American Impact of the Glorious Revolution

The end of the seventeenth century was the beginning point of a marked rise in the power of several colonial assemblies. The change was halting and uneven, and some legislatures remained comparatively weak into the era of the French and Indian War (known as the Seven Years’ War in Europe); governors and their councils were the prime political movers. One of the main models for the rise of the colonial assemblies was the rise of England’s own House of Commons in the wake of the Glorious Revolution. In the decades that followed William and Mary’s reign, Parliament became a dominant force in the government of England. Not only that, but local authorities, in England, Ireland, and North America, continued to expand their control. The rise of the assemblies, particularly in the Southern royal colonies, was closely tied to the development of a class of colonial lawyers, merchants, and planters. These men of property, already masters of their professional offices, trading houses, and plantations, made legislative choices that would make them masters of the colonial political landscape. Jack P. Greene, the preeminent scholar on the topic, has divided this rise to power into three phases of development. The first stage, chronicled above, saw assemblies in a subordinate position to councils and governors. By the early decades of the eighteenth century, most assemblies were on equal political footing with their respective governors and could even take on London authorities from time to time. In the third and final phase, governors and councils gave way to forceful lower houses. In Pennsylvania during the 1730s and 1740s, for instance, the lower house surpassed the governor and his council, claiming the power of the purse and denying the right of the council to initiate legislation. At about the same time, the Massachusetts house, which was already powerful, reached new heights of financial and legislative control. Occasionally, lower houses gained power as a result of administrative mismanagement, often in the form of a corrupt governor, or one who tried to limit the rights of the legislature. This happened in several colonies, including Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and New York. Most royal governors, however, learned quickly that reaching a consensus with the gentry in their respective domains made their lives much easier. Such a position eventually became necessary in plantation colonies like South Carolina and Virginia, where a handful of super-wealthy planters ruled society and politics. Later colonies, such as Nova Scotia and Georgia, built upon the successes of the legislatures long established in places like South Carolina and Massachusetts. Having risen to dominate the provincial political scene, the lower houses took aim at a much more formidable enemy, the British Empire itself. The organization of the Empire, which had grown tremendously in size with little in the way of overarching vision, promoted colonial legislative resistance. In the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War, Great Britain had effectively removed France from North America, but faced crippling debt, a postwar depression, and the trouble of defending a huge empire on a distant continent. As a result, Britain sought a massive reorganization of its empire. As with previous attempts to reign in the colonies, such as the Dominion of New England, the reorganization effort provoked loud protests from colonial legislatures. The responses to new British policies, including planned boycotts and letters circulated between various colonial legislatures, indicated that the stakes of the game had risen considerably in the years after 1763. By the time of the American War for Independence, the colonial assemblies were the main political force in the colonies. Their ascendancy during the eighteenth century determined, to a great extent, the form of the war and the Articles of Confederation government of the 1780s. Matthew Jennings See also: House of Burgesses; Politics and Government (Chronology); Politics and Government (Essay); Documents: Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved (1764); The Declaration of Independence (1776). Bibliography Greene, Jack P. Negotiated Authorities: Essays in Colonial Political and Constitutional History. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1994. Greene, Jack P. The Quest for Power: The Lower Houses of Assembly in the Southern Royal Colonies, 1689 1776. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963. Kammen, Michael. Deputyes and Libertyes: The Origins of Representative Government in Colonial America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969. Glorious Revolution of 1688 *** Creating the Brit culture of Brit N America 1 on emaze American History: The Glorious Revolution in England and America…

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