Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina

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First page of the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina.

The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina were adopted in March 1669 by the eight Lords Proprietors of the Province of Carolina, which included most of the land between what is now Virginia and Florida. It replaced the Charter of Carolina and the Concessions and Agreements of the Lords Proprietors of the Province of Carolina (1665). Unpopular with many of the early settlers, the Fundamental Constitutions were never ratified by the assembly, and were largely abandoned by 1700.


Mixture of ideologies[edit]

The Fundamental Constitutions contain an intriguing mixture of liberal and feudalistic ideas, spanning from then modern concepts of representative government and partial religious freedom to preservation of pre-Enlightenment institutions of serfdom and slavery.

Liberal provisions[edit]

On the one hand, the Fundamental Constitutions aimed to create a representative government in which many men could participate. The property requirement for voting was a mere 50 acres (0.2 km²), while the property requirement for holding a seat in the legislature was 500 acres (2 km²). These requirements were both quite modest in a seventeenth-century context. Moreover, although the Church of England was established as the official state church, Dissenters were offered both civil and political rights in the new colony. Elections were to be held by secret ballot, which was not yet common practice in England in the seventeenth century. Laws were to expire automatically after one hundred years, thus preventing outdated regulations from remaining on the books.

John Locke most likely wrote the following passage that suggests a radical form of religious freedom for the seventeenth century:

Article 97: Since the natives of that place, who will be concerned in our plantation, are utterly strangers to Christianity, whose idolatry, ignorance, or mistake gives us no right to expel or use them ill; and those who remove from other parts to plant there will unavoidably be of different opinions concerning matters of religion, the liberty whereof they will expect to have allowed them, and it will not be reasonable for us, on this account, to keep them out; that civil peace may be maintained amidst diversity of opinions, and our agreement and compact with all men may be duly and faithfully observed; the violation whereof, upon what presence soever, cannot be without great offence to Almighty God, and great scandal to the true religion which we profess; and also that Jews, heathens, and other dissenters from the purity of Christian religion may not be scared and kept at a distance from it, but, by having an opportunity of acquainting themselves with the truth and reasonableness of its doctrines, and the peaceableness and inoffensiveness of its professors, may, by good usage and persuasion, and all those convincing methods of gentleness and meekness, suitable to the rules and design of the gospel, be won over to embrace and unfeignedly receive the truth; therefore, any seven or more persons agreeing in any religion, shall constitute a church or profession, to which they shall give some name, to distinguish it from others. [1]

Feudal provisions[edit]

On the other hand, one of the goals of the Fundamental Constitutions was to create an orderly society controlled by a titled, landed gentry in Carolina and ultimately by the Lords Proprietors in England. The two major ranks in the Carolina nobility would be the Landgraves, with 48,000 acres (194 km²) apiece, and the caciques with 24,000 acres (97 km²) apiece. The Fundamental Constitutions envisioned a society that would also include both serfs (called "leetmen") and slaves. The unicameral parliament would be permitted to debate only those measures that had previously been approved by the Lords Proprietors, thus ensuring that the proprietors maintained control over colonial affairs.

Failure to ratify[edit]

The Fundamental Constitutions were unpopular with most of the early settlers in the southern half of the Province (today's South Carolina), who preferred the more flexible royal charter as a basis for government. Consequently, the Fundamental Constitutions were never ratified by the assembly, and they were largely abandoned as an instrument of government by 1700. Nevertheless, several of their provisions, such as the guarantee of religious freedom and the modest property requirement for suffrage, helped to shape the culture of South Carolina and, later, of North Carolina.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Niall Ferguson,Civilization: The West and the Rest, New York (The Penguin Press, 2011), 114.

References and further reading[edit]

  • Sirmans, M. Eugene. Colonial South Carolina: A Political History, 1663-1763. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1966.
  • Weir, Robert M. Colonial South Carolina: A History. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.

External links[edit]