A brief synopsis of the beginnings of early American Civil Government, compiled and written by Rozina P. Fairchild circa 1920-30
"England in America, 1580-1652" Volume 4, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, LL.D., President of William and Mary College, New York & London, Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1904, p. 323
"History of the Town of Dorchester, Massachusetts," Ebenezer Clapp, Jr., Boston, 1859, p. 32
"Civil Government in the United States," John Fiske, Boston, New York & Chicago, Houghton, Mifflin & Company, The Riverside Press Cambridge, 1890 & 1904, pp. 161 & 192
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Early Civil Government in America
The first town government appears to have been that of Dorchester when the inhabitants agreed October 8, 1633, to hold a weekly meeting to "settle and sett down such orders as may tend to the general good." Not long after, a similar meeting was held at Watertown and the system speedily spread to other towns. The plan of appointing a board of townsmen or selectmen to sit between meetings beginning February 1635 began at Charlestown.
The first written constitution known to history was that by which the republic of Connecticut was organized in 1639.
During the earlier part of the Revoluntionary War, most of the states had some kind of provisional government. The case of Massachusetts may serve as an illustration. There, as in the other colonies, the governor had the power of dissolving the assembly. In the colonies the dissolution of the assembly was not especially dangerous, but it sometimes made mischief by delaying needed legislation. During the few years preceding the Revolution, the assemblies were so often dissolved that it became necessary for the people to devise some new way of getting their representatives together to act for the colony. In Massachusetts this end was attained by the famous "Committees of Correspondence."
No one could deny that town meetings were legal, or that the people of one township had the right to ask advice from the people of another township. Accordingly each township appointed a commimttee to correspond or confer with committees form other townships. This systen was put into operation by Samuel Adams in 1772, and for the next two years the popular resistance to the crown was orgnaized by these committees. For example, before the tea was thrown into Boston Harbor, the Boston committee sought and received advice from every township in Massachusetts, and the treatment of the tea-ships was from first to last directed by the committees of Boston and five neighboring towns.
In 1774, a further step was taken as parliament had overthrown the government and sent over General Gage as military governor, to put its new system into operation. The people defied and ignored Gage, and the townships elected delegates to meet together in what was called a "Provincial Congress." The president of this congress was the chief executive of the commonwealth, and there was a small executive committee, known as the "Committee of Safety."
[to be continued]