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E Pluribus UnumHow the Common Law Helped Unify and Liberate Colonial America, 1607-1776$
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William E. Nelson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190880804

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190880804.001.0001

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New England

New England

(p.24) 2 New England
E Pluribus Unum

William E. Nelson

Oxford University Press

This chapter focuses mainly on developments in the law of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which was founded as a Puritan utopia to display to rest of the world how a society should be governed. Although Massachusetts incorporated elements of the common law into its legal system, the dominant source of law was the word of God. But the divine word, which was enforced by the magistrates of the Court of Assistants, sometimes met resistance from local juries. A major issue throughout the 1630s and 1640s was whether the magistrates or local people would have final authority to determine the substance of the law; the issue was resolved in 1649 by providing for appeals in all cases of judge-jury disagreement to the General Court sitting as a unicameral body in which representatives of localities outnumbered the magistrates and thus had final authority. The chapter ends with a brief look at legal developments in Connecticut, New Haven, Plymouth, and Rhode Island.

Keywords:   Body of Liberties, Connecticut, juries (law finding power of), Laws and Liberties of 1648, Massachusetts, New Haven, Plymouth, Rhode Island, rule of law

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