Excerpts from 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 sufficiently recompensed.

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 the contrary.

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 it.

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 profligate.

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 nature.

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 relieved.

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 redress.

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 authority.

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.

1. If any man after legal conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the Lord God, he shall be put to death.
2. If any man or woman be a witch (that is, hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit), they shall be put to death.
3. 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.

1. 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.
2. Every church hath full liberty to exercise all the ordinances of God, according to the rules of Scripture.
3. Every church hath free liberty of election and ordination of all their officers from time to time, provided they be able, pious, and orthodox.
4. 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.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution may be the cornerstones of our form of government, but they, in turn, owe a great deal to the principles expressed in some of our earliest political writings.


The best of our traditions provide the additional knowledge that things which have had a good reputation over the course of time are more trustworthy than untried and untested theories.

Larry P Arnn

“Put another way, most of the documents at the center of American political theory – and the values, concerns, and preferences they embody – emerge out of the experiences and circumstances of the American people at different times and places. As such, these documents are integral to coherently explicating the American political tradition; indeed,  they constitute its essence.”

George W Carey

“America is great because she is good, and if America ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”

Alexis de Tocqueville

“I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.”

Ronald Reagan, Epitaph