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American Liberty in Political Documents before 1787

This is a Reading List based upon a Liberty Fund Conference on “American Liberty in Political Documents Before 1787.”

American Liberty in Political Documents Before 1787

Topic

Neither American constitutionalism nor the American understanding of liberty originated with the drafting of the American Constitution in 1787 in Philadelphia. It was the result, rather, of trial and error––of earlier efforts to provide a fundamental law through the early state constitutions and Articles of Confederation. But even these documents do not tell the full story, for they were adaptations of colonial documents dating back to the seventeenth century. Each state basically took its colonial government and turned it into an independent constitutional government. Thus, we find a great deal of basic constitutional continuity between the pre- and post-independence political systems. This continuity was strongest in New England––in Massachusetts, which kept its colonial constitution until 1780, and in Connecticut and Rhode Island, which continued to live under their colonial constitutions until the mid-nineteenth century. In short, the United States Constitution has a pedigree that runs back to the founding documents of the American colonies.

Guide to the Readings

Editions used:

See also in the Online Library of Liberty:

For additional reading see:

Session I: First Attempts at Liberty

Lutz, Colonial Origins of the American Constitution

Session II: Early Founding Covenants

Lutz, Colonial Origins of the American Constitution

Session III: The First Constitutions

Lutz, Colonial Origins of the American Constitution

Session IV: The Move toward Liberty from Britain and Views of Liberty in Early State Constitutions

Frohnen, The American Republic:

Avalon Project (external site)

Not available online:

  • Massachusetts Constitution (1780)

Session V: The Articles of Confederation and its Antecedents

Lutz, Colonial Origins of the American Constitution

Session VI: The Bill of Rights and its Pedigree

Lutz, Colonial Origins of the American Constitution

Frohnen, The American Republic:

Avalon Project (external website):

Not available online:

  • Massachusetts Declaration of Rights (1780)

Last modified April 13, 2016