The Governor's Council in New England
Larson, Robert Nelson
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When the thirteen American colonies won their independence from Great Britain, their early state constitutions made provision for an institution of government familiar to them through long colonial experience: the governor's council. Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts have retained the council to the present time. This dissertation presents the thesis that the council is an anachronism in modern state government, diffusing power and responsibility in the executive branch, and hindering the governor in effectively functioning as the state's chief administrator. The council, originating in the boards of directors of the early English trading companies which sent out colonists to North America, served in colonial times as the upper house of the legislature, as a judicial court, and as an advisory council to the governor in the administration of the colony. The councillors, originally called "assistants," and usually appointed by the Crown or by the governor, were drawn from the upper classes and exercised a markedly conservative influence in colonial government, the colonists, in setting up state governments during the revolution, placed a definite check on the authority of the chief executive by retaining the council and making it elective by and responsible to the legislature. Nevertheless, the council was often under attack during the nineteenth century as outmoded and unnecessary. The council is not properly speaking a cabinet. It performs advisory functions, but its members are not selected by the governor, are not department heads, and may not hold other state office. They continue to be chosen by the legislature in Maine, but have long been popularly elected in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. In these three states executive power is divided. Although the governor has sole authority to bring measures before the council for consideration, action require the concurrent approval of both governor and council. The abolition of the council in states other than Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts was impelled by the steady growth of state government in size and scope. In the early days, a state's executive business could be handled by a part-time governor and council at occasional meetings. As state government has developed into an ever more active, complex instrument of public service, the council, deliberately designed to diffuse authority in the executive branch, has appeared increasingly an impediment to efficient administration, existing in defiance of the theory of executive responsibility. Meeting briefly three or four times a month, without adequate staff, and composed of politicians not usually of gubernatorial calibre, the council lacks the expert knowledge that such functions as granting pardons and approving executive expenditures imperatively demand. Its power of approving appointments sometimes forces a virtual abdication by the governor of his constitutional prerogative to make appointments, and deprives him of the use of patronage as a tool of legislative leadership. Surveys of state administration have called for either the abolition of the council altogether, or a sharp diminution of its powers. The writer believes that abolition would best serve the requirements of efficient state administration. The council's powers and duties, including the important powers of confirming the governor's appointments, of approving pardons and of awarding or approving state contracts, should be assigned to other state agencies or in some cases to the governor himself. Often under fire as a mere "rubber stamp" or as a partisan body obstructing the work of the governor, the responsible head of the state administration, the council fills no essential role in modern state government.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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