Official 56 Passage 2
Question 3 of 9

According to paragraph 2, what is one reason that regional differences arose in the English colonies of North America?


Colonists selected and adapted English institutions to their particular needs.


Colonists in each region wanted to distinguish their institutions from those of colonists elsewhere.


The large number of German, Dutch, and Scotch-Irish colonists setting in some regions resisted political and social change.


Colonists in different regions reacted differently to developments becoming prominent in England.

Paragraph 2 is marked with an arrow




Representative Government in Colonial North America

[#paragraph1]Before 1750, colonists in North America had little occasion to think of themselves as a distinct people. There was no American government, no single political organization in which all the colonies joined to manage their common concerns. There was not even a wish for such an organization except among a few eccentric individuals. America, to the people who lived in it, was still a geographic region, not a frame of mind.

[#paragraph2]Asked about nationality, the typical American colonist of 1750 would have said English or British. In spite of substantial numbers of Dutch, Germans, and Scotch-Irish, English people and English institutions [#highlight2]prevailed[/highlight2] in every colony, and most colonists spoke of England as home even though they had never been there. Yet no American institutions were quite like their counterparts in England; the heritage of English ideas that went with these institutions was so rich and varied that colonists were able to select and develop those that best suited their situation and forget others that meanwhile were growing prominent in the mother country. This variety sometimes led to regional differences: in some ways New Englanders were set off from Virginians even more than from people in England. But some ideas, institutions, and attitudes became common in all the colonies and remained uncommon in England. Although colonial Englishmen were not yet aware that they shared these Americanisms with one another or that English people in England did not share them, many of the characteristic ideas and attitudes that later distinguished United States nationalism were already present by the mid-eighteenth century.

[#paragraph3]English people brought with them to the New World the political ideas that still give English and American government a close resemblance. But American colonists very early developed conceptions of representative government that differed from those in England. Representative government in England originated in the Middle Ages, when the king called for men to advise him. They were chosen by their neighbors and informed the king of his subjects’ wishes. Eventually, their advice became so compelling that the king could not reject it, and the representatives of the people, organized as a legislature known as the House of Commons, became the most powerful branch of the English government.

[#paragraph4]At first, the House of Commons consisted of representatives from each county, or shire, and from selected boroughs. Over the centuries many of these boroughs became ghost towns with only a handful of inhabitants, and great towns sprang up where none had existed before. Yet the old boroughs continued to send members to the House of Commons, and the new towns sent none. Moreover, only a fraction of the English population could participate even in county elections. In order to vote, a man had to own property that would, if rented, yield him at least 40 shillings yearly. Few could meet the test. A number of English people thought the situation [#highlight5]absurd[/highlight5] and said so. But nothing was done to improve it; in fact, a theory was devised to justify it. A member of the House of Commons, it was said, represented not the people who chose him but the whole country, and he was not responsible for any particular constituency. Not all Englishmen could vote for representatives, but all were virtually represented by every member of the Commons.

[#paragraph5]The assemblies of American colonial representatives were more democratic. [#insert1]Although every colony had property qualifications for voting, probably the great majority of adult white males owned enough land to meet them. [#insert2]Moreover, the system for apportioning representation was more balanced. [#insert3]New England colonies gave every town the right to send delegates to the legislature. [#insert4]Outside New England, the unit of representation was usually the county. [#highlight7]The political organization of new counties and the extension of representation seldom kept pace with the rapid advance of settlement westward, but nowhere was representation so uneven or irrational as in England.[/highlight7]

[#paragraph6]American colonists knew nothing of virtual representation. A colonial representative was supposed to be an agent of the people who chose him. He was supposed to look after their interests first and those of the colony second. In New England, where town meetings could be called at any time, people often gathered to tell their delegate how to vote on a particular issue.