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No. 41.

Massachusetts Government Act

May 20, 1774

An act for the better regulating the government of the province of the Massachuset’s Bay, in New England.

[The act recites the provision of the charter regarding the election of councillors, and continues:]

And whereas the said method of electing such counsellors or assistants, to be vested with the several powers, authorities, and privileges, therein mentioned, although conformable to the practice thereto fore used in such of the colonies thereby united, in which the appointment of the respective governors had been vested in the general courts or assemblies of the said colonies, hath, by repeated experience, been found to be extremely ill adapted to the plan of government established in the province of the Massachuset’s Bay . . . , and hath been so far from contributing to the attainment of the good ends and purposes thereby intended, and to the promoting of the internal welfare, peace, and good government, of the said province, or to the maintenance of the lust subordination to, and conformity with, the laws of Great Britain, that the manner of exercising the powers, authorities, and privileges aforesaid, by the persons so annually elected, hath, for some time past, been such as had the most manifest tendency to obstruct, and, in great measure, defeat, the execution of the laws; to weaken the attachment of his Majesty’s well-disposedsubjects in the said province to his Majesty’s government, and to encourage the ill-disposed among them to proceed even to acts of direct resistance to, and defiance of, his Majesty’s authority: And it hath accordingly happened, that an open resistance to the execution of the laws hath actually taken place in the town of Boston, and the neighbourhood thereof, within the said Province: And whereas it is, under these circumstances, become absolutely necessary, in order to the preservation of the peace and good order of the said province, the protection of his Majesty’s well-disposed subjects therein resident, the continuance of the mutual benefits arising from the commerce and correspondence between this kingdom and the said province, and the maintaining of the just dependence of the said province upon the crown and parliament of Great Britain, that the said method of annually electing the counsellors or assistants of the said Province should no longer be suffered to continue, but that the appointment of the said counsellors or assistants should henceforth be put upon the like footing as is established in such other of his Majesty’s colonies or plantations in America, the governors whereof are appointed by his Majesty’s commission, under the great seal of Great Britain: Be it therefore enacted . . . , that from and after . . . [August 1, 1774,] . . . so much of the charter . . . [of 1691] . . . and all and every clause, matter, and thing, therein contained, which relates to the time and manner of electing the assistants or counsellors for the said province, be revoked, and is hereby revoked and made void and of none effect; and that the offices of all counsellors and assistants, elected and appointed in pursuance thereof, shall from thenceforth cease and determine: And that, from and after the said . . . [August 1, 1774,] . . . the council, or court of assistants of the said province for the time being, shall be composed of such of the inhabitants or proprietors of lands within the same as shall be thereunto nominated and appointed by his Majesty . . . , from time to time, by warrant under his or their signet or sign manual, and with the advice of the privy council, agreeable to the practice now used in respect to the appointment of counsellors in such of his Majesty’s other colonies in America, the governors whereof are appointed by commission under the great seal of Great Britain: provided, that the number of the said assistants or counsellors shall not, at any one time, exceed thirty-six, nor be less than twelve.

II. And it is hereby further enacted, That the said assistants or counsellors, so to be appointed as aforesaid, shall hold their offices respectively, for and during the pleasure of his Majesty . . . ; and shall have and enjoy all the powers, privileges, and immunities, at present held, exercised, and enjoyed, by the assistants or counsellors of the said province, constituted and elected, from time to time, under the said charter (except as herein-after excepted) . . .

III. And be it further enacted . . . , That from and after . . . [July 1, 1774,] . . . it shall and may be lawful for his Majesty’s governor for the time being of the said province, or, in his absence, for the lieutenant-governor, to nominate and appoint, under the seal of the province, from time to time, and also to remove, without the consent of the council, all judges of the inferior courts of common pleas, commissioners of Oyer and Terminer, the attorney general, provosts, marshals, justices af the peace, and other officers to the council or courts of justice belonging; and that all . . . [the said officers] . . . , and other officers so appointed . . . , shall and may have, hold, and exercise, their said offices, powers, and authorities, as fully and completely, to all intents and purposes, as any judges of the inferior courts of common pleas, commissioners of Oyer and Terminer, attorney general, provosts, marshals, or other officers, have or might have done heretofore under the said letters patent . . .

IV. [Provided, that the foregoing shall not be construed to annul any commission granted prior to July 1, 1774.]

V. And be it further enacted . . . , That, from and after . . . [July 1, 1774] . . . , it shall and may be lawful for his Majesty’s governor, or, in his absence, for the lieutenant-governor . . . , to nominate and appoint the sheriffs without the consent of the council, and to remove such sheriffs with such consent, and not otherwise.

VI. And be it further enacted . . . , That, upon every vacancy of the offices of chief justice and judges of the superior court of the said province, from and after . . . [July 1, 1774] . . . , the governor for the time being, or, in his absence, the lieutenant-governor, without the consent of the council, shall have full power and authority to nominate and appoint the persons to succeed to the said offices, who shall hold their commissions during the pleasure of his Majesty . . . ; and that neither the chief justice or judges appointed before . . . [July 1, 1774] . . . , nor those who Shall hereafter be appointed pursuant to this act, shall be removed, unless by the order of his Majesty. . . .

VII. And whereas, by several acts of the general court, which have been from time to time enacted and passed within the said province, the freeholders and inhabitants of the several townships, districts, and precincts, qualified, as is therein expressed, are authorized to assemble together, annually, or occasionally, upon notice given, in such manner as the said acts direct, for the choice of selectmen, constables, and other officers, and for the making and agreeing upon such necessary rules, orders, and bye-laws, for the directing, managing, and ordering, the prudential affairs of such townships, districts, and precincts, and for other purposes: and whereas a great abuse has been made of the power of calling such meetings, and the inhabitants have, contrary to the design of their institution, been misled to treat upon matters of the most general concern, and to pass many dangerous and unwarrantable resolves: for remedy whereof, be it enacted, that from and after . . . [August 1, 1774,] . . . no meeting shall be called by the select men, or at the request of any number of freeholders of any township, district, or precinct, without the leave of the governor, or, in his absence, of the lieutenant-governor, in writing, expressing the special business of the said meeting, first had and obtained, except the annual meeting in the months of March or May, for the choice of select men, constables, and other officers, or except for the choice of persons to fill up the offices aforesaid, on the death or removal of any of the persons first elected to such offices, and also, except any meeting for the election of a representative or representatives in the general court; and that no other matter shall be treated of at such meetings, except the election of their aforesaid officers or representatives, nor at any other me eting, except the business expressed in the leave given by the governor, or, in his absence, by the lieutenant-governor.

VIII. And whereas the method at present used in the province of Massachuset’s Bay, in America, of electing persons to serve on grand juries, and other juries, by the freeholders and inhabitants of the several towns, affords occasion for many evil practices, and tends to pervert the free and impartial administration of justice: for remedy whereof, be it further enacted . . . , That from and after the respective times appointed for the holding of the general sessions of the peace in the several counties within the said province, next after . . . [September, 1774,] . . . the jurors to serve at the superior courts of judicature, courts of assize, general gaol delivery, general sessions of the peace, and inferior court of common pleas, in the several counties within the said province, shall not be elected, nominated, or appointed, by the freeholders and inhabitants of the several towns within the said respective counties, nor summoned or returned by the constables of the said towns; but that, from thenceforth, the jurors to serve at . . . [the said courts] . . . shall be summoned and returned by the sheriffs of the respective counties within the said province . . .

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Chicago: Pickering, ed., "Massachusetts Government Act," Statutes at Large in Documentary Source Book of American History, 1606-1913, ed. William MacDonald (1863-1938) (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1916), 156–159. Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=T561VLYGDHQD975.

MLA: . "Massachusetts Government Act." Statutes at Large, edited by Pickering, Vol. XXX, in Documentary Source Book of American History, 1606-1913, edited by William MacDonald (1863-1938), New York, The Macmillan Company, 1916, pp. 156–159. Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=T561VLYGDHQD975.

Harvard: (ed.), 'Massachusetts Government Act' in Statutes at Large. cited in 1916, Documentary Source Book of American History, 1606-1913, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York, pp.156–159. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=T561VLYGDHQD975.