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charter, and which, as we have seen, was used in Connecticut
from 1 689 till 1692. The freemen of the various towns were
called together by the constables during the last week of the
ninth month (November) in order to give their votes on
separate pieces of paper for the twenty persons whom they
wished to have nominated. But one vote could be cast for
each candidate by any one person. After the voting was
over, the ballots were carried to the shire town by a person
selected by the freemen. On the " last fourth day of the
week in the first month (March)," at twelve o'clock, the
deputies from the several towns met and appointed one of
their number to carry the votes of the entire shire to Boston
"on the second third day of the second month (April)."
These commissioners from the several shires, together with
the magistrates, " opened and perused " the ballots. The
twenty persons having the most votes were then declared
the nominees, and their names were certified in writing by
the commissioners to the several constables, and by them
to the freemen. 3

1 I Massachusetts Colonial Records, 293. ' 2 2 Massachusetts Colonial Records, 21.
3 3 Massachusetts Colonial Records, 177; 4 Massachusetts Colonial Records, pt.
i, 326.



The needless precaution of having the nominations in the
towns take place in November and lie over till the following
March, was done away with in 1652 by an order of the court
which fixed as the date of town meetings the second week of
the first month (March). 1 Six years later another order
required that but fourteen persons should be nominated, on
account of " some inconveniences in the annual choice due
to the large number of twenty.'"

The final form of the nomination system was that the
town meetings should be held on the second Tuesday in
March due notice and warning having been given to the
freemen. Each elector could vote for twenty persons whose
names might be " on one list clearly distinguished," and " in
distinct papers," while no person could be voted for twice,
except under a penalty of ten pounds for each offense.
There were to be two commissioners instead of one for each
shire, and they were to serve under oath. At the canvass
all lists containing more than twenty names, or with the
name of the same person occurring more than once, were
to be rejected, and the twenty-six persons receiving the
most votes were to be nominees. 3

In the elaborate series of fundamental constitutions drawn
up in 1683 for East Jersey, there was a provision for the
nomination of candidates by a method that combined in a
singular manner the Greek notion of election by means of
the lot and the more modern idea of election by the free choice
of the voters. The third clause of this constitution provided
that, "for the full prevention of all indirect means" the
names of those persons in each county that were eligible to
the great council should be placed on pieces of parchment,

1 3 Massachusetts Colonial Records, 280, Laws, chap, xl, 3, ed., 1660, 27; ed.,
1814, 105.

2 4 Massachusetts Colonial Records, pt. i, 347.
3 1680, 5 Massachusetts Colonial Records, 292.


prepared the day before the election by the sheriff and his
clerk. On the day appointed, these pieces of parchment
were put into a box and a boy under ten years of age drew
out fifty of them. The fifty so drawn were then put back in
the box and twenty-five of them drawn out. The twenty-
five tickets remaining in the box contained the names of the
nominators. In case the county in question was entitled to
three members on the council board, the nominators were,
by a plurality of votes, to select twelve persons from the
twenty-five whose names had been drawn, and these were to
be the candidates to be voted for at the next election. If the
county were entitled to but two members, only eight persons
were ( to be selected. Before proceeding to their task, the
twenty-five nominators were to solemnly declare before the
sheriff that they would not name any one " known to them
to be guilty for the time, or to have been guilty for a year
before, of adultery, whoredom, drunkenness, or any such* im-
morality, or who is insolvent or a fool." 1 The East Jersey
method of nomination was probably derived from the " lot
and suffrage" system proposed in Harrington's Oceana.
The English philosopher used the lot to determine who
should propose the competitors, and the suffrage to decide
which of them should be elected."

With these exceptions the writer has found no trace of
anything like a system of regular nominations. In the laws
of those colonies where the English method of elections was
closely followed, the word candidate is frequently used. In
Georgia the act of 1761 speaks of a "person presented or
presenting himself as a candidate," and from this language
it might be inferred that a method of nomination by petition
may have been in vogue. The same quotation also shows'

1 Fundamental Constitutions, iii, Learning and Spicer,* 153; i New Jersey
Archives, 397.

2 Oceana, 80, 106, Harrington's works, ed. Toland, 1771.



that a person could nominate himself. There is no positive
authorization of a hustings platform on which the candidates
sat and from which they addressed the assembled voters,
after having been nominated by one elector and seconded
by another, as was the custom in England. 1

6. Manner of Voting. (Personal or by Proxy.} The
five older New England governments which have been
classed in the present work under the general title of the
Puritan colonies, developed a method of voting which they
called the proxy system. Unlike the method of nomination
and the means employed in the election of the assistants,
which were peculiar to one or two of these colonies, the
proxy system was common to them all, and is found only in
this group. Though it originated in Massachusetts it spread
rapidly and was developed on the same general lines in the
other New England jurisdictions. Still, as each colony fol-
lowed its own peculiar methods in regard to the details of
the process, it will be necessary to study the history of all
five with reference to this subject.

In the preceding pages it has been mentioned that at first
all freemen were required to attend in person at the general
courts, whether they were held for legislative purposes or
for the election of magistrates. It has also been shown that
it became necessary in the course of time to permit the free-
men to be represented by deputy on all matters except the
annual election of officers, which was regarded as a privilege
too precious to be delegated/ As the settlements increased
'in number and the colonies in extent of territory, it became
more and more necessary to devise some plan, in order to
save the freemen the inconvenience and trouble required by
a journey to the capital town, and at the same time permit

'See 2 De Franqueville, Le Gouvernment et le Parlement Brittanique, 417.
The modern method of nomination by petition is described in 423 el seq.
2 See pp. 4, 5, 10, 14, 15, ante.


them to retain their right to vote at the general court of
election. It was for these purposes that the proxy system
was devised, and by this means the identical ballots of the
freemen were still cast at the general court. Because it was
desired to preserve the character of the general court of elec-
tions in Massachusetts as the one and only place where
votes could be legally cast for the officers of the colony, the
simpler method of counting the votes cast in the towns, and
merely reporting the totals to the general court, was never
introduced, although we have seen that such a plan was used
in Connecticut for the nomination of magistrates. 1 Freemen
were still allowed, and even encouraged, to cast their votes
in person, although, as may be imagined, the increasing
number of voters caused such a proceeding to become very
disorderly and inconvenient. The natural result, therefore,
was to abolish the practice of personal voting, and cause all
ballots to be handed in at the " proxings," which took place
in the towns. Massachusetts in 1641, and again in 1663,
made an unsuccessful move in this direction. 2 Had not her
charter been taken away, she would doubtless ultimately
have prohibited freemen from voting at the general court of
election except by proxy. This result Connecticut reached
in I75O, 3 and Rhode Island not till I76o. 4

Although, as we shall see in due course, the absence of a
provision requiring a voter to sign his name to his proxy in
one or two colonies brought about a secret ballot, yet the
writer believes that this result was only incidental. Secrecy
was the end especially desired and attained by the corn and
beans ballot of Massachusetts and the balls and boxes of
West Jersey. That the proxy system was really a subter-

1 See pp. 122, 123, ante.

'* I Massachtisetts Colonial Records, 333; 4 Massachusetts Colonial Records, pt.
ii, 86.

3 Session Laws, 1 750. 4 6 Rhode Island Colonial Records, 256.


fuge and was not strictly legal is shown by a report of Lord
Bellmont on the condition of Rhode Island in the early part
of the eighteenth century. He complained of the proxy as
a violation of the charter, which he construed to mean an
election of all freemen present in the assembly, 1 a point on
which the colonists themselves were not free from doubt. 2
The exercise of a public franchise by proxy was illegal at
common law.

In the following pages, the history of the proxy system
will be followed out wherever it existed, commencing with
Massachusetts, where it was first introduced, and concluding
with Connecticut, where it reached its final development.

Among the records of the general court of the Boston
colony, as early as 16356, we find an order that certain
towns should have " libertie to stay soe many of their free-
men att home for the safety of their towne as they judge
needful, & that the said ffreemen that are appoyncted by the
towne to stay att home shall have liberty for this court to
send their voices by pxy." 3 This law, which affected only a
few towns, was made general the following year, when, on
account of the " great danger and damage that may accrue
to the State by all the freemens leaveing their plantations to
come to the place of elections," it was ordered :

"That it shalbe free & lawfull for all freemen to send their votes
for elections by proxie the next Generall court in May, and so for
hereafter, w ch shall be done in this manner : The deputies w**
shalbee chosen shall cause the freemen of their townes to be assem-
bled & then to take such freemens votes as please to send by pxie
for every magistrate & scale them vp, severally subscribing the
magistrates name on the backside & soe to bring them to the court

1 3 Rhode Island Colonial Records, 385 et seq.

2 2 Rhode Island Colonial Records, 29, 39, 62.

3 I Massachusetts Colonial Records, 166.


sealed, w th an open roule of the names of the freemen that so send
by pxie." 1

The method thus prescribed was followed in general terms
by all the Pufitan colonies, although, as we shall see, further
elaborations were made in regard to details.

" It being found by experience that the court of elections had
neede to be brought into some better order, the freemen growing to
so great a multitude as will be overburdensome to the country & the
day appointed for that service will not afford sufficient time for the
same, and the way of p'xies (as it is called) is found subject to many
miscarriages and lorse of opportunities for advice in the choyse :"
for these reasons a substitute for the proxy system was
proposed in 1641. The freemen of each town which sent a
deputy regularly to the general court were to hold a meet-
ing upon the day of election, and choose one delegate for
every ten of their voters. Each of these delegates was
to go to Boston with power to vote on behalf of those
joining in his election, and " in this way to bee at liberty
whether they will joyne altogether or vote severally,
so as every one that hath ten votes shall be an elector,
and ma trats and elde rs to put in their votes as other free-
men." 2 This plan did not meet with the approval of the
towns, and the former method was continued/ Some years
later the means to be employed in collecting the proxies at
the towns received further elaboration. The freemen were
to deliver them in the presence of the deputy and constable,
and these officers sealed them up " in distinct papers." In
small villages that were not represented at the general court
the constable and two or three of the leading freemen were
empowered to collect the proxies and deliver them, sealed
up, to the deputy of the nearest town, whose duty it was to

1 March, 1636-7, I Massachusetts Colonial Records, 188. 2 Ibid., 333.

3 See also 2 Winthrop's New England, 311.


carry them to the court of election. In addition, it was pro-
vided that only those made free at the court of election
should deliver their votes "at the dores." 1

Another attempt was made in 1663 to put an end to the
proxy system. The constable was ordered to call the free-
men together in their town meetings as before, but no one
could hand in the proxy of another freeman unless the latter
were present or sent his proxy " sealed up in a note directed
to the Deputy or Townsmen met together for that work."
This shows in effect that a system of sub-proxy existed. By
means of this it was possible for the elector to vote, although
he might be absent from the town meeting, as well as from
the general court. According to the law at present under
consideration, no one who was not a member of the general
court would be allowed to vote in person at the general court
of election. This provision, however, was found unsatisfac-
tory, and it was repealed within a year after its adoption. 2

Again in 1679-80 a law was passed with a view of saving
confusion on election day. The proxies were to be collected
in the towns on the second Tuesday in April. The ballots
cast for each officer were separate and distinct, except that
the names of the twenty assistants were to be put on a
single sheet of paper " cut almost asunder betwixt each
name." The latter would seem to indicate a crude form of
the modern perforated ballot. All proxies were to be taken
to Boston on the Monday before the general election, and
at one o'clock in the afternoon of that day they were opened

1 2 Massachusetts Colonial Records, 220; Laws, ed. 1 660, 27; ed. 1814, 106.
In this as in many other instances the language of the records differs from that em-
ployed in the statute books. It is frequently a difficult matter to find the authority
among the records for the year in which the foot-notes of the statute books de-
clare that a particular law was enacted. Many of the statements in regard to
Massachusetts during the course of the present work are the result of a combina-
tion of the matter derived from the several sources quoted.

2 4 Massachusetts Colonial Records, pt. ii, 86, 1 34.



and sorted in the presence of all the officers of the colony by
tellers who were under oath. When the canvass had been
completed the proxies cast for each person were sealed up
in separate packages, endorsed "on the backside" with the
name of the candidate and the number of proxies cast for
him. Freemen who so desired could still vote in person at
the regular court of election held the following Wednesday. 1

The system prescribed by this law does not appear to have
been successful, although it would seem that it made per-
sonal attendance still possible, and at the same time greatly
simplified the procedure at the court of election. In Octo-
ber, 1680, a law was passed requiring that town meetings
should be held on the Wednesday before election, and re-
viving in substance the system originally introduced by the
general orders of 1636-7 and 1647." We may accordingly
conclude that in spite of all its disadvantages, 3 Massachusetts,
after trying a number of plans, came to the conclusion that
rather than debar the freemen from their privilege of voting
in person it was better to keep up the unwieldy proxy system
and endure the confusion that resulted on the election day.

The first appearance of the proxy system in the Plymouth
colony was in 1647, when it was .provided that "for the
avoiding of travel and charge, the freemen of the towne of
Rehoboth" should be permitted to send their votes by
proxy, provided these were given in at a town meeting and
immediately sealed up. They were to be carried to the
court of election by the committees or by the grand jurymen.
Still " Rehoboth's Liberty" was not absolute, for on " weighty
occasions" the personal attendance of the freemen might be
required by special warrant. 4

1 5 Massachusetts Colonial Records, 262. 2 Ibid., 292.

3 "Fraud and Deceit;" May 1673, 4 Massachusetts Colonial Records, pt. ii, 553.

4 2 Plymouth Colony Records, 118; Brigham, 89.



It was not, however, until 1652 that the proxy system was
extended throughout the colony. It was done at that time
because " in regard of age, disabillitie of body, vrgent occa-
sions and other inconveniences that doe accrew, sundrey of
the freemen" were hindered from putting in a personal ap-
pearance. The method to be followed was similar to that
first introduced in Massachusetts, except that the proxies
were collected at the town meeting in which the deputies
were chosen rather than on a special occasion, as was the
custom in Massachusetts. The deputies were required to
take a list of those who had not given their proxies, as well
as of those who had. 1 All the votes for each officer (that .is,
for governor, assistant, etc.], were sealed up in separate
packages at the town meetings. Just before Plymouth was
annexed to Massachusetts Bay, associates or county magis-
trates were elected by the freemen of each county. The
election took place at the county town. The proxy system
was used and votes were collected at special town meetings
held " seasonably before," and taken to the county seat by
commissioners appointed for that purpose. 2

As no general officers were elected under the provisional
government of Massachusetts Bay, nothing like a proxy sys-
tem was needed. County treasurers were chosen, however,
by a course of procedure analogous to the method em-
ployed in the election of Plymouth associates, except that
personal attendance at the county seat was not permitted.
All votes were cast in town meeting, sealed up by the con-
stables, and delivered by them to the justices of the county
at the next quarter sessions, when they were counted. 3 It
seems strange that even under the royal government the

1 II Plymouth Colony Records, 59; Brigham, 94, 1 08, 258.

2 Laws, 1691; Brigham, 237.

3 Laws, 1692-3, chap. 27, i; Ames and Goodell, 63.



more simple method of counting the votes in each town, and
reporting the number cast for every candidate to the court of
quarter sessions, was not adopted.

Long before the Rhode Island charter was granted, the
principle of voting by proxy was recognized at Newport, as
is proved by the law of 1639-40, permitting those " neces-
sarily detained " to send their votes, sealed up, to the judge
who presided at an election. 1 When the confederacy was
organized in 1647, it was provided that " forasmuch as many
be necessarily detained that they cannot come to the General
court of Elections that then they shall send their votes sealed
up unto the said Court, which shall be as effectual as their
personal appearances."^ But a proviso was soon added that
" None shall bringe them any voates but such as they re-
ceive from the voaters' hands, and that all voates presented
shall be filed by the recorder in the presence of the Assem-
bly." 3

When the charter of 15 Charles II was received there was
considerable doubt as to whether it would be constitutional
to continue the proxy method. Accordingly, it was resolved,
pending a reference of the question to the authorities in Eng-
land, to allow only those present in person at the general
court to vote. 4 But the question was taken up again, and it
was decided to be " a kind of necessity to admitt of voting
by proxy from such as are not present or cannot conven-
iantly ther come." 5 It was therefore enacted that any free-
man could vote by proxy, " provided this order noe may
prejudice or discorradge any who desire to be personally
present." Proxies must be in writing and delivered, sealed
up, to a magistrate " in the face of a town meeting" lawfully
called, upon due notice for that purpose. The names of the

1 1 Rhode Island Colonial Records, 98.

2 Ibid., 149. * Ibid., 217.

4 2 Rhode Island Colonial Records, 29. 5 Ibid, 39.



persons voting or voted for (the language of the statute does
not clearly state which) " must be written at length on the
backside or the bottom," and all votes must be delivered to
the assembly. A system of sub-proxy like that which ex-
isted in Massachusetts seems to have been in use, for in
case of sickness and necessary absence from the town meet-
ings an elector could send his vote to a magistrate, and the
latter was required to place it in the hands of the governor
or the deputy governor at the court of election. 1

Whatever may have been the meaning of the statute just
quoted, an act was passed in 1715, requiring that every free-
man should write his name " at length on the back side of
his proxy," and all proxies found wanting in this particular
were to be thrown out when the canvass took place. 2 Some
years after this a law was passed providing that proxies
should be collected at the regular town meetings for the elec-
tion of deputies on the first Tuesday in March, and that
no proxies could be put in on any other day. 3 The following
year the date was changed to the third Wednesday in April,
and it was enacted that " no Person Proxing at said Meeting
should have Liberty of withdrawing his Proxy at the General

The elector was compelled after 1 747 to write the names
of all the officers he wished to vote for on a single piece of
paper, and when the ballot was cast, to sign it on the back with
his own name. 5 Until 1760 freemen were permitted to vote
either in person or by proxy as they preferred. Then it was
at last recognized that their presence at Newport was " very
injurious to the interest and public weal of the colony and

1 2 Rhode Island Colonial Records, 64; 1 6 Car. II, Franklin ed., 1730, 1744, I.

2 4 Rhode Island Colonial Records, 195, 208.
* 16 Geo. II, Franklin ed., 1744, 255.

4 17 Geo. II, Franklin ed., 1744, 287. * 20 Geo. II, Franklin ed., 1752, 13.



occasions a very great loss of people's time at a season of
the year when their labor is abundantly necessary for pre-
paring the ground and planting the seed : on which the pro-
duce of the whole season must depend ; and as all the ends
of voting for general officers may be as fully attained by the
freemen's putting in their proxie votes at the town meeting
in their own towns, appointed by law for that purpose agree-
able to the ancient and laudable custom of the prudent free-
men." So, in future, all freemen must vote at their town
meetings, unless they were members of the assembly, in
which case they were still permitted to cast their votes at
the general court. The moderator was ordered to deliver
all the ballots to the town clerk, who counted the number
given for each candidate and sent a certificate of the total to
Newport. As was the case before, the names of the officers
voted for were placed on a single ticket signed on the back
by the elector at the time the ballot was cast. Before seal-
ing them up in a package for transportation to Newport, the
town clerk compared the names on the ballots with a list of
those voting which he had previously made. A person who
had recently been admitted as a freeman in his town, could
vote at the town meeting, and in case the assembly admitted
him to the freedom of the colony, his proxy would be re-
ceived and counted good. If he was rejected his proxy
would be thrown out. 1

Though it would seem that the character of the proxy as
a power of attorney enabling one freeman to exercise the

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Online LibraryCortlandt F. (Cortlandt Field) BishopHistory of elections in the American colonies → online text (page 11 of 24)