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passed. The experience of more than two hundred years has hardly suggested any improvement in the principles discussed and adopted by this infant colony, congregated in the dark and crowded cabin of the Mayflower, as she lay at anchor by the shore of the new world.

After declaring themselves the loyal subjects of King James, and that their undertaking was for the advancement of the Christian faith, and for the honor of their king and country, they say, that “they solemnly and mutually, in presence of God and one another, consort and combine into a civil body politic, for their better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid ; and by virtue thereof do enact, constitute, and frame such equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most convenient for the general good of the colony. To this compact they all promised submission and obedience, thereby investing a majority with the whole political power, and recognising to its fullest extent the right of such a majority to govern. Unlike the constitutions of the United States and the several States, it made no division of political power, contained no checks, imposed no restraints upon the gove ernment, but left the whole to the rule and decision of a bare majority. It did not even prescribe what officers should be chosen, or point out their duties and powers, but left the whole to be determined as circumstances should from time to time require. Of all the governments which ever existed, none has been more democratic than this, and perhaps none was ever better suited to the condition and wants of the people that established it.

During the whole existence of the colony, this form of polity was continued ; and though, at a subsequent period, there was some division of political power, and some restrictions were imposed upon the government, yet this was all done by mere acis of legislation, which could at any moment be annulled by the legislative power. This compact may properly be considered the only valid constitution which the colony ever had, and to it they clung with the greatest tenacity. Among themselves this was their strong bond of union, and, had they not had sears of the government at home, it would have been the only authority for legislation which they would have ever sought. But they were not then in a situation to No. 107.



act with entire independence, and it became necessary to submit, at least nominally, to a higher authority, and to attain some assurance from that authority, that their rights should be protected.

On the 3d of November, and while the Pilgrims were coasting along Cape Cod, the King granted to the Council at Plymouth in the County of Devon, for the planting, ruling, ordering, and governing of New England in America, all the American territory between 40 and 45 degrees of north latitude, and extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific;" including, of course, all the territory comprised in the colony of New Plymouth. This company bad authority to sell and convey any portion of their territory, and, before the surrender of their charter in 1635, did in fact dispose of several large tracts of land, conveying the same right to the soil, waters, and fisheries, which the company itself had. It was soon ascertained by the Plymouth colonists, that this company were claimants to all the territory occupied by them, and that they claimed it under the King, who was then admitted to have authority to dispose of a continent, to which he had no other claim than that some of bis subjects, a century before, had sailed along its coasts. To avoid molestation, it therefore became necessary to purchase the rights of this company, which, after a long negotiation, was accomplished in 1629, when the charter from the Council at Plymouth was granted to William Bradford and his associates, of all the territory comprised within the colony of New Plymouth. This charter can be regarded in no other light than as a common deed of conveyance, giving them a right to the soil, but no authority to establish a new government, or to exercise jurisdiction over it. It was no more a charter of government than the hundred conveyances from the natives, and so the colonists always considered it, - for they spared no efforts to obtain the sanction of the King to it; being aware that, without this, they had no assurance that he would do them the favor to let them alone. These efforts, however, were unavailing. The King never gave his sanction; and, from the beginning of the colony to its end, its government can properly be considered as resting on no other basis than the will of the colonists themselves. For this reason we see, that in every period of their history, they exhibited a constant solicitude, not only as to the validity of their government, but as to the extent of the

powers, which they might exercise under it. It was early a grave question, whether they could inflict capital punishment in case of murder, and regarded as of so much importance that they sought the advice of the governor of Massachusetts upon it. He told them they had such authority, not on the ground, however, of any chartered rights, but that the land should be purged from blood.” The result proved, that this charter was regarded with the same respect as the other New England charters, and with them it suliered a common ruin under the arbitrary reign of James the Second.

For the first sixteen years we have but a meagre account of the legislation of the colony. During this period, the population was small, and probably at no time exceeded four hundred. And though such a community would require many rules and regulations to preserve its harmony, and se. cure to each member bis rights, yet, since such rules and regulations were adopted in general assembly, they were known to all, and were commonly of so temporary a character, that they were scarcely thought worthy of committing to public record. The colonists during this period hardly considered themselves as permanently settled. They were looking for a more propitious soil, and at one time came nigh leaving their frail and temporary habitations at Plymouth, and removing to the fertile valley of the Connecticut. Besides, they lived rather as a social than a political community, bound together as one family, by common interests and objects, and enduring common sufferings and privations. And it is not strange that, under such circumstances, they should have left us a record of so few of their public acts. Our surprise should rather be, that so many of them have come down to us, affording us, at the end of two centuries, the best evidence both of the purity and wisdom of their framers.

The records of the colony begin in 1623, and there is still standing at their head a law providing, “that all criminall acts, and also all matters of trespasses and debts betweene man and man, should be tried by the verdict of twelve honest men, to be impannelled by authority in forme of a jury upon their oath.” The other laws, adopted during this period, relate principally to the estates of deceased persons, the division of lands, the defence of the colony, and the security of its trade and fisheries. In 1627, it was enacted, that no dwellinghouse should be covered with any kind of thatch, as straw, reeds, &c.

The immediate occasion of this act was a destructive fire, which the colony had just suffered, by reason of their buildings having been covered with such combustible materials.

In 1636, a new era occurred in its legislation. The colony had increased considerably in population, which was spread over a portion of the territory of Plymouth, Duxbury, and Scituate. The system which answered their purpose while all lived in sight of the Plymouth Rock, or within the hearing of the voice of their valiant chieftain, was no longer suited to their condition. They had long waited, but in vain, for a confirmation of their charter by the King. They now found it necessary to create new officers, define their powers, establish fixed laws, and declare more fully the authority under which they acted. For this purpose a General Court was called in October, at which a committee of fourteen persons was appointed, with full authority to revise the laws, and to report their proceedings to the next General Court. The duties of this committee were performed with great despatch; for within five weeks a new code was prepared, reported, and adopted. It does not appear to have created much discussion, nor have we any evidence that it met with serious opposition ; for it appears by the records to have been all adopted in a single day, and perhaps in a single hour.

This code first gave form to the government of the colony, and invested it with its most distinctive features. Its preamble recites the authority of the colonists to make laws, and declares, that, as freeborn subjects of England, they were possessed of all the rights of Englishmen; and that, as such, no law, imposition, or ordinance should be made or imposed on them but by their consent; the very doctrine maintained by their descendants a century and a half afterward, in the declaration of American independence. It further provided, that an election should be held on the first Tuesday of March annually, at which all their officers should be chosen, namely, a Governor, seven Assistants, a Clerk, Treasurer, Coroner, Messenger, and Constables.

The duties and powers of these officers were to a considerable extent defined. The Governor had authority to summon and dissolve the General Court, and was made a conservator of the public peace; but in other respects he had little more authority than any of the other magistrates, except that he could cast a double vote in the General Court. The Assistants composed his Council, and both together were invested with extensive judicial powers. An oath of office was prescribed for each of the public officers, as well as for the freemen, by which it appears, that they were all required to swear allegiance, not only to the king of England, but to the government of the colony of New Plymouth. The Messenger was the chief executive officer of the General Court, and performed duties very similar to those of a sheriff at the present day. His name was retained till within three or four years by an officer of the General Court of Massachusetts, who still possesses some of his powers, and performs most of his duties, but is now known by the foreign name of sergeantat-arms.

All the freemen in General Court took part in enacting the laws, till 1639, and it was regarded by them not as a privilege merely, which they might exercise or not as they pleased, but as a duty which, under a penalty, they bound themselves to exercise. It was enacted, that a person who did not attend the Court should be subject to a penalty of ten shillings sterling. The privilege of suffrage was regarded by them, as it always will be by all men who value free institutions, as one that should never be neglected, and in which the public, as well as the individual, have an interest. This system was continued till the population had become so extended that it became extremely burdensome to such of the freemen as lived in Duxbury and Scituate. To remedy the evils arising from this cause, the General Court in September, 1638, enacted, that each town in the colony, except Plymouth, should choose two persons, and Plymouth four, who, with the Governor and Assistants, should make all good and wholesom laws as would be for the benefit of the colony," provided, that all the laws so made should be proposed at one General Court, and remain to be considered at the next. It was also further provided, that, if any law so enacted should be found prejudicial, all the freemen assembled at the court of election might repeal it. These deputies were at first called Committees, and were paid by the towns that sent them. And, since all the inhabitants were bound to bear a portion of

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