There were seven colonies in New England in the 17th century:
- Plymouth Colony, founded in 1620, absorbed by the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1691
- Province of Maine, founded in 1622, later absorbed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony
- New Hampshire Colony, founded in 1623, later became the Province of New Hampshire
- Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded in 1630, became the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1691
- Rhode Island Colony, founded in 1636
- Connecticut Colony, founded in 1636
- New Haven Colony, founded in 1638, absorbed by Connecticut Colony in 1664
“The main principles which underlay the social and political life of each colony were identical. Each was formed of much the same material, each had been established from the same motives and with the same hopes, each started with the same political training and had carried on that training in the same direction.” (Doyle)
Over time, “Experience had by this time made it clear that some sort of union between the various colonies was a necessity. Union indeed had been distasteful when it was likely to be enforced from without in a manner which would override local liberties and rights.”
“But the state of affairs in England put an end to that danger, and the colonists were left free to enter upon a self-imposed union which should be consistent with local independence, and even helpful to it”. (Doyle)
“[S]ources of dispute, actual or possible, showed the need for some common jurisdiction. An even stronger motive to union existed in the necessity for mutual support against the Indians, against the Dutch in New Netherlands, and, in a less degree, against the French to the North.”
“The real hindrance to union was the inequality which could not fail to exist between the partners. In population, in wealth, in learning, in the security of her possessions, in the friendship of those who were now rising into power in England, Massachusetts towered over the other colonies.” (Doyle)
In spring of 1638, several Connecticut ministers suggested a confederation but neither side could see eye to eye on the matter.
Connecticut brought up the issue again in 1639, as a result of threats from the New Netherland colony, but nothing came of it.
In 1640, threat of an Indian war prompted Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Haven to offer a joint proposal on the matter but the Massachusetts Bay Colony refused to work with Rhode Island, whom it viewed as too tolerant of other religions.
Finally, in the fall of 1642, Plymouth Colony proposed a confederation in which the General Courts in each colony would ratify all agreements.
The colonies all decided to send delegates to a meeting in the spring to finalize the details.
“In May, 1643, the Commissioners from each of the three colonies, Connecticut, Newhaven, and Plymouth, met at Boston. Fenwick, too, the governor of the fort at Saybrook, appeared on behalf of the Proprietors. Massachusetts was represented by the Governor, two Magistrates, and four Deputies.” (Doyle)
The representatives “coming to consultation encountered some difficulties, but being all desirous of union and studious of peace, they readily yielded each to other in such things as tended to common utility.” (Winthrop)
After two or three meetings the Articles of Confederation were agreed upon, and signed by all the Commissioners save those from Plymouth. Their commission obliged them to refer the matter back to the Court of the colony, by whom the agreement was at once ratified.
New England Confederation, also called United Colonies of New England, a federation of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Haven, and Plymouth was established on May 19, 1643 by delegates from those four colonies.
“The Confederation … was looked on as a convenient piece of political machinery and no more. Yet even in this there were compensating advantages. It was well that the federal constitution was framed deliberately and, so to speak, in cold blood, not under the pressure of any special excitement.”
“It was an advantage too that it should have come into being while the individual colonies still kept the plasticity of youth. A confederation is a frame to which organized and articulated communities have to adapt themselves. The experiment is more likely to succeed if they have not yet acquired the fixity and rigidity of mature life.”
“One aspect of the matter, all the more striking from the fact that it seems to have been almost unnoticed, was the absence of any reference to the home government. There is nothing to show that the framers of the Confederation ever entertained a thought as to the manner in which their policy would be regarded in England.”
“Yet this was undoubtedly the most important political step that any of the colonies had yet taken. The feeling of local independence, the spirit which made men look on themselves as citizens of Massachusetts and not as citizens of England, ebbed and flowed.”
“Beyond a doubt it was stronger in 1640 than it was in 1700. But it never wholly perished, and the formation of the Confederacy was perhaps the most striking manifestation of it.” (Doyle)
“It was adopted by only four colonies, and these four were not long afterwards consolidated into two; but it embodied principles, and recognized rights, and· established precedents, which have entered largely into the composition of all subsequent instruments of union.” (Winthrop)
The New England Confederation did achieve some of its goals, but the alliance ultimately proved to be weak, since its decisions were only advisory and were often ignored by Massachusetts, its strongest member.
The confederation’s influence declined with the merger of Connecticut and New Haven (1662–1665), though it continued to exist until the Massachusetts charter was forfeited in 1684. The New England Confederation had represented the first significant effort by English colonists to form an intercolonial alliance for mutual benefit. (Britannica)
Click the following link to a general summary about the New England Confederation: