The Fundamental Constitution of Carolina was the constitutional government document written for the Province of Carolina, a large swath of land in the new American colonies occupying an area roughly between what are now the states of Virginia and Florida. Adopted in March 1669 and penned by the British philosopher John Locke, the Fundamental Constitution of Carolina formed the basis for Carolina’s colonial government in the 17th century.

Religious Tolerance

The Fundamental Constitution of Carolina colony residents freedom of religion. This religious tolerance attracted a diverse group of settlers, including French Huguenots, Sephardic Jews, German and Swiss Lutherans, Quakers and Baptists. South Carolina had one of the largest African American populations in the colonies, many of whom retained their traditional religious beliefs. The 97th provision of the Fundamental Constitution dictated that religious disagreements were not legitimate grounds to expel or mistreat a group of people in the Province of Carolina .

Acceptance of Slavery

The Fundamental Constitution applied only to ifree people. It recognized the rights of the slaveholders but not the rights of the slaves. The 110th provision of the Constitution indicated an overall approval of slavery when it declared, “Every freeman of Carolina shall have absolute power and authority over his negro slaves.”

Rights of Defendants

The Fundamental Constitution provided explicitly stated rights for those who were on trial for serious criminal offenses. Its 64th provision banned the practice of double jeopardy, the practice of trying a defendant twice in a single court. For those under trial for murder or any other offense punishable by death, the constitution provided for a special commission to assemble “twice a year at least” to judge these cases and provide the possibility of appealing them.

Recognition of Landed Nobility

The Fundamental Constitution of Carolina created a society ruled by the landed nobility class in Carolina. The two major ranks of the landed nobility were landgraves and caziques. Landgraves were recognized as the superior rank with double the land of caziques. Both ranks enjoyed legal privileges, as the Constitution stated, “No landgrave or cazique shall be tried for any criminal cause in any but the chief justice's court, and that by a jury of his peers.”