Twelve of the colonies had come into political existence before the close of the seventeenth century; the thirteenth colony was added near the beginning of the ensuing century. It was the political life in the individual colonies, rather than the larger political life of England, which was to prepare the American colonists for the great work of constructive government presented to them at the close of the eighteenth century. As has been stated in the previous chapter, the evolution and changes in English constitutional law, after"the passage of the Bill of Rights, had little influence upon colonial institution or thought. United political action by the thirteen colonies was only to come into existence at the very threshold of the Revolutionary War. It is therefore necessary in order to prepare for the study of the great American Constitutional Convention, and for the Constitution which this convention prepared, to supplement the study of the Constitutional, legal and political history of England with that of the constitutional, legal and political history of the various English colonies in America. The form of government and the characteristics of political life in the various colonies, differed greatly from each other. It is partly to this difference of political training that there is to be ascribed the far divergent views of government with which the representatives of the various States met at Philadelphia in 1787. In order, therefore, to understand clearly the existing political conditions in America in the pre-constitutional period, it is necessary to consider briefly the case of each of the thirteen colonies. Before doing so, however, a few general observations may be made.

The colonies, as to their general system of government, fall into three clearly defined classes, the charter colonies, the proprietary colonies, and the royal provinces. To the first class belonged Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts; to the second, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland; to the third, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

The charter colonies were governed under charters granted by the King directly to the government, and were by far the freest of the American colonies. The charters of two of these charter colonies, Rhode Island and Connecticut, were very liberal; so liberal in fact that in each case they were continued in use as the constitutions of the State, for many years after the American Revolution. These two colonies were almost independent Republics, owing hardly more than a nominal allegiance to England. The charter of Massachusetts was much less liberal; in reality the government of this Commonwealth bore a much stronger resemblance to that of the royal provinces than to that of the neighboring charter colonies.

The proprietary colonies were illustrations of that ancient confusion between the right of sovereignty and rights of property. They bore in many respects a strange resemblance to those old feudal fiefs where the grantee of the King held not only a right of property in the land, but also the power of government over the inhabitants in such territory. The degree of self-government allowed to the citizens of these proprietary colonies was about equal to that enjoyed by those of the royal provinces. The powers which the King possessed in this latter class of colonies were in the main granted, in the case of the proprietary colonies, to the proprietors. The royal provinces were the most directly under the control of the English governments. The inhabitants of these colonies were granted the privileges of choosing the most numerous branch of the legislative body while the appointment of all other officials was either directly or indirectly in the hands of the crown.

The political history of the majority of the colonies was at times stormy to a degree. The political controversies in these colonies were generally contests between the legislative and executive branches of the colonial government. As the legislative bodies were the representatives of the people, and the executive, in all the colonies except Rhode Island and Connecticut, the appointees of the King, the legislative branch of the government came to be regarded by the people as the defenders of their liberties and the executive as the instruments of tyranny.