This section is from the book "Popular Law Library Vol1 Introduction To The Study Of Law Legal History", by Albert H. Putney. Also see: Popular Law-Dictionary.
The second of the thirteen colonies in order of settlement was Massachusetts. Virginia and Massachusetts were always the two leading English colonies in America. Although the two are found together in the eighteenth century, leading the way for independence, they nevertheless present many striking contrasts in their history, laws, religion, and government. The territory of Massachusetts was included in the grant of territory given to the Plymouth Company. Several different settlements, under distinct governments, were made in this territory; two of them, the Plymouth Colony and the Massachusetts Bay colony being finally united into the colony of Massachusetts. The earliest of these settlements was that made at Plymouth in 1620, by a small band of Puritan exiles from England. Before landing these emigrants drew up and signed the following agreement as to the new government to be created. "In the name of God, amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, etc., having undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern part of Virginia, do, by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and of one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body-politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof, to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws and ordinances, acts, constitutions and officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience."
The Plymouth colonists, in 1629, obtained from the Plymouth Company in England a patent authorizing them to make laws for their own government. The legislation of this colony is a curious intermixture of Mosaic law and the common law. In 1636 the colony declared against all taxation but "by the consent of the body of freemen or their representatives legally assembled."
In March, 1629, a charter was given by Charles I to the Massachusetts Bay Company, which made the patentees and their associates a corporation. The Charter provided that the affairs of the company-should be managed by a governor, deputy governor and eighteen assistants or magistrates, the latter of whom were to hold monthly courts. A general Court of Assembly of all the freemen and stockholders was to be held monthly for purposes of legislation. No royal veto power over the acts of this body was reserved. The colonists were to have the rights of Englishmen and nothing was said about religion. The colony was at first governed from England but the charter was very soon removed to Massachusetts. For a few years both the Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies were practically self governing. Finally, however, Charles I began to interfere with the government of the colonies, and demanded the surrender of their charters. The result of the Civil War saved the liberties of the colonies for a time, but after the restoration of the Stuarts the colonies were subject to much interference and persecution, which culminated in 1684 when the King obtained a judgment in the high Court of Chancery in England against the Governor and Company of Massachusetts, declaring the charter of the Company forfeited. The period of the rule of Sir Edmund Andros as Governor from 1686-1689 was the most tyrannical epoch in all New England's history. After the expulsion of James II, the old charters were for a time re-established, but in 1692 were finally superseded by a new charter granted to Massachusetts. By the terms of this charter the colony of Plymouth, the provinces of Maine and Nova Scotia as far north as the St. Lawrence River, and all the country between them were added to the old provinces of Massachusetts, as were also the Elizabeth Islands and the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. The governor, lieutenant-governor and colonial secretary were appointed by the crown. The charter gave the governor the power to convene and dissolve the General Court, and a veto power over of all its acts. The councillors first appointed by the crown were afterwards to be annually elected by the House of Representatives and the existing council; but of the twenty-eight thus chosen the governor might reject thirteen. The advice and consent of the council were necessary to all appointments and official acts. Under this charter the theocracy which had ruled Massachusetts with vigor lost nearly all its power. Toleration was expressly secured to all religious sects, excepting the Roman Catholic. The right of suffrage, limited by the old government to church members and a few persons admitted as freemen on a minister's certificate, was now bestowed on all inhabitants possessing a freehold of the annual value of $6.66, or personal property to the amount of $133.33. After the receipt of the new charter the General Court passed an act which was a declaration of the rights of the colony. Among the general privileges which it asserted, it declared that "No aid, tax, tollage, assessment, custom, loan, benevolence, or imposition whatsoever, shall be laid, assessed, imposed or levied on any of their Majesties' subjects, on their estates, on any picture whatsoever, but by the act and consent of the governor and people assembled in the General Council."
Massachusetts was always the leader of the Puritan colonies. Her political and religious tendencies were those of the English Independents of the seventeenth century. The powers of local government were vested in the town meetings of the various towns, which were perhaps the most democratic political assemblies ever in existence. The counties were of minor importance, being little more than judicial districts. One political principle firmly established in this colony was that of the necessity for short terms for public officials and frequent elections.