Colonial Government and Politics

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How were the 13 colonies democratic?

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Governance varied among the thirteen colonies and while they were far from the democracies we know today, they laid the foundation for our American democracy in many ways.

In the early settlement of the New England colonies, towns practiced forms of direct democracy in which eligible townspeople (often white, adult, male church members) had a direct say on the governance of the colony.

Representative democracy also had roots in the 13 colonies. The House of Burgesses in VA was the first of these. Eligible voters (generally white, adult, male landowners) voted for officials to serve of the House and represent their interests.

Freedom of religion was evident in some of the colonies and completely absent in others. Maryland passed an Act of Toleration, which gave religious freedom to all Christians but only to Christians. Pennsylvania had much more religious freedom and became a haven for persecuted groups such as the Quakers. Modern-day Rhode Island was founded on the idea of separation of church and state.

Another foundational democratic aspect of the 13 colonies was the written constitution. Connecticut's Fundamental Orders was the first written constitution. Other colonies would develop their own as time went on, such as Pennsylvania's Charter of Liberties.

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