Royal Disallowance

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ROYAL DISALLOWANCE. The King in Council held the power to approve or disallow colonial legislation. England disallowed colonial laws it judged contrary to English common or statute law, to a colonial charter, or to a governor's instructions, as well as laws deemed badly drafted. At heart, the Crown disallowed laws that diminished royal authority over local officials and governments, most especially representative assemblies.

Disallowance, exercised after a law's passage, differed from a royal veto, by which the Crown prevented a law from going into effect in the first place. The royal disapproval of a law functioned more like a repeal; though the law might be terminated, anyacts instituted under the law would remain valid.

After its creation by Parliament in 1696, the Board of Trade undertook much of the work of considering colonial laws; most every approval or disapproval occurred as a result of its recommendations. Laws submitted to the Privy Council for review ultimately ended up in the hands of the Board of Trade. The Board, however, exercised direct control only over royal colonies, which included Virginia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, and the West Indies. Royal colonies submitted laws for approval promptly; charter and proprietary colonies, including Connecticut, Rhode Island, North and South Carolina, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, maintained special privileges with regard to the passage and approval of their laws. All colonial laws related to the effective enforcement of the Navigation Acts were subject to the Board and Council's approval.

Indeed, the Board of Trade exercised the greatest degree of control over laws regulating or promoting commerce. Many of the disallowed laws in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were those that placed what was deemed an undue burden on British commerce, including laws establishing duties that discriminated against freight carried by nonprovincial ships, those that laid duties on European goods, those appointing seaports for lading and unlading of enumerated goods, and laws that regulated trade with Indians. Though representative assemblies and colonial merchants objected to what they saw as the Board's heavy hand, in some respects royal disallowance functioned as a check to the unrestrained power of the merchant class, and resulted in relative commercial harmony during much of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Moreover, in some cases, the Crown disallowed colonial laws that encroached upon religious freedom, including those that resulted in the persecution of Quakers. The Crown also disallowed colonial slave laws it deemed too brutal or "contrary to nature."

Royal disallowance was relatively infrequent, and decreased over the course of the seventeenth century. The crown, however, repealed approximately one-sixth of the laws passed in Massachusetts in the 1690s, and over half of those passed in New Hampshire. In the corporate colonies of Connecticut and Rhode Island, not obliged to submit laws for royal approval, the Crown exerted control through its insistence on the right of appeal to the King in Council regardless of the legal status of the colony.


Dickerson, Oliver Morton. American Colonial Government, 1696– 1765: A Study of the British Board of Trade in Its Relations to the American Colonies, Political, Industrial, Administrative. New York: Russell and Russell, 1939.

Johnson, Richard R. Adjustment to Empire: The New England Colonies, 1675–1715. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1981.

Leslie J.Lindenauer

See alsoBoard of Trade and Plantations ; Instructions ; Navigation Acts .

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Royal Disallowance

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