Front Page Titles (by Subject) 27: [Massachusetts Ordinance on Legislative Procedure] - Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History
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27: [Massachusetts Ordinance on Legislative Procedure] - Donald S. Lutz, Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History 
Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History, ed. Donald S. Lutz (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1998).
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[Massachusetts Ordinance on Legislative Procedure]
Text taken from Shurtleff, Massachusetts Colonial Records: Vol. ii, 194–98. Text is complete, with the original spelling.
October 18, 1648
The following ordinance qualifies as a founding document because it creates and describes the duties of elected officers of the legislature. Very little survives concerning colonial legislative processes, so this document is doubly interesting because it is the oldest surviving description of how a colonial legislature went about its business. It is clear that the purpose of the ordinance is not only to maintain orderly processes and systematic record keeping but also to ensure that legislative proceedings and decisions are available to the public in a form that allows them to remain informed. Earlier documents in this collection have clearly implied a de facto popular sovereignty, and thus, the systematic keeping of public legislative records is in keeping with that implication. Because colonial legislatures passed relatively few laws by today’s standards and were quite small, they could easily conduct their business without dividing into committees. Therefore it is noteworthy that the Massachusetts legislature (General Court) was apparently already using a committee system, especially since the British Parliament, with much larger concerns and a much heavier legislative load, had moved to an intermittent committee system only a few years earlier. The use of a committee system, however, also made the process much more deliberative, and a deliberative decision making process was highly valued in colonial America as a means of pursuing the consensual common good as opposed to mere majority rule. The commitment to deliberative processes is reflected in a variety of documents, but see documents 46 and 62 for more obvious examples.
For the better carrying on the occassions of the Generall Court, & to the end that the records of the same, together with what shall be presented by way of petition, etc., or passes by way of vote, either amongst the magistrates or deputies, may hereafter be more exactly recorded, & kept for public use,—
It is hereby ordered, that as there is a secretary amongst the magistrates, (who is the generall officer of the common wealth, for the keeping the publike records of the same,) so there shall be a clarke amongst the deputies, to be chosen by them, from time to time; that (by the Court of Elections, and then the officers to begin their entryes, their recompence accordingly) there be provided, by the auditor, four large paper books, in folio, bound up with velum & pastboard, two whereof to be delivered to the secretary, & two to the clarke of the House of Deputies, one to be a journall to each of them, the other for the faire entry of all lawes, acts, & orders, etc., that shall passe the magistrates and deputies, that of the secretaries to be the publike record of the country, that of the clarkes to be a book onely of coppies.
That the secretary & clarke for the deputies shall briefly enter into their journals, respectively, the title of all bills, orders, lawes, petitions, etc., which shal be presented & read amongst them, what are referd to committees, & what are voted negatively or affirmatively, & so for any addition or alteration.
That all bills, lawes, petitions, etc, which shal be last concluded amongst the magistrates, shall remaine with the Governor till the latter end of that session, & such as are last assented to by the deputies shall remaine with the speaker till the said time, when the whole Courte shall meete together, or a committee of magistrates & deputies, to consider what hath passed that session, where the secretary & clarke shall be present, & by their journals call for such bils, etc, as hath passed either house, & such as shall appeare to have passed the magistrates & deputies shall be delivered to the secretary to record, who shall record the same within one month after every session, which being done, the clarke of the deputies shall have liberty, for one month after, to transcribe the same into his booke; & such bills, orders, etc, that hath onely passed the magistrates, shall be delivered to the secretary to keepe upon file, & such as have onely passed the deputies shal be delivered to their clarke to be kept upon file, in like manner, or otherwise disposed of, as the whole Court shall appoint; that all lawes, orders, & acts of Courte, contained in the ould bookes, that are of force, & not ordered to be printed, be transcribed in some alphabeticall or methodicall way, by direction of some committee that this Courte shall please to appoint, & delivered to the secretary to record in the first place, in the said booke of records, & then the acts of the other sessions in order accordingly, & a coppy of all to be transcribed by the clarke of the deputies, as aforesaid.