Colonial Law was based on two main influences - the
English law and culture at the time, and the
religious beliefs of the colonists. Many sources of
law in England influenced Colonial Law, such as the
Magna Carta, Petition of Right, and English Bill of
Rights. All of these laws in England guaranteed
certain rights and freedoms to the people, and
defined their culture.
The governor of the Jamestown, Virginia colony Sir
Thomas Dale arrived in 1611, and brought with him a
new set of laws that would set precedent in the
colonies. The laws were termed "Divine, Morall, and Martial"
because they applied to all aspects of life. It
assigned specific duties to all residents of the
colonies, and punished severly those who did not
comply. This set a precedent for the culture of the colonies.
The colonists that settled in New England were mostly
Pilgrims or Puritans who believed in "purifying" the
Anglican church. The first Pilgrim laws were in the
Mayflower Compact, the first written colonial plan of
1620. The Pilgrims decided to choose their own
leaders and make their own laws. The Mayflower
Compact stated that they would "(pledge) and combine
(themselves) together into a Body Politick, for
(their) better Ordering and Preservation and
Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid..." This was the
first set of laws that colonists used, and it broke
from England in that the colonists wanted to govern themselves.
The Puritans began settling in 1629, and in 1636
created a system of laws called the Great
Fundamentals. In 1639, Puritans in Connecticut
created the first constitution called the Fundamental
Orders of Connecticut. It was based on the
Massachusetts laws, but allowed non-church-members
the right to vote. This was a key difference because
it had less of a religious influence than the Puritan
laws of Massachusetts. Both the Rhode Island and
Connecticut charters were so democratic that they
continued to serve as state constitutions after the
formation of the United States.
Blue laws are laws that are still in effect that have
their origins in these colonial systems of law.
Because many of these colonial laws were based on the
religious beliefs of the Puritans or other groups,
those beliefs carry into our modern legal system. In
some parts of the country, businesses are not allowed
to be open on Sunday because it is the Sabbath; only
drugstores and certain other businesses are
exceptions because they provide necessary medical
supplies and other vital things. That is why
drugstores carry milk and other convenience items -
they can be open on Sunday when many other stores are not.