Common Law, Charters & Constitutions

The various charters that were in force in the colony of New York, the constitutions adopted by the people of the State of New York since the Revolution, and the federal constitution and its Bill of Rights are reproduced here to give context to the decisions of the judges in the landmark New York cases highlighted on this website.

Following the Revolution, New York commenced the process of adopting its constitutions. A constitution is the paramount law of the nation or state that constrains and provides the framework for the exercise of power. In the federal and New York State constitutions, governmental authority originates with the citizenry and is based upon the commitment to liberty under the Rule of Law that gradually emerged during colonial times. The government itself is not above the law and governmental power is divided; laws are enacted by one body, administered by another, and an independent judiciary ensures that the laws are constitutional and administered fairly and objectively. The rights of individuals are determined by legal rules rather than the arbitrary actions of the government, and no punishment can be imposed unless a court decides there has been a breach of law.

The U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights also must be considered when looking at New York’s adherence to the Rule of Law. In addition to presenting the documents themselves, we look at the New York contribution to the ratification of the federal constitution.

Magna Carta

Magna Carta

Eight hundred years ago (June 19, 1215), England's most powerful feudal barons gathered at Runnymede, on the banks of the ...
Letter from the Directors in Amsterdam to the Director General and Council

Dutch Charters & Remonstrances

Charter of the Dutch West India Company (1621) In 1621, the parliament of the Dutch Republic awarded a charter to ...
Flushing Remonstrance

The Flushing Remonstrance, 1657

Introduction Seventeenth-century settlers in Flushing drafted a protest that became a watershed of religious freedom in the New World. Let’s ...
Duke's Laws

British Colonial Charters

The New York colonial charters were the fundamental law under which the colonists were permitted certain rights by the sovereign ...
NYS Constitutions

New York State Constitution

The first New York Constitution was adopted by the Convention of Representatives of the State of New-York on April 20, ...
Ratification of the Federal Constitution

New York & Ratification of the Federal Constitution

In 1787, the draft federal constitution was submitted to the states for ratification by popularly elected state conventions. In New ...

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