Precepts for Colonial Government Set, 1669

The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina. Image from the Library of Congress.On July 21, 1669, the Lords Proprietors signed and sealed the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina. The document, perhaps written by John Locke who served as secretary to one of the Proprietors, established a framework of government for the nascent colony.

While the document recognized the Church of England, it also promoted religious tolerance. It attempted to set up an orderly feudal system with landed gentry, freemen, “leet-men” (similar to serfs), and slaves.

The Proprietors were given authority to grant titles, but not titles that existed in England, so they came up with landgrave (a title used in central Europe) and cacique(a term used for chiefs by some Caribbean natives). The Constitutions proposed a relatively low threshold for giving property owners the right to vote.

The complex document, with 111 often impractical provisions, was never popular among the residents of Carolina. One element of the Constitutions that came to fruition was the Palatine Court which operated in the colony for about 50 years and in some ways was a precursor to our modern legal system.

The full text of the Fundamental Constitutions is available on the Yale Law School’s website.

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