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The Constitution of the Massachusetts Bay Plantation
30 April, 1629

Redacted and introduced by Marcia Elaine Stewart.

This document is the seed from which sprang the future government of the Massachusetts Bay Commonwealth. Adhering to the guidelines set up in the Royal Charter, it establishes the offices of Governor, with a Deputy Governor and eleven others to be governing Council, to be selected by the Company once a year from among the residents of the plantation. All powers of government belonged to the majority of the said office-holders, with veto power to the Governor or, in his absence, the Deputy. It is notable that any Council-members finding themselves in the minority on a critical issue could, in theory at least, be removed from the Council by the Governor and majority of the Council for unspecified "unfitness." This left the door open to the possibility of an unpopular clique, with approval or apathy of the Company permitting, voting themselves into absolute power for an indefinite series of terms. This may have contributed to the reluctance of many to swear loyalty to the Governor and Council, as has been noted elsewhere in this issue of the Quarterly. The Constitution was later amended substantially in 1644, when the first bicameral legislature in the Americas was created, whose members were elected by the Freemen. This consisted of an expanded Council as upper house, governing alongside a house of delegates from the townships.

Three weeks after the 1629 Constitution was enacted, a codicil relative to the distribution of land was added by the Company. It specifies that every "adventurer" who buys £50 of stock in the Company shall be allotted 200 acres of land plus a half-acre town lot. Further purchase of stock obtained land at the same rate (5 shillings per acre). Non-stockholders who transport themselves at their own expense are to receive 50 acres, or more should the Council decide fit. Any stockholder who paid for the transportation of another person would receive 50 acres allotment on behalf of that person, but at the disposal of the stockholder. This is similar to the "headright" system used for so many years in Virginia. The Council had power to dictate the allotment, and it directed the expansion of the plantation in broad terms, but the allotment was for practical purposes "first come first served," which accounts for the very rapid settlement of the countryside around Boston. Even before the "Great Migration" began in earnest in 1634, sixteen townships had been platted out and settled. This seminal document is reprinted in full, as follows:


At General Court, holden at London, the 30th Day of April, 1629, by the Governor & Company of the Mattachusetts Bay in New England.

HEREAS the King's most excellent Majesty hath been graciously pleased to erect and establish us, by royal patents, under the great seal of England, to be a body corporate, entitled the Governor & Company of the Mattachusetts Bay in New England, and thereby hath endowed us with many large and ample privileges and immunities, with power to make good and wholesome laws, orders, and ordinances, for the better maintenance and support of the said privileges, and for the better and more orderly and regular government, to be observed in the prosecution and propagation of our intended voyages and the plantation there, authorizing us to nominate, appoint, and select fit persons among ourselves for the managing, ordering, and governing of our affairs, both in England and in the places spied and granted unto us by virtue of his Majesty's said charter, we have, in the prosecution of the said power and authority given us, and in conformity thereunto, and to the purpose and intent thereof, and not otherwise, thought fit to settle and establish an absolute government at our plantation in the said Mattachusetts Bay in New England, which, by the vote and consent of a full and ample Court now assembled, it is thought fit and ordered as followeth, viz.:

That thirteen of such as shall be reputed the most wise, honest, expert, and discrete persons resident upon the said plantation, shall, from time to time, and all all time hereafter, have the sole managing and ordering of the government and our affairs there, who, to the best of their judgments, are to endeavor so to settle the same as may make most to the glory of God, the furtherance and advancement of this hopeful plantation, the comfort, encouragement, and future benefit of us and others, the beginners and prosecutors of this so laudable a work. The said thirteen persons so appointed to be entitled by the name of the Governor and Council of London's Plantation in the Mattachusetts Bay in New England.

And having taken into due consideration the merit, worth, and good desert of Capt. John Endecott and others lately gone over from hence with purpose to reside and continue there, we have, with full consent and authority of this Court, and by erection of hands, chosen and elected the said Capt. John Endecott to the place of present Governor in our said plantation. Also, by the same power, and with the like full and free consent, we have chosen and elected Mr. Francis Higginson, Mr. Samuel Skelton, Mr. Francis Bright, Mr. John Browne, Mr. Samuel Browne, Mr. Thomas Graves, Mr. Samuel Sharpe, these seven, to be of the said Council, and do hereby give power and authority to the said Governor and those seven to make choice of three others, such as they, or the greater number of them, in their discretions, shall esteem and conceive most fit thereunto, to be also of the said Council.

And to the end that the former planters there may have no just occasion of exception, as being excluded out of the privileges of the Company, this Court are content and do order, by erection of hands, that such of the said former planters as are willing to live within the limits of our plantation, shall be enabled, and are hereby authorized, to make choice of two such as they shall think fit, to supply and make up the number of twelve of the said Council, one of which twelve is, by the Governor and Council, or the major part of them, to be chosen Deputy to the Governor for the time being.

And further, the Court doth authorize and give power to the said Governor and Council, or the major part of them, (whereof the Governor or Deputy to be always one,) to make choice of a Secretary, and such other subordinate officers to attend them at their courts, meetings, or otherwise, etc., as in their discretions shall seem meet and needful.

And to the end that every one of the aforenamed officers, as well Governor, Deputy, and Council as others who they shall think fit to nominate and choose, may be the more careful in performance of the charge committed unto them, it is by this Court thought fit and ordered, that each of them shall take an oath proper to that place he shall be elected and chosen to, which is to be administered unto him or them at the time of his or their election or admittance into the said several place or places.

And we do hereby authorize (a phrase of the manuscript is lost here) to administer unto the Governor the oath to his place appertaining, and the Governor, having taken his oath as aforesaid, shall administer the oath to the Deputy appertaining to his place. And we do further hereby authorize the Governor or Deputy to administer the oath to the rest of the Council, and unto all the others the several officers respectively, which said oaths are to be administered in a public court, and not elsewhere.

It is further concluded on and ordered by this court, that the said Governor, Deputy, and Council, before named, so chosen and established in their several places, shall continue and be confirmed therein for the space of one whole year from and after the taking of the oath, or until such time as this Court shall think fit to make choice of any others to succeed in the place or places of them or any of them. And if it shall please God that any of them, or any others to be hereafter chosen to any office there, shall depart this life before the expiration of the of the time they were so chosen, or for any misdemeanor or unfitness shall be held unmeet for the place he was formerly chosen unto, that then the Governor or Deputy and Council, or the greater number of them, at an ample court assembled, shall have power, and hereby are authorized, not only to remove and displace such unfit person or persons, but also to nominate and choose a fit person or persons to succeed him or them so deceased, removed, or displaced, as aforesaid, into the place or places, for the residue of the time unexpired.

And it is further agreed on and ordered, that the Governor for the Time being shall have power and is hereby authorized, to call courts and meetings at places and at times convenient, as to his discretion shall seem meet, which power is also hereby confered upon the Deputy in the absence of said Governor; and the said Governor or Deputy, together with the said Council, being chosen and assembled as aforesaid, and having taken their oaths respectively to their several places, they, or the greater number of them, whereof the Governor or Deputy be always one, are authorized by this act , grounded on the power derived from His Majesty's charter, to make, ordain, and establish all manner of wholesome laws, orders, ordinances, and constitutions (so as the same be no way repugnant or contrary to the laws of the realm of England,) for the administering of justice upon malefactors, and inflicting condign punishment upon all other offendors, and for the furtherance and propogating of the said plantation, and the more decent and orderly government of the inhabitants resident there.

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