Fundamental Constitutions

Yes, There Were More than One !


1669 Fundamental Constitutions

1670 Fundamental Constitutions

Jan. 1682 Fundamental Constitutions

Aug. 1682 Fundamental Constitutions


 1698 Fundamental Constitutions

In 1669, the Lords Propretors formalized their plan for government in the colony of Carolina in what they named the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, which is also often referred to as the "Grand Model." This formalized plan was considerably different from what had been previsously provided to colonists in the Concessions and Agreements of 1665, which, having been intended to attract settlers, allowed the colonists a fair degree of control over their own government. The new Fundamental Constitutions of 1669 now gave the settlers a very limited role in self-government as the Constitutions were primarily focused on the interests of the Lords Proprietors and to "avoid erecting a numerous democracy."

Many historians gave John Locke much of the credit for these Fundamental Constitutions, but over time more and more researchers question what extent, if any, Locke truly contributed other than being the scribe, since he was the acknowledged Secretary to the eight (8) Lords Proprietors. Although an early copy is known to have been in Locke's handwriting, his position would have given him this acknowledgement, for Locke was also Secretary to Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, who has also recently been given much credit as the true author of the Fundamental Constitutions.

More recent historians generally accept that all of the eight Lords Proprietors contributed to the "Grand Model." Several were known to have been associates of James Harrington, who, in 1656, published "The Commonwealth of Oceana," which contains many ideas that later show up in the Carolina Fundamental Constitutions. However, many of these ideas can also be found in the Lords Proprietors' charters of 1663 and 1665, which further indicates that all eight (8) Lords Proprietors had in mind such a plan as the "Grand Model" as they were discussing the creation of the colony among themselves and most likely with King Charles II as the charters were being originally drafted in 1663 and 1665.

The Fundamental Constitutions laid out a governmental structure which would enable the Lords Proprietors to exercise the desired feudal powers granted in their charters. Provisions were made for the creation of a local nobility, including the creation of manors and manorial courts, the exemption of Carolina from further subinfeudation, and the adherence to the "bishop-of-Durham clause." In a nutshell, this latter item gave the Lords Proprietors almost regal authority over Carolina - to enact laws, levy taxes, raise troops, impress ships, etc. Most of this was already in the earlier two charters, but the Fundamental Constitutions added to these powers and enhanced the "semblance of authority" that the Lords Proprietors wanted to convey to all settlers of Carolina.

This "Grand Model" not only provided a governmental structure but also called for a complete social and economic system for the colony. As in all feudal systems, control over land is the basis of governmental powers and of legal and social status. As shown in the charters and now in the Fundamental Constitutions, the Lords Proprietors had ultimate rights to all of the lands of Carolina. Next to the Lords Proprietors in power and status were the "local nobility" - which began as only two ranks, Landgrave and Cacique, and soon added the Baronies. The Lords Proprietors bestowed all titles to this new "noble class," as well as all lands and other priveleges, such as membership in the "local parliament" and the rights to be tried in the Lords Proprietors' Court instead of lower courts.

Beneath the nobility were the "freemen," who could own land, have a very limited role in their local government, and appeals from lower courts. Below the freemen were the "leet-men," who were tenants of the noblemen and lords of manors - these leet-men were bound to the land on which they lived, were given no voice at all in their local government, and had no rights at all for any legal appeals. At the bottom of the social order were the slaves - little more needs to be said since we all know that slaves had essentially no rights whatsoever.

The Fundamental Constitutions provided for the creation of counties, as deemed necessary as the population increased. One-fifth of each county was to be subdivided into eight seigniories as assigned by the Lords Proprietors. Another one-fifth would be subdivided into eight Baronies also granted by the Lords Proprietors. Four Baronies were given to a Landgrave, and the other four Baronies were divided between two Caciques (also spelled Cassiques). The remainder of the the county was to be divided into four precincts, to be further subdivided into colonies, which was granted to freemen.

The ultimate government agency was to be the Palatine's Court, comprised of the eight (8) Lords Proprietors, the eldest Proprietor would be called the Palatine. Below this agency seven more courts were provided, each made up of a Proprietor and six Councillors, selected by a complex process which assured that at least half of the councillors in each court would be members of the local nobility, sons of Proprietors, or sons of local noblemen.

A "Grand Council" was also ordained, which was assigned executive, judicial, and legislative powers. It was to be composed of the eight (8) Lords Proprietors and the forty-two (42) councillors of the Proprietors' Courts. The Executive Council's powers included deciding what matters might go before Parliament - the so-called "assembly for the province." The Parliament was to include the Lords Proprietors or their "deputies," all of the Landgraves and Caciques of the colony, and one freeholder from each precinct, who was to be elected by fellow freeholders in the same precinct. All recommendations of the Parliament would require ratification by the Palatine and three other of the Lords Proprietors. Any action of the Executive Council and Parliament could be nullified by the Palatine's Court. These agencies were to have complete jurisdiction over the entire colony.

The Fundamental Constitutions also provided for local courts and officials, including municipal officers. Freemen were guaranteed certain individual rights, such as trial by jury and protection against double jeopardy. They also provided that all members of the colony were permitted considerable religious freedom, a somewhat new concept that brought about the recent settling of the "new world."

This "Grand Model" was planned to last forever, and it was designed for a society desired by the eight (8) Lords Proprietors - however, it did not take into account of the existing inhabitants who had already settled in the colony several years before the Fundamental Constitutions were delivered to the province. Upon delivery, the Lords Proprietors instructed officials in Albemarle (one must recall that Charles Town had not been settled yet, so the only inhabitants were in the northeast section along the Virginia border) to implement only those measures considered practicable under existing conditions.

Even limited implementation required significant changes to the recently-established government that was already in place since Governor William Drummond and Governor Samuel Stephens had both already taken office. The existing General Assembly was denied power to initiate legislation and the office of the governor had also lost much of its authority and prestige. Some of these existing powers were now assigned to the Executive Council, which soon acquired greater prestige and increased authority.

The Lords Proprietors clearly expected to fully implement the "Grand Model," however, since it was introduced six years after settlers had already arrived in the colony, they never fully succeeded in doing this. Instructions were sent to new governors to implement the Fundamental Constitutions, but modifications were soon being sent quite often as well. The Fundamental Constitutions were formally revised over time as shown above.

The first copy of the Fundamental Constitutions was sent to Albemarle in January of 1670. An earlier copy had also been sent to Port Royal (what is now South Carolina) in August of 1669. The Lords Proprietors appointed new Deputies in Albemarle and gave them instructions to implement the "Grand Model." On March 1, 1670, the Lords Proprietors adopted a second version of the Fundamental Constitutions, which they claimed was the offical version and asserted that the earlier version was only a draft. It appears that the Albemarle government was not reorganized until after the receipt of the second, 1670, version.

The Lords Proprietors formally modified the Fundamental Constitutions twice in 1682 to meet objections raised by large groups proposing to sail across the Atlantic and settle in Carolina. Existing settlers in Albemarle also expressed dissatisfaction with certain portions of the Fundamental Constitutions, and soon thereafter the settlers in Charles Town also protested many aspects of the "Grand Model." As time went on there were various disorders in both Albemarle and Charles Town, and in 1693, the Lord Proprietors suspended the Fundamental Constitutions. Five years later, a drastic revision of the Fundamental Constitutions was adopted by the Lords Proprietors and sent to Carolina. Although the 1698 version was much more streamlined and considered to be much more practicable than the earlier ones, its full enforcement was also never really attempted.

Around the year 1700, the Lords Proprietors, now the second and third generation of Lords Proprietors in most instances, stopped referring to the "Grand Model" and allowed the Fundamental Constitutions to be ignored. On the surface, it might appear that they had very little influence on the colony because they were never fully implemented. A landed gentry never developed in North Carolina except in very small numbers, and only a slightly larger one evolved in South Carolina, thanks primarily the Barbadian influence and not the Lords Proprietors. Serfdom never materialized either, thankfully. The Palatine's Court was the only Proprietors' court organized, but the Executive Council and the Parliament were very infrequently assembled.

However, the General Assembly in North Carolina had very little power for many years and it did not regain its former right to initiate legislation until the Fundamental Constitutions were suspended in the 1690s.


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