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THE COLONY OF MASSACHUSETTS BAY.
IN 1628 some persons in England obtained from the Council for New England a grant of land The Incorporated extending from three miles north of the Company. River Merrimack to three miles south of the Charles, and from ocean to ocean. The next year, these persons with others, being Puritans or favorably disposed toward Puritanism, and many of them men of influence at court, received a charter from the king, incorporating them under the title, “ The Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England." Their object was to found a colony where non-conforming Puritans could live and worship unmolested.
The charter empowered the company to choose its' own officers, to admit new members, to
Powers. hold land and other property in England and America, especially the territory in New England included in the previous grant, to transport settlers, to make all rules for managing the company affairs, and to provide for governing and protecting its colonists.
The administration of company business was to be in the hands of a governor, deputy governor,
Government. and eighteen assistants, chosen annually by the whole body of freemen or members. Four times a
year, there was to be “a great, general, and solemn assembly” of the company, called “the Great and General Court,” at which new members should be admitted, laws made for the government of the company and colony, and, once a year, officers chosen.
The company sent out a few settlers to Salem ; but Transfe of while its meetings were held in England, Charter. the colonists, though members of it, had no voice in its management. Men of character and influence were unwilling thus to deprive themselves of the privilege of self-government, and would not emigrate. To remove this objection, it was soon decided to transfer the charter to New England ; and a large body of settlers immediately came over, locating themselves in Boston and vicinity about 1630. The effect of the change was, to give the control of the colony to those settlers who were members of the company. The others had no more voice than before. But the company had changed to a body politic. To be a freeman of the company was to be a citizen; and thus, as new members were admitted from time to time, the colony came to be self-governing under the protection of the company charter. Very early it was enacted that no person could become a freeman unless he were a member
of some church within the colony; and
this provision remained in force until 1664. The administration of government, both executive and
judicial, was intrusted to the governor and Government.
We assistants, sometimes called magistrates, who held monthly meetings called Assistants' Courts. The whole company in its general courts, held somewhat irregularly, chose officers, made laws, and attended to some judicial business. The records show
that at first the functions were not very clearly defined.
In 1634 the towns sent deputies to act with the magistrates; and for ten years these two
Representatives. bodies, sitting together but voting separately, formed the General Court for legislative business. No law could be enacted without a majority vote of both bodies, each having what is called a “negative” upon the other. In 1644 the two bodies were separated ; and thus the General Court was constituted for forty years. At first the whole people met for election : afterward they met in their towns and voted, and sent their votes by their deputies to be counted by the General Court.
Judicial business, as has been said, was conducted both by the Court of Assistants and by the General Court. Very early the magistrates performed the functions of justices of the peace, though without the title. Soon four quarterly courts were established at Ipswich, Salem, Cambridge, and Boston, to be held by the resident magistrates, and persons appointed by the General Court to act with them; and a quarterly court at Boston by all the magistrates. Next, in each town, a magistrate, or some person appointed for the purpose, was empowered to try cases involving less than twenty shillings. In 1643 four counties were organized for the more complete administration of justice.
Very early the people formed the habit of meeting in the towns to discuss local matters, and
Towns. of choosing men to manage them; and it was not long before the General Court recognized the town as corporations, and gave them power to transact business, and to choose officers.
The Puritan settlers of Massachusetts Bay, unlike Puritan Legis- the Pilgrims, believed that the civil magislation. trate had authority in matters pertaining to religion and the church. They had founded their state for the express purpose of maintaining what they believed to be a pure worship; and much of the legislation was directed to securing this end. This was the reason for restricting suffrage to church-members. In furtherance of the same object, they endeavored to compel attendance upon all the stated religious services, and taxed all the inhabitants to support the gospel. They passed stringent laws to prevent the promulgation of what they considered erroneous views, and punished severely any attempt to introduce a different faith from that which they had devoted themselves to establish. They endeavored to promote the public morals by legislation respecting the observance of the Sabbath; and numerous statutes were made to prevent profanity, intemperance, and impiety. Most of the other New England colonies copied these laws; and the reputation which these states have always had for morality shows how successful was this early legislation.
After the Restoration, Charles II., who had no love Demand of for Puritans, was disturbed by the progress Charles II. of this colony, and began a series of measures to check what seemed a dangerous spirit of independence. He required the officers to take an oath of allegiance to him ; that all judicial processes should be issued in his name; that the Episcopal form of worship should be tolerated; and that the rights of freemen should not be restricted to church-members. The colonists considered some of these demands to be contrary to the terms of their charter, and withheld compliance.
Next, the king sent commissioners to investigate the state of the colonies, giving them power Royal Comto hear any complaints that might be missioners, made against the colonial governments, and to receive appeals from the colonial courts. They were also directed to use their influence to induce the colonies to give up their charters, and receive a royal governor. Most of the colonies received the commissioners, and treated them with consideration ; but Massachusetts refused to acknowledge their authority, and would not allow any appeal to them.
The king continued his demands, to some of which Massachusetts yielded, imposing the oath Extension of of allegiance upon all the freemen, modi- Suffrage. fying some of the severest laws against the Quakers, and repealing the act limiting suffrage to church-members. But she required that voters who were not churchmembers should be orthodox in religion, not vicious in life, twenty-four years of age, householders, and paying a yearly tax upon property so great that practically the franchise was scarcely extended beyond its old limits.
At length the struggle ended by a legal declaration on the part of the king's officers, that Loss of the Massachusetts had forfeited her charter. Charter. This was in 1681, and measures were at once taken to send out a royal governor; but the death of the king prevented.
James, his successor, whose arbitrary conduct drove the people of England to revolution, was
Suspension of not likely to treat the New England colo- Popular Gov. nies with much favor; and for a time pop
ernment. ular government there was suspended. In 1686 the