This Article examines the early modern revival and subtle transformation in what is here called the merchants’ chapter of Magna Carta and then analyzes how lawyers, judges, and government officeholders invoked it in the new American federal courts and in debates over congressional power. In the U.S. Supreme Court in the early 1790s, a British creditor and an American State debated the meaning and applicability of the merchants’ chapter, which guaranteed two rights to foreign merchants: free entry and exit during peacetime, without being subjected to arbitrary taxes; and, in wartime, the promise that their persons and goods would not be harmed or confiscated, unless their own king attacked and confiscated English merchants. In other words, no harm to enemy aliens, except as retaliation. Tit for tat.A second article is Exile, Choice, and Loyalism: Taking and Restoring Dignity in the American Revolution, which is to appear in a symposium on “Dignity Takings,” in Law & Social Inquiry (2016):
The idea that reciprocity was a fundamental mechanism of international (and interpersonal) relations became something like a social science axiom in the early modern Enlightenment. Edward Coke claimed to find that mechanism in the merchants’ chapter and publicized it to lawyers throughout the emerging British Empire and beyond. Montesquieu lauded the English for protecting foreign commerce in their fundamental law, and Blackstone basked in that praise. American lawyers derived their understanding of the merchants’ chapter from these sources and then, in the early Republic, stretched the principle behind it to protect foreign capital, not just resident merchants. The vindication of old imperial debt contracts would signal to all international creditors that, in the United States, credit was safe. Federalists then invoked the chapter outside of the courts to resist Republican attempts to embargo commerce and sequester foreign credit. For Republicans, doux commerce had become the Achilles heel of the great Atlantic empires: their reliance on American trade could be used to gain diplomatic leverage without risking war. For Federalists, economic sanctions threatened not just their fiscal policy but their entire vision of an Atlantic world that increasingly insulated international capital from national politics. They all agreed, however, that the role of foreign capital in the American constitutional system was a central issue for the new and developing nation.
Taking a cue from Bernadette Atuahene’s concept of “dignity takings” and her insight that government expropriation inflicts more than economic injury, this essay analyzes how American revolutionaries defined political membership, penalized and expropriated British loyalists, and then allowed some to join the American polity in the decade after the Revolution. Many recovered their property, professions, and legal privileges. However, because most loyalists could choose to remain loyal or join the Revolution, they did not lose human dignity as Atuahene defines it. Case studies of two reintegrating lawyers, Richard Harison and William Rawle, explore loyalism, the loss of dignities that loyalists suffered, and some paths toward reintegration. Their appointment as federal attorneys helped make the government conversant in the common law, British statutes, and the law of nations, which in turn supported the Federalist goal of reintegrating the United States into the Atlantic World: achieving, in other words, national dignity.The third is English Liberties Outside England: Floors, Doors, Windows, and Ceilings in the Legal Architecture of Empire, which is forthcoming as Chapter 38 of the Oxford History of English Law and Literature 1500-1700, ed. Lorna Hutson:
We tend to think of global migration and the problem of which legal rights people enjoy as they cross borders as modern phenomena. They are not. The question of emigrant rights was one of the foundational issues in what can be called the constitution of the English empire at the beginning of transatlantic colonization in the seventeenth century. This essay analyzes one strand of this constitutionalism, a strand captured by the resonant term, ‘the liberties and privileges of Englishmen’. Almost every colonial grant – whether corporate charter, royal charter, or proprietary grant – for roughly two dozen imagined, projected, failed, and realized overseas ventures contained a clause stating that the emigrants would enjoy the liberties, privileges and immunities of English subjects. The clause was not invented for transatlantic colonization. Instead, it had medieval roots. Accordingly, royal drafters, colonial grantees, and settlers penned and read these guarantees against the background of traditional interpretations about what they meant.
Soon, however, the language of English liberties and privileges escaped the founding documents, and contests over these keywords permeated legal debates on the meaning and effects of colonization. Just as the formula of English liberties and privileges became a cornerstone of England’s constitutional monarchy, it also became a foundation of the imperial constitution. As English people brought the formula west, they gave it new meanings, and then they returned with it to England and created entirely new problems.
Liberties and privileges claims fell into five functional categories. First, the claim that colonists abroad and their descendants enjoyed English liberties functioned as an open door, allowing overseas colonists to return home to England and be treated as equal English subjects. Second, the king or his colonial deputies might make positive grants of English liberties to subjects in a royal territory outside England as an inducement for English subjects to migrate there. Here, the grant of English liberties and privileges functioned as a window, a transparent promise of familiar and cherished rights to encourage settlement. Third, already by the time of the English Civil War and more frequently by century’s end, the colonists themselves sometimes claimed English liberties, privileges, and immunities abroad as a floor below which governors could not push. Fourth, in the reverse of the second, the claim that overseas subjects had to be governed according to English standards, including English liberties and privileges, could function as a ceiling on colonial innovation. It was a ceiling measured by metropolitan officials, especially the Privy Council as it reviewed colonial statutes and judicial cases to ensure that they were, in the familiar language of colonial grants, ‘agreeable’ with and ‘not repugnant’ to the laws of England. Finally, colonial assumptions of English liberties functioned as a mirror through which colonists could see themselves as English, even when their colonial rights, such as their property rights, were viewed at home as peculiar. If for example a subject of the English king in an overseas dominion owned slaves in that dominion and wished to sojourn home, could he bring his slaves? Could he carry the rights of a Virginian or Jamaican with him to England and enjoy those rights there? Collapsing English and local liberties, slaveholders argued affirmatively. As Englishmen they should, they thought, be able to move around the empire with their property, including human property.