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Journal of the History of Ideas 63.3 (2002) 425-446

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Giving Orders:
Theory and Practice in the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina

Vicki Hsueh

Indians.         Of Edisto Ashapo and Combohe to the South our friends. Of Wando Ituan Sewee and Sehey to the north came to our assistance and were zealous and resolute in it 1000 bowmen In our want supplied us.
Q. Spaniards.         What we shall doe to the Spaniards if we invade them we brake the peace, if we sit still we loose our reputation with the Indians our friends.
Westoes.         Inland man eaters.
Country.         To the northward more sickly, about Ashley River fertile and of a wonderful growth.
Tatchequea.         A very fruitfull Country 8. days jorney by the North west the Emperor our friend and enemy to the Westoes and to hard for them.
Q. Settlem't.         500 people will secure the settlement 1000 perfect it. desires supplys of necessarys till that time

Excerpt from Carolina Memoranda in
the handwriting of John Locke, Esq., 15 September 1670

Within the last decade, scholars such as James Tully, Barbara Arneil, and Bhikhu Parekh have performed a crucial intervention on modern constitu-tionalism's behalf. 1 Not only has constitutionalism in the modern age been [End Page 425] plagued by assumptions of cultural uniformity and an on-going inability to adjudicate between competing cultural claims, but it has been unable effectively to diagnose those limitations and dilemmas. The root of the problem, James Tully suggests, is ultimately a matter of historical perspective. "[T]he tendency," he writes, "is not to notice the philosophical and ideological debates over the last three hundred years ... only the result of these debates is seen—the victorious modern language of constitutional uniformity—and claims for recognition are viewed through its framework as if it were impartial and universal." 2 In response Tully and others have sought to tackle this predicament at its historical root. Identifying modern constitutionalism's colonial origins as a significant part of the problem, their studies address the development of constitutionalism and colonialism as an entwined phenomenon in the early modern period, focusing particularly on the British-American context. In this sense, Locke's Two Treatises of Government stands as an exemplary illustration of the period's entangled colonial and constitutional temperaments. Well-known for its influential articulation of compact and resistance, the Two Treatises, Barbara Arneil argues "were written as a defence of England's colonial policy in the new world against the sceptics in England and the counter-claims of both the aboriginal nations and other European powers in America." 3 Accordingly, present-day constitutionalism continues to bear the weighty legacy of those colonial rationales. "[T]he language of modern constitutionalism," Tully further explains, "which has come to be authoritative was designed to exclude or assimilate cultural diversity and justify uniformity. The design is difficult to see because this 'modern' language has become the customary way of thinking about, reflecting on and envisioning a just constitutional order." Ultimately, Tully submits, citing Wittgenstein, "A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language and language seemed to repeat it to us inexorably." 4

This much-needed thickening of constitutionalism's historical context has enriched our awareness of constitutionalism's vexed origins, as it has proffered potent tools for interrogating current cultural adjudication. Yet, a troubling predicament persists. As if caught within the tenacious grip of the language of modern constitutionalism, Tully, Arneil, and Parekh insistently portray seventeenth-century British-American colonialism solely as a straightforward process of appropriation and assimilation without addressing or incorporating the [End Page 426] complex and contingent elements of that history in its emergence. Lacking the various negotiations and accommodations between settler and indigene in ambition and actualization, their portrayals crucially underplay the dynamic relationship between theories of constitutionalism and practices of colonialism—an approach that ultimately serves to reinscribe the narrative of triumphalist progress within their critiques. 5

This problematic is the context for my reading of the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina,1669...


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