Colonial Government Forms: Charter, Proprietary & Royal Colonies

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  • 0:00 Government in the…
  • 1:30 Charter Colonies
  • 2:28 Proprietary Colonies
  • 3:27 Royal Colonies
  • 4:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will study the three forms of colonial American government: charter, proprietary, and royal colonies. We'll define each and also explore the similarities and differences between them.

Government in the Thirteen Colonies

Buckle your seat belt and hold on because we're about to take off on a journey through time. Our goal today, is to study the government of colonial America, and we'll be heading back to 1770 to visit three of the thirteen colonies. As we travel, let's talk a bit about colonial government in general.

Governing colonies was always a tricky task. After all, colonies are usually far away from the mother country, and colonists can be an independent sort of folk who have a reason to leave the mother country. They can be a bit rebellious and nonconformist.

The thirteen American colonies were no different. They gave England quite a few governing headaches over the years until they finally won their independence and became the first thirteen states of the United States of America.

While each colony had its own government, they all shared a few common characteristics:

  • First, they were all governed under English common law, which was the law of the mother country.
  • Second, they all belonged to and were officially ruled by the King of England.
  • Third, they all possessed three branches of government (legislative, executive, and judicial). They also possessed a system of checks and balances to prevent any one branch from gaining too much power.
  • Finally, each colonial government featured a governor, an appointed governor's council, and an elected assembly of representatives.

Now, colonial governments typically took one of three forms: charter, proprietary, or royal. For our trip through time, we are going to explore examples of each form of government.

Charter Colonies

Oh, look! We're about to land at our first stop: the colony of Connecticut. Connecticut was a charter colony. Charter colonies were governed by corporations called joint stock companies. Individuals hoping to make a profit purchased stock in these companies to finance colonization. When a company had enough money, it applied to the king for a charter, which is an agreement between the monarch and a colony that lays out the rights and responsibilities of both parties. If the king granted a charter, the company recruited colonists, set up a government, and founded a colony.

Charter colonies often enjoyed a higher level of self-government than other colonies. The joint stock company controlled land distribution and took an active role in colonial government. Colonists tended to prefer this form of colonial government because of the freedom it allowed, but only Connecticut and Rhode Island were still charter colonies by the time of the American Revolution. Massachusetts had also been a charter colony for many years until the king decided he wanted more control and revoked the charter.

Proprietary Colonies

It's time to move on to our next stop. We'll be landing in the colony of Pennsylvania, which was one of the proprietary colonies, along with Maryland and Delaware. Proprietary colonies were granted by the king directly to an individual or family. The proprietor or head of the proprietary family governed the colony as he saw fit. Technically, he had to report to the king, but in practice, he usually had quite a bit of independence.

One important proprietor was William Penn. The King of England at the time, Charles II, granted Penn the land that Penn would use to found the colony of Pennsylvania.

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