Front Page Titles (by Subject) New York: 55: [A Letter from Governor Richard Nicolls to the Inhabitants of Long Island] - Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History
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New York: 55: [A Letter from Governor Richard Nicolls to the Inhabitants of Long Island] - 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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[A Letter from Governor Richard Nicolls to the Inhabitants of Long Island]
Taken from E. B. O’Callaghan, ed., Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New York (Albany, 1883), 14: 564–65. The text is complete, with the spelling as found in O’Callaghan.
Colony-wide governments were often, but not always, built up from below through federations of already existing towns or colonies. William Penn organized his colony of Pennsylvania from above, as did Lord Calvert, in Maryland. Richard Nicolls was not a charter holder like Penn and Calvert but was instead a governor deputed by the charter holder, the Duke of York. Here he established a legislature for New York through the simple device of a letter. It is notable, however, that even the governors of Royal colonies instinctively felt the need to organize the population through elective bodies rather than govern them by edict. The legislature that eventually emerged from the complicated process initiated by this letter would a number of years later write a constitution for the colony (see Charter of Liberties and Privileges ). See also the discussion of Fundamentals of West New Jersey .
Whereas the Inhabitants of Long Island, have for a Long time groaned under many grievous inconveniences, and discouragements occasioned partly from their subjection, partly from their opposition to a forraigne Power, in which distracted condition, few or no Lawes could bee putt in due Execution, Bounds and Titles to Lands disputed, Civill Libertyes interrupted, and from this Generall Confusion, private dissentions and animosityes, have too much prevailed against Neighborly Love, and Christian Charity; To the preventing of the future growth of like Evils, his Majesty as a signall grace and honor to his subjects upon Long Island, hath at his owne charge reduc’t the forraigne Power to his obedience and by Pattent hath invested his Royall Highness the Duke of York with full and absolute Power, in and over all and every the Particular Tracts of Land therein mentioned, which said Powers by Comission from his Royall Highnesse the Duke of York, I am deputed to put in execution. In discharge therefore of my Trust and Duty, to Settle good and knowne Laws within this government for the future, and receive your best advice and Information in a General Meeting, I have thought fitt to Publish unto you, That upon the last day of this present February, at Hempsteed upon Long Island, shall be held a Generall Meeting, which is to consist of Deputyes chosen by the major part of the freemen only, which is to be understood of all Persons rated according to their Estates, whether English, or Dutch, within your severall Towns and precincts, whereof you are to make Publication to the Inhabitants, foure dayes before you proceed to an Election appointing a certain day to that purpose; You are futher to impart to the Inhabitants from mee, that I do heartily recommend to them the choice of the most sober, able and discreet persons, without partiality or faction, the fruite & benefitt whereof will return to themselves in a full and perfect settlement and composure of all controversyes, and the propagation of true Religion amongst us. They are also required to bring with them a Draught of each Towne Limits, or such writings as are necessary to evidence the Bounds and Limitts, as well as the right by which they challenge such Bounds and Limits, by Grant or Purchase, or both, as also to give notice of this meeting to Sachems of the Indyans, whose presence may in some cases bee accessary. Lastly I do require you to Assemble your Inhabitants and read this Letter to them, and then and there to nominate a day for the Election of two Deputyes from your Towne, who are to bring a certificate of their due election, (with full power to conclude any cause or matter relating to their serveral Townes) to mee at Hempsteed upon the last day of February, where (God willing) I shall expect them.
Charter of Liberties and Privileges
Complete text is taken from The Colonial Laws of New York, vol. 1, 111–16. For the circumstances surrounding this document and the similar charter of 1691, see Charles M. Andrews, The Colonial Period of American History, vol. 3 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1936), chap. 3; and David S. Lovejoy, “Equality and Empire: The New York Charter of Libertyes, 1683,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 21 (1964): 493–515.
October 30, 1683
Although essentially based on the British parliamentary model, the structure of New York’s government described in this document looks quite similar to that developed elsewhere in the colonies. The true bicameralism, however, that developed in some of the other colonies is missing in New York because the Governor’s Council is not elective and is really a privy council. The bill of rights is derived from English common law, and although quite liberal by European standards, is less robust than those developed in other colonies using a theological grounding. Also, an appeal to popular sovereignty, implicit or otherwise, is conspicuously missing. Authority instead rests explicitly with the governor, council, and assembly combined under the implied sovereignty of the monarch.
Ffor The better Establishing the Government of this province of New Yorke and that Justice and Right may be Equally done to all persons within the same.
bee It Enacted by the Governour Councell and Representatives now in General Assembly mett and assembled and by the authority of the same.
that The Supreme Legislative Authority under his Majesty and Royall Highnesse James Duke of Yorke Albany &c Lord proprietor of the said province shall forever be and reside in a Governour, Councell, and the people mett in General Assembly.
that The Exercise of the Cheife Magistracy and Administration of the Government over the said province shall bee in the said Governour assisted by a Councell with whose advice and Consent or with at least four of them he is to rule and Governe the same according to the Lawes thereof.
that in Case the Governour shall dye or be absent out of the province and that there be noe person within the said province Comissionated by his Royal Hignesse his heirs or Successours to be Governour or Comander in Cheife there That then the Councell for the time being or Soe many of them as are in the Said province doe take upon them the Administration of the Governour and Execution of the Lawes thereof and powers and authorityes belonging to the Governour and Councell the first in nomination in which Councell is to preside untill the said Governour shall returne and arrive in the said province againe, or the pleasure of his Royall Highnesse his heires or Successours Shall be further knowne.
that According to the usage Custome and practice of the Realme of England a session of a Generall Assembly be held in this province once in three yeares at least. that Every ffreeholder within this province and ffreeman in any Corporation Shall have his free Choise and Vote in the Electing of the Representatives without any manner of constraint or Imposition. And that in all Elections the Majority of Voices shall carry itt and by freeholders is understood every one who is Soe understood according to the Lawes of England.
that the persons to be Elected to sitt as representatives in the Generall Assembly from time to time for the severall Cittyes townes Countyes Shires or Divisions of this province and all places within the same shall be according to the proportion and number hereafter Expressed that is to say for the Citty, and County of New Yorke four, for the County of Suffolke two, for Queens County two, for Kings County two, for the County of Richmond two for the County of West Chester two, for the County of Ulster two for the County of Albany two and for Schenectade within the said County one, for Dukes County two, for the County of Cornwall two and as many more as his Royall Highnesse shall think fitt to Establish.
that All persons Chosen and Assembled in manner aforesaid or the Major part of them shall be deemed and accounted the Representatives of this province which said Representatives together with the Governour and his Councell Shall forever be the Supreame and only Legislative power under his Royall Hignesses of the said province.
that The said Representatives may appoint their owne Times of meeting dureing their sessions and may adjourne their house from time to time to such time as to them shall seeme meet and convenient.
that The said Representatives are the sole Judges of the Qualifications of their owne members, and likewise of all undue Elections and may from time to time purge their house as they shall see occasion dureing the said sessions.
that noe member of the general Assembly or their servants dureing the time of their Sessions and Whilest they shall be goeing to and returning from the said Assembly shall be arrested sued imprisoned or any wayes molested or troubled nor be compelled to make answere to any suite, Bill plaint, Declaration or otherwise, (Cases of High Treason and felony only Excepted) provided the number of the said servants shall not Exceed three.
that All bills agreed upon by the said Representatives or the Major part of them shall be presented unto the Governour and his Councell for their Approbation and Consent All and Every which Said Bills soe approved or Consented to by the Governour and his Councell shall be Esteemed and accounted the Lawes of the province, Which said Lawes shall continue and remaine of force untill they shall be repealed by the authority aforesaid that is to say the Governour Councell and Representatives in General Assembly by and with the Approbation of his Royal Highnesse or Expire by their owne Limittations.
that In All Cases of death or removall of any of the said Representatives The Governour shall issue out Sumons by Writt to the Respective Townes Cittyes Shires Countryes or Divisions for which he or they soe removed or deceased were chosen willing and requireing the ffreeholders of the Same to Elect others in their place and stead.
that Noe freeman shall be taken and imprisoned or be disseized of his ffreehold or Libertye or ffree Customes or be outlawed or Exiled or any other wayes destroyed nor shall be passed upon adjudged or condemned But by the Lawfull Judgment of his peers and by the Law of this province. Justice nor Right shall be neither sold denyed or deferred to any man within this province.
that Noe aid, Tax, Tallage, Assessment, Custome, Loane, Benevolence or Imposition whatsoever shall be layed assessed imposed or levyed on any of his Majestyes Subjects within this province or their Estates upon any manner of Colour or pretence but by the act and Consent of the Governour Councell and Rpresentatives of the people in Generall Assembly mett and Assembled.
that Noe man of what Estate or Condition soever shall be putt out of his Lands or Tenements, nor taken, nor imprisoned, nor dishereited, nor banished nor any wayes distroyed without being brought to Answere by due Course of Law.
that A ffreeman Shall not be amerced for a small fault, but after the manner of his fault and for a great fault after the Greatnesse thereof Saveing to him his freehold, And a husbandman saveing to him his Wainage and a merchant likewise saveing to him his merchandize, And none of the said Amerciaments shall be assessed but by the oath of twelve honest and Lawfull men of the Vicinage provided the faults and misdemeanours be not in Contempt of Courts of Judicature.
all Tryalls shall be by the verdict of twelve men, and as neer as many be peers or Equalls And of the neighbourhood and in the County Shire or Division where the Fact Shall arise or grow Whether the Same be by Indictment Information Declaration or otherwise against the person Offender or Defendant.
that In all Cases Capitall or Criminall there shall be a grand Inquest who shall first present the offence and then twelve men of the neighbourhood to try the Offender who after his plea to the Indictment shall be allowed his reasonable Challenges.
that In all Cases whatsoever Bayle by sufficient Suretyes Shall be allowed and taken unlesse for treason or felony plainly and specially Expressed and menconed in the Warrant of Committment provided Alwayes that nothing herein contined shall Extend to discharge out of prison upon bayle any person taken in Execution for debts or otherwise legally sentenced by the Judgment of any of the Courts of Record within the province.
that Noe ffreeman shall be compelled to receive any Marriners or Souldiers into his house and there suffer them to Sojourne, against their willes provided Alwayes it be not in time of Actuall Warr within this province.
that Noe Comissions for proceeding by Marshall Law against any of his Majestyes Subjects within this province shall issue forth to any person or persons whatsoever Least by Colour of them any of his Majestyes Subjects bee destroyed or putt to death Except all such officers persons and Soldiers in pay throughout the Government.
that from hence forward Noe Lands Within this province shall be Esteemed or accounted a Chattle or personall Estate but an Estate of Inheritance according to the Custome and practice of his Majesties Realme of England.
that Noe Court or Courts within this province have or at any time hereafter Shall have any Jurisdiction power or authority to grant out any Execution or other writt whereby any mans Land may be sold or any other way disposed of without the owners Consent provided Alwayes That the issues or meane proffitts of any mans Lands shall or may be Extended by Execution or otherwise to satisfye just debts Any thing to the Contrary hereof in any wise Notwithstanding.
that Noe Estate of a feme Covert shall be sold or conveyed But by Deed Acknowledged by her in Some Court of Record the Woman being secretly Examined if She doth it freely without threats or Compulsion of her husband.
that All Wills in writeing attested by two Credible Witnesses shall be of the same force to convey Lands as other Conveyances being registered in the Secretaryes Office within forty dayes after the testators death.
that A widdow after the death of her husband shall have her Dower And shall and may tarry in the Cheife house of her husband forty dayes after the death of her husband within which forty dayes her Dower shall be assigned her And for her Dower shallbe assigned unto her the third party of all the Lands of her husband dureing Coverture, Except shee were Endowed of Lesse before Marriage.
that All Lands and Heritages within this province and Dependencyes shall be free from all fines and Lycences upon Alienations and from all Herriotts Ward Shipps Liveryes primer Seizins yeare day and Wast Escheates and forfeitures upon the death of parents and Ancestors naturall unaturall casuall or Judiciall, and that forever; Cases of High treason only Excepted.
that Noe person or persons which professe ffaith in God by Jesus Christ Shall at any time be any wayes molested punished disquieted or called in Question for Difference in opinion or Matter of Religious Concernment, who doe not actuall disturb the Civill peace of the province, But that all and Every such person or prsons may from time to time and at all times freely have and fully enjoy his or their Judgments or Consciencyes in matters of Religion throughout all the province, they behaveing themselves peaceably and quietly and not useing this Liberty to Lycentiousnesse nor to the civill Injury or outward disturbance of others provided Alwayes that this liberty or any thing contained therein to the Contrary shall never be Construed or improved to make void the Settlement of any publique Minister on Long Island Whether Such Settlement be by two thirds of the voices in any Towne thereon which shall alwayes include the Minor part Or by Subscriptions of perticuler Inhabitants in Said Townes provided they are the two thirds thereon Butt that all such agreements Covenants and Subscriptions that are there already made and had Or that hereafter shall bee in this Manner Consented to agreed and Subscribed shall at all time and times hereafter be firme and Stable And in Confirmation hereof
It is Enacted by the Governour Councell and Representatives; That all Such Sumes of money soe agreed on Consented to or Subscribed as aforesaid for maintenance of said public Ministers by the two thirds of any Towne on Long Island Shall alwayes include the Minor part who shall be regulated thereby And also Such Subscriptions and agreements as are before mentioned are and Shall be alwayes ratified performed and paid, And if any Towne on said Island in their publick Capacity of agreement with any Such minister or any perticuler persons by their private Subscriptions as aforesaid Shall make default deny or withdraw from Such payment Soe Covenanted to agreed upon and Subscribed That in Such Case upon Complaint of any Collector appointed and Chosen by two thirds of Such Towne upon Long Island unto any Justice of that County Upon his hearing the Same he is hereby authorized impowered and required to issue out his warrant unto the Constable or his Deputy or any other person appointed for the Collection of Said Rates or agreement to levy upon the goods and Cattles of the Said Delinquent or Defaulter all such Sumes of money Soe covenanted and agreed to be paid by distresse with Costs and Charges without any further Suite in Law Any Lawe Custome or usage to the Contrary in any wise Notwithstanding.
provided Alwayes the said sume or sumes be under forty shillings otherwise to be recovered as the Law directs.
and whereas All the Respective Christian Churches now in practice within the City of New Yorke and the other places of this province doe appeare to be priviledged Churches and have beene Soe Established and Confirmed by the former authority of this Government bee it hereby Enacted by this Generall Assembly and by the authority thereof That all the Said Respective Christian Churches be hereby Confirmed therein And that they and Every of them Shall from henceforth forever be held and reputed as priviledged Churches and Enjoy all their former freedomes of their Religion in Divine Worshipp and Church Discipline And that all former Contracts made and agreed upon for the maintenances of the severall ministers of the Said Churches shall stand and continue in full force and virtue And that all Contracts for the future to be made Shall bee of the same power And all persons that are unwilling to performe their part of the said Contract Shall be Constrained thereunto by a warrant from any Justice of the peace provided it be under forty Shillings Or otherwise as this Law directs provided allsoe that all Christian Churches that Shall hereafter come and settle within this province shall have the Same priviledges.