Plymouth Colony became the first English Separatist colony established in America in 1620. Because the Separatist leaders were concerned that some who had made the journey with them might not be willing to abide by their laws, they insisted that all men sign the Mayflower Compact, which called for all settlers to live by the form of government that would be established once they went ashore.

The General Court

In the early days of Plymouth Colony, all free men were expected to participate in the government of the colony as the General Court. As the colony grew and expanded, towns were expected to send elected representatives to serve on the General Court. By 1636, the leaders of Plymouth Colony found it necessary to codify their laws in "The Book of the General Laws of the Inhabitants of the Jurisdiction of New-Plimouth," which they updated regularly until the Plymouth Colony was absorbed into Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1691.

Plymouth Colony Representative Offices

The 1636 Constitution called for representative government. In addition to a colonial governor and seven assistants, the colony's free men elected other representatives such as a treasurer, court clerk, constables -- whose duties included keeping roads serviceable -- and a coroner. All free men were expected to vote and fined three shillings if they didn't. All men elected to office were required to serve at least one term and were fined if they refused. All terms of office were one year in duration, with elections every March.