What Was the First Form of Government in American History?

The first form of government in American history was established long before the United States became a nation. In fact, it was under British rule that the colonies began to develop their own governing bodies.

Colonial Governments

During the early years of colonial America, each colony had its own system of government. Some were governed by a governor appointed by the king, while others had an elected governor or council. However, all colonies had some form of representative government where representatives from each town or district would come together to make decisions for the colony.

The Virginia House of Burgesses

One of the earliest forms of representative government in America was established in Virginia in 1619. The Virginia House of Burgesses was created as a way for colonists to have a say in their government and to provide a forum for resolving local issues.

The House of Burgesses consisted of two representatives from each town who would come together to make decisions on behalf of their constituents. This system allowed colonists to have a voice in their own governance and set the stage for future forms of representative democracy.

The Mayflower Compact

Another early example of self-government in America was the Mayflower Compact. In 1620, before landing at Plymouth Rock, the Pilgrims signed an agreement that established a basic form of government for their new colony.

The Mayflower Compact stated that all members would be subject to laws agreed upon by the majority and that representatives would be elected to make these laws. This document is considered one of the earliest examples of democratic principles being applied in America.

The Articles of Confederation

After declaring independence from Great Britain in 1776, the newly formed United States needed a system for governing itself. The Articles of Confederation were adopted as America’s first constitution in 1781.

This document established a “firm league of friendship” among the states and created a national government with limited powers. However, the Articles of Confederation proved to be too weak and were eventually replaced by the United States Constitution in 1787.

The United States Constitution

The United States Constitution is the oldest written national constitution still in use today. It was adopted in 1787 and established a federal system of government with three branches: the legislative, executive, and judicial.

The Constitution also included a Bill of Rights, which specified individual freedoms and protections from government overreach. This document has been amended several times over the years but remains the foundation of American democracy.


In conclusion, the first form of government in American history was established during colonial times through representative bodies such as the Virginia House of Burgesses. The Mayflower Compact further solidified democratic principles in America, while the Articles of Confederation and United States Constitution provided frameworks for governing at both state and federal levels. Today, these documents continue to shape American democracy and serve as a model for governments around the world.