The System of
Virginia led the
way in the establishment of a governance system that eventually applied to all
the North American colonies. Charles I formally granted the Virginia colony the
right to have an assembly in 1639, though one had been functioning off and on
since 1619. The court system developed more slowly, and it was not really until
the U.S. Supreme Court was created by the Constitution that the governmental
triad (executive, legislature, courts) moved toward the co-equal circumstances
which we now take for granted. All the colonies eventually developed the
political apparatus Shown below:
- Governors were
appointed by King, but were dependent upon the goodwill of colonists for pay,
support, friendship, etc.
- Most were
sensitive to the needs of the colonists—they had great power, but were in the
middle and their authority tended to be undermined from both sides:
responsibility to the king could clash with loyalty to the colonists.
- Power over
various judicial officers, sheriffs, etc., all royal agents who tended to
support the crown.
- Although some
governed well, in all the colonial governors were not an impressive lot. They
were subject to the will of the Crown, but had few resources with which to
enforce the mandates they received.
assemblies could pass laws, which had to be signed by the governor and sent to
the King for approval. It could be a time-consuming process, and colonists
learned how to take advantage of loopholes in the system.
- As a result,
the colonists got in the habit of doing things their own way—often as a result
of royal neglect; many members served for a long time, and the process of
selecting assemblymen men was not always very democratic.
- The monarchs
overturned about 5% of colonial legislation—not much, but it was a constant
irritant. Often vetoed laws would be immediately re-passed in slightly
different form, and the whole process would begin again.
the legislatures did not have much power, but they dominated nearly every
colony. The were not "local parliaments," but the colonists began to see them
as such. As we get closer to the revolution, tension between the colonies and
Parliament will grow.