Hybrid Constitutions

Challenging Legacies of Law, Privilege, and Culture in Colonial America

Hybrid Constitutions

Book Pages: 208 Illustrations: Published: January 2010

Author: Vicki Hsueh

History > U.S. History, Law > Legal History, Politics > Political Theory

In Hybrid Constitutions, Vicki Hsueh contests the idea that early-modern colonial constitutions were part of a uniform process of modernization, conquest, and assimilation. Through detailed analyses of the founding of several seventeenth-century English proprietary colonies in North America, she reveals how diverse constitutional thought and practice were at the time, and how colonial ambitions were advanced through cruelty toward indigenous peoples as well as accommodation of them. Proprietary colonies were governed by individuals (or small groups of individuals) granted colonial charters by the Crown. These proprietors had quasi-sovereign status over their colonies; they were able to draw on and transform English legal and political instruments as they developed constitutions. Hsueh demonstrates that the proprietors cobbled together constitutions based on the terms of their charters and the needs of their settlements. The “hybrid constitutions” they created were often altered based on interactions among the English settlers, other European settlers, and indigenous peoples.

Hsueh traces the historical development and theoretical implications of proprietary constitutionalism by examining the founding of the colonies of Maryland, Carolina, and Pennsylvania. She provides close readings of colonial proclamations, executive orders, and assembly statutes, as well as the charter granting Cecilius Calvert the colony of Maryland in 1632; the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, adopted in 1669; and the treaties brokered by William Penn and various Lenni Lenape and Susquehannock tribes during the 1680s and 1690s. These founding documents were shaped by ambition, contingency, and limited resources; they reflected an ambiguous and unwieldy colonialism rather than a purposeful, uniform march to modernity. Hsueh concludes by reflecting on hybridity as a rubric for analyzing the historical origins of colonialism and reconsidering contemporary indigenous claims in former settler colonies such as Australia, New Zealand, and the United States.


Hybrid Constitutions is very clearly written and provides a succinct and interesting overview of selected early constitutions and charters and historical writing about them that initiates an important debate. As an introduction to this literature and an intervention into colonial and sovereignty studies Hsueh's book is a helpful resource.” — Jacqueline Stevens, Theory & Event

“[S]ignificant and exciting. . .offer[s] compelling readings of important texts and thinkers, and suggest[s] whole new trajectories of research linking the American past and present to an evolving American future.” — Andrew R. Murphy, Perspectives on Politics

“Hsueh demonstrates mastery of an impressive range of scholarship in both modern and postmodern political theory. Students of United States constitutional history will have to confront her complex analysis if they hold to a belief that the colonial period represented an emerging structural consensus.” — Tim Alan Garrison, Ethnohistory

“The book…presents a clear thesis and educates the reader on the important, and often neglected, issue of hybrid constitutions in proprietary colonies.” — Stephanie Fortner, Journal of the North Carolina Association of Historians

“In Hybrid Constitutions, Vicki Hsueh challenges the prevailing tendency in political theory to find in early-modern European colonialism the origins of modern liberalism’s exclusions and inclination toward uniformity. Through her detailed analyses of charters, constitutions, and treaties, she shows that colonial encounters—including encounters and negotiations among Europeans themselves, as well as between Europeans and Native Americans—were much more complex, contingent, and contested than broad-brush accounts would imply. This subtle and impressive book will be important for colonial historians and political theorists alike.” — David Armitage, author of The Declaration of Independence: A Global History


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Vicki Hsueh is Associate Professor of Political Science at Western Washington University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

1. Hybrid Constitutionalisms: Unsettling the Empire of Uniformity 1

2. "Not Repugnant or Contrary": Law, Discretion, and Colonial Founding 25

3. Giving Orders: Theory and Practice in the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina 55

4. Under Negotiation: Treaty Power and Hybrid Constitutionalism in Pennsylvania 83

5. Negotiating Culture: Plurality and Power in Hybrid Constitutionalism 113

Notes 135

Bibliography 163

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4632-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4618-0
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