1661: Act of the General Court (of Mass.)
- Collections: The American Revolution and Constitution
31 [An Act of the General Court]
The text is taken from Shurtleff, Massachusetts Colonial Records: Vol. iv, 25–26.
June 10, 1661
The charter of 1629 creating the Massachusetts Bay Company not only had the standard provision providing for local self-government but also had the peculiarity of failing to make any specific reference to parliamentary authority. This was interpreted to mean, at least by the colonists, that the English Parliament had no power over the colony. The Massachusetts Body of Liberties, 1641 , also implied that the colony was bound only by laws of its own choosing. The document below was passed by the Massachusetts General Court in a bold attempt to essentially declare their autonomy from allegiance to the king as well, or at least to render that allegiance so tenuous as to make it meaningless. This move to enlarge the liberties of the colonies is one more major attempt by the colonists to create a political foundation based completely upon their own consent. Indeed, the document spells out clearly the major principles that underlay the evolving colonial constitutionalism. The Crown eventually revoked the colony’s charter in 1684, and this document was a major reason for that royal action.
concerning our liberties
1. We conceive the patent (under God) to be the first and main foundation of our civil polity here, by a Governor and Company, according as is therein expressed.
2. The Governor and Company are, by the patent, a body politic, in fact and name.
3. This body politic is vested with power to make freemen.
4. These freemen have power to choose annually a governor, deputy governor, assistants, and their select representatives or deputies.
5. This government has power also to set up all sorts of officers, as well superior as inferior, and point out their power and places.
6. The governor, deputy governor, assistants, and select representatives or deputies have full power and authority, both legislative and executive, for the government of all the people here, whether inhabitants or strangers, both concerning ecclesiastics and in civils, without appeal, excepting law or laws repugnant to the laws of England.
7. The government is privileged by all fitting means (yea, if need be, by force of arms) to defend themselves, both by land and sea, against all such person or persons as shall at any time attempt or enterprise the destruction, invasion, detriment, or annoyance of this plantation, or the inhabitants therein, besides other privileges mentioned in the patent, not here expressed.
8. We conceive any imposition prejudicial to the country contrary to any just law of ours, not repugnant to the laws of England, to be an infringement of our right.
concerning our duties of allegiance to our sovereign lord, the king
1. We ought to uphold and, to our power, maintain his place, as of right belonging to Our Sovereign Lord, The King, as holden of His Majesty’s manor of East Greenwich, and not to subject the same to any foreign prince or potentate whatsoever.
2. We ought to endeavor the preservation of His Majesty’s royal person, realms, and dominions, and so far as lies in us, to discover and prevent all plots and conspiracies against the same.
3. We ought to seek the peace and prosperity of Our King and nation by a faithful discharge in the governing of his people committed to our care.
First, by punishing all such crimes (being breaches of the First or Second Table) as are committed against the peace of Our Sovereign Lord, The King, his Royal Crown, and dignity.
Second, in propagating the Gospel, defending and upholding the true Christian or Protestant religion according to the faith given by our Lord Christ in His word; our dread sovereign being styled “defender of the faith.”
The premises considered, it may well stand with the loyalty and obedience of such subjects as are thus privileged by their rightful sovereign (for Himself, His Heirs, and Successors forever) as cause shall require, to plead with their prince against all such as shall at any time endeavor the violation of their privileges ... And, also, that the General Court may do safely to declare that in case (for the future) any legally obnoxious, and flying from the civil justice of the state of England, shall come over to these parts, they may not here expect shelter.
Key Documents of Liberty
- -1750: The Code of Hammurabi (Johns translation)
- -1750: The Code of Hammurabi (King translation)
- 1117: Articles of the Communal Charter of Amiens
- 1215: Magna Carta
- 1215: Magna Carta (Latin and English)
- 1602: Coke, Preface to the 2nd Part of the Reports (Pamphlet)
- 1619: Laws enacted by the First General Assembly of Virginia
- 1620: The Mayflower Compact
- 1621: Constitution for the Council and Assembly in Virginia
- 1628: Petition of Right
- 1629: Agreement of the Massachusetts Bay Company
- 1637: Providence Agreement
- 1638: Act for Church Liberties (Maryland)
- 1638: Act for the Liberties of the People (Maryland)
- 1639: Fundamental Orders of Connecticut
- 1640/1: The Triennial Act
- 1641: Massachusetts Body of Liberties
- 1641: The Act for the Abolition of the Court of Star Chamber
- 1641: The Act for the Abolition of the Court of High Commission
- 1641: The Tonnage and Poundage Act
- 1642: Organization of the Government of Rhode Island
- 1642: Propositions made by Parliament and Charles I’s Answer
- 1644: Williams, Bloody Tenet, of Persecution (Letter)
- 1647: Acts and Orders (Rhode Island)
- 1647: Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts
- 1647: The Agreement of the People, as presented to the Council of the Army
- 1647: The Putney Debates
- 1648/9: The Agreement of the People
- 1649: A Declaration of Parliament
- 1649: Ball, Rule of a Free-Born People (Pamphlet)
- 1649: Maryland Toleration Act
- 1649: Rous, Lawfulness of Obeying the Present Government (Pamphlet)
- 1658: Coke, Prohibitions del Roy (Pamphlet)
- 1660: Milton, A Free Commonwealth (Pamphlet)
- 1661: Act of the General Court (of Mass.)
- 1675: Shaftesbury, Letter from a Person of Quality (Pamphlet)
- 1675: Shaftesbury, Speech in Parliament (Pamphlet)
- 1679: Habeas Corpus Act
- 1682: Act for Freedom of Conscience (Penn.)
- 1682: Charter of the Liberties and Frame of Government of Pennsylvania
- 1683: Charter of Liberties and Privileges (New York)
- 1689: English Bill of Rights
- 1692: Shower, Reasons for a New Bill of Rights (Pamphlet)
- 1701: Pennsylvania Charter of Liberties
- 1736: Brief Narrative of the Trial of Peter Zenger
- 1744: Williams, Rights and Liberties of Protestants (Sermon)
- 1763: Otis, Rights of British Colonies Asserted (Pamphlet)
- 1765: Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress
- 1766: Mayhew, The Snare Broken (Sermon)
- 1774: Declaration and Resolves of the 1st Continental Congress
- 1776: Declaration of Independence (various drafts)
- 1776: Hutchinson, Strictures upon the Declaration of Independence
- 1776: Paine, Common Sense (Pamphlet)
- 1776: Virginia Bill of Rights
- 1776: Witherspoon, Dominion of Providence over the Passions of Men (Sermon)
- 1778: Articles of Confederation
- 1785: Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments
- 1786: Jefferson, Virginia Bill Establishing Religious Freedom
- 1787: Brutus, Essay II (Pamphlet)
- 1787: Brutus, Essay V (Pamphlet)
- 1787: Brutus, Letter I (Pamphlet)
- 1787: Centinel, Letter I (Pamphlet)
- 1787: Jay, Address to the People of N.Y. (Pamphlet)
- 1787: Letters from the Federal Farmer, Letter No. III
- 1787: Letters from the Federal Farmer, No. VII (Pamphlet)
- 1787: Madison’s Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention
- 1787: Mason: Objections to the Proposed Constitution (Letter)
- 1787: Northwest Ordinance
- 1787: P. Webster, The Weakness of Brutus (Pamphlet)
- 1787: Ramsay, Address to the Freemen of Sth. Carolina (Speech)
- 1787: Selections from the Federalist (Pamphlets)
- 1787: US Constitution
- 1787: Virginia and New Jersey Plans
- 1787: Wilson, Address to the People of Philadelphia (Speech)
- 1788: Amendments recommended by the Several State Conventions
- 1789: French Declaration of the Rights of Man
- 1789: Madison, Speech Introducing Proposed Amendments to the Constitution
- 1790: Hamilton, First Report on Public Credit
- 1790: Jefferson, Memorandum on the Compromise of 1790
- 1790: Price, Discourse on the Love of Our Country (Sermon)
- 1791: Hamilton, Opinion as to the Constitutionality of the Bank of the US
- 1791: Jefferson, Opinion against the Constitutionality of a National Bank
- 1791: Madison, Speech on the Bank Bill
- 1791: US Bill of Rights (1st 10 Amendments) - with commentary
- 1793: French Republic Constitution of 1793
- 1793: Helvidius (Madison), No. 1 (Pamphlet)
- 1793: Pacificus (Hamilton), No. 1 (Pamphlet)
- 1796: George Washington’s “Farewell Address” (Speech)
- 1798-1992: US Bill of Rights Amendments (XI-XXVII)
- 1798: Alien and Sedition Acts
- 1798: Counter-resolutions of Other States
- 1798: Kentucky Resolutions
- 1798: Kentucky Resolutions (Jefferson’s Draft)
- 1798: Virginia Resolutions
- 1799: Report of the Virginia House of Delegates
- 1801: Jefferson, 1st Annual Message
- 1801: Jefferson, 1st Inaugural Address
- 1802: Jefferson, Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association (Letter)
- 1830: French Charter of 1830
- 1863: Emancipation Proclamation
- Pocket Guide to Political and Civic Rights