There is probably no need to point out that this page will be added to. Maps are provided from the Perry-Castañeda Map Library at the University of Texas and the Atlas Section of the History Department United States Military Academy.


1215 $ The Magna Carta (English)

Forced on the English King John by his barons at Runnymede in June 1215, the Magna Carta limited the power of the crown over the nobles, the church and the cities; limitations which extended downward to the relations between nobles and freemen. Much of it dealt with regularizing legal and fiduciary relationships between the crown and other groups, removing the arbitrary power of the former; but also articulated were personal rights which have made the Magna Carta a symbol of individual freedom almost since its creation. The document as we know it is that reissued under Henry III in 1225.

1611 $ The King James (Authorized) Version of the Bible (English)

By the beginning of the reign of King James I in 1603 there were six versions of the Bible in general use in England. At a church conference called by the king in 1604, John Reynolds, the Puritan president of Corpus Christi College, suggested that there should be a new revision that would be the exclusive and standard version to be used by the church. For the next seven years, forty-seven men, translating and editing in Westminster, Cambridge and Oxford, produced the work through which the English-speaking world, including America, has understood its faith, formed its morality, shaped its culture, and for many decades learned its language.
We have used the BibleResources.com on-line text for its lexicon. See also Dr. Laurence M. Vance's Brief History, and Who Were the King James' Version Translators?.

1611 $ Dale's Laws

Dale's Laws are the first colonial legal code. Four years after its founding the Jamestown Colony was on the verge of extinction due, among other things, to a lack of discipline. Many of the colonists had expected a paradise on their arrival instead of the challenge to survival that the colony had actually become; and chose to live their beliefs instead of reality. This came to a halt with the arrival of Sir Thomas Dale as governor, and the promulgation of his laws. The laws are particularly harsh, but not unique to their time. Particularly interesting is Article 1 which sets out the laws and punishments for the civilian population.

1629 $ The Petition of Right (English)

The Petition outlines grievances presented by Parliament to the English King, Charles I, condemning arbitrary taxation, disregard of due process, imprisoment without charge, the imposition of martial law and the billeting of troops in private homes, all as violations of the law of the land first enumerated in the Magna Carta. The Petition, as part of a pattern later pursued by the American colonists, adumbrates the grievances expressed in the Declaration of Independence and outlines the same fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Constitution.

1630 $ The Model of Christian Charity: John Winthrop

Written by the Puritan leader on board the ship Arbella during its voyage to the New World, The Model of Christian Charity outlines a moral code for the new Massschusetts Bay Colony based on love, charity, humility and piety - duties knit together by what Winthrop believed to be God's relationship to humanity, and our relationship to each other. Containing the phrase "a city upon a hill", the sermon imagined the colony as a model for humankind, though it must be said that the beneficiaries of Puritan Christian charity were, almost exclusively, the Puritans. Winthrop led in this. Several times colonial governor, he was intolerant of either political or religious dissent, often persecuting and driving dissenters from the Colony. Nor was charity synonymous with democracy as Winthrop consistently opposed the democratic reforms demanded by his own people that would have limited the arbitrary power of the magistrates, of which he was one.

1641 $ The Massachusetts Body of Liberties

The MBL is considered the first code of laws in New England. First proposed in 1635, then continually put off, it was finally compiled by Puritan minister and lawyer, Nathaniel Ward, based on the Magna Carta and English Common Law. (It won out over a different version compiled by John Cotton based on the Old Testamant.) It is an interesting collection of modern-sounding individual rights joined to a list of capital crimes, laws concerning women, and an enforced religious conformism most people today would consider reprehensible.

1645 $ A Little Speech On Liberty: John Winthrop

In 1645 Winthrop, along with his fellow magistrates of Massachusetts, were impeached for having exceeded their powers in interfering with a local election and then arresting those who complained. The magistrates were eventually acquitted, and Winthrop delivered this speech. The speech highlights two points central to Puritan governance: first, that though the magistrates are elected, they take their authority from God, and second, that liberty consists of subjection to authority.

1646 $ Westminster Confession of Faith

Ordered to be drawn up by the English Parliament in 1643, the Confession is a faithful statement of Calvinist principles intended for the Church of England. Along with Anglicans both in Britain and the colonies, Puritans also adopted it, making it the theological foundation for every major Protestant sect - Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists and Anglicans - in the first hundred years of early America.

1689 $ The Bill of Rights (English)

Incorporating many of the themes of the Petition of Right, and adding to them, the Bill of Rights established the freedom of Englishmen from arbitrary government by turning former grievances into positive prohibitions against arbitrary taxation and arrest, cruel and excessive punishments, and the keeping of standing armies. It established the right to bear arms, to free elections to Parliament, to trial by jury, to freedom of speeech in Parliament, to petition the government and to due process.

1690 $ The Second Treatise of Government: John Locke (English) [PDF]

The First Treatise rebutted Sir Robert Filmer's defense of the divine right of kings. The Second Treatise outlined the meaning of humankind's transition from a "state of nature" to a "state of society". The Treatise set down as the end of government "the public good" - that government was legitimate only insofar as it met that goal, and when it did not, it could be overthrown. Power derived from the people, and unltimately remained there. Locke also maintained that the people maintained all rights in society save one: that of judging their fellows, which by assembling into society, they surrendered to the public. Long considered to have influenced Jefferson's writing of the Declaration of Independence, the Treatise's role has been questioned by recent historians.