The thirteen colonies, whose civil leaders met in 1776 to proclaim that they were independent of Great Britain, had long been set up. The first of them was established in 1607 when three ships sailed into Chesapeake Bay with 144 colonists and thus to establish the first permanent English colony in America: Virginia.1 The second colony, in time, was founded in 1630, when John Winthrop led his colonists ashore at Massachusetts Bay. In 1634, Lord Baltimore founded Maryland. And, in 1635, New Hampshire was granted to Captain John Mason. We might go on; the point I but wish to make is that, during the early part of the seventeenth century England had solidly staked out her claims along the American eastern seaboard.
Great Britain lost her American colonies because George III and his ministers badly mishandled a developing situation, the roots of which were many and some of which were long. The lost did not come about -- notwithstanding the expression of the high feelings that were running at the time -- because of a totalitarian regime in England. On the contrary, England, to this point in world history (outside of the democratic experiments in ancient Greece) was the most democratically advance country, indeed, likely the only country that could carry the label. English people had long appreciated and enjoyed freedom and a say through their representatives on how they are to be governed.2 The institutions of government, as existed in England during the decades leading up to 1776, is to be compared to those of France where matters were run on feudal principles with the whole apparatus under the rule of an absolute monarch. The English colonists who came to America (many because of religious persecution) were acutely aware of an Englishman's rights. They brought with them a love of English law and a desire to immediately set up systems of government as did exist back home, in England. An elected assembly3 existed in each of the colonies and had existed almost from the time that each came into being as a separate identity.4
In each colony there was a royal governor who, together with his council, were appointed by royal authority. The governor was in constant communication with, and took his instructions from, the Royal Minister in charge at London. It was the royal governor's job to see that these instructions were carried out; he had veto power5, and while he did not initiate legislation, the governor did not approve any law that did not fit in with the British scheme of things.6 This form of government, a governor and council appointed by the Crown and an assembly elected by the people, was one that was certain to produce friction and contention. The position of governor, we might add, was not a position to be envied. It was a difficult assignment to placate two jealous mistresses at the same time: the people and the king. Often the men which were sent out were not well qualified to take on the job, being, for the most part, placemen, sons of aristocratic families with no available positions for them in England.7
Each province had a small group of men which were selected by the governor and recommended to London for an appointment to serve on Council.8 This Colonial Council counterbalanced the representative assembly. In a way, it was much like the unelected chambers which exist, yet today, in England (the House of Lords) and in Canada (the Senate). Though not near as ostentatious as formal Upper Chambers, the council, back in the days of colonial government, was likely more powerful, as the leader of their "club" was the governor, and, he had a veto.
The colonial structure of government, as has now been briefly described, was the same that was in place in Nova Scotia during the time of the American Revolution, though its history was not near as long. The governmental structure as possessed by its southern cousins, was not one possessed by Nova Scotia in the early days, since, by and large, all the British had to govern were military personal and Frenchmen. Only in 1758, did Nova Scotia have its first elected assembly. Up to that point everything was run from the Governor's house.9
[NEXT: Pt. 2, Ch. 3 - "International Trade."]