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Governor John Seymour and the Charters of Annapolis

Part 1. Preliminary Observations

Table of Contents
Part 2. The Act of 1696
Part 3. The Charters
Part 4. Reflections


        In 1708 Governor John Seymour issued two charters for the "Porte and Town of Annapolis," 1 the second of which has become quite notorious as the document that established Annapolis as a city. The first thing we should note about that second charter, however, is that it did not establish Annapolis as a city by itself but rather only in conjunction with the "Act Confirming and Explaining the Charter to the City of Annapolis," which the assembly passed and Seymour signed during the legislative session that opened late in November of 1708.2 In establishing the city the act of the assembly is as important as the charter is: with no act there would have been no charter at this time.

        The second thing to note about the charters is that neither charter provided Annapolis with its first local government. Governor Francis Nicholson and the assembly had already established Annapolis as a "Body Corporate in Deed" in 1696 with the "Act for keeping good Rules and Orders in the Port of Annapolis." 3 With that act they gave the settlement the basis for a functioning government. The two charters therefore only changed the structure of this government -- the first for a very short time, the second for a longer period.

        The primary significance of the charters that Seymour issued in 1708, therefore, is neither that they established Annapolis as a city and thus might have provided it with greater dignity4 than it had enjoyed as a mere "Body Corporate," nor that they changed the structure of its government. The chief significance of the charters, rather, is that they provided the occasion for the creation of two separate but closely related early precedents for the limitation of the power of the executive.

        The occasion arose because with the first charter, which Seymour issued on 16 August 1708,5 he tried to appropriate all political power in the city for himself and a small clique of his favorites. He did this by revoking the right to vote not only of most of the people who under the act of 1696 had been able to vote for commissioners of Annapolis but also of most of those who had been able to vote for delegates from Anne Arundel County to the lower house of the assembly. Annapolis would have two delegates, but only thirteen of the governor's small group of eighteen courtiers would be able to vote for them.

        This assault on their rights was unacceptable to at least some of the people in Annapolis who had been able to vote earlier, and in a petition to the lower house an unknown number of them protested.6 After considering the petition the delegates unanimously resolved that Seymour had no right to grant the charter in the manner and form in which he had granted it.7 Under this pressure, on 22 November Seymour issued the second charter, by which he restored the right to participate in the political system of the city and the province to some, if not all,8 of the people whom he had disenfranchised when he issued his first charter.

        Thus the first precedent. Both the petitioners against the charter and the delegates in the lower house claimed the right to judge an action of the governor, and together they forced him, through the second charter, to broaden political participation in the city and thus to accept a limit on his executive authority.

        The delegates, however, were not satisfied with Seymour's issuing that second charter on his own but rather believed that they should have the right to participate in determining the government of the city. Under further pressure,9 therefore, Seymour agreed that the assembly should pass and he would sign what became "An Act Confirming and Explaining the Charter to the City of Annapolis." In this act the delegates added some ideas of their own on the government of the city. On 17 December 1708 Seymour signed the act,10 and thus it was not the second charter alone but rather the second charter together with the act confirming and explaining it that provided the new basis of the government of the city.

        So here is the second early precedent in Maryland for the limitation of the power of the executive. Not only could the petitioners from Annapolis and the delegates force the governor to broaden political participation, as he had done with the second charter, but now the delegates, as the lower house of the assembly, could themselves participate in establishing policies that the governor would have preferred to establish with the advice only of this favorites. Members of the upper house, who also made up the governor's council, would have participated in these decisions in any case.

        Ironically, probably the person to whom we owe more than to anyone else for these early precedents for the limitation of executive power is the most vilified man in early eighteenth century Maryland -- vilified not only by the political powers of his time11 but also by historians who have accepted their slanders of him with little or no further research.12 This is Thomas Macnemara,13 an Irishman who came to Maryland in 1703 and who was quite possibly the best lawyer of his time in the province. He quickly became very unpopular with the ruling elite, however, allegedly because of his alleged multiple misbehaviors14 but more likely because of his courage in challenging the powerful. He was the spokesman before the lower house for the petitioners against the first charter,15 and, though we have no specific evidence of this, he might have been the leader, or one of the leaders, in drawing up the petition in the first place. He and Thomas Docwra were the only two petitioners the delegates mentioned by name when they summoned the petitioners to appear to defend their petition,16 and he had plenty of good reasons for wanting to embarrass John Seymour.17 While the delegates' already being upset at Seymour18 might have made Macnemara's job easier, still he was willing to put himself at the front of the battle, and as spokesman for the petitioners he convinced the delegates unanimously that Seymour had no right to issue that first charter as he had.19

        Exactly how important Macnemara, whose tempestuous career in Maryland was defined by his willingness to challenge authority, was in the dispute over the charters is uncertain, but the petitioners' making him their spokesman before the lower house must mean that they accepted him as their leader. If he did not incite them he obviously encouraged them, and their making him their spokesman must be evidence of the respect that they had for him.

        Although Seymour issued both charters of Annapolis in the name of Queen Anne, the queen herself probably had little or nothing directly to do with them. While apparently she did participate quite actively in the government of England,20 it is all but impossible that she ever saw the first charter at all, and she could not have seen the second charter, if she ever saw it, until several months after Seymour had issued it. Probably she knew only vaguely, if at all, what was in them.

        Both charters were written in Maryland. If the first charter has been written in England Seymour or one of his council would have not have had to propose, on 16 August 1708, that Annapolis be erected into a city, that it send two delegates to the lower house, and that it should have "some other small priviledges" that Seymour and his council would agree on.21 If the charter had come from England all of that would already have been settled. Further evidence is Seymour's making it quite clear that he was responsible for the first charter when in his letter of 10 January 1708/9, referring to the session of the assembly of 27 September to 5 October 1708, he told the Commissioners of Trade and Plantations that the delegates "disputed . . . the legality of a charter I granted to the Citty of Annapolis. . . ." The Commissioners received the letter on 11 May 1709 but did not read it until 6 December,22 and so they might not have got their first inkling that there was a first charter until almost seventeen months after Seymour issued it. Long before that, on 3 June 1709, they had received a copy of the second charter.23

        And certainly there was no time for either the Commissioners or the queen to have seen the second charter before Seymour issued it, since he issued it only four days after he ordered "the Corporacon," which must mean the mayor, recorder, aldermen, and common-councilmen whom Seymour had established by his first charter, to draw it up.24 Seymour sent a copy of the second charter to the Commissioners of Trade and Plantations with his letter of 10 March 1709/10, which the Commissioners received on 3 June 1709.25

        Aside from the charters' being issued in her name, therefore, apparently the closest the queen got to having anything to do with them is that by not disallowing the act confirming and explaining the second charter she allowed the second charter to stand.26



        1 For "Porte and Town of Annapolis," see "An Act for keeping good Rules and Orders in the Port of Annapolis," 1696, c. 24, Archives of Maryland, hereafter Md. Arch. (72 vols.; Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1883-1972), XIX, 498. Return to text

        2 Md. Arch.,XXVII, 261, 262, 334; 1708, c. 7, Md. Arch., XXVII, 358-360. Return to text

        3 1696, c. 24, Md. Arch., XIX, 498-504. Return to text

        4 For the increase in dignity on being raised to a city, see Edward A. Freeman, "City and Borough," Macmillan's Magazine (May 1889), p. 29. Return to text

        5 First charter of Annapolis, in Chancery Record 2, pp. 590-594. Return to text

        6 Md. Arch., XXVII, 213. Return to text

        7 Ibid., p. 216. Return to text

        8 The problem of the definition of "inhabitant" makes it unclear just who could vote in Annapolis under either the act of 1696 or the second charter of the city. 1696, c. 24, Md. Arch., XIX, 498-504; second charter of Annapolis, in Chancery Record 2, pp. 596-602; Elihu S. Riley, "The Ancient City." A History of Annapolis, in Maryland, 1649-1887 (Annapolis: Record Printing Office, 1887), pp. 87-91. Return to text

        9 Md. Arch., XXVII, 229, 229-230, 230, 232-234, 234, 271, 272, 273, 274-276, 276. Return to text

      10 Ibid., pp. 261, 262, 334; 1708, c. 7, Md. Arch., XXVII, 358-360. Return to text

      11 Council of Maryland to Board of Trade, 18 July 1712, The National Archives (PRO), Colonial Office 5, Vol. 720, pp. 123-127 (photocopy in Library of Congress), and The National Archives (PRO), Calendar of State Papers: Colonial Series (40 vols.; Vaduz: Kraus Reprint Ltd., 1964), XXVII, No. 16; Provincial Justices to Board of Trade, 18 July 1712, TNA (PRO), Colonial Office 5, Vol. 720, pp. 127-128,and TNA (PRO), Calendar of State Papers: Colonial Series, XXVII, No. 16.i. Return to text

      12 Aubrey C. Land, The Dulanys of Maryland: A Biographical Study of Daniel Dulany, the Elder (1685-1753) and Daniel Dulany, the Younger (1722-1797) (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society, 1955; reprinted Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1968), pp 7-8, 8-10, 14-16, 16-17, 28, 30, 30-31, 33, 34-35, 41, 46, 54, 210; Aubrey C. Land, Colonial Maryland: A History (Millwood, N. Y.: KTO Press, 1981), pp. 108, 125-127 (page 126 is a portrait of Daniel Dulany the Elder); Beatriz Betancourt Hardy, "'A most Turbulent and Seditious person': Thomas Macnemara of Maryland, " Maryland Humanities (Baltimore: Maryland Committee for the Humanities), Issue Number 72 (January 1999), pp. 8-11; Carl Bode, Maryland: A Bicentennial History (New York: W. W.Norton & Company, Inc., 1978), pp. 17-18; Alan F. Day, A Social Study of Lawyers in Maryland, 1660-1775 (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1989), pp. 50, 106, 130, 132; John E. Douglass, "Between Pettifoggers and Professionals: Pleaders and Practitioners and the Beginnings of the Legal Profession in Colonial Maryland, 1634-1731," The American Journal of Legal History, XXXIX, No. 3 (July 1995), pp. 376-377, 378-379; Herbert L. Osgood, The American Colonies in the Eighteenth Century (4 vols.; New York: Columbia University Press, 1924; reprinted Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1958), III, 6, 10. Return to text

      13 An argument might be made that Richard Clarke, whom John Seymour, his council, and the assembly managed to get hanged on 9 April 1708 on a bill of attainder for high treason, was more vilified than Macnemara was. See Md. Arch., XXV, 240, and indexes to Md. Arch., XXV, XXVI, and XXVII; 1705, c. 5, Md. Arch., XXVI, 513-514; 1707, c. 1, Md. Arch., XXVII, 139-140; John Seymour to Council of Trade and Plantations, 23 June 1708, TNA (PRO), Calendar of State Papers: Colonial Series, XXIII, No. 1570; TNA (PRO), Colonial Office 5, Vol. 727, p. 89; John Seymour to Principal Secretary of State, 23 June 1708, in "Unpublished Provincial Records," Maryland Historical Magazine, XVI, No. 4 (December 1921), pp. 357-358; Provincial Court Judgment Record, Liber T. L., No. 1, pp. 576-577; Liber T. L., No. 3, pp. 266, 268, 274-275, 429; Anne Arundel County Court Judgment Record, Liber G, pp. 252, 284-285. Return to text

      14 See Note 11 above. Return to text

      15 Md Arch., XXVII, 213, 216. Return to text

      16 Ibid., 213. Return to text

      17 See Part 3, "The Charters," at Notes 36-44. Return to text

      18 See ibid. at Notes 54-61. Return to text

      19 Md Arch., XXVII, 216. Return to text

      20 Edward Gregg, Queen Anne (new edition; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001; originally published London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1980). Return to text

      21 Md. Arch., XXV, 249. See also Part 3, "The Charters,™ at Note 14. Return to text

      22 TNA (PRO), Calendar of State Papers: Colonial Series, XXIV, No. 290 (pp. 195, 197). Emphasis added. Return to text

      23 Ibid., No. 410.i Return to text

      24 Seymour ordered "the Corporacon," to draw up the second charter on 18 November 1708, and he issued it on the twenty second. Chancery Record 2, 596, 602; Riley, The Ancient City, pp. 87, 91. Return to text

      25 TNA (PRO), Calendar of State papers: Colonial Series, XXIV, No. 410.i. With his letter of 10 March 1709/10 Seymour also included his comments on the acts that the assembly has passed during its previous session. Ibid., No. 410.ii; "The Titles of the Severall Laws made the Last Session of Assembly in December 1708 with Remarques thereon", in "Unpublished Provincial Records," Maryland Historical Magazine, XVII (June 1922), pp. 215-223; "Some Remarques on Several Acts of Assembly made the Last Session", in "Unpublished Provincial Records", ibid., XVII, No. 3 (September 1922), pp. 284-291. Return to text

      26 Thus the entry "1708 -- Royal Governor John Seymour proclaims City Charter from Queen Anne" in "Three Amazing Centuries" on the website of "Annapolis Alive!" [visited 9 August 2007] is quite misleading by implying not only that Seymour had actually received the charter from England but also that it went into effect with no further action by the assembly. And, further, I have found no evidence that the charter was ever proclaimed in public.

      The charters of Annapolis probably required even less effort on the part of the queen than Eric Smith suggests when he says that "Giving the ragged little village of Annapolis the right to govern itself was probably just a bit of political paperwork for a busy monarch." Eric Smith, "Cityscape: Charter was crucial in city's history [www.hometownannapolis.com/cgi-gin/read/2007/05_07-31/OPN]," Annapolis Evening Capital Online, 17 May 2007 [visited 18 May 2007]. Return to text


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