Middle Colonies Government

What was the government like in the middle colonies?

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beardian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, an overview:

The Middle Colonies are New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and Pennsylvania.  New York and New Jersey were ruled as royal colonies, and Delaware and Pennsylvania were ruled as proprietary colonies.  A royal colony was ruled directly by the English monarchy, and a proprietary colony was given to one or more people by the English crown but ruled by that proprietor.  William Penn was the proprietor of lands in Pennsylvania and Delaware.  

Regardless of whether the colonies were royal or proprietary, all colonies elected their own legislature, had a governor, and had a court system.   The governor of the New York and New Jersey royal colonies was elected by the King, and the governor of the Delaware and Pennsylvanian proprietary colonies chose their own governor and that governor was then reviewed by the King (the monarchy had to approve of the chosen governor).  


New York was founded by the Dutch and land was given to the Duke of York.  The governors were chosen by the Duke of York, and a council was created to help the governor with decision-making (the council was elected, meaning that colonists were able to give a small amount of input in the decision-making.)  The Duke of York gave some land to George Carteret and John Berkeley, and this became the New Jersey colony.  These two men lived in England and also chose their governors, who elected a council to help with decision-making (much like New York).  To reiterate, although colonists were chosen to represent in this council, they had little rights or representation in England.

William Penn was a Quaker from England who was given land in the New World.  The King owed the Penn family a lot of money, but instead of paying out his debts and perhaps to remove the Quakers from England (which was an Anglican-majority country), Penn was given a large plot of land instead.  This became the proprietary colony of Pennsylvania, where many people enjoyed religious tolerance and greater representation.  Pennsylvanian colonists could vote for their representatives who had the power to approve or reject laws, giving them more power than their New York or New Jersey counterparts.  Penn was also given a portion of land which later became the colony of Delaware.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The government of the middle colonies was essentially similar to the governmental systems of the other colonies.  The English colonies generally had the same governmental setup.

In all of the colonies, there was an executive.  In colonies such as New York and New Jersey, which were royal colonies, the governor was appointed by the British government.  The king had the ultimate right to appoint, but the appointments were often made by other governmental officials.  In proprietary colonies like Pennsylvania, the proprietors had the right to appoint the governor, but the British government had to approve of the choice.

In all of the colonies, there was a bicameral legislature.  The upper house of the legislature was generally called something like “the council.”  The council was appointed by the British government or the proprietor.  The lower house of the legislature, usually called something like “The Assembly” was actually elected by the people.  Thus, the British government and/or the proprietor of the colony had power over two of the three parts of the government.

From this, we can see that the middle colonies were governed (like the other colonies) by some elected leaders, but mostly by leaders who were appointed.

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