Skip to main content


This essay reconsiders the transformation of colonial constitutionalism to Constitutional Law. The transformation of constitutional law does not map neatly onto the 1776 - 90 period. This essay argues that the transformation was less the result of the admittedly important invention of a written constitution than of three less apparent transformations. A first essential transformation in constitutionalism occurred long before 1776 when seventeenth-century colonists created a new conception of the written and published charter as the location of authority and liberties. A second essential transformation occurred only after 1790 when appeals in judicial cases began to be publicly reported in print, thereby creating a stable and analyzable body of law. A third essential transformation occurred in 1787 - but with implications not immediately appreciated. Privy Council review of colonial legislation ended and no similar review took its place, thus leaving the judiciary the sole arbiter of constitutional law. These three transformations created modern American constitutionalism - a law two centuries in the making.


File nameDate UploadedVisibilityFile size
8 Sep 2022
187 kB
8 Sep 2022
1.36 MB



  • Subject
    • Constitutional Law

    • Legal History

  • Journal title
    • Transformations in American Legal History: Essays in Honor of Morton J. Horwitz.

  • Pagination
    • 28-57

  • Date submitted

    8 September 2022

  • Keywords
  • Additional information
    • Suggested Citation:

      Mary Sarah Bilder. "Colonial Constitutionalism and Constitutional Law." In Transformations in American Legal History: Essays in Honor of Morton J. Horwitz. Alfred L. Brophy and Daniel W. Hamilton, eds., Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009.