How Were the Colonies Governed?

The American Colonies were mostly self-governing, but they were organized primarily as royal, proprietary or provincial colonies with a bicameral legislature and a governor appointed or approved by the king of England. A second group of colonies, charter or corporate colonies, were self-governing with single-house legislatures and executives elected by the colonists. By the time of the American Revolutionary War, only Connecticut and Rhode Island were charter colonies.

Royal colonies had three branches of government based on the English parliamentary system. The royal governor or proprietor stood in for the king. The council was also appointed by the king and held the same place as the House of Lords. The colonial assembly or house of representatives were, like the House of Commons, elected by the colonists. Those elected to this house were the sole holders of the right to tax, and they used that right like a bludgeon, frequently holding the governor's salary hostage until he signed off on legislation the colonists favored.

When the British government tried to rein in the financial power the colonists wielded through their legislatures, it triggered the American Revolution. The colonists were already independent-minded and displeased with paying in blood and money for the British king's wars with France. When they realized that their one major power was being taken over by the Crown, they banded together under the motto "No taxation without representation" and began working toward independence.