1638: Act for the Liberties of the People (Maryland)

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Source: Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History, ed. Donald S. Lutz (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1998).

67 An Act for the Liberties of the People

Taken from Browne, Archives of Maryland: Vol. i, 41.


Along with the Pilgrim Code of Law [20] and the Massachusetts Body of Liberties [22], this is one of the earliest attempts to specify and protect the rights of citizens inhabiting a colony as distinct from the rights of proprietors. Each of these three documents takes a different approach to the problem. The document below, as well as the others from colonial Maryland reproduced in this volume, is notable for placing a time limit on the duration of rights. The implication is quite straightforward that the rights being protected, far from being inalienable, result from action by the body politic and can be rescinded for reasons acceptable to the legislature.

Be it Enacted By the Lord Proprietarie of this Province of and with the advice and approbation of the ffreemen of the same that all the Inhabitants of this Province being Christians (Slaves excepted) Shall have and enjoy all such rights liberties immunities priviledges and free customs within this Province as any naturall born subject of England hath or ought to have or enjoy in the Realm of England by force or vertue of the common law or Statute Law of England (saveing in such Cases as the same are or may be altered or changed by the Laws and ordinances of this Province)

And Shall not be imprisoned nor disseissed or dispossessed of their freehold goods or Chattels or be out Lawed Exiled or otherwise destroyed fore judged or punished then according to the Laws of this province saveing to the Lord proprietarie and his heirs all his rights and prerogatives by reason of his domination and Seigniory over this Province and the people of the same. This Act to Continue till the end of the next Generall Assembly.