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A governor or governour (archaic) is a governing official, usually the executive (at least nominally, to different degrees also politically and administratively) of a non-sovereign level of government, ranking under the Head of state; furthermore the title applies to officials with a similar mandate as representatives of a chartered company which has been granted exercise of sovereignty, even with its own armed forces, in a colonial area, often both colonizing and exploiting, sometimes a major state within the state, such as the British HEIC or the Dutch VOC.
In federations a governor can be the title of each appointed or (as in the US) elected politician who governs a constitutive state. Most countries in the world have some sort of official known or rendered as "governor," though in some countries the heads of the constitutive states, provinces, communities and regions may have a different title. This is particularly common in European nations and many of their former colonies, with titles such as President of the Regional Council in France and minister-president in Germany. Other countries using different titles for sub-national units include Spain, Italy and Switzerland.
There can also be non-political governors: high ranking officials in private or similar governance such as commercial and non-profit management, styled governor(s), who simply govern an institution, such as a corporation or a bank. For example, in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries there are prison governors ("warden" in the United States), school governors and bank governors.
Although the legal and administrative framework of provinces, each administrated by a governor, was created by the Romans, the term governor has been a convenient term for historians to use in describing similar systems in antiquity. Indeed, many regions of the pre-Roman antiquity were ultimately replaced by Roman 'standardized' provincial governments after their conquest by Rome.
- In Pharaonic times, the governors of each of dozens of provinces in the kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt (called "nomes" by the Greeks, and whose names often alluded to local patterns of religious worship) are usually known by the Greek word Nomarch.
- The whole (or most) of Egypt was repeatedly reduced to the status of province of a larger empire under foreign conquerors, notably under an Achaemenid satrap (see below).
Mesopotamia and beyond
Assyria, a ruthless conqueror of a large empire, ...
- bel pihati
Pre- & Hellenistic satraps
- Media and Achaemenid Persia introduced the satrapy, probably inspired by the Assyrian / Babylonian examples
- Alexander the Great and equally Greco-Macedonian diadoch kingdoms, mainly Seleucids (greater Syria) and Lagids ('Ptolemies' in Hellenistic Egypt)
- in later Persia, again under Iranian dynasties :
Roman empires and legacy
In ancient Rome
From the creation of the earliest Roman subject provinces a governor was appointed each year to administer each of them. The core function of a Roman governor was as a magistrate or judge, and the management of taxation and public spending in their area.
Under the Republic and the early Empire, however, a governor also commanded military forces in his province. Republican governors were all men who had served in senior magistracies (the consulate or praetorship) in Rome in the previous year, and carried related titles as governor (proconsul or propraetor). The first Emperor, Octavianus Augustus (who acquired or settled a number of new territories; officially his style was republican: Princeps civitatis), divided the provinces into two categories; the traditionally prestigious governorships remained as before (in what have become known as "senatorial" provinces), while in a range of others he retained the formal governorships himself, delegating the actual task of administration to appointees (usually with the title legatus Augusti, although some small provinces received governors with other titles such as procurator). The infamous character of Pontius Pilate in the Christian Gospels is a governor of this sort.
A special case was Egypt, a rich 'private' domain and vital granary, where the Emperor almost inherited the theocratic status of a Pharaoh. The Emperor was represented there by a governor sui generis styled Praefectus Augustalis (the very title evokes the religious cult of the Emperor).
Emperors Diocletian (see Tetrarchy) and Constantine in the third and fourth centuries AD carried out a root and branch reorganisation of the administration with two main features:
- Provinces were divided up and became much more numerous (Italy itself, before the 'colonizing homeland', was brought into the system for the first time); they were then grouped into dioceses, and the dioceses in turn into four pretorian prefectures (originally each under a residing co-emperor);
- Military responsibilities were removed from governors and given to new officials called comes rei militaris (the comital title was also granted to many court and civilian administrative positions) or dux, later also Magister militum.
The prestige governorships of Africa and Asia remained with the title proconsul, and the special right to refer matters directly to the Emperor; the Praefectus Augustalis in Alexandria and the Comes Orientis in Antioch also retained special titles. Otherwise the governors of provinces had various titles without obvious logic, some known as consularis, some as corrector, some as praeses. Apart from Egypt and the East (Oriens - viz greater Syria), each diocese was directed by a governor known as a vicarius. The prefectures were directed by praefecti praetorio (a role transformed from a very different one in the early Empire).
This system survived with few significant changes until the collapse of the empire in the West, and in the East the breakdown of order with the Persian and Arab invasions of the seventh century. At that stage a new kind governor emerged, the Strategos a role leading the themes which replaced provinces at this point, and involving a return to the amalgamation of civil and military office which had been the practice under the Republic and the early Empire.
While the Roman administration in the West was largely destroyed in the barbarian invasions, its model was remembered, and would again be very influential through two particular vehicles: Roman law and the Christian Church.
Holy Roman/ Habsburg Empires and successor states
In the Ottoman empire, various Pashas (generals) administered a province of the Great Sultan's vaste empire, with specific titles (such as Mutessaryf; Vali = Wali was often maintained or even revived in oriental successor states; cfr. Beilerbei (rendered as Governor-general, as he is appointed above several provinces under individual governors) and Dey)
British Empire and Commonwealth
In the British Empire a governor was originally an official appointed by the British monarch (or in fact the cabinet) to oversee one of his colonies and was the (sometimes notional) head of the colonial administration. A governor's power could diminish as the colony gained more responsible government vested in such institutions as an Executive Council to help with the colony's administration, and in a further stage of self-government, a Legislative Councils and/or Assemblies, in which the Governor often had a role.
Today crown colonies of the United Kingdom continue to be administered by a governor, who holds varying degrees of power. Because of the different constitutional histories of the former colonies of the United Kingdom, the term "Governor" now refers to officials with differing amounts of power.
Administrators, Commissioners and High Commissioners exercise similar powers to Governors. (Note: such High Commissioners are not to be confused with the High Commissioners who are the equivalent of Ambassadors between Commonwealth states).
Frequently the name 'Government House' is given to Governors' residences.
- The term can also be used in a more generic sense, especially for compound titles which include it: Governor-General and Lieutenant-Governor.
Representing the British sovereign
United Kingdom overseas territories
In the United Kingdom's remaining overseas territories the governor is normally a direct appointee of the British Government and plays an active role in governing and lawmaking (though usually with the advice of elected local representatives). The Governor's chief responsibility is for the Defence and External Affairs of the colony.
Main article: Governors of the Australian states In Australia, each state has a Governor as its formal representative of the Queen as head of the state government. Each State Governor is appointed by the Sovereign on the advice of the Premier (politically responsible head of state government) and play a largely ceremonial role. State Governors have emergency reserve powers but these are rarely used. The Territories of Australia have Administrators instead of governors, who are appointed formally by the Governor-General. The Governor-General is the representative of Australia's head of state (i.e. the -British and- Australian Sovereign) at a federal level appointed by the crown on the advice given by the Australian (federal) Prime Minister. Although the constitution grants the Governor-General some powers, these are rarely used and the position is based mostly on formality and ceremonial functions.
When the office of the Governor-General is vacant, or the occupant is unable to discharge their duties (on holidays, or travelling overseas for example), frequently the most senior state governor acts in their position. If this is not practicable, a justice of the High Court is appointed as administrator for the Commonwealth, and exercises those powers of the Governor-General in their absence.
The difference in terminology between the Australian state Governors and the Canadian provincial Lieutenant Governors is significant. In the Australian case, the Governor nominally derives power directly from the monarch and is in practice nominated by the Premier of a state. In the Canadian case, the Lieutenant Governor nominally is appointed by the Governor-General and in practice is named by the federal Prime Minister.
Elsewhere in the Commonwealth
In India each state has a ceremonial Governor appointed by the President of India. These Governors are different to the Governors which controlled the British-controlled portions of the Indian Empire (as opposed to the princely states) prior to 1949. See Governors of India for more information.
In Malaysia the four non-monarchical states -Penang, Malacca, and the two on Borneo : Sabah and Sarawak- each have a ceremonial Governor styled Yang di-Pertua Negeri, appointed by the federal King Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia, with a seat but no vote in the federal majlis Raja-raja (council of rulers). These states have a separate head of government which is the Chief Minister or Menteri Besar.
All other states have royalty as head of state, no governor : a raja in Perlis, a Yang di-pertuan besar (elected from local rulers) in Negeri Sembilan, or a Sultan in the states of Selangor, Pahang, Johore, Perak, Kelantan and Kedah.
In Nigeria (once a colony governed by a single British Governor before independence), the leaders of the regions, which in 1967 were divided into states, have been known as governors since 1954. Following a military coup in November 1993, President Sani Abacha suspended all the governors, and appointed administrators. When democracy was restored in 1999, the office of governor was revived and new governors were elected. The president of Nigeria can suspend state governors in a state of emergency and replace them with administrators. They are elected by popular vote.
Papua New Guinea
In Papua New Guinea, the leaders of the provinces have been known as governors since August 1995. Previously they had been known as premiers.
Russia and former Soviet Union
A special case was the Chinese Eastern Railroad Zone, which was governed as a concession granted by Imperial China to the Russian 'Chinese Eastern Railroad Society' (in Russian Obshchestvo Kitayskoy Vostochnoy Zheleznoy Dorogi; established in 17 December 1896 in St. Petersburg, later moved to Vladivostok), which built 1,481 km of tracks (Tarskaya - Hilar - Harbin - Nikolsk-Ussuriski; 3 November 1901 traffic opened) and established on 16 May 1898 the new capital city, Harbin; in August 1898, the defense for Chinese Eastern Railroad (CER) across Manchuria was assumed by Russia (first under Priamur governor).
On 1 July 1903 the Chinese Eastern Railroad opened and given under authority of itw own CER Administration (Russian: Upravleniye KVZhD), vested in the Directors of the Chinese Eastern Railroad, with the additional quality of Governors of the Chinese Eastern Railroad Zone (in Harbin; as such being 12 Aug 1903 - 1 July 1905 subordinated to the imperial Viceroyalty of the Far East, see Lüshunkou). The post continued to function despite various political changes until after World War II.
Currently, some of the administrative divisions of Russia are headed by governors, while others are headed by Presidents or heads of administration. From 1991 to 2005 they were elected by popular vote, but since 2005 they have been appointed by the federal president and confirmed by the province's legislature.
Other Colonial empires
- Other European naval powers than the UK with colonies in Asia, Africa and other areas, which sometimes chartered companies to rule the colonies instead, gave or still give some, but not always all, of the top representatives of (or rather in) their colonies the title of governor.
- Danish colonial empire
- Dutch colonial empire
- French colonial empire
- German colonial empire etc.
- Italian empire
- Portuguese empire
- Spanish empire
- Swedish colonial empire
The same goes for the Empire of Japan and the USA.
Other modern Asian countries
People's Republic of China
In the People's Republic of China, the title "Governor" (省长) refers to the highest ranking executive of a Provincial Government. The Governor is usually placed second in the provincial power hierarchy, below the Provincial CPC Secretary (省委书记), who serves as the highest ranking Party official in the Province. A Governor can be also used when referring to a County Governor (县长).
In the Republic of the Philippines, the title "Governor" refers to the highest ranking executive of a Provincial Government. The Governor is elected by a direct vote from the people and had a fixed term of three years. An incumbent Governor can only serve only up to three consecutive terms. He may however be suspended by either the Ombudsman or President (through the Secretary of Interior and Local Government). He may be removed by the President if he was found guilty of an administrative case or a criminal act during his incumbency. He can be subjected by a recall vote, but unlike a referendum, people would elect the governor of their choice. If in case of death, disablility, resignation, forced removal or suspension, a government official known as Vice Governor would replace as Governor or acting Governor.
In the Autonomous Region on Muslim Mindanao, a Regional Governor and Regional Vice Governor is elected by a block vote similar to the United States President.
Other modern countries in the Americas
In the United States, the title governor refers to the chief executive of each state, not directly subordinate to the federal authorities, but the political and ceremonial head of the 'sovereign' state. The governor may also assume additional roles, such as the Commander-in-Chief of the State National Guard forces (when not federalized), and the ability to commute or pardon a criminal sentence. U.S. Governors serve four-year terms except those in New Hampshire and Vermont, who serve two-year terms.
In all states, the governor is directly elected, and in most cases has considerable practical powers (notable exceptions with very weak governorships include Texas), though this is moderated by the state legislature and in some cases by other elected executive officials. They can veto state bills. In some cases legislatures can override a gubernatorial veto by a two-thirds vote, in others by three-fifths. In Tennessee and Kentucky the governor's veto can be overridden by a simple majority vote, making it virtually useless. The Governor of North Carolina had no veto power until a 1996 referendum. In most states, whenever there is a sudden vacancy of one of the state's U.S. Senate seats, that state's governor appoints someone to fill the vacancy until a special election is held, although the governors of Oregon, Massachusetts and Alaska no longer have this power.
In colonial America, when the governor was the representative of the monarch who exercised executive power, many colonies originally elected their governors, but in the years leading up to the American Revolutionary War, the king began to appoint them directly. During the American Revolution, all royal governors were expelled (except one, see Jonathan Trumbull), but the name was retained to denote the new elected official.
See: List of current United States Governors which includes links to state and territory lists of past Governors.
- Lieutenant Governor
- Governors of American Samoa
- Governors of Guam
- Governors of Northern Mariana Islands
- Governors of Puerto Rico
- Governors of U.S. Virgin Islands
Until the 1930 Revolution, the heads of the Brazilian Provinces then States were styled Presidents (presidentes), later governors (governadores) and intervators (interventores, appointed by the federal government) and finally in 1945 only governors.
Other European countries and empires
- In the Netherlands, the government-appointed heads of the provinces were known as Gouverneur from 1814 until 1850, when their title was changed to King's (or Queen's) Commissioner. In the southern province of Limburg, however, the commissioner is still informally called Governor.
- In the Dutch crown's Caribbean Overseas territories, the style Governor is still used (alongside the political head of government) in the Netherlands Antilles as well as since 1986 on the neighbouring island of Aruba (separated from the former)
- In Belgium, each of the ten provinces has a Governor, appointed by the regional government. He represents the central and regional governments in the province. He controls the local governments and is responsible for law and order, security and emergency action. The national capital of Brussels, who is not part of a province, also has a governor with nearly the same competences.
During the Ancien Régime in France, the representative of the king in his provinces and cities was the "gouverneur". Royal officers chosen from the highest nobility, provincial and city governors (oversight of provinces and cities was frequently combined) were predominantly military positions in charge of defense and policing. Provincial governors — also called "lieutenants généraux" — also had the ability of convoking provincial parlements, provincial estates and municipal bodies. The title "gouverneur" first appeared under Charles VI. The ordinance of Blois of 1579 reduced their number to 12, but an ordinance of 1779 increased their number to 39 (18 first-class governors, 21 second-class governors). Although in principal they were the king's representatives and their charges could be revoked at the king's will, some governors had installed themselves and their heirs as a provincial dynasty. The governors were at the height of their power from the middle of the 16th to the middle of the 17th century, but their role in provincial unrest during the civil wars lead Cardinal Richelieu to create the more tractable positions of intendents of finance, policing and justice, and in the 18th century the role of provincial governers was greatly curtailed.
- The essentially maritime empire of the Venetian republic, comprising Terra Ferma, other Adriatic (mainly Istria and Dalmatia) and further Mediterranean (mainly Greek) possessions, used different gubernatorial styles, such as (castelleno e) provveditore (generale), baile
- In today's Italy, the official name of a head of a Regione (the Italian subnational entity) is Presidente della Giunta regionale (President of the regional executive council), but from 2000, when a constitutional reform decided the direct election of the president by the people, it's usual to call him governatore (governor).
Papal & Vatican particularity
- In the various Italian provinces (former principalities and city-states) that became amalgamated as the Papal States, the Holy See exerced temporal power via its Legates and Delegates, including some Cardinals
- Also in Avignon and the surrounding southern French Comté Venaissin, the home of the Popes during their 'Babylonian exile', and retained centuries after, but never incorporated into the Papal States, Legates and Vice-legates were appointed
- The sovereign modern remnant of the formerly large Papal States, the tiny Vatican City State, is now a mere enclave in Rome, the capital of Italian Republic. As it is too small to have further administrative territorial divisions, it is the equivalent of a Prime Minister, Governor and Mayor all roled in to one post, styled the Governor of Vatican City.
- The Danish word is Guvernør
- Currently, the län (counties) of Sweden (see *Over-Governor of Stockholm, Governors-General of Sweden, List of County Governors of Sweden)
- the provinces of Finland have leaders with the title of *governor.
Other modern African countries
As a GENERIC term, Governor is used for various 'equivalent' officers governing part of a state or empire, rendering other official titles such as :
- colonial High Commissioner (not the Ambassadors exchanged within the Commonwealth)
And this also applies to non-western and/or antique cultures
Other meanings of the word
The word governor can also refer to an administrator and/or supervisor (individually or collectively, see Board of Governors) in the socio-economic spheres of life; the single Governor of a national emission bank often holds ministerial rank.
- Governor of the Bank of Canada
- List of governors of national banks of Serbia and Yugoslavia
- Federal Reserve Board of Governors