Introduction to the 1677* Concessions and Agreements

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The Concessions and Agreements of 1677, signed by William Penn and 150 others, mostly Quakers, established West Jersey organization and civil liberties. In that sense the document is a combination of Constitution and Bill of Rights similar to that of the U.S. but it also deals with some day-to-day detailed regulations.

Its statement of religious freedom achieves a singular level of poetry: " That no men, nor number of men upon earth, hath power or authority to rule over men's consciences …." (Chapter 16) but it was not the first to grant religious liberty. (For instance the 1664 Concessions and Agreements of Carteret and Berkeley, as well as the 1663 charter for Rhode Island's "livlie experiment.") The 1664 Concessions and Agreements had been quite liberal in order to attract settlers, but the document did not go into as much detail as the West Jersey Proprietors in 1677. The 1664 document stipulates a governor and retains a flavor of respect for social station. Both of these were stripped out in 1677. Many of the 1677 provisions for civil liberties and good government are indeed remarkable:

Popular elections:

     Annual elections with secret ballot (Chapters 32, 33)

Rights of defendants:

     Trial by jury with 35 (!) juror pre-emptions (Chapter 17)
     No debtors prisons (Chapter 18)
     Ability of jury to nullify judge's action if contrary to their verdict (Chapter 19)
     Right of self-representation, no court fees (Chapter 22)
     Victims can pardon defendant (Chapter 21)
     Trials involving Native Americans had juries half-and-half European and Native (Chapter 25)
     Restorative Justice principles, no mandatory death penalties (East Jersey had 13) (Ch.28 - 31)
     

Sunshine Laws:

     All public records were to be open and available (15, 23, 24, 36, 42)

No Slavery?

     This point is certainly open to debate but there are two indications that this had been thought about and that the framers of this constitution intended to not allow slavery.

          1) Some of the many passages that were borrowed from the 1664 Concessions and Agreements of Carteret and Berkeley pertained to additional land that would be granted if settlers sent servants. There were four such stipulations and more land would be granted the earlier the servants were sent. But in every instance where Carteret and Berkeley made a stipulation such as:
"And for every weaker servant, or slave, male or female, exceeding the age of fourteen years, which any one shall send or carry, arriving there, seventy-five acres of land..."
the West Jersey Concessions and Agreements changed the wording to omit the word "slave:"
"and for every weaker servant, male or female, exceeding the age of fourteen years, which any one shall send or carry, arriving there, fifty acres of land..."

          2) Tacked onto the end of Chapter 23 which is primarily about the court system being open to the public, is the fairly explicit language:
"....being intended and resolved by the help of the lord, and by these our concessions and fundamentals, that all and every person and persons inhabiting in the said province, shall as far as in us lies, be free from oppression and slavery."
As explicit as this sounds it is not conclusive since it has the rather hopeful "as far as in us lies" and it is buried away in such an odd place. Why would such a fundamental aim not be a chapter on its own?

          As we well know, slavery did in fact thrive in the Jerseys, but contrary to what many might assume today, it was much more prevalent in North Jersey counties than it was in South Jersey counties (see Statistics on Slavery in South Jersey). There are several possible contributing reasons for this (such as large areas of poor farming land in South Jersey) but the opposition of many (not all) Quakers to the practice is generally cited as one of the primary reasons.


West Jersey was founded 6 years before William Penn founded Philadelphia. To some extent it served as a proving ground for some of the concepts that later influenced his "Charter of Privileges" for Pennsylvania. Interestingly, the religious liberty section of Penn's Charter of 1701 contains limiting language that is not present in the Concessions and Agreements for West Jersey. One might think that basic monotheism and espousal of Christian salvation theology were assumed of all, but the provisions in the West Jersey document for Native American participation in legal proceedings (even as jurors) may suggest otherwise.

The following is my attempt to create a guide to the 1676 Concessions and Agreements document by bulletizing some essential components of each of the 44 Chapters. Note that the first few chapters set up a temporary commission (also to be popularly elected) in order to get the structures started, while the last section of the document defines the full 100-member assembly. The assembly described there first met in 1681.

Summary of Chapter Contents

About initial commissioners & land settlement:

1. appoints commissioners, contract with natives, lay out lands
2. surveyors to lay out & record land settlement
3. annual elections on 3/25, ballot trunks
4. lot sizes; cases of default
5. method to lay out & record surveys
6. freeways, hunt/fishing
7. no resurveys after 7 years
8. grazing rights (but no commons?)
9. commissioners oversee courts, can reprieve
10. accountability of officers/commissioners/assembly
11. no tax w/o general free assembly OK
12. good faith to letter/spirit,equal justice
13. concessions fundamental, no alterations
14. treason provision
15. constitution to be publicly read and displayed

Judicial protections:

16. religious freedom, (opinion, judgment, faith, worship)
17. trial by 12 jurors, 35 challenges allowed
18. debtors rights, summons, no debtors prison
19. jury nullification
20. witnesses; perjury
21. victim pardon
22. defendant's rights, self representation, no fees
23. courts open, (no slavery?)
24. transaction witnessed,registered in America & England
25. equal justice w/natives, joint jury (6 natives)
26. land to be bought from natives
27. travel license, 3 wks waiting period with public posting of intent
28. 2-fold restitution or jury sentence
29. wills public, wife/child rules
30. suicide, animal accidents
31. homicide penalty by assembly

About the popular assembly

32. assembly election oct 1 (100 member)
33. vote buying: 7 year ban; ballot box method
34. quorum rules, supermajority
35. members certify good faith, paid shilling/day
36. debate in private, votes pub
37. assembly appoint 10 commissioners
38. 100 petitioners per session
39. enact laws similar to English in accordance with the Conc. & Agreements
40. assembly constitutes courts and officers; set pay
41. constables & lower judges popularly elected
42. end of year treasurer’s report public
43. taxation equally
44. make bounds, ports, markets, fairs


* In the way dates are reckoned today (called "New Style" since 1752), the Concessions and Agreements were signed on March 3, 1677. At the time the document was actually signed, however, the New Year, for dating purposes, did not begin until March 25th. Therefore the original text of the document indicates that it was signed on March 3, 1676 (called "Old Style"). The conversion from Old Style to New Style dating occurred in 1752. Some historians will denote the old dates to indicate both methods, such as 3 March 1676/7. This only pertains to dates falling from January 1st to March 24th, inclusive.


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Last updated: 2015 Twelfth Month, 9th.