Colonial Government and Politics

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What are some examples of self-government in the American colonies?

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The colonial assemblies that developed in the colonies were excellent examples of self-government. Beginning with the Virginia House of Burgesses (established in 1619), colonial assemblies made up of representatives formed in most North American colonies. By the eighteenth century, many were bicameral, featuring a lower house elected by property-holders and an upper house chosen by the governor (or elected by the lower house).

By the early eighteenth century, most colonies had governors chosen by the Crown. However, colonial assemblies had considerable powers of self-government. They levied taxes, clashed with governors over spending and other exercises of Crown prerogative, and passed criminal and civil laws. While these laws had to be approved by officials in London, they were still an exercise in self-government, as they were made in response to local conditions.

It is also the case that British policy-makers, who generally took a hands-off approach to governing the colonies, encouraged self-government. The colonial assemblies, while increasingly filled with elites that were not terribly representative of the will of many colonists, serve as examples of self-government.

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