The Constitution of Plymouth Colony
November 15, 1636

This early document in America's history foreshadowed numerous enduring principles later enshrined in the founding of the United States: government by consent, a democratic republic, term limits, due process, civil rights, etc.

[1. A Republican Government Grounded in the Consent of the Governed]

Now being assembled [15 November, 1636] and having read the combination [i.e., the Mayflower Compact] made at Cape Cod the 11th of November 1620..., as also our letters patent confirmed by the honorable council, his said Majesty established and granted the 13th of January 1629..., and finding that, as freeborn subjects of the state of England, we hither came endowed with all and singular the privileges belonging to such being assembled; doe ordaine Constitute and enact that noe act, imposition, law, or ordinance be made or imposed upon us at present, or to come, but such as shall be imposed by Consent of the body of associates or their representatives legally assembled, according to the free liberties of the state and kingdom of England and no otherwise.

[2. Annual Elections]

That... we ordain, institute, and appoint the first Tuesday in March every year for the election of such officers as shall be thought meet for the guiding and government of this corporation..

[3. Term Limits]

That at the day and time appointed, a governor and seven assistants be chosen to rule and govern the said plantations within the said limits for one whole year and no more; and this election to be made only by the freemen according to the former custom. And that then also constables for each part and other inferior officers be also chosen.

[4. Supplemental Officers]

That in every election some one of the assistants, or some other sufficient person, be chosen treasurer for the year present...

That a clerk of the court also be chosen for the year.

That also one be chosen to the office of coroner to be executed as near as may be to the laws and practice of the kingdom of England, and to continue one year.

[5. Oaths of Office]

(here the document inserts the oaths required to be taken by the officers)

[6. The Process of Announcing Elections and the Place Designated]

That the annual election of officers before expressed be at the general court held in his Majesty's name, and that the governor in due season, by warrant directed to the several constables in his Majesty's name aforesaid, give warning to the freemen to make their appearance...

[7. Voting Made Mandatory]

And for default in each case of appearance at the election before mentioned, without due excuse, each delinquent to be amerced in three shillings sterling.

[8. The Winners of the Elections Are Required to Accept the Offices]

That if at any time any shall be elected to the office of governor and will not hold according to the election then he be amerced in twenty pounds sterling fine.

That if any elected to the office of assistant refuse to hold according to election that then he be amerced in ten pounds sterling fine.

[9. Winners Are not Required to Serve Two Years in a Row, Unless They Be Persuaded]

That in case one and the same person should be elected governor a second year, having held the place the foregoing year, it should be lawful for him to refuse without amercement unless they can prevail with him by entreaty.

[10. Location of Government and Residential Requirement of the Governor]

That the government, viz., the general courts and the courts of assistants, be held at Plymouth, and the governor hold his dwelling there for the present year, except such inferior courts as for some matters shall be allowed by this court in other places of this government.

[11. All Testimony Before Grand Juries Must Be Sworn]

It is enacted that no presentment hereafter shall be exhibited to the Grand Inquest to be brought to the bench except it be done upon oath, and that it shall be lawful for any of the assistants to administer an oath in such case.

[12. Government's Responsibility To Do Roadwork]

That the constable see the highways for man and beast be made and kept in convenient repair...

[13. Who May Legislate]

That the laws and ordinances of the colony and for the government of the same be made only by the freemen of the corporation and no other;

[14. Tax Rates Must Apply Evenly Between Legislators and Others]

That in such rates and taxations as are or shall be laid upon the whole they be without partiality so as the freeman be not spared for his freedom, but the levy be equal.

[15. Right of Civil Complaint]

And in case any man finds himself aggrieved that his complaint may be heard and redressed if there be due cause.

[16. Mandatory Oath of Every Citizen]

That an oath of allegiance to the King and fidelity to the government and the several colonies therein be taken of every person that shall live within or under the same.

[17. Rights of Due Process According to the Common Law of England]

That all trials, whether capital or between man and man, be tried by juries according to the precedents of the law of England, as near as may be.

[18. Small Claims Court, Misdemeanor Trials]

That the governor and two assistants, at the least, shall, as occasion shall be offered in time convenient, determine in such trivial cases, viz., under forty shillings between man and man, as shall come before them; as also in offense of small nature shall determine, do and execute as in wisdom God shall direct them.