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Some of Britain's North American colonies became exceptional in the European world for their vibrant political culture, which attracted the most talented and ambitious young men into politics. Reasons for this American exceptionalism included:

Suffrage was the most widespread in the world, with every man who owned a certain amount of property allowed to vote. While fewer than 20% of British men could vote, a majority of white American men were eligible. However, only 6% of Americans were entitled to vote at the foundation of the republic. While the roots of democracy were apparent, nevertheless deference was typically shown to social elites in colonial elections. That deference declined sharply with the American Revolution.

In each colony, elected bodies, especially the assemblies and county governments, decided a wide range of public and private business. Topics of public concern and debate included land grants, commercial subsidies, and taxation, as well as oversight of roads, poor relief, taverns, and schools. Americans spent a great deal of time in court, as private lawsuits were very common. Legal affairs were overseen by local judges and juries, with a central role for trained lawyers. This promoted the rapid expansion of the legal profession, and the dominant role of lawyers in politics was apparent by the 1770s, as attested by the careers of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, among many others.

The North American colonies were exceptional in the world context because of the growth of representation of different interest groups. Unlike in Europe, where royal courts, aristocratic families and established churches exercised control, the American political culture was open to merchants, landlords, petty farmers, artisans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Quakers, Germans, Scotch Irish, Yankees, Yorkers, and many other identifiable groups. Over 90% of the representatives elected to the legislature lived in their districts, unlike in the United Kingdom where it was common to have an absentee member of Parliament.

Americans became fascinated by and increasingly adopted the political values of republicanism, which stressed equal rights, the need for virtuous citizens, and the evils of corruption, luxury, and aristocracy.

None of the colonies had political parties of the sort that formed in the 1790s, but each had shifting factions that vied for power.


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