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In the aftermath of the Stamp Act, prominent American thinkers of otherwise unquestioned Whiggish affiliation adopted an expansive view of the king’s prerogative powers while simultaneously denying Parliament’s authority to interfere in the internal governance of the colonies. Scholars have generally attributed this stance, known as “patriot royalism,” to political necessity: with no other means of disputing Parliament’s oppressive actions, desperate pamphleteers sought to revive the discredited constitutional ideas of the Stuarts. In contrast, we argue that this position was deeply rooted in the institutional context of colonial governance. More specifically, we show that revolutionary Americans directly experienced lawmaking by Privy Council and the Board of Trade over which, as a practical matter, there was no higher authority. This “conciliar” form of governance, which survived the break with England, exerted a significant influence on the constitutional framers and their handiwork.


This article was originally published in American Political Thought, volume 3, issue 1, in 2014.

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University of Chicago Press



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