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A governor is an official who heads the government of a colony, state or other sub-national state unit. Most countries in the world have some sort of official known as a governor, though in some countries, the heads of the states, provinces and regions may have a different title. This is particularly common in Europe, e.g. President of the Regional council in France, and minister-president in Germany. There are also different titles in Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium.

There can also be non-political governors: governors 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.



The English word "governor" derives from the Latin word "gubernātor" (from which the adjective "gubernatorial" is taken). In ancient Rome, a governor was an official charged with the administration of a Roman province. Often, a governor would have served as a consul or a praetor in Rome before being dispatched, but this was not always the case - less important provinces might be governed by a prefect, and (after the end of the Republic) provinces under direct control of the Emperor would be governed by a legate. The main functions of a Roman governor were to collect taxes, supervise government expenditure, command the local military forces, and administer Roman law.

British Empire and Commonwealth

In the British Empire a governor was originally an official appointed by the British monarch to oversee one of his colonies. Because of the different constitutional histories of the various former colonies of the United Kingdom, the name now refers to officials with differing amounts of power.

Today crown colonies of the United Kingdom continue to be administered by a governor, who holds varying degrees of power. (Sovereign) Commonwealth Realms have Governors-General who represent the authority of the British Monarch.

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In Australia, each state has a Governor as its formal head. In theory state Governors are appointed by the Queen and act as her representative. In practice they are always appointed on the advice of the state Premier and play a purely ceremonial role. State Governors have emergency reserve powers but these are rarely used. The Territories of Australia have Administrators

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.

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In India each state has a ceremonial Governor appointed by the President of India.


In Malaysia the states of Penang, Malacca, Sabah and Sarawak each have a ceremonial Governor or Yang di-Pertua Negeri appointed by the King or Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia.


In Nigeria, 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.

Northern Ireland

There was a position of Governor of Northern Ireland from 1922 until the suspension of Stormont in 1973.

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.

Sri Lanka

The provinces of Sri Lanka are led by governors.

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). In some minor overseas territories there is instead of a Governor an Administrator or Commissioner.

United States

In the United States, the title Governor refers to the chief executive of each state. The governor may also assume additional roles, such as the Commander-in-Chief of the State National Guard forces (when not federalized) as well as the final legal judicial appelete authority for criminal sentences involving capital punishment.

In all states, the individual is directly elected and has considerable practical powers, though this is moderated by the state legislature and in some cases by other elected executive officials. In colonial America, the governor was the representative of the monarch who exercised executive power. During the American Revolutionary War, the royal governors were all expelled, but the name was retained to denote the new elected official.

See: List of United States Governors for past and present governors.

South America

Many South American countries, such as Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and others have provinces or states run by elected governors, with offices similar in nature to US state governors.

Other countries

Other countries with colonies in Asia, Africa and other areas, such as Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and The Netherlands gave some, but not all, of the top representatives of their colonies the title of governor. Currently, the counties of Sweden, the provinces of China and Finland, the states of Mexico and Indonesia and some of the administrative devisions of Russia are among the areas which have leaders with the title of governor. In The Netherlands, the leaders of the provinces were known as governors from 1814 until 1850, when their title was changed to king's commissioner, and later to queen's commissioner. See also:

A governor is also a device that regulates the speed of a machine. See Governor (device).

Last updated: 02-07-2005 03:57:20
Last updated: 02-17-2005 08:58:29