The New England Colonies Questions and Answers

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What was the political structure in the New England colonies like?

The political structure in the New England colonies was characterized by a high degree of self-rule, elected legislative assemblies, a governor appointed by the British, and town meetings. The independence the colonies enjoyed from the British contributed to their outrage at the tightening of British authority prior to the Revolution through the establishment of laws and policies such as the Intolerable Acts.

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The colonies of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island each had their own charter granted to them by the English Crown. This meant that they were free to institute their own colonial governments. They had elected assemblies of lawmakers and the governor was appointed by the British government. Judges were appointed by the assembly or governor at the colonial level, but locally elected or appointed magistrates usually served at the county level.

At the local level, the governments varied by city and town. Most of the time, individual towns were governed by elected assemblies similar to the way the colonies were on the whole. In some places, however, town council members served on a rotating or lottery basis usually filling their post for one or two years.

As you can see, the colonists in New England were accustomed to a high degree of self-rule. While they considered...

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The New England colonies were founded by people who left England to escape religious persecution. These were mostly Puritans who also had strict beliefs of their own about proper conduct, and they disapproved of many customs and behaviors that their English countrymen enjoyed. The English were happy for the Puritans to leave, so as to stop hearing them complain, and the Pilgrims, as they called themselves, embraced the opportunity to start anew in their own place, despite the hardships they would face.

Without a monarchy and an aristocracy to impose laws, and without a lower class to assign tedious tasks, the middle class found itself in a perfect situation to practice democracy. The men were responsible for providing for the families they brought with them, and they created political structures that served their needs. Within the colonies they formed townships that governed the activities of the inhabitants.

The citizens of each town took seriously their personal responsibility to participate in the governance of the town. They did not elect representatives. They participated in the discussions, and voted for the projects and the taxes they would pay-- themselves. They provided for record-keeping, and appointed clerks. They wrote laws to prescribe acceptable behavior and outlaw what they deemed to be evil. The townspeople elected magistrates to preside over courts to settle legal disputes and impose punishments, many of which would be considered cruel today. But it was what the people of each township wanted for themselves. Laws were not imposed by any sovereign monarch, but based on common law and what they believed was their duty before God to have His will-- as they understood it-- be done in the land God had given them.