Their Magistrates and Officials: Executive Government in Colonial Maryland, 1715-1775

By Pearson, Ellen Holmes | The Journal of Southern History, August 2012 | Go to article overview

Their Magistrates and Officials: Executive Government in Colonial Maryland, 1715-1775


Pearson, Ellen Holmes, The Journal of Southern History


Their Magistrates and Officials: Executive Government in Colonial Maryland, 1715-1775. By R. J. Rockefeller. (Lanham, Md., and other cities: Lexington Books, c. 2010. Pp. viii, 285. $73.50, ISBN 978-0-7391-4186-1.)

Governors of Britain's proprietary colonies were middlemen, caught between the demands of their proprietor-bosses and the colonists' elected representatives in the assembly. R. J. Rockefeller's Their Magistrates and Officials: Executive Government in Colonial Maryland, 1715-1775 attempts to sort out the power dynamics that complicated Maryland's political landscape during the second proprietary period. This story, told from the governors' perspective, follows a familiar line of argument. While the Charter of Maryland of 1632 gave the proprietor considerable power, Maryland's General Assembly took advantage of the Glorious Revolution's principles of parliamentary supremacy to tighten its control over revenue and regulation. A succession of governors found themselves without the political leverage necessary to accomplish proprietary goals. Despite the governors' tenuous authority, the colony's political foundation remained stable up to the Revolution. The author unsurprisingly concludes that each governor's success or failure hinged on his talents, personality, and ability to navigate personal and political conflicts.

Rockefeller identifies five "recurrent" issues that illustrate the political negotiations among proprietor, governor, and legislature: setting, collecting, and spending fees; application of English statutes to the colony; tobacco inspection; "separation of powers" between the lower house and the executive; and management of colonial officials (p. 8). What the author styles as separation of powers seems to be the common thread that binds all of these issues and could more accurately be described as a series of debates over who should rule at home. Throughout Maryland's second proprietary period, the assembly employed a variety of tactics as its members wrestled with proprietors and governors for dominance over the colony's affairs. For example, the lower house claimed that taxation was a legislative function and tried to control the establishment and collection of fees. Legislators withheld councillors' salaries, forcing the proprietor to pay them out of his own pocket, and delegates used their power of ejectment to remove colleagues who sympathized with the proprietor. …

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