A funny thing about the U.S. Constitution is that it's written down. Words might seem like an obvious feature of a constitution, but they're notably missing from much of the constitution of the United Kingdom, the country from which the United States seceded. Historians have often assumed that the quirky U.S. practice of putting constitutions into single documents has its origins in the corporate charters of the seventeenth-century trading companies that founded more than half of the thirteen original states. But, as historian Mary Bilder has written, it is surprisingly difficult to explain the change from corporate charter to modern constitution with precision and persuasive power. This article attempts to do just that, telling the story of an eighty-year lawsuit that forced the Massachusetts Bay Company to treat its charter's terms as Gospel.Nikolas Bowie is the Reginald Lewis Law Teaching Fellow at Harvard Law School and a doctoral candidate in history at Harvard University. He is a graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School, and a former clerk for Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the Supreme Court of the United States and Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. He most recently served as the Berger-Howe Legal History Fellow at Harvard Law School.
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