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 1, 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). The date March 1, 1669 was the date that proprietors confirmed the Constitutions and sent them to the Colony, but later on two other versions were introduced in 1682 and in 1698. Moreover, the proprietors suspended the Constitutions in 1690. Despite the claims of proprietors on the valid version of the Constitution, the colonists officially recognized the July 21, 1669 version, claiming that six proprietors had sealed the Constitutions as “the unalterable form and rule of Government forever” on that date. The earliest draft of this version in manuscript is believed to be the one found at Columbia, South Carolina archives.[1]

The Colonists, settlers and the British Crown kept themselves at a distance to the Constitutions from the beginning. In fact, the provisions of the Fundamental Constitutions were neither fully employed nor recognized. The main concern over the document were its exaltation of proprietors as noblemen at the apex of the hierarchically designed society. Second, the Constitutions had rules that were hard to implement by settlers for practical reasons. Thus, the proprietors had to amend the rules five times, before finally repealing them forty years from the drafting.[2]


Because the Fundamental Constitutions were drafted during John Locke’s service to one of Province of Carolina proprietors, Anthony Ashley Cooper, who was much more involved in the process than the others, it is widely accepted that Locke had a major role in the making of the Constitutions. For historian David Armitage[3] and political scientist Vicki Hsueh, the Constitutions were co-authored by Locke and his patron Cooper, known also as 1st Earl of Shaftesbury.[4]

Main Features[edit]

From the beginning, the involvement of John Locke has brought attention to the Constitutions, particularly for its value in the context of classical liberalism. The Constitutions were the first printed work, with which Locke’s name could be associated before his widely-known writings Essay Concerning Human Understanding and the Two Treatises of Government published between 1689 and 1690.[5]

The level of religious tolerance portrayed in the Constitutions was acclaimed by Voltaire who advised, “Cast your eyes over the other hemisphere, behold Carolina, of which the wise Locke was the legislator.” [6] The Constitutions introduced certain safeguards for groups seeking refuge for religious reasons. To that end, Article 97 of the document foresaw: “…the natives who…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 also that Jews, heathens, and other dissenters from the purity of Christian religion may not be scared and kept at a distance from it…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.” Accordingly, the Constitutions brought right to worship and right to constitute a church to the religious dissenters to Christianity and outsiders such as Jews. They also promised religious tolerance towards idolater Indians and heathens.

Nevertheless, the Constitutions are believed to fall behind the egalitarian, democratic and liberal standard of John Locke’s, placed in the Two Treaties of Government, as acknowledging aristocracy in North America and have been criticized later on for their open approval of slavery. The notorious article 110 of the Constitutions stated that “Every freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power and authority over his negro slaves, of what opinion or religion soever”. Pursuant to this provision slaveholders were granted absolute power of life and death over their slaves.[7] Additionally, the Fundamental Constitutions affirmed the fact that being a Christian does not alter the civil dominion of a master over his slaves. (Article 107)[8]

Apart from the slavery, the erection of hereditary nobility aside from the proprietors and recognition of noble titles raised controversies. Because English Law prevented proprietors from granting titles already in use in England, such as Earl or Baron, they created two new titles, cazique and landgrave, that would be passed down from father to son. Those nobles were granted privileges such as being tried only in Chief Justice’s Court and being found guilty by a jury of his peers. (Article 27) The Constitutions introduced also a hereditary serfdom system, the members of which called leetmen, in addition to slavery.[9]

Like the slaves, the leetmen and leetwomen were under command and jurisdiction of noblemen to whom they serve. (Article 22) Through the Constitutions, the Lords Proprietor and the noblemen owned the four-fifths of the Colony’s vast lands. By the same token, the freemen had the right to property for the rest of the land and among them who owned more than fifty acres had right to vote and who had more than five-hundred acres of land had the right to be a member of Parliament. (Article 72) This requirement of land ownership has been considered as relatively favorable to the freemen in comparison to the England.[10]

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mattie Erma E. Parker, Apr. 1970, The First Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, The South Carolina Historical Magazine, The South Carolina Historical Society, 71-2 pp. 78-79
  2. ^, "The Founding of North and South Carolina" Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall, A Celebration of Women Writers-Upenn Digital Library, 25.07.2015.
  3. ^ David Armitage, “John Locke, Carolina and Two Treaties of Government”, Harvard University Web Site 4 (2004): p. 602-27., Accessed 14 June 2015,
  4. ^ Vicki Hsueh, Jul. 2002, Theory and Practice in the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, Journal of the History of Ideas, University of Pennsylvania Press, 63-3 pp. 425-46.
  5. ^ David Armitage, John Locke, Carolina and Two Treaties of Government, p. 607.
  6. ^ Ibid, p.607
  7. ^ Ibid, p.609
  8. ^, The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina: March 1, 1669. The Avalon Project, Yale Law School, Accessed 25.07.2015.
  9. ^, "A Little Kingdom in Carolina", David Walbert, Learn NC, 25.07.2015.
  10. ^ Ibid.

References and further reading[edit]

  • Armitage, David “John Locke, Carolina and Two Treaties of Government”, Harvard University Web Site 4 (2004):, Accessed 14 June 2015,
  • Hsueh, Vicki "Theory and Practice in the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, Journal of the History of Ideas, University of Pennsylvania Press, Jul. 2002, 63-3.
  • Parker, Mattie Erma E. "The First Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina" The South Carolina Historical Magazine, The South Carolina Historical Society, Apr. 1970, 71-2.
  • 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]