Annapolis Charter 300 1708-2008
—Commemorating the 1708 Royal Charter under Queen Anne to the City of Annapolis —
Annapolis, one of America's earliest chartered cities, celebrated its 300th anniversary of its charter in 2008.
Colonial Governor John Seymour granted the Annapolis municipal charter in the name of England's Queen Anne in 1708, during the brief period in which Maryland was governed by the crown and not the proprietary Calvert family.
Seymour's initial August 1708 charter set up a self-perpetuating city government of mayor, recorder, aldermen, and common council. Although this charter granted the city two delegates to the General Assembly, they, too were to be chosen by city officials, not residents. Denied the opportunity to elect their representatives, leading citizens pushed to elect their own delegates and common councilmen. They complained to the Lower House of the Assembly, which challenged the Governor's right to issue the charter at all.
Compromise resulted in a second charter, issued in November 1708, giving qualified city residents the right to vote for some common councilmen and for delegates to the Assembly. The Lower House approved the charter, with amendment, that December.
The determination of citizens to elect their representatives of the Lower House to curtail the right of the governor are early steps toward and independent nation yet to come. One historian,
Charles B. Clark* saw these fights between the royal governor and the General Assembly as the beginning of the American independence movement. Certainly the lower House was sharpening its governing teeth, teeth it would need when it declared itself separate from the Proprietor and England a couple generations later.
*Charles B. Clark, "The Career of John Seymour, Governor of Maryland 1704-1709."
Maryland Historical Magazine 48 (1953) 134-159.
Who Could Vote?
Initially, the franchise was based on the ownership of real property. A married woman could not own property in her own right under 18th c. English law; unmarried women and widows could. Technically in the charter a female sole landowner or woman with £20 visible estate could have voted. No evidence has been found that any did. Most voters were free, adult, and male. Free blacks with qualifications voted in 1800 and, we think, in 1802. We know this because there are a few lists of voters in the early 19th century, and known free blacks are on them. Records of city votes before 1820 are almost non-existent. There is no evidence in earlier city elections of either free blacks or women voting.
What Did They Vote For?
The only persons elected by the "freemen and inhabitants were members of the Common Council — and then only if the incumbent died, left town, or got into serious legal trouble. These were, in effect, lifetime appointments; city elections in the 18th century were few and far between. In 1818, when there was a great outcry to amend the charter, one of the complaints was that city offices were vacated only upon the death of the incumbent. There was a major revision of the city charter in 1819, harbinger of the Jacksonian revolution in the federal government. It has been amended many times since.
Jane McWilliams, Historian