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The General Fundamentals of New Plimouth

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In the period from 1636 to 1671, the Plymouth colonists formulated a series of laws which they later compiled into a declaration called "The General Fundamentals." This declaration has often been viewed by historians as one of the earliest forms of a demand for representative government and individual rights in the American colonies. This hypertext version of the General Fundamentals is based on the version printed in The Book of the General Laws of the Inhabitants of the Jurisdiction of New-Plimouth, Collected Out of the Records of the General Court, and Lately Revised, which was published in 1685 in Boston by Samuel Green, Printer.

The General Fundamentals were listed with the dates of "Anno. 1636 and Revised 1671" in successive editions of the Book of General Laws. By comparing the first few paragraphs of the Fundamentals with the 1636 Codification of Plymouth Colony Laws, one can see early enactments that contributed to this list of "inviolable" individual rights. In contrast, a sentence in paragraph 8 of the text below mentions that the Colony had been in existence for over sixty years. This sentence was revised with each new printing of the Fundamentals, and cannot be used as a measure of the year in which all provisions of the Fundamentals were first authored. The 1672 edition of the Book of the General Laws, for example, printed this particular sentence to state that by that time the Colony had "now had near about fifty Years Experience."

1685 edition

The column below on the right side provides the main text of the General Fundamentals. The column on the left provides the margin notations included adjacent to that text by the compilers of the 1685 edition of the Book of the General Laws.

The General Fundamentals

Anno. 1636. and Revised 1671.

1. Wee the Associates of the Colony of New Plimouth, coming hither as free born Subjects of the Kingdome of England, Endowed with all and singular the Priviledges belonging to such: Being Assembled,
Laws to be
made by the
Freemen or
their represen-

Do Enact, Ordain and Constitute; that no Act Imposition, Law or Ordinance be Made or Imposed upon us at present or to come, bur such as shall be Enacted by consent of the body of Freemen or Associates, or their Representatives legally assembled; which is according to the free Liberties of the free born People of England.
Annually cho-
sen by the free

2. And for the well Governing this Colony: It is also Resolved and Ordered, that there be a free Election annually, of Governour, Deputy Governour and Assistants, by the Vote of the Freemen of this Corporation.
Justice to be
equally and
speedily admi-

3. It is also Enacted, that Justice and Right be equally and impartially Administered unto all, not sold, denied or causelesly deferred unto any.
None to suffer
but according
to Law
and by due
course [and] pro-
cess of Law.

4. It is alto Enacted, that no person in this Government shall suffer or be indamaged, in respect of Life, Limb, Liberty, Good Name or Estate, under colour of Law, or countenance of Authority, but by Virtue or Equity of some express Law of the General Court of this Colony, or the good and equitable Laws of our Nation, suitable for us, in matters which are of a civil nature (as by the Court here hath been accustomed) wherein we have no particular Law of our own. And that noire shall suffer as aforesaid, without being brought to answer by due course and process of Law.
All Trials to
be by Jury

5. And that all Cases, whither Capital, Criminal, or between man and man, be Tried by a Jury of twelve good and lawful men, according to the Commendable custome of England, except where some express Law doth reserve it to the judgment of some other Judg or Inferiour Court where Jury is not; in which Case also, any party agrieved, may Appeal and have Trial by a Jury.
with liberty to
challenge any
of the Jury.

And it shall be in the liberty of any person, that is to be tried by a Jury to challenge any of the Jurors, and if the challenge be found just and reasonable by the Bench, it shall be allowed, and others without just exception shall be Impannelld in their room: And if it be in case of Life and Death, the Prisoner shall have liberty (according to the Law of England) to except against twenty of the Jury without giving any reason for the same.
what testimo-
ny required in

6. That no Person shall be Cast, Condemned or Sentenced in any Case Capital, Civil or Criminal without the testimony of two sufficient Witnesses, or other sufficient Evidence, or Circumstances equivolent thereunto, unless in any particuler Case the Law hath otherwayes provided.
Power to
make Wills.

An Exception.

7. And it is Enacted; Being the Priviledge of our Charter; That all Persons of the Age of twenty one Years, of right understanding and memory, whether Excomunicated, Condemned, or other, having any Estate properly theirs to dispose of, shall have Power and Liberty to make their reasonable Wills and Testaments, and other lawful Alienations of their Lands and Estates; be it only here excepted, That such as are sentenced for Treason against the King's Majesty, or Realm of England, or other Capital crimes, shall forfeit to the King or Colony, for the carrying on the Charge of Government, their personal Estate: Their Lands and real Estate being still at their disposal.
The great end
of our coming
into this Wil-
derness was Li-
erty to enjoy
the pure wor-
ship of God
without of-
fence to others

8. That whereas the great and known end of the first Comers in the year of our Lord, 1620. leaving their dear Native Country, and all that was dear to them there; transporting of themselves over the vast Ocean, into this remote wast Wilderness, and therein willingly conflicting with Dangers Losses Hardships and Distresses, fore, and not a few Wars, that without offence, they under the protection of their Native Prince, together with the enlargement of his Majesties Dominion, might with the liberty of a good Conscience enjoy the pure Scriptural worship of God, without the mixture of humane inventions and impositions; and that their Children after them might walk in the Holy wayes of the Lord: And for which end they obtained leave from King James of happy Memory, and His Honourable Council: with farther Graunts from His Gracious Majesty, Charles the I. and His Honourable Council, by Letters, Patents for sundry Tracts of Land, with many Priviledges therein contained for their better Encouragement to proceed on in so Pious a Work, which may especially tend to the propagation of Religion, [etc.] as by Letters, Patents more at large appeareth; with further assurance also of the continuance of our Liberties and Priviledges, both Civil and Religious under the Royal hand and Seal of our Soveraign Lord King Charles the II. And whereas by the good hand of our God upon us, many others since the first comers, are for the same end come unto us, and sundry others rise up amongst us, desirous with all good Conscience, to walk in the Faith and Order of the Gospel, whereby there are many Churches gathered amongst us, walking according thereunto: And whereas (by the Grace of God) we have now had above sixty Years experience of the good consistancy of these Churches, with Loyalty to our Prince, civil Peace and Order, and also with spiritual Edification, together with the welfare and tranquility of the Government.
The Churches
of Christ to be

And the Mini-
sters of the Go-
spel to be pro-
vided for

It is therefore for the honour of God and the propagation of Religion, and the continued welfare of this Colony Ordered by this Court and the Authority thereof, That the said Churches already Gathered, or that shall be orderly Gathered, may and shall from time to time by this Government be Protected and Incouraged in their peaceable and orderly walking, and the faithful, able, orthodox Teaching Ministry thereof duely incouraged and provided for: together with such other orthodox, able Dispensers of the Gospel, which shall or may be placed in any Township in this Government, where there is or may be defect of Church Order.
All the fore-
going Funda-
mentals invio-
lably to be

9. And finally, It is Ordered and Declared by this Court and the Authority thereof, that all these aforegoing Orders and Constitutions are so Fundamentally Essential to the just Rights, Liberties, Common Good, and Special End of this Colony, as that they shall and ought to be inviolably preserved.

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