A Grammar of American Politics: The National Government

By Wilfred E. Binkley; Malcolm C. Moos | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
COLONIAL AND REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENTS

THE GENESIS OF OUR POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS

The Transfer of Political Institutions to America

NO MATTER how positively American our political institutions may be, they did not originate as American institutions but instead were brought across the Atlantic mainly by English settlers of the colonial period. Outstanding among English political institutions imported to America were the parish, a political unit for the administration of poor relief, constituting at the same time the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of an Anglican congregation; the township and the county, which were ancient units of local government; boroughs, which were incorporated towns designated as constituencies or districts for the election of members of Parliament; and the institution of electors, which gave to certain individuals the then rare privilege of voting for members of the House of Commons or the councils of local government units. Of course the colonists could not foresee the transformations these institutions would experience under the impact of the New World. Generation by generation the physical, geographical, economic, and social forces of the new environment wrought their changes and converted Europeans into Americans. At the same time the process produced institutions so unique as to be properly distinguished as American.


The Colonial Prototype of the American State

Naturally enough, civil government in the United States did not originate in a deliberate and direct attempt to establish it, but rather as a by-product of the incorporation of profit-seeking ventures. The latter years of Queen Elizabeth's reign had witnessed the chartering of the great trading cor-

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