Life in the Thirteen Colonies

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What's the difference between colonies and states?

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Colonies and states differ based on their legal recognition by the national authorities. In colonial America, the colonies were under the control of the crown. They were able to act autonomously on some issues, but all of their decisions were subject to override by the king. While the colonies were allowed to select their own legislatures, they were not allowed to select a governor. The governor was selected by the king and held veto power over much of what the legislature could decide. By contrast, states in the United States have substantially more autonomy and, with the exception of areas outlined in the Constitution, cannot have their decisions overridden by the federal government.

The most salient difference between colonies and states can be seen in many other examples of colonialism. While not all countries are subdivided into states, the various political subdivisions of most countries exist for the benefit of the residents of the political subdivision. A colony, by contrast, exists for the benefit of the colonizer rather than the native residents or the colonists. Colonies are meant to enrich the colonizer and extend the colonizer's power, while states exist to govern the people.

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