Massachusetts Body of Liberties
The free fruition of such liberties, immunities, and privileges as
humanity, civility, and Christianity call for as due to every man in his
place and proportion without impeachment and infringement hath ever been
and ever will be the tranquillity and stability of churches and
commonwealths. And the denial or deprival thereof, the disturbance if not
the ruin of both.
We hold it, therefore, our duty and safety whilst we are about the
further establishing of this government to collect and express all such
freedoms as for present we foresee may concern us, and our posterity after
us, and to ratify them with our solemn consent.
We do, therefore, this day religiously and unanimously decree and
confirm these following rights, liberties, and privileges concerning our
churches and civil state to be respectively, impartially, and inviolably
enjoyed and observed throughout our jurisdiction forever.
1. No man's life shall be taken away, no man's honor or good name shall
be stained, no man's person shall be arrested, restrained, banished,
dismembered, nor any ways punished, no man shall be deprived of his wife
or children, no man's goods or estate shall be taken away from him, nor
any way indamaged under color of law or countenance of authority, unless
it be by virtue or equity of some express law of the country warranting
the same, established by a general court and sufficiently published, or in
case of the defect of a law in any particular case by the word of God. And
in capital cases, or in cases concerning dismembring or banishment,
according to that word to be judged by the General Court.
2. Every person within this jurisdiction, whether inhabitant or
foreigner, shall enjoy the same justice and law that is general for the
plantation, which we constitute and execute one toward another without
partiality or delay.
7. No man shall be compelled to go out of the limits of this plantation
upon any offensive wars which this Commonwealth or any of our friends or
confederates shall voluntarily undertake. But only upon such vindictive
and defensive wars in our own behalf or the behalf of our friends and
confederates as shall be enterprised by the counsel and consent of a court
general, or by authority derived from the same.
8. No man's cattle or goods of what kind soever shall be pressed or
taken for any public use or service, unless it be by warrant grounded upon
some act of the General Court, nor without such reasonable prices and hire
as the ordinary rates of the country do afford. And if his cattle or goods
shall perish or suffer damage in such service, the owner shall be
9. No monopolies shall be granted or allowed amongst us, but of such new
inventions that are profitable to the country, and that for a short time.
17. Every man of, or within, this jurisdiction shall have free liberty,
notwithstanding any civil power to remove both himself and his family at
their pleasure out of the same, provided there be no legal impediment to
RITES, RULES, AND LIBERTIES CONCERNING JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS
18. No man's person shall be restrained or imprisoned by any authority
whatsoever, before the law hath sentenced him thereto, if he can put in
sufficient security, bail, or mainprise, for his appearance, and good
behavior in the meantime, unless it be in crimes capital, and contempts in
open court, and in such cases where some express act of court cloth allow
41. Every man that is to answer for any criminal cause, whether he be in
prison or under bail, his cause shall be heard and determined at the next
court that hath proper cognizance thereof and may be done without
prejudice of justice.
42. No man shall be twice sentenced by civil justice for one and the
same crime, offense, or trespass.
43. No man shall be beaten with above forty stripes, nor shall any true
gentleman, nor any man equal to a gentleman be punished with whipping,
unless his crime be very shameful, and his course of life vicious and
44. No man condemned to die shall be put to death within four days next
after his condemnation, unless the court see special cause to the
contrary, or in case of martial law, nor shall the body of any man so put
to death be unburied twelve hours, unless it be in case of anatomy.
45. No man shall be forced by torture to confess any crime against
himself nor any other, unless it be in some capital case where he is first
fully convicted by clear and sufficient evidence to be guilty, after which
if the cause be of that nature, that it is very apparent there be other
conspirators, or confederates with him, then he may be tortured, yet not
with such tortures as be barbarous and inhumane.
46. For bodily punishments we allow amongst us none that are inhumane,
barbarous, or cruel.
LIBERTIES MORE PECULIARLY CONCERNING THE FREEMEN
58. Civil authority hath power and liberty to see the peace, ordinances,
and rules of Christ observed in every church according to his Word. So it
be done in a civil and not in an ecclesiastical way.
59. Civil authority hath power and liberty to deal with any church
member in a way of civil justice, notwithstanding any church relation,
office, or interest.
60. No church censure shall degrade or depose any man from any civil
dignity, office, or authority he shall have in the Commonwealth.
62. Any shire or town shall have liberty to choose their deputies whom
and where they please for the General Court. So be it they be freemen, and
have taken their oath of fealty, and inhabiting in this jurisdiction.
66. The freemen of every township shall have power to make such by-laws
and constitutions as may concern the welfare of their town, provided they
be not of a criminal, but only of a prudential nature, and that their
penalties exceed not 20 shillings for one offense, and that they be not
repugnant to the public laws and orders of the country. And if any
inhabitant shall neglect or refuse to observe them, they shall have power
to levy the appointed penalties by distress.
67. It is the constant liberty of the freemen of this plantation to
choose yearly at the Court of Election out of the freemen all the general
officers of this jurisdiction. If they please to discharge them at the day
of election by way of vote, they may do it without showing cause. But if
at any other general court, we hold it due justice that the reasons
thereof be alleged and proved. By general officers we mean our governor,
deputy governor, assistants, treasurer, general of our wars. And our
admiral at sea, and such as are, or hereafter may be, of the like general
68. It is the liberty of the freemen to choose such deputies for the
General Court out of themselves, either in their own towns or elsewhere as
they judge fittest. And because we cannot foresee what variety and weight
of occasions may fall into future consideration and what counsels we may
stand in need of, we decree, that the deputies (to attend the General
Court in the behalf of the country) shall not any time be stated or
inacted, but from court to court, or at the most but for one year, that
the country may have an annual liberty to do in that case what is most
behooveful for the best welfare thereof.
69. No General Court shall be dissolved or adjourned without the consent
of the major party thereof.
70. All freemen called to give any advice, vote, verdict, or sentence in
any court, counsel, or civil assembly shall have full freedom to do it
according to their true judgments and consciences, so it be done orderly
and inoffensively for the manner.
LIBERTIES OF WOMEN
79. If any man at his death shall not leave his wife a competent portion
of his estate, upon just complaint made to the General Court she shall be
80. Every married woman shall be free from bodily correction or stripes
by her husband, unless it be in his own defense upon her assault. If there
be any just cause of correction, complaint shall be made to authority
assembled in some court, from which only she shall receive it.
LIBERTIES OF CHILDREN
81. When parents die intestate, the elder son shall have a double
portion of his whole estate real and personal, unless the General Court
upon just cause alleged shall judge otherwise.
82. When parents die intestate having no heirs males of their bodies,
their daughters shall inherit as copartners, unless the General Court upon
just reason shall judge otherwise.
83. If any parents shall wilfully and unreasonably deny any child timely
or convenient marriage, or shall exercise any unnatural severity toward
them, such children shall have free liberty to complain to authority for
84. No orphan during their minority which was not committed to tuition
or service by the parents in their lifetime shall afterward be absolutely
disposed of by any kindred, friend, executor, township, or church, nor by
themselves without the consent of some court, wherein two assistants at
least shall be present.
LIBERTIES OF SERVANTS
85. If any servants shall flee from the tyranny and cruelty of their
masters to the house of any freeman of the same town, they shall be there
protected and sustained till due order be taken for their relief. Provided
due notice thereof be speedily given to their masters from whom they fled.
And the next assistant or constable where the party flying is harbored.
86. No servant shall be put off for above a year to any other neither in
the lifetime of their master nor after their death by their executors or
administrators unless it be by consent of authority assembled in some
court or two assistants.
87. If any man smite out the eye or tooth of his manservant, or
maidservant, or otherwise maim or much disfigure him, unless it be by mere
casualty, he shall let them go free from his service, and shall have such
further recompense as the court shall allow him.
88. Servants that have served diligently and faithfully to the benefit
of their masters seven years shall not be sent away empty. And if any have
been unfaithful, negligent, or unprofitable in their service,
notwithstanding the good usage of their masters, they shall not be
dismissed till they have made satisfaction according to the judgment of
LIBERTIES OF FOREIGNERS AND STRANGERS
89. If any people of other nations professing the true Christian
religion shall flee to us from the tyranny or oppression of their
persecutors, or from famine, wars, or the like necessary and compulsory
cause, they shall be entertained and succored amongst us, according to
that power and prudence God shall give us.
90. If any ships or other vessels, be it friend or enemy, shall suffer
shipwreck upon our coast, there shall be no violence or wrong offered to
their persons or goods. But their persons shall be harbored, and relieved,
and their goods preserved in safety till authority may be certified
thereof, and shall take further order therein.
91. There shall never be any bond slavery, villeinage, or captivity
amongst us unless it be lawful captives taken in just wars, and such
strangers as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us. And these shall
have all the liberties and Christian usages which the law of God
established in Israel concerning such persons cloth morally require. This
exempts none from servitude who shall be judged thereto by authority.
OF THE BRUTE CREATURE
92. No man shall exercise any tyranny or cruelty toward any brute
creature which are usually kept for man's use.
94. CAPITAL LAWS
If any man after legal conviction shall have or worship any other god,
but the Lord God, he shall be put to death.
If any man or woman be a witch (that is, hath or consulteth with a
familiar spirit), they shall be put to death.
If any man shall blaspheme the name of God, the Father, Son, or Holy
Ghost, with direct, express, presumptuous, or high-handed blasphemy, or
shall curse God in the like manner, he shall be put to death.
95. A DECLARATION OF THE LIBERTIES THE LORD JESUS HATH GIVEN TO THE
All the people of God within this jurisdiction who are not in a church
way, and be orthodox in judgment, and not scandalous in life, shall have
full liberty to gather themselves into a church estate. Provided they do
it in a Christian way, with due observation of the rules of Christ
revealed in his Word.
Every church hath full liberty to exercise all the ordinances of God,
according to the rules of Scripture.
Every church hath free liberty of election and ordination of all their
officers from time to time, provided they be able, pious, and orthodox.
Every church hath free liberty of admission, recommendation, dismission,
and expulsion, or deposal of their officers and members, upon due cause,
with free exercise of the discipline and censures of Christ according to
the rules of his Word.
No injunctions are to be put upon any church, church officers, or member
in point of doctrine, worship, or discipline, whether for substance or
circumstance besides the institutions of the Lord.
98. Lastly, because our duty and desire is to do nothing suddenly which
fundamentally concern us, we decree that these rights and liberties shall
be audibly read and deliberately weighed at every General Court that shall
be held, within three years next ensuing, and such of them as shall not be
altered or repealed they shall stand so ratified, that no man shall
infringe them without due punishment.
1. "Massachusetts Body of
Liberties," The Colonial Laws of Massachusetts. . ., ed.. W.
H. Whitmore (Boston, 1890), pp. 33, 35, 37, 43, 47, 49, 51, 53. 55, 57,
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