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Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641)

Massachusetts Body of LibertiesThis document was one of the fist written governing documents in New England, along with the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. It was a code of laws written by a Puritan leader, intended to assist the General Court. It began with the assertion that liberty is the basis for tranquility among churches and states. Many of the limits on government power listed were included in the Magna Carta or came out of British common law. Some of its protections went on to appear 150 years later in the Bill of Rights.

Embodied in the document were the principles of due process of law, free enterprise, and equality: “Every person within this Jurisdiction, whether Inhabitant or forreiner shall enjoy the same justice and law…” Rights to habeas corpus and rules for representation were also included. The document also provided for the death penalty in cases of murder, adultery, homosexuality, direct blasphemy, witchcraft, or worshiping other gods.