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Mayflower, Day by Day - Thursday, 14 October 1621

14 Oct 2021 3:31 AM | Soule (Administrator)

Laws, Human and Divine (part two)

The law of God constituted the foundation for the legal system of every New England colony. The founders of New Haven provided, for example, “that the words of God shall be the only rule to be attended unto in ordering the affairs of government.” The Connecticut General Court agreed that the duty of all New England judges was to do “justice according to our laws and the rule of righteousness” and “to settle” matters “as in equity and justice they shall see fit, that peace and truth may be continued.” It followed “that the judicial laws of God, as they were delivered by Moses,” were to be “a rule to all the courts” and that all judges had a “duty to do the best they [could] that the law of God may be strictly observed.” Interestingly, when Plymouth Colony's General Court later directed that towns should establish their own regulations for managing the local, day-to-day affairs of the townspeople, the General Court required that such local regulations be made with fidelity to the laws of the "Govern[ment]" of the General Court, and not to England itself. The Bradford land patent required that no law be established by the colonists which would be repugnant to the law in England. Historian George Langdon has emphasized that the Plymouth colonists resisted this restriction for some time, based on their view that "different circumstances" in the hazardous territory of the New World made "rigid adherence to English law" less impelling (Langdon, Pilgrim Colony: A History of New Plymouth, 1620-1691, 93). Governor Bradford and other prominent officers of the Colony realized the riskiness of proceeding without a royal charter for their venture. They instead possessed only a land patent issued by the New England Council, a private corporation which did not possess the authority to grant the colonists any right to self-governance (Langdon, 188). Bradford, Isaac Allerton and others attempted repeatedly over the years of the Colony to obtain a charter from the Crown. They failed to do so, and Plymouth Colony ultimately lost its self-governance and was annexed as part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.

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