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Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina

The grant of Carolina, made by King Charles I, fell through due to his untimely execution. His son, Charles II, would issue a new grant during his reign. This document, written by John Locke, is yet another indicator of Charles II views on power.


This document is often attributed to John Locke and indeed he did play a role in writing it out—he was paid by the eight Lord Proprietors for making copies of it in 1669. However it is a legal document, written and signed by the eight owners of Carolina, the eight Lord Proprietors, all of them men who helped restore Charles II to his crown.

  • George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle (1608–1670)
  • Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1609–1674)
  • John Berkeley, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton (1602–1678)
  • William Craven, 1st Earl of Craven (1608–1697)
  • Sir George Carteret ( c. 1610–1680)
  • Sir William Berkeley (1605–1677)
  • Sir John Colleton, 1st Baronet (1608–1666)
  • Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (1621–1683).

Locke was secretary to the last of the Proprietors, the Earl of Shaftesbury. There is a complex politics here: Locke’s father, like John Milton, had supported parliament and Oliver Cromwell. After Cromwell’s death in 1657, anarchy had slowly descended on England, with parliamentary troops splitting into various factions. As a consequence John Locke approved of the restoration of King Charles II in 1660, and after Locke was hired by Shaftesbury in 1667, helped to craft this frame of government for Carolina on principles that aligned with the divine and hereditary rights of kings.

Locke’s involvement with the Carolina plan and also with Charles II’s Council on Foreign Plantations, for which he was secretary between 1672-1674, is what made him think so deeply about principles of government. His Two Treatises of Government were written in reaction to the ideas sketched here and pursued generally by Charles II. For his role as secretary to the Council for Trade and Plantations, he was paid in stock of the Royal African Company between 1672-1674. Both Locke and Shaftesbury split from Charles II pointedly in 1675, when Shaftesbury became the leader of the new opposition party, called the Whigs. At that time Locke sold his stock, helped Shaftesbury to publish a pamphlet that challenged Charles II’s tyranny, and fled to France in fear of prosecution for sedition.

Lauren Michalak

Further Reading
  • William S. Powell, “Carolana and the Incomparable Roanoke: Explorations and Attempted Settlements, 1620-1663,” The North Carolina Historical Review Vol. 51, No. 1 (January 1974): 1-21.
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  • Transcription
  • Document

Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina (1669)

Our sovereign lord the King having, out of his royal grace and bounty, granted unto us the province of Carolina, with all the royalties, properties, jurisdictions, and privileges of a county palatine, as large and ample as the county palatine of Durham, with other great privileges; for the better settlement of the government of the said place, and establishing the interest of the lords proprietors with equality and without confusion; and that the government of this province may be made most agreeable to the monarchy under which we live and of which this province is a part; and that we may avoid erecting a numerous democracy, we, the lords and proprietors of the province aforesaid, have agreed to this following form of government, to be perpetually established amongst us, unto which we do oblige ourselves, our heirs and successors, In the most binding ways that can be devised.

One. The eldest of the lords proprietors shall be palatine; and, upon the decease of the palatine, the eldest of the seven surviving proprietors shall always succeed him.

Two. There shall be seven other chief offices erected, viz: the admirals, chamberlains, chancellors, constables, chief justices, high stewards, and treasurers; which places shall be enjoyed by none but the lords proprietors, to be assigned at first by lot, and, upon the vacancy of any one of the seven great offices, by death or otherwise, the eldest proprietor shall have his choice of the said place.

Three. The whole province shall be divided into counties; each county shall consist of eight signiories, eight baronies, and four precincts; each precinct shall consist of six colonies.

Four. Each signiory, barony, and colony shall consist of twelve thousand acres; the eight signiories being the share of the eight proprietors, and the eight baronies of the nobility; both which shares, being each of them one-fifth of the whole, are to be perpetually annexed, the one to the proprietors, the other to the hereditary nobility, leaving the colonies, being three-fifths, amongst the people; so that in setting out and planting the lands, the balance of the government may be preserved.

. . .

Nine. There shall be just as many landgraves as there are counties, and twice as many caziques, and no more. These shall be the hereditary nobility of the province, and by right of their dignity be members of parliament. Each landscape shall have four baronies, and each cazique two baronies, hereditarily and unalterably annexed to and settled upon the said dignity.

. . .

Fifteen. Since the dignity of proprietor, landgrave, or cazique cannot be divided, and the signiories or baronies thereunto annexed must forever all entirely descend with and accompany that dignity, whensoever, for want of heirs male, it shall descend on the issue female, the eldest daughter and her heirs shall be preferred, and in the inheritance of those dignities, and in the signiories or baronies annexed, there shall be no coheirs.

Sixteen. In every signiory, barony, and manor, the respective lord shall have power, in his own name, to hold court-leet there, for trying of all causes, both civil and criminal; but where it shall concern any person being no inhabitant, vassal, or leet-man of the said signiory, barony, or manor, he, upon paying down of forty shillings to the lords proprietors’ use, shall have an appeal from the signiory or barony court to the county court, and from the manor court to the precinct court.

Seventeen. Every manor shall consist of not less than three thousand acres, and not above twelve thousand acres, in one entire piece and colony, but any three thousand acres or more in one piece, and the possession of one man shall not be a manor, unles it be constituted a manor by the grant of the palatine’s court.

. . .

Twenty-one. Every lord of a manor, within his own manor, shall have all the rights, powers, jurisdictions, and privileges which a landgrave or cazique hath in his baronies.

Twenty-two. In every signiory, barony, and manor, all the leet-men shall be under the jurisdiction of the respective lords of the said signiory, barony, or manor, without appeal from him. Nor shall any leet-man or leet-woman have liberty to go off from the land of their particular lord and live anywhere else, without license obtained from their said lord, under hand and seal.

Twenty-three. All the children of leet-men shall be leet-men, and so to all generations.

. . .

One hundred and ten. Every freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power and authority over his negro slaves, of what opinion or religion soever.

One hundred and eleven. No cause, whether civil or criminal, of any freeman, shall be tried in any court of judicature, without a jury of his peers.

. . .

One hundred and thirteen. Whosoever shall possess any freehold in Carolina, upon what title or grant soever, shall, at the farthest, from and after the year one thousand six hundred and eighty-nine, pay yearly unto the lords proprietors, for each acre of land, English measure, as much fine silver as is at this present time in one English penny, or the value thereof, to be as a chief rent and acknowledgment to the lords proprietors, their heirs and successors, forever. And it shall be lawful for the palatine’s court, by their officers, at any time to take a new survey of any man’s land, not to oust him of any part of his possession, but that by such a survey the just number of acres he possesseth may be known, and the rent thereon due may be paid by him.

. . .

One hundred and sixteen. All inhabitants and freemen of Carolina above seventeen years of age, and under sixty, shall be bound to bear arms and serve as soldiers, whenever the grand council shall find it necessary.

One hundred and seventeen. A true copy of these fundamental constitutions shall be kept in a great book by the register of every precinct, to be subscribed before the said register. Nor shall any person, of what degree or condition soever, above seventeen years old, have any estate or possession in Carolina, or protection or benefit of the law there, who hath not, before a precinct register, subscribed these fundamental constitutions in this form:

” I, A. B., do promise to bear faith and true allegiance to our sovereign lord King Charles II, his heirs and successors; and will be true and faithful to the palatine and lords proprietors of Carolina, their heirs and successors; and with my utmost power will defend them, and maintain the government according to this establishment in these fundamental constitutions.”

One hundred and eighteen. VVhatsoever alien shall, in this form, before any precinct register, subscribe these fundamental constitutions, shall be thereby naturalized.

EARLY ACCESS:  Transcription is under editorial review and may contain errors.
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