LABORS, CONTROVERSIES AND SUPERSTITIONS
THE SUFFRAGE EXTENDED
Hitherto none but freemen
had been permitted to hold any important office either in the government or the town, and none could become freemen except church members. The right of suffrage, or of voting in the election of public officers, had been equally restricted. Hence there were in the colony many persons of distinguished ability and undoubted integrity, men, too, possessed of property, and paying taxes for the support of government, who were allowed no voice in the management of public affairs. But now this rule was somewhat relaxed. The General Court, in consideration of "the useful parts and abilities" of such, and of the advantages to the commonwealth that might be derived from their services, passed an act, May 26, 1647, declaring that it should thenceforth be lawful for the freemen within any of the towns in the colony, to make choice of such persons to serve as jurymen, and in some other offices, provided that they had taken, or should take, the oath of fidelity. But the law still required that a majority
of every board of selectmen should be freemen; otherwise, no act done by them would be valid. Those, not freemen, who might thus be voted for, were also by this act of the court themselves permitted to vote for public officers, and, under some circumstances, to act with the freemen, in ordering schools, herding cattle, laying out highways and distributing lands, and law, usage, or custom to the contrary notwithstanding. But in order to enjoy these privileges, the man who was not a freeman must have attained the age of twenty-four years, and if convicted in court, of any evil carriage against the government, or commonwelath, or church, he would immediately be deprived of them, and could afterwards, in no way, recover them, "until the court, where he was convicted or sentenced, should restore him to his former liberty."
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