Colonies, Corporate

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The British colonies of North America were founded as either corporate colonies or as proprietary colonies. Corporate colonies had a charter that the English monarch granted to stockholders, but they were essentially governed by the monarch. King James I (160325) granted corporate charters for the settlement of Virginia (founded 1607) and Massachusetts (1620). The charters stipulated that the king appoint the colonial governor who arrived in America with a royal commission and a set of instructions from the British Board of Trade. Each colony would have its own legislature made up of a crown-appointed council (of important citizens) and an elected assembly. The assembly was empowered to pass laws that had to be approved by the royal government of England before they could go into effect.

There were many problems with this system. While England regarded the royal commission given to each governor as absolute, the colonists often lacked reverence for the commissions, viewing them as impractical instructions. Colonial governors were supposed to serve the interests of the king as well as the interests of the colonists. These concerns were often in opposition to each other. Because the legislative assembly had control over all money bills, if it was in opposition to the governor, it could delay appropriations bills favored by the governor and it could even refuse to pay the governor's salary. The governor, on the other hand, could veto assembly legislation he did not favor. He could also, with the approval of the council (advisory board), appoint judges and other officers, issue paper money, establish martial law, and summon the assembly.

In the mid-1600s the English crown began converting the American colonies from either corporate or proprietary status to a third type of colonyroyal. Eight of the 13 became royal colonies. In the process power was gradually taken away from the governors. Between 1689 and 1702 the king resumed control of all British warships in the colonies. The power to appoint officials was revoked; instead, the crown sent its appointees to the colonies. In 1755 the king dispatched a commander in chief to North America to control royal troops centrally and to rescind any military authority from the governors. Civil authority in the colonies had also been seriously diminished. This contributed to the colonists' growing political dissatisfaction with England.

Three other colonies were founded as self-governing corporate colonies: the Plymouth Colony (1620; it was merged with Massachusetts in 1691), Rhode Island (1636), and Connecticut (1636). The latter two remained self-governing throughout the colonial period and were not converted to royal colony status.

See also: Colonies (Proprietary)