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Colonial New England Affairs

Introduction; New England Confederation | King Philip's War
Edmund Andros | Puritan Laws and Character
Also see: New England Colonization

Immediately after the close of the war with the Pequot Indians, there came a proposition from Connecticut for a union of the New England colonies, for the purpose of protection against their common enemies. After several years of negotiation, this proposition resulted in

The New England Confederation (1643-1684)

This union, the prototype of our present national Union, had its origin in the same town that gave to the world its first written constitution, and the same that, nearly two centuries later, became the seat of the famous Hartford Convention.

The articles were drawn up at Boston in May, 1643, by leading men of New England. Among the representatives we find Haynes, governor of Hartford, Eaton, governor of New Haven, and from Plymouth and Massachusetts, Winslow and Winthrop. Four colonies only entered into the compact -- Massachusetts (including New Hampshire), Hartford, New Haven, and Plymouth -- no invitation to join the union being extended to Rhode Island, or to the scattered settlers of Maine. Rhode Island was left out for obvious reasons, and Maine, chiefly because most of the settlers were of the Established Church.

The name adopted was "The United Colonies of New England." The union was a loose confederation, each colony retaining its home government as before. The main object in uniting was to protect themselves the better from their common enemies -- from the Indians about them, from the Dutch on the west, the French on the north, and even from possible dangers from the mother country, which was, at that moment, in the throes of civil war. The union was merely a business arrangement; it did not conduce to arouse any particular attachments or patriotism.

The business of the confederation was to be transacted by a commission of eight men, two from each colony; a vote of six was required to carry a measure, and their vote was final. The expenses as well as the spoils of war were to be divided among the colonies, in proportion to their respective male populations between the ages of sixteen and threescore years. The articles provided for the delivering up of the runaway slaves and of fugitives from justice. This feature was the prototype of the Fugitive Slave Law of a later generation. Provision was made for the admission of other colonies, and that the union should be perpetual.

The coalition was unfair to Massachusetts, whose people, exceeding in numbers the population of the other three combined, could thus be drawn into war without their own consent. The only remedy lay in violating the compact, and this Massachusetts did ten years after it was made, by refusing to engage in a war with the Dutch, nor was there any power to coerce her. The union was very weak after 1662, when New Haven was joined to Connecticut; it continued, however, until 1684, when it was dissolved, after an existence of forty-one years. The coalition had been very useful to the people; it had given weight to their dealings with the Dutch, and it carried them through the most dangerous Indian conflict of colonial times. It also furnished a precedent for colonial union in later times.

Source: "History of the United States of America," by Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Transcribed by Kathy Leigh.

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