What Type of Government Did the New England Colonies Have?


The British New England Colonies included the Province of New Hampshire, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Colony of Rhode Island, and the Connecticut Colony. These colonies would each eventually go on to become New England states after the American Revolution. Governments in the New England Colonies during the second half of the 1600s consisted of local governors elected by legislature or by white male property owners and included the town-hall meeting as part of their local-affairs system.

New Hampshire The colony of new Hampshire was established in 1623. Its government consisted of a governor, advisors to the governor, and a representative assembly. Initially, the New Hampshire colony was a part of the Massachusetts Colony, and was called the Upper Province of Massachusetts. In 1741 New Hampshire gained independence from Massachusetts and elected Benning Wentworth as its first governor. New Hampshire was the first colony to declare its independence from England, six months before the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Massachusetts The Massachusetts Bay Colony was established thanks to a charter from King Charles I that was intended to transfer wealth from the colonies to English stockholders. Instead, the citizens of the colony transferred the wealth to the colony itself, a political move that allowed the colony to create their own government. Following this, John Winthrop became the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Winthrop, a Puritan, established Boston as the capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The colony would later go on to play a major role in the American Revolution.

Rhode Island The Colony of Rhode Island, founded in 1636, attracted many settlers who believed that church and state should be completely separate. Roger Williams, the founder of the Colony of Rhode Island, built the colony’s government to reflect the separation. The Colony of Rhode Island was one of the earliest colonies to support the American Revolution, and announced its separation from the English government prior to the Declaration of Independence.

Connecticut The Connecticut Colony was created after a group of settlers left the Massachusetts Bay Colony in search of better agricultural conditions. In order to defend against the Pequot Indians, Thomas Hooker established the colony in 1637. The government of the Connecticut Colony initially adopted the same laws used in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, later dropping the requirement that freemen must be a member of an approved church.

Tensions with England The New England Colonies enjoyed a relatively significant degree of political autonomy until King James II ascended the British throne in 1685, but England’s 1688 Glorious Revolution removed James from power and loosened the autocratic grip on the American colonies. Although they were still controlled by the new British crown after James’ departure, many of the New England Colonies continued to initiate legislation and vote on taxation until England asserted its authority by levying taxes during the second half of the 1700s.

Until the 1760s, England’s unofficial, but implicit stance toward the colonies was one of “benign neglect” and exemplified the “hands-off” viewpoint of a succession of British prime ministers. It was believed that Britain’s non-interference in colonial economic and political matters would allow the colonies to grow and prosper, and to do otherwise would result in alienation and harm trade relations. England’s imposition of the Stamp Act of 1765 and other taxation policies marked a crucial departure from this approach and led to the well-known 1773 protest called the Boston Tea Party, in which taxable British tea was dumped into Boston’s harbor by angry colonists. Britain’s Parliament issued further acts, designed to curtail liberties and act as punitive measures. These actions only served to heighten the anger of the colonies toward England, leading to the American Revolution.