Dominion of New England Forms Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The creation of the Dominion of New England represented the British crown’s first major effort to centralize control over the American colonies.

Summary of Event

Only after the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660, when England recognized the advantages of bringing the American colonies into its expanding commercial system, did the lack of an adequate colonial policy become apparent. By then, however, it was too late. England had permitted its colonies a large measure of local self-government and had demanded little of them. The governments in the American colonies, which had never experienced direct royal control, had become accustomed to independence and wanted no interference, even from a relatively liberal mother country. Massachusetts, the most independent and rebellious of the colonies, not only violated the Navigation Acts and refused to cooperate with Edward Randolph Randolph, Edward (whom the Crown had appointed collector and surveyor of customs in 1678) but also usurped powers not granted by its corporate charter and denied that the laws of Parliament applied in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Crown had no choice but to declare the colony’s charter null and void, and it did so in 1684. [kw]Dominion of New England Forms (June, 1686-Apr., 1689) [kw]New England Forms, Dominion of (June, 1686-Apr., 1689) Government and politics;June, 1686-Apr., 1689: Dominion of New England Forms[2820] Colonization;June, 1686-Apr., 1689: Dominion of New England Forms[2820] American Colonies;June, 1686-Apr., 1689: Dominion of New England Forms[2820] New England, Dominion of

By this time, it had become evident that revocation of the colonial charters was necessary for the development of England’s commercial plans. The lords of trade issued writs of quo warranto (“by what authority?”) to Connecticut, Rhode Island, the Jerseys, Pennsylvania, Maryland, the Carolinas, Bermuda, and the Bahamas, in preparation for nullifying their charters. Because the establishment of royal governmental machinery in each colony would have been too expensive, a plan for three unions was devised, one for New England, one for the Middle Colonies, and one for the South.

Only the New England union materialized. It began in the fall of 1685 as a provisional government for Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and the Narragansett Bay region, and it was supposed to last until a royal governor could be commissioned and sent to America. On December 20, 1686, Sir Edmund Andros Andros, Edmund arrived to assume the governorship and to organize the Dominion of New England. Rhode Island Rhode Island was incorporated into the union almost immediately, and Connecticut Connecticut was brought in within a year. New York New York and the Jerseys Jerseys entered in 1688.

The commission and instructions drafted for Andros by the lords of trade provided for a governor and council appointed by the king and a representative assembly chosen by the people, but James II had eliminated the provision for an assembly. The governor was empowered to appoint all officials, and, with the council, he was to legislate, levy taxes, establish courts, and sit as a supreme court. All laws were to be sent to England for approval.

Until a committee for codification could develop a uniform body of laws consistent with those of England, each colony was to operate in accordance with its old laws. Law;New England In the absence of any revenue acts in effect in Massachusetts, the governor and council enacted increased customs, import and tonnage duties, excises, and land and poll taxes. The Puritans habitually had ignored or nullified laws that they disliked, and although the new taxes represented only a small increase, the selectmen of Ipswich led a revolt against them, claiming that they were an instance of taxation without representation. Taxation;New England

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The matter of taxation was one of several areas of conflict between the Dominion government and the Puritans. In an effort to achieve conformity in the method of granting land and to make the new government self-supporting, the king had ordered that quitrents be collected on all new land granted and that fees be charged for the compulsory confirmation of all old titles. The New Hampshire and Maine colonists welcomed the opportunity to ensure their titles, but the Puritans could not understand why the land was not theirs by right. Because Andros enforced the hated Navigation Acts Navigation Acts (1660-1663) , New England trade dropped off drastically. The continuing need for English manufactured goods created a drain on the colonies’ hard currency.

When the Dominion government attempted to make the administration of justice conform to English law, the Puritans resented the change. Jurors no longer had to be chosen from among the landowners, eliminating some of the power of the leaders of the theocracy. Even more alarming to the Puritans was the Declaration of Liberty of Conscience Liberty of Conscience, Declaration of (1687 and 1688) of April 4, 1687, granting liberty of conscience to all the king’s subjects. No longer were the Puritan ministers and schools supported by the taxes of the entire population. When Andros appropriated one of Boston’s Congregational churches for Anglican worship, the Puritans began to fear that the Church of England would become established in the colonies.

The Puritans Puritanism;New England regarded themselves as God’s chosen people and interpreted the interference of the English government as a divine punishment upon the younger generation for having slipped from the straight and narrow path. Thus, they anticipated their eventual deliverance from the oppressors. In the spring of 1688, Increase Mather, Mather, Increase the influential Puritan clergyman, traveled to England to petition for an assembly and other reforms. When James II was forced to publish a proclamation restoring rights to corporations, Mather and his fellow agents interpreted this concession to include colonial corporations. Mather gained the favor of the attorney general, and the lords of trade agreed to promote a new charter granting more powers to the colonists.

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 Glorious Revolution (1688-1689) and the accession of William III and Mary II in 1689 embodied the sign of deliverance that the Puritans had been expecting. The lords of trade recommended, however, that the Dominion of New England be continued, with two commissioners replacing Andros. In an effort to create the impression that the Puritans were allied with William and Mary against the Dominion and the deposed James, Mather suggested to the Massachusetts Puritans that they overthrow Andros in the name of the new sovereigns.

On April 18, 1689, when troops who had mutinied on the Maine frontier marched into Boston, insurrection broke out, and Andros was imprisoned. Within a month, all the colonies had overthrown the Dominion government. In New York, where Francis Nicholson Nicholson, Francis served as Andros’s deputy, the Long Island militia rose in revolt and was joined by the New York City militia, while Nicholson abandoned the province and returned to England. Jacob Leisler, Leisler, Jacob a New York City merchant and militia captain, proclaimed William III William III (king of England) and Mary II Mary II (queen of England) the sovereigns of England and assumed the position of commander in chief of the province for the next two years. Leisler’s Rebellion Leisler’s Rebellion (1689)[Leislers Rebellion (1689)] was driven by a number of complex motives, including Dutch resentment toward English rule and the dominant elite of Anglo-Dutch merchants and landowners, anti-Catholicism, and genuine fear of a French invasion.

On May 9, a convention of delegates from the New England colonies voted to restore the governments and laws of 1686. Once back in power, the Puritan officials of Massachusetts Bay returned to their authoritarian policies, evoking many complaints from non-Puritans. Both pro- and anti-Dominion forces pleaded their cases before William and Mary on the question of New England’s future government. King William was more concerned about gaining the Puritans’ support for his war with the French than with colonial policy. Thus, a new charter for Massachusetts was sealed on October 7, 1691.

Significance

The new charter allowed for a governor appointed by the Crown, but it also provided for an elected assembly and a council chosen by that assembly. New Hampshire became a separate royal colony, Maine and Plymouth were annexed to Massachusetts, and Connecticut and Rhode Island operated under their old charters. Massachusetts had gained a charter, but new policies ensuring religious freedom and broadening the franchise had destroyed the Puritan oligarchy. In New York, Leisler and his son-in-law, Jacob Melburne, Melburne, Jacob had resisted turning the government over to the new governor sent by William and Mary. They were hanged for treason at the behest of their political enemies, the Anglo-Dutch elite that Leisler had so resented and harassed while in authority. William and Mary did call for elections to a legislative assembly for New York, its first permanent one, but politics in the province remained bitterly divided over Leisler’s Rebellion for the next twenty years.

The Dominion of New England, then, while extremely short-lived, had long-term effects upon the governments of all of the colonies within New England, as well as New York. It resulted in the charters of some colonies ultimately being confirmed at a time when they had been in jeopardy, and it resulted in new charters being created for other colonies. The Dominion represented the first attempt of the English crown to make the American colonies resemble England, and its failure incorporated the first formal if halting steps toward defining a distinctively American form of government.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Andrews, Charles M., ed. Narratives of the Insurrections, 1675-1690. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1959. Includes descriptions of the revolt against Andros in Boston and materials related to Leisler’s Rebellion in New York.
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    xlink:type="simple">Barnes, Viola. The Dominion of New England: A Study in British Colonial Policy. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1960. Dated but comprehensive study emphasizing the reasons why the Dominion was established and why it failed.
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    xlink:type="simple">Bremer, Francis J. The Puritan Experiment: New England Society from Bradford to Edwards. Rev. ed. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1995. Chapter 12 contains information about Andros and the Dominion of New England.
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    xlink:type="simple">Hall, Michael G. Edward Randolph and the American Colonies, 1676-1703. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1960. Focuses on Randolph, a dedicated public servant and England’s foremost expert on the colonies, and the role he played in the formation and government of the Dominion.
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    xlink:type="simple">Hall, Michael G. The Last American Puritan: The Life of Increase Mather. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1988. Demonstrates the important role this remarkable Puritan leader played in both the overthrow of Andros and the acquisition of the royal charter for Massachusetts Bay.
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    xlink:type="simple">Lusting, Mary Lou. The Imperial Executive in America: Sir Edmund Andros, 1637-1714. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002. Readable recent biography. Refutes the view that Andros was an autocratic tyrant and credits his achievements in administering New York.
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    xlink:type="simple">Miller, Perry. From Colony to Province. Vol. 2 in The New England Mind. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953. Discusses the decline of Puritan power in the years following the Restoration.
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    xlink:type="simple">Sosin, J. M. English America and the Revolution of 1688: Royal Administration and the Structure of Provincial Government. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982. Takes a comprehensive view of the American colonies during the Restoration era. Emphasizes the social and economic tensions behind the political upheavals inspired by the Glorious Revolution in England.
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    xlink:type="simple">Voorhees, David Williams. “The ’Fervent Zeale’ of Jacob Leisler.” William and Mary Quarterly 51 (July, 1994): 447-472. A provocative interpretation that stresses the religious motivation of Leisler amid the ethnic and economic antagonism in New York.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

James II; Jacob Leisler; Mary II; William III. New England, Dominion of

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