Most forms of government tend towards centralization motivated by a number of reasons including control, consistency and efficiency. In his groundbreaking book, Seeing Like A State: How Certain Schemes To Improve The Human Condition Have Failed, James C Scott described the process by which early modern European statecraft became "devoted to rationalizing and standardizing what was a social hieroglyph into a legible and administratively more convenient format", concluding:
The social simplifications thus introduced not only permitted a more finely tuned system of taxation and conscription but also greatly enhanced state capacity.In the 17th century, several of Britain's American colonies went through an attempt at such centralization and categorization.
During the 1620s and 30s, the New England colonies were settled by religious separatist groups, the Pilgrims and Puritans, along with dissenters from those sects who founded Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. During much of the following twenty years, England itself was convulsed with Civil War, the overthrow of the monarchy and the regime of the Puritan, Oliver Cromwell, all of which allowed the colonies to grow with support but little interference from the home country.
Adjacent to the New England colonies was a Dutch settlement, New Amsterdam, encompassing Manhattan and the Hudson River Valley. Further south were the Jersey colonies containing Dutch and Swedish settlements.
In 1660, the monarchy was restored with the reign of Charles II. Four years later, the English seized New Amsterdam and the Jersey colonies. In 1675-6, the New England colonies went through the trauma of King Philips War, the largest Indian war in American history (for more see Bloody Brook and The Sudbury Fight). Though the colonists prevailed, much of the interior of New England was abandoned until the early 18th century.
Charles II viewed the Massachusetts Bay Colony as an unruly nuisance that had supported the Cromwell regime which had executed his father. The Bay Colony was a theocracy, banning the Anglican Church. It also flaunted English property law and ignored the Navigation Acts which forbid colonial merchants from selling to customers outside of England. In 1684, Charles revoked the colony's charter after it refused to relax its religious restrictions. The King died in February 1685 and the next steps were left to his brother and successor, James II, the last Roman Catholic monarch in British history.
In addition to the religious disputes with the errant colony, James faced some broader issues with the American colonists. There was a continued threat from the French and their Indian allies in Canada, separated by wilderness and ill-defined and disputed boundaries from the English settlers. The Crown was also losing revenue because of a lack of taxation and the blatant disregard of the Navigation Acts.
The solution James arrived at was a massive reorganization of the colonies, revocation of existing charters, and more direct rule by the home country which would provide for coordinated defense, enforcement of the Navigation Acts, increased revenues and the added benefit of allowing him to bestow lucrative administrative posts and land grants upon his favorites.
The initial commission for this project was given to Joseph Dudley in October 1685. Arriving in Boston in May 1686, his writ extended to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the province of Maine, Plymouth Colony, and Narragansett County in Rhode Island. On September 9, the Dominion was expanded to include Connecticut and the rest of Rhode Island. The next year, New York and East and West Jersey were to be joined to the new administrative unit.
(Sir Edmund Andros)
It was only with the arrival in Boston of Dudley's successor, Sir Edmund Andros, that the Dominion truly took shape. Under Andros, town meetings were restricted, his council was appointed, not elected, and property law was aligned to conform with English practice which threatened the freeholds of many colonists. For the most part, the colonies resisted the authority of Andros, some passively, some actively. In Massachusetts, the most obvious manifestation was resistance to Sir Edmund's attempts to create an Anglican Church in Boston. At that time, Anglican congregants had to hold services outside. He was rebuffed in his attempts to find land for a church as no one would sell to him. He then requested use of the Puritan meetinghouse and was also refused. Finally, he seized part of the public burying ground along Tremont Street and built a wooden church, now known as King's Chapel (rebuilt in stone in 1749), further outraging public sentiment.
(King's Chapel today; Burying Ground is to the left)
And even worse religious affront was to come. According to history of massachusetts.org, citing the book, The Imperial Executive In America:
“Further evidence of Anglicization was provided by the presence of a Maypole in Charlestown, a symbol that was particularly offensive to Puritans. Angry Puritans cut down the Charlestown maypole, but an even bigger one was put up. Its very existence was a sign that Anglican influence was becoming stronger and that the Puritans were losing control of their society. The Maypole represented only the tip of the Anglican wedge, soon to be followed by observance of Christmas and other holy days, and by card games, dancing, playgoing, and other activities previously banned by the Puritans.”Cats and dogs, living together!
Connecticut also actively resisted Andros' authority, refusing to surrender its charter, an unusually liberal one, issued by Charles II in 1662, granting the colony virtual autonomy. Things became so tense, that Andros went to Hartford in October 1687 to meet with local leaders and take the charter back to Boston with him. His efforts were to be thwarted. According to Connecticut lore, Andros attended an evening meeting at which he demanded the document, which was initially produced but then the lights were suddenly dowsed and when the candles were lit again, the charter had disappeared, eventually being hidden in a large oak tree nearby. The Charter Oak, as it became known, survived until felled by a storm in 1856. The Governor's desk and the Chairs for the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of the Senate are made from the wood of the Charter Oak.
(The Charter Oak, by Charles De Wolfe Brownell)
At the same time, James II was becoming increasingly unpopular in England. As a Roman Catholic he was always suspect by the Protestant majority and his attempts to reduce the number of official posts subject to the religious test of being a member of the Anglican Church only increased the suspicion. Meanwhile, religious leaders in the Massachusetts Colony, led by the Puritan ministers, Increase Mather and his son, Cotton, decided to send Increase to England in order to lobby the King for a relaxation of the rule of Andros and the return of the colony's charter.
According to 1911 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, Increase received his name "because of the never-to-be-forgotten increase, of every sort, wherewith God favoured the country about the time of his nativity.” Bitterly opposed to religious tolerance in Massachusetts, Mather's later reputation suffered because of his association with the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. Both he and Cotton played ambiguous roles, urging caution in the proceedings and rejecting certain types of evidence but refusing, at the time and thereafter, to criticize the overall process. He also served as President of Harvard from 1692 through 1701. Not sure whether that helped his reputation. Cotton's unusual first name came from the maiden name of Increase's wife, Maria Cotton.
Despite efforts by Andros to prevent the journey, Mather was smuggled aboard a ship leaving for England in April 1688. We was finally able to meet with James in October and received promises that the colony's concerns would be addressed, but before James could take any action, other events intervened.
In June 1688, a son was born to James, giving him an heir to the throne that most believed would be raised Catholic. The Parliamentary opposition conspired with the King's Dutch Protestant son-in-law, William of Orange and his wife Mary to install them as the new rulers of England. In early November 1688, William, accompanied by 15,000 soldiers landed in Devon in southwestern England. Five weeks later, after minor fighting, William entered London and James fled to France. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 had succeeded, and England entered a new, and permanent, phase of Parliamentary supremacy, crowned by the Bill of Rights of 1689, a revolutionary document that was to be cited by the American colonists in support of their claimed rights during the 1760s and 1770s.
News traveled slowly across the Atlantic in the 17th century, particularly during the stormy winter weather when few ships crossed the ocean. In January, Sir Edmund led a military expedition to Maine in response to Indian incursions. Returning to Boston in mid-March, Andros was present when the first news of the revolution reached the city in early April. Despite his efforts to suppress the reports, the news quickly became widely known.
On the morning of April 18, 1689, militia companies accompanied by large crowds assembled in town and raised an orange flag on Beacon Hill in support of King William and Queen Mary. The total crowd of about 2,000 began arresting Dominion officials; Andros, who had a garrison of only about a dozen British soldiers, surrendered, and was held captive for nearly a year. (19th century depiction of arrest of Andros)
The triumphant insurgents issued a declaration:
We have been quiet, hitherto, but now the Lord has prospered the undertaking of the prince of Orange, we think we should follow such an example. We therefore, seized the vile persons who oppressed us.Four days later, Samuel Prince wrote a letter to his father-in-law, Thomas Hinckley, governor of Plymouth Colony, describing the start of the revolt:
I knew not any thing of what was intended, till it was begun; yet being at the north end of the town, where I saw boys run along the street with clubs in their hands, encouraging one another to fight, I began to mistrust what was intended; and, hasting towards the town-dock, I soon saw men running for their arms: but, ere I got to the Red Lion, I was told that Captain George and the master of the frigate was seized, and secured in Mr. Colman's house at the North End, and, when I came to the town-dock, I understood that Boolifant and some others with him were laid hold of; and then immediately the drums began to beat, and the people hasting and running, some with and some for arms, Young Dudley' and Colonel Lidgit with some difficulty attained to the Fort.The Dominion's authority rapidly collapsed. The final bastion fell in late May of 1689 when Sir Edmund's deputy and Lt Governor, Francis Nicholson, a British army captain, who seat of authority was New York, was overthrown in a rebellion led by Jacob Leisler, a German immigrant and militia captain. Leisler's rule lasted for almost two years, despite local opposition but when he refused to recognize the authority of the new governor sent by King William, he was captured and executed.
With the failure of the Dominion, most of the colonies reverted to their former status. The exception was Massachusetts which did not get its old charter back. Under a new 1691 charter a degree of local rule was restored and boundaries expanded; the province of Maine and the struggling Plymouth Colony being added to the colony, and the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard transferred from New York to Massachusetts Bay. At the same time, the colony's governor became a Royal appointee, as did other officials (though, in reality, Increase Mather named the initial individuals to receive such appointments), freedom of worship established and religious restrictions on voting removed.
From thence forward until the end of the Seven Years War (known as the French & Indian War in America), the British government followed a policy of what was later christened "salutary neglect"* towards the American mainland colonies, in particular those of New England, under which the enforcement of the trade laws was abandoned and local affairs left to run on their own. It was this experience of growing self-government that helped fuel resistance to British attempts after 1763 to reassert its authority.
* The phrase, "salutary neglect" comes from a speech in Parliament by Edmund Burke on March 22, 1775. Speaking in opposition to the government's attempts to coerce colonial cooperation, he remarked:
“That I know that the colonies in general owe little or nothing to any care of ours, and that they are not squeezed into this happy form by the constraints of watchful and suspicious government, but that, through a wise and salutary neglect, a generous nature has been suffered to take her own way to perfection; when I reflect upon these effects, when I see how profitable they have been to us, I feel all the pride of power sink, and all presumption in the wisdom of human contrivances melt, and die away within me.”