New Jersey Colonial Charters

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New Jersey received its first charter from its proprietors, John Berkeley and George Carteret, in 1664. The charter established representative institutions of government, contained a clause on religious liberty similar to that in the rhode island charter of 1663, and guaranteed that only the general assembly could impose taxes. In 1676 Berkeley sold his share of New Jersey to Quakers, leaving Carteret proprietor of East New Jersey. In 1677 the Quaker proprietors issued a "Charter or Fundamental Laws, of West New Jersey," the work, probably, of william penn. The charter included clauses on liberty of conscience, trial by jury, and several protections for the criminally accused; the charter is memorable, however, because it functioned as a written constitution of fundamental law. It began with the provision that the " common law or fundamental rights" of the colony should be "the foundation of the government, which is not to be altered by the Legislative authority … constituted according to these fundamentals.…" The legislature was enjoined to maintain the fundamentals and to make no laws contradicting or varying from them.

In 1682 a Quaker group headed by Penn gained control of East New Jersey and in the following year issued "The Fundamental Constitutions" for that province. The charter of 1683, which was modeled on the Pennsylvania Frame of Government of 1682 (see pennsylvania colonial charters), recognized conscientious objection, banned any establishment of religion, paraphrased chapter 39 of magna carta, and included a variety of provisions that resembled a bill of rights, far more numerous than in the English bill of rights of 1689. Although New Jersey became a royal colony in 1702, the seventeenth-century Quaker charters are significant evidence of the grip which constitutionalism had upon influential colonial thinkers.

Leonard W. Levy


Andrews, Charles Mc Lean 1936 The Colonial Period of American History. Vol. 3:138–180. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

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New Jersey Colonial Charters

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New Jersey Colonial Charters