Foreign Rule Breaks Down

In one way or another, however, exclusive rule from the outside was broken down. The first step was a decision by the London (Virginia) Company to grant Virginia colonists representation in the government. In 1618 the Company issued instructions to its appointed governor providing that free inhabitants of the plantations should elect representatives to join with the governor and an appointive council in passing ordinances for the welfare of the colony.

This proved to be one of the most far-reaching events in the entire colonial period. From then on, it was generally accepted that the colonists had a right to participate in their own government. In most instances, the King, in making future grants, provided in the charter that freemen of the colony involved should have a voice in legislation affecting them. Thus, charters awarded to Cecil Calvert of Maryland, William Penn of Pennsylvania, the proprietors of the Carolinas, and the proprietors of New Jersey specified that legislation should be with "the consent of the freemen."

In only two cases was the self-government provision omitted. These were New York, which was granted to Charles II's brother, the Duke of York, later to become King James II; and Georgia, which was granted to a group of "trustees." In both instances the provisions for governance were short-lived, for the colonists demanded legislative representation so insistently that the authorities soon yielded.

At first, the right of colonists to representation in the legislative branch of the government was of limited importance. Ultimately, however, it served as a stepping stone to almost complete domination by the settlers through elective assemblies, which first seized and then utilized control over financial matters. In one colony after another, the principle was established that taxes could not be levied, or collected revenue spent - even to pay the salary of the governor or other appointive officers - without the consent of the elected representatives. Unless the governor and other colonial officials agreed to act in accordance with the will of the popular assembly, the assembly refused to appropriate money for vital functions. Thus there were instances of recalcitrant governors who were voted either no salary at all or a salary of one penny. In the face of this threat, governors and other appointive officials tended to become pliable to the will of the colonists.