Front Page Titles (by Subject) Preface - Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History
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Preface - Donald S. Lutz, Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History 
Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History, ed. Donald S. Lutz (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1998).
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This volume is not just another collection of documents assembled in the hope of illuminating general historical trends or eras. Instead, the set of documents selected for reproduction results from decision rules based on a theory of politics. The theory of politics is drawn from the work of Eric Voegelin, although it was the work of Willmoore Kendall and George Carey that first pointed to the possibility of, and need for, a collection of American colonial documents based on Voegelin’s ideas.1
Eric Voegelin argues that political analysis should begin with a careful examination of a people’s attempt at self-interpretation—a self-interpretation that is most likely to be found in their political documents and writing. The crucial point occurs when, either before or after creating a political society, a people reach a shared psychological state wherein they recognize themselves as engaged in a common enterprise and bound together by values, interests, and goals. It is this sharing, this basis for their being a people rather than an aggregate of individuals, that constitutes the beginning point for political analysis.
Essentially what they share are symbols and myths that provide meaning to their existence as a people and link them to some transcendent order. The shared meaning and shared link to some transcendent order allow them to act as a people, to answer such basic political questions as How do we decide what to do? By what standards do we judge our actions? Through what procedures do we reach collective decisions? What qualities or characteristics do we strive to encourage among ourselves? What qualities or characteristics do we seek or require of those who lead us? Far from being the repository of irrationality, shared myths and symbols constitute the basis upon which collective, rational action is possible.
These myths and symbols become at the same time both the basis for action as a people and the means of their self-illumination as a people. Frequently expressed in political documents, the core political symbols tend to structure the documents and determine their content. Voegelin also says that these shared symbols can be found in embryonic form in the earliest political expressions made by a people and in “differentiated” form in later writings. Put another way, by studying the political documents of a people we can watch the gradual unfolding, elaboration, and alteration of the embryonic symbols that define a given people. Voegelin calls this process “differentiation” but also refers to it as “self-illumination” and “self-interpretation.”
Finally, in a synopsis too brief to do credit to such a profound theory, Voegelin argues that in Western civilization basic symbolizations tend to be variants of the original symbolization of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. Without getting into a discussion of where this argument leaves the Greeks and Romans, suffice it to say that Voegelin’s analysis led Kendall and Carey to reexamine early American political documents, and what they found was a variant on the symbolization of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Using only a few of these early documents of foundation, Kendall and Carey identified a number of basic symbols present in all of them as well as in documents of the 1770s and 1780s: a constitution as higher law, popular sovereignty, legislative supremacy, the deliberative process, and a virtuous people. The important points made by Kendall and Carey are that there are basic symbols, in embryonic form, found in the earliest documents of foundation written by colonial Americans and that these symbols are found in American political documents written 150 years later, after the colonial era, but now in a differentiated form. While provocative and convincing, the position taken by Kendall and Carey cannot be considered firmly established until the early American documents of foundation can be comprehensively analyzed and the symbols traced through succeeding documents.
Later research by others does indeed show the continuity in symbols running from the Mayflower Compact to the American state and national constitutions of the late eighteenth century and that the embryonic basis for this political tradition clearly evolves from basic symbols in the Judeo-Christian tradition.2 Later support for the Kendall and Carey application of Voegelin’s theory thus leads to the need for a comprehensive collection of documents that illustrates the evolution of American constitutional symbols.
Because there are thousands of candidates for inclusion in a collection of American political documents based on Voegelin’s approach, a brief discussion of the decision rules used to select among them is required. The first decision rule was to include only those documents written during the colonial era. Post-1776 documents are readily available in a number of good collections, but there has been no good collection of pre-1776 foundational documents. The one exception to this rule in the present collection is The Articles of Confederation, which has been included because it is the direct culmination of colonial constitutional evolution. The Articles and the Declaration of Independence not only embody the colonial covenantal/compactual symbols but also together are what moved the colonies into independent nationhood. The state constitutions should also be included but are easily available in any library and are too long for inclusion, whereas the Articles of Confederation is brief and makes the transition from colonial to postindependence documents of political foundation dramatically apparent. Juxtaposing the Articles of Confederation with its immediate predecessors is therefore useful for illustrating the connection between pre- and postindependence documents.
The second decision rule was to include only documents written and adopted by the colonists, which excludes those written in Britain. Some may see this rule as tending to minimize the impact of the Mother Country on the process of constitutional development in America. The purpose of the rule, however, is to produce a coherent book of manageable length and not to imply the absence of English common law influences. The extent to which there was appropriation of English common law and foundational ideas by the colonists will be apparent in the documents written on this side of the Atlantic.
The third decision rule was to include documents that were in fact foundational. Political systems are not founded by judicial decisions or executive actions, so colonial case law and executive directives were excluded. Too often constitutionalism is viewed merely legalistically, whereas legalism is the result of constitutionalism and not the other way around. Foundational documents by definition create institutions and decision processes that did not exist before; or else they establish fundamental laws that give direction to what legislatures, executives, and courts later do, although these fundamental laws do not determine the actual form or content of later political decisions.
Finally, a document was included only if it had been publicly adopted by the entire relevant community through the consent-giving process in use by that community. This decision rule thus excluded political essays and tracts no matter how important or influential they might have been at the time. Often adoption resulted from legislative action whereby the legislature was conscious of acting in a foundational capacity. Usually these legislative actions amounted to amending the existing constitutional order at a time when a formal amendment process that directly involved the people had not yet been invented.
Even with these decision rules to narrow the eligible documents, some further exclusions were necessary. Some documents were too long and largely redundant in their content. So, for example, Connecticut had multiple codes of law adopted during the 1600s, but they largely reiterated the first law with minor variations, and including them served no real purpose other than to lengthen the book. The result is a collection of foundation documents from the colonial era that provides the basic information needed by any reader to understand the process of differentiation described by Voegelin.
Having established, therefore, at least in a preliminary way, the common threads running among them, these documents are presented here so that others may become familiar with, and advance our understanding of, their contents. There is much for us to learn. The Pilgrim Code of Law (1636), for example, is probably the first true written constitution in the English language; and if it is not, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639) most certainly is. Covenants, compacts, and citizenship oaths are prominent among our earliest documents. Those writing on political obligation have been quite taken with John Locke; however, in this collection we have people solving the problem of political obligation in a modern context even before Locke was born. The concepts of equality, popular sovereignty, majority rule, representation, and constitutionalism are a few of those whose meaning and origins can be illuminated by reference to these documents. Until now most of the documents have been lost to public view, and the few studied in depth have been studied in isolation. It is hoped that the publication of this volume will help achieve at least two ends: first, that the early documents in our political tradition will become well known to students of American politics; and second, that we will learn to read these documents together rather than separately.
The careful and attentive reader should begin with the understanding that the collection of documents presented here is not a book of readings. It is the foundation story of a people, told by themselves.
This volume is an altered and corrected version of a book originally published in 1986 under the title Documents of Political Foundation by Colonial Americans. The author wishes to thank Transaction Press for permission to reproduce whatever may overlap in that earlier book. The introductory essay for that volume has been significantly shortened and revised for this version, the headnotes to each document are completely new as well as lengthier and more detailed with respect to constitutional precedence, and the ordering of the documents has been radically altered. Also, seven documents from that earlier book have been dropped, and twelve completely new documents have been added. Finally, the documents themselves are in the public domain and have been corrected for any errors that may have crept into the earlier volume. In each case, the documents in this book have been carefully compared with their respective earliest surviving versions.
[1.]Voegelin’s basic theory can be found in the introductions to Israel and Revelation (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1956) and The World of the Polis (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1957), which are the first two volumes of his five-volume work, Order and History, published by Louisiana State University Press. The book by Willmoore Kendall and George Carey is The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1970).
[2. ]For an analysis that uses Voegelin’s approach and explicates systematically many of the documents found in this collection, see Donald S. Lutz, The Origins of American Constitutionalism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988).