhode Island and Connecticut granted the colonists significantly more political liberty than other colonies.
The Mercantalist System
Mercantilism regarded government control of foreign trade as crucial for ensuring the prosperity and military security of the nation.
Summarize the central commitments of mercantilist economic doctrine
- According to the economic doctrine of mercantilism, the primary purpose of a colony was to produce exports for the benefit of the home country.
- The ultimate goal of mercantilism was to run trade surpluses and thereby increase profit; toward this end, the British government used its power to create monopolies and protect merchants.
- Mercantilism allowed the government to collect taxes and duties on all goods; tariffs were placed on imports and bounties given for exports.
- The Navigation Acts were a series of laws passed in the 17th and 18th centuries that required all colonial imports and exports to travel via England and only on English registered ships.
- Many colonists resented the Navigation Acts because they reduced their opportunities for profit, while England profited from colonial work; this tension would eventually contribute to the American Revolution.
- tariff: A system of government-imposed taxes levied on imported or exported goods.
- Navigation Acts: A series of laws that restricted the use of foreign shipping for trade between England (after 1707, Great Britain) and its colonies, a process which had started in 1651.
- bounty: A reward for some specific act, especially one given by a government or authority.
Mercantilism was an economic doctrine which held that a nation’s power depended on the value of its exports, and so the government must control all foreign trade. Under mercantilism, nations sought to establish colonies to produce goods for export as a chief means of acquiring economic strength and power. Essentially, mercantilists believed that colonies existed not for the benefit of settlers, but for the benefit of the home country.
For Britain, the goal of mercantilism was to run trade surpluses to increase the flow of gold and silver pouring into London. The government took its share through duties and taxes with the remainder going to merchants in Britain. The government spent much of its revenue on the Royal Navy, which not only protected the British colonies but threatened and sometimes seized the colonies of other European empires in the Americas.
Controlling Trade and Promoting Exports
Trade Barriers, Regulations, Tarriffs, and Subsidies
British mercantilism mainly took the form of efforts to control trade. A wide array of regulations was put in place to encourage exports and discourage imports, thereby increasing the nation’s profit. The colonies were captive markets for British industry; the ultimate goal was to enrich the mother country. Under British mercantilism, the government and the merchants became partners with the goal of increasing political power and private wealth, to the exclusion of other empires. The government protected its merchants—and kept others out—through trade barriers, regulations, and subsidies to domestic industries in order to maximize exports and minimize imports into the realm. A tariff was placed on imports and a bounty given for exports, while the export of some raw materials was banned completely. The government had to fight smuggling—which became a favorite American technique in the 18th century to circumvent the restrictions against trading with the French, Spanish, or Dutch.
The Navigation Acts
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the Parliament of England passed the Navigation Acts to increase the profit England derived from its colonies. Among the provisions, the Acts required that any colonial imports or exports travel only on ships registered in England. The colonies could not import anything manufactured outside of England unless the goods were first taken to England, where taxes were paid. The colonies were forbidden to export tobacco and sugar to any nation other than England. The Navigation Acts expelled foreign merchants from England’s domestic trade. Once under British control, regulations were imposed on the colonies that allowed the colony to produce only raw materials and to trade only with Britain.
Many colonists resented the Navigation Acts because they increased regulation and reduced their opportunities for profit, while England profited from colonial work. This led to friction between colonists and mainland England; indeed, these mercantilist policies (such as forbidding trade with other empires and controls over smuggling) were a major irritant that would contribute to the American Revolution.
Enforcing the Navigation Acts
The English Navigation Acts were a series of laws restricting imports and exports in the British colonies for the ultimate profit of England.
Describe the central stipulations of the Navigation Acts and the Acts’ effects on the political and economic situation in the colonies
- The Navigation Acts were passed in the 17th and 18th centuries to force colonial trade to favor England and prevent colonial trade with the Netherlands, France, and other European countries.
- The first of the Navigation Acts was passed in 1651 as a response to the Dutch trade wars and consequent devastation of British trade.
- The first Act reinforced a longstanding government principle that English trade should be carried in English vessels; later acts further restricted the trade practices of the colonies in order to increase England’s profit.
- The Acts required all of a colony’s imports to be either bought from England or resold by English merchants in England, regardless of what price could be obtained elsewhere.
- The Navigation Acts, while enriching Britain, caused resentment in the colonies and were a major contributing factor to the American Revolution, fueled by the later Molasses and Sugar Acts.
- Molasses Act: A 1733 law of the Parliament of Great Britain imposing a tax of six pence per gallon on imports of the named product from non-British colonies.
- Sugar Act: Also known as the American Revenue Act or the American Duties Act; a revenue-raising law passed by the Parliament of Great Britain on April 5, 1764.
- English Navigation Acts: A series of laws that restricted the use of foreign shipping for trade between England (after 1707, Great Britain) and its colonies, a process which had started in 1651.
Background: The Navigation Acts
The English Navigation Acts, which were passed in the 17th and 18th centuries, restricted foreign trade by England’s colonies. In essence, the Acts forced colonial trade to favor England and prevented colonial trade with the Netherlands, France, and other European countries. These Acts formed the basis for British overseas trade for nearly 200 years.
The major impetuses for the Navigation Acts were the ruinous deterioration of English trade in the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War and the opening of trade between the Spanish Empire and the Dutch Republic. Within a few years, Dutch and Spanish merchants overwhelmed English merchants in commerce on the Iberian Peninsula, the Mediterranean, and the Levant. Even the trade with English colonies was dominated by Dutch merchants, who crowded out English direct trade with a sudden influx of commodities from the Levant, the Mediterranean, the Spanish and Portuguese empires, and the West Indies, carried in Dutch ships and ultimately increasing Dutch profit. For the British government and its traders, the most direct solution was to seal off the British-Scottish markets to these unwanted imports.
Passing and Enforcing the Navigation Acts
The Navigation Act was first passed in October of 1651 by Parliament, led by Oliver Cromwell. This first Act reinforced a longstanding government principle that English trade should be carried in English vessels. The Act banned foreign ships from transporting non-English goods to England or its colonies. The Act specifically targeted the Dutch, excluding the Netherlands from essentially all trade with England. In some instances, British colonists and foreign merchants subverted the Act; for example, in the West Indies, the Dutch kept up a flourishing ” smuggling ” trade due to the preference of English planters for Dutch goods and the better deal the Dutch offered in the sugar trade. The Dutch colony of New Netherland also offered a loophole through intercolonial trade, as settlers in different colonies traded with each other.
Later revisions of the Act added new regulations. Ships’ crews had to be three-quarters English, and ship captains were required to post bond to ensure compliance. The 1663 revisions required all trade to be carried in English vessels. Importers of enumerated commodities (goods that were only permitted to be sent to limited destinations, such as sugar, rice, and tobacco) had to land and pay a tax in England before going on to other countries. This increased both the cost to the colonies and the shipping time. Colonists could trade in their own ships with foreign plantations or European countries other than England, provided they did not violate the enumerated commodity clause.
The Acts were in full force for a short time only. After the second Anglo-Dutch War (1665–1667), which ended disastrously for England, the Dutch were permitted to ship commodities produced in the German hinterland to England as if these were Dutch goods. Even more importantly, England conceded to the principle of “free ship, free good” which provided freedom for Dutch ships from molestation by the British Royal Navy on the high seas, even in wars in which the Dutch Republic was neutral. This enabled the Dutch to conduct their “smuggling” unhindered as long as they were not caught red-handed in territorial waters controlled by England.
Effect on the Colonies
The Navigation Acts, while enriching Britain, caused resentment in the colonies and were a major contributing factor to the American Revolution. The Acts required all of a colony’s imports to be either bought from England or resold by English merchants in England, regardless of what price could be obtained elsewhere. Colonists widely flouted the Acts, and efforts by the British to prevent smuggling created hostility and caused colonial unrest. Later laws such as the Molasses Act of 1733 (the first of the Sugar Acts) levied heavy duties on the trade of sugar from the French West Indies to the American colonies, forcing the colonists to buy the more expensive sugar from the British West Indies instead and only added fuel to the growing fire.
Historians debate the economic impact of the Acts, with some arguing that the burden on the individual was small while the impact on overall economic growth extreme. Others argue that the political friction caused by the Acts was more serious than the negative economic impact, because the merchants most affected were the most active politically. As the colonial economy matured, the Acts would block it from serious competition with British manufacturers.
On the whole, the Navigation Acts were more or less obeyed by colonists, despite their dissatisfaction, until the Molasses and Sugar Acts. The Molasses Act led to extensive smuggling, as no effective means of enforcement was provided until the 1750s. Irritation with stricter enforcement under the Sugar Act of 1764 became a greater source of resentment by merchants in the American colonies against Great Britain, contributing to the American Revolution.
The Dominion of New England
The Dominion of New England was a short-lived administrative union of multiple colonies.
Describe the Crown’s aims in creating the Dominion of New England and the reasons for its demise
- The Dominion of New England in North America was an administrative union of English colonies composed of present-day Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.
- The union lasted from 1686–1689 and ultimately failed because it was too large for a single governor to manage.
- One motive for the establishment of the Dominion was to control the cost of administration of individual colonies; another significant reason was the desire to regulate trade and the Navigation Acts.
- Sir Edmund Andros was placed in leadership over the Dominion and was extremely unpopular in New England. He disregarded local representation, restricted town meetings, actively promoted the Church of England in largely Puritan regions, and enforced the unpopular Navigation Acts.
- After the Glorious Revolution in England, colonists revolted against the Dominion and restored their old administrative units.
- Glorious Revolution: The overthrow of King James II of England by a union of English Parliamentarians with the Dutch Prince William III of Orange-Nassau (William of Orange).
- Magna Carta: A charter, granted by King John to the barons at Runnymede in 1215, that is a basis of English constitutional tradition.
- town meetings: A derivative of gatherings held by church elders and an integral part of governance of many New England towns.
- English Restoration: A period beginning in 1660 when the English, Scottish, and Irish monarchies were all restored and a new political settlement was established under Charles II after the Interregnum that followed the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.
The Dominion: A New Governing Structure
The Dominion of New England in North America was an administrative union of English colonies, including the territories of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Plymouth Colony, the Province of New Hampshire, the Province of Maine, and the Narragansett Country (present-day Washington County, Rhode Island). It was composed of the present-day states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. The union lasted from 1686–1689 and ultimately failed because it was too large for a single governor to manage.
Forming the Dominion
Following the English Restoration in 1660, King Charles II sought to streamline the administration of the colonial territories and began a process that brought a number of the colonies under direct crown control. One motive for these actions was to control the cost of administration of individual colonies; another significant reason was the desire to regulate trade. The specific objectives of the Dominion included the regulation of trade, an increase in religious freedoms, reformation of land title practices to conform more to English methods and practices, coordination on matters of defense, and a streamlining of the administration into fewer centers.
Joseph Dudley, a Massachusetts-born colonial, was made provisional president of the Council of New England on October 8, 1685, a move intended to secure the Dominion while political support was raised for Sir Edmund Andros, who was to take permanent command. Dudley’s council successfully petitioned the Lords of Trade to include the colonies of Rhode Island and Connecticut in the Dominion on September 9, 1686. Edmund Andros, whose commission had been issued in June, was given an annex to his commission to incorporate them into the Dominion.
Andros arrived in Boston on December 20, 1686, and immediately assumed power. The Dominion at this time consisted of the Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island colonies. In 1688, its jurisdiction was expanded to include New York, and East and West Jersey. Andros’ commission called for governance by himself, again with a council. The initial composition of the council included representatives from each of the colonies, but because of the inconvenience of travel and the fact that travel costs were not reimbursed, the council’s quorums were dominated by the most local representatives from Massachusetts and Plymouth.
Tensions in the Dominion
Andros was extremely unpopular in New England. He disregarded local representation, denied the validity of existing land titles in Massachusetts (which had been dependent on the old charter ), restricted town meetings, and actively promoted the Church of England in largely Puritan regions. He also enforced the Navigation Acts, laws that restricted New England trade.
Enforcing Revenue Laws
The first attempts to enforce revenue laws were met by stiff resistance from a number of Massachusetts communities. Several towns refused to choose commissioners to assess the town population and estates, and officials from a number of them were consequently arrested and brought to Boston. Some were fined and released; others were imprisoned until they promised to perform their duties. Other provinces did not resist the imposition of the new law even though, at least in Rhode Island, the rates were higher than they had been under the previous colonial administration. Plymouth’s relatively poor landowners were hard hit by the high rates on livestock.
Andros, responding to the tax protests, sought to restrict town meetings, since these were where that protest had begun. He introduced a law that limited meetings to a single annual meeting, solely for the purpose of electing officials and explicitly banned meetings at other times for any reason. This loss of local power was widely hated. Protests were made that the town meeting and tax laws were violations of the Magna Carta, which guaranteed taxation by representatives of the people.
Land Title Practices
Andros had been instructed to bring colonial land title practices into line with those in England and introduce quit-rents as a means of raising colonial revenues. Some landowners went through the confirmation process. Many refused, fearing the possibility of losing their land; they viewed the process as a thinly veiled land grab. The Puritans of Plymouth and Massachusetts, some of whom had extensive landholdings, were among the latter. Since all of the existing land titles in Massachusetts had been granted under the now-vacated colonial charter, Andros declared them to be void and required landowners to re-certify their ownership, paying fees to the Dominion and becoming subject to the charging of a quit-rent.
Religious Protests and the Glorious Revolution
The religious leaders of Massachusetts, led by Cotton and Increase Mather, were opposed to the rule of Andros and organized dissent targeted to influence the court in London. Increase Mather and other Massachusetts agents traveled to England in 1688 and were received by King James II, who promised to address the colony’s concerns.
However, James II became increasingly unpopular in England and faced opposition from the Anglican church hierarchy when he issued the Declaration of Indulgence, establishing some freedom of religion. With the birth of his son and potential successor James III in June 1688, factions of English conspired with the Dutch prince to replace James with his Protestant son-in-law, William of Orange. The nearly bloodless “Glorious Revolution” followed in November and December of 1688 and established William and his wife Mary as co-rulers of England.
After the Glorious Revolution and the ascent of William and Mary, the Massachusetts agents then petitioned the new monarchs and the Lords of Trade (who oversaw colonial affairs) for restoration of the Massachusetts charter. Furthermore, Mather convinced the Lords of Trade to delay notifying Andros of the revolution. He had already dispatched to previous colonial governor Simon Bradstreet, a letter containing news of a report (prepared before the revolution), that the annulment of the Massachusetts charter had been illegal, and that the magistrates should “prepare the minds of the people for a change.” Rumors of the revolution apparently reached some individuals in Boston before official news arrived.
The Dissolution of the Dominion
When the other New England colonies in the Dominion were informed of the overthrow of Andros, pre-Dominion colonial authorities moved to restore their former governments to power. Rhode Island and Connecticut resumed governance under their earlier charters, and Massachusetts resumed governance according to its vacated charter after being temporarily governed by a committee composed of magistrates, Massachusetts Bay officials, and a majority of Andros’ council. The committee was disbanded after some Boston leaders felt that radical rebels held too much sway over it.
The dissolution of the Dominion presented legal problems for both Massachusetts and Plymouth. Plymouth had never had a royal charter, and Massachusetts had been legally vacated. As a result, the restored governments lacked legal foundations for their existence. This was particularly problematic for Massachusetts because its long frontier with New France was exposed to French and American Indian raids with the 1689 outbreak of King William’s War. The cost of colonial defense resulted in a heavy tax burden, and the war also made it difficult to rebuild the colony’s trade.
Agents for both colonies worked in England to rectify the charter issues. The Lords of Trade decided to solve the issue by combining the two provinces. The resulting Province of Massachusetts Bay, whose charter was issued in 1691 and began operating in 1692 under governor Sir William Phips, combined the territories of both colonies, along with the islands south of Cape Cod (Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and the Elizabeth Islands) that had previously been part of New York.