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Mayflower, Day by Day - Saturday, 23 October 1621

23 Oct 2021 2:39 AM | Soule (Administrator)

1636 Codification of Laws (part one)

A majority of the early settlers apparently agreed that responsibility for governing the plantation rested with the governor.  In March 1623, when Bradford asked the General Court for a decision on policy towards the Massachusetts Indians, the Court in turn referred the question back to the Governor and his advisers (basically saying, “Do what you think is right”: see Winslow, Good Newes from New England, ch. 5 [Appleton Books ed., p. 43]).  Lyford and Oldham had tried to stir up a rebellion in 1625, but failed when a majority supported Bradford.  No evidence exists of any further challenge to Bradford’s authority for another ten years (!).  Plymouth evidently knew -- and trusted -- its governor.  But as settlement began elsewhere in the colony, and people arrived to whom Bradford was unfamiliar, some did begin to worry.  In October 1636, when the freemen called in General Court for a reading of the colony’s laws, “divers were fownd worthy the reforming, others the rejecting & others fitt to be instituted & made.” The Court ordered a committee of eight freemen and eight magistrates to prepare a revision: “four for the town of Plymouth, two for Scituate, and two for Duxburrow” (PCR 1:43).  The eight freemen elected were William Brewster, Ralph Smith, John Doane, and John Jenny (for Plymouth); Jonathan Brewster, Christopher Wadsworth (for Duxbury); and Anthony Annabale and James Cudworth (for Scituate).  The committee met in November, and in their sessions the magistrates and freemen agreed to limit the power of the governor and assistants.  Henceforth, the freemen were to choose a governor and seven assistants “to rule and governe the said plantacions within the said limits for one whole yeare and no more” (PCR 11:7).  But their authority to govern did not extend to the enactment of legislation.  All laws and ordinances of the colony were to be voted on in the General Court “by the freemen of the Corporacion and no other” (PCR 11:11).  Neither law altered accepted practise: since 1621, the General Court had annually elected a governor and assistants.  And since the institution of colony records in 1633, the Court of Assistants, which consisted of the governor and the seven assistants, had not enacted legislation.

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