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to set up a government, admit new members, and conduct their local affairs with a large degree of freedom. The following extract from a charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations gives the most important part of the document dealing with the form of government: —
Charles the Second, by the grace of God, King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c., to all to whome these presents shall come, greeting:
And accordingely our will and pleasure is, and of our especiall Certain grace, certaine knowledge, and meere motion, wee have ordeyned, stituted a constituted and declared, and by these presents, for us, our heires body and successors, doe ordeyn, constitute and declare, That they, corporate. the sayd William Brenton, William Codington, Nicholas Easton, Benedict Arnold, William Boulston, &c. . . . and all such others as now are, or hereafter shall bee admitted and made ffree of the company and society of our collonie of Providence Plantations, in the Narragansett Bay in New England, shall bee, from tyme to tyme, and forever hereafter, a bodie corporate and politique, in ffact and name, by the name of The Governor and Company of the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, in America; and that by the same name, they and their successours shall and may have perpetuall succession, and shall and may bee persons able and capable, in the lawe, to sue and bee sued, to pleade and be impleaded, to answeare and be answeared unto, to defend and to be defended, in all and singular suites, causes, quarrels, matters, actions and thinges, of whatever kind or nature soever; and alsoe to have, take, possesse, acquire, and purchase lands, tenements, or hereditaments, or any goods or chattels, and the same to lease, graunt, demise, aliene, bargaine, sell, and dispose of, at their owne will and pleasure, as other our liege people of this our realme of England, or anie corporation or bodie politique within the same may lawfully doe.
And further, wee will and ordeyne, and by these presents, for us, oure heires, and successours, doe declare and appoynt that for governor and the better ordering and managing of the affaires and business of
The general assembly.
Powers of the
the sayd Company, and theire successours, there shall bee one Governour, one Deputie-Governour and ten Assistants, to bee, from tyme to tyme, constituted, elected, and chosen, out of the freemen of the sayd Company, for the tyme beinge, in such manner and fforme as is hereafter in these presents expressed; which sayd officers shall aplye themselves to take care for the best disposeinge and orderinge of the generall businesse and affaires of, and concerninge the landes and hereditaments hereinafter mentioned, to be graunted and the plantation thereof, and the government of the people there.
And further, wee doe, of our especiall grace, certayne knowledge, and meere motion, give and graunt unto the sayd Governour and Company . . . and their successours that the Governour, or in his absence, or by his permission, the Deputy Governour of the sayd Company, for the tyme being, the Assistants, and such of the ffreemen of the sayd Company as shall bee soe as aforesayd elected or deputed, or soe many of them as shall bee present att such meetinge or assemblye as afforesayde, shall bee called the Generall Assemblye.
And that they or the greatest parte of them present, whereof the Governour or Deputy Governour, and sixe of the Assistants, at least to be seven, shall have and have, and hereby given and graunted unto them, ffull power authority, ffrom tyme to tyme, and at all tymes hereafter, to appoynt, alter, and change such dayes, tymes and places of meetinge and Generall Assemblyee, as theye shall think ffit; and to choose, nominate, and appoynt, such and soe manye other persons as they shall thinke fitt, and shall be willing to accept the same, to bee ffree of the sayd Company and body politique and them into the same to admitt; and to elect and constitute such offices and officers, and to graunt such needful commissions as they shall thinke ffitt and requisite, ffor the ordering, managing, and dispatching of the affaires of the sayd Governour and Company, and their successours; and from tyme to tyme, to make, ordeyne, constitute or repeal such lawes, statutes, orders and ordinances, fformes and ceremonies of
government and magistracye, as to them shall seeme meete for the good and wellfare of the sayd Company, and ffor the government and ordering of the landes and hereditaments hereinafter mentioned to be graunted, and of the people that doe, or att any tyme hereafter shall, inhabitt or bee within the same; soe as such lawes, ordinances, and constitutiones, soe made, bee not contrary and repugnant unto, butt as neare as may bee, agreeable to the lawes of this our realme of England, considering the nature and constitutione of the place and people there.
3. The Proprietary Colony
The government of a proprietary colony was based, in the first instance, upon letters patent issued to some person by the king granting the possession of a certain tract of land and conferring extensive power in making laws and governing the inhabitants. On such conditions, Pennsylvania was granted to William Penn by Charles II, but in 1701 Penn conferred upon the inhabitants of his province, with the assent of a general assembly, a charter establishing certain civil rights and a frame of government. This system remained in force until the Revolution.
William Penn, Proprietary and Governor of the Province of Pensilvania and Territories thereunto belonging, To all to whom these Presents shall come, sendeth Greeting. Whereas King Charles the Second, by His Letters Patents, under the Great Seal of England, bearing Date the Fourth Day of March, in the Year One Thousand Six Hundred and Eighty-one, was graciously pleased to give, and grant unto me, and my Heirs and Assigns forever, this Province of Pensilvania, with divers great Powers and Jurisdictions for the well Government thereof. . . . Know Ye Therefore, That for the further Well-being and good Government of the said Province and Territories; and in Pursuance of the Rights and Powers before mentioned, I the said William Penn do declare, grant and confirm unto all the Freemen, Planters, and Adventurers, and other Inhabitants of this Province and Territories, these following Liberties, Franchises, and Privileges,
election of a legislature.
so far as within me lieth, to be held, enjoyed, and kept ... forever.
First. Because no People can be truly happy, though under the greatest Enjoyment of Civil Liberties, if abridged of the Freedom of their Consciences, as to their Religious Profession and Worship: And Almighty God being the only Lord of Conscience, Father of Lights and Spirits; and the Author as well as Object of all divine knowledge, Faith, and Worship, who only doth enlighten the Minds, and persuade and convince the Understandings of People, I do hereby grant and declare, That no Person or Persons, inhabiting this Province or Territories, who shall confess and acknowledge One almighty God, the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the World; and profess him or themselves obliged to live quietly under the Civil Government, shall be in any case molested or prejudiced, in his or their Person or Estate, because of his or their conscientious Persuasion or Practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious Worship, Place or Ministry, contrary to his or their Mind, or do or suffer any other Act or Thing, contrary to their religious Persuasion. And that all Persons who also profess to believe in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World, shall be capable (notwithstanding their other Persuasions and Practices in Point of Conscience and Religion) to serve this government in any Capacity both legislatively and executively, he or they solemnly promising, when lawfully required, Allegiance to the King as Sovereign and Fidelity to the Proprietary and Governor and taking the Attests as now established by the Law. . . .
II. For the well governing of this Province and Territories, there shall be an Assembly yearly chosen, by the Freemen thereof, to consist of four Persons out of each County, of most Note for Virtue, Wisdom, and Ability, (or of a greater number at any Time, as the Governor and Assembly shall agree) upon the First Day of October forever. . Which Assembly shall have Power to chuse a Speaker and other their Officers; and shall be Judges of the Qualifications and Elections of their own Members; sit upon their own Adjournments; appoint Committees; prepare Bills
in order to pass into Laws; impeach Criminals, and redress
III. That the Freemen in each respective County at the Time The and Place of Meeting for Electing their Representatives to serve of local in Assembly, may as often as there shall be Occasion, chuse a officers. double number of Persons to present to the Governor for Sheriffs and Coroners to serve for three Years, if so long they behave themselves well; out of which respective Elections and Presentments, the Governor shall nominate and commissionate one for each of the said Offices.
4. A Boston Town Meeting
While the colonies presented many points of similarity in the organization of their central governments, there was great diversity in the methods of conducting local affairs. In New England, the conditions of the early settlement, the topography of the country, and the prevailing modes of agriculture led to the formation of the compact town as the unit of local government; and the spirit of equality among the freeholders brought about a popular control of local affairs through the historic "town meeting." The extract from the minutes of a Boston town meeting given below illustrates the methods and spirit of the system.
At a Meeting of the Freeholders and other Inhabitants of the Town of Boston legally qualify'd and Warned in the Public Town Meeting Assembled at Fanueil-Hall on Monday the 13th day of March A.D. 1758.
Prayer was made by the Rev. Mr. Sam'. Checkley S.
The Warrant for calling the Meeting. Read.
Sundray Laws. Read.
John Phillips Esq. was chose Moderator of this Meeting. . . . Ezekiel Goldthwait was Chose Town Clerk for the Year ensuing.