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UAI 15.100

Harvard University. Charters and legislative acts relating to the governance of Harvard, 1650-1814: an inventory

Harvard University Archives

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Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: UAI 15.100
Repository: Harvard University Archives
Creator: Harvard University.
Title: Charters and legislative acts relating to the governance of Harvard, 1650-1814
Date(s): 1650-1814
Quantity: 2.38 cubic feet (1 framed item, 3 flat boxes, 5 folders)
Language of materials: English
Abstract: Harvard College was founded by a vote of the Great and General Court of Massachusetts on October 28, 1636; subsequent legislative acts established the Board of Overseers, but it was the Charter of 1650 that established the Harvard Corporation and defined its authority as the College's primary governing board. For most of Harvard's history to the present, the College has operated under the Charter of 1650, but between 1672 and 1707 alternate Charters were recognized when the document became a contentious target for College officials, the Massachusetts Governor and General Court, and the British government grappling with conflicting conceptions of both Harvard and the colony's autonomy. This collection contains copies of the Charters of 1650, 1692, and 1697; the Resolve of 1707 (that reinstated the 1650 Charter); a 1723 draft of a proposed Charter, presumably penned by President John Leverett; and two pieces of Massachusetts legislation, an Act of 1810 that altered the composition of the Board of Overseers, and an Act of 1814 that reinstated the 1810 legislation after it was repealed in 1812. The documents include official ceremonial originals signed by the Governor and stamped with the Massachusetts seal, various handwritten and typed copies, and items used to display the Charter of 1650 during ceremonies. The documents reflect the evolution of Harvard's governance, the role of religion at the College, 17th century colonial politics, and the influence of the British government in colonial affairs.

Acquisition information:

The ceremonial copies were presented by the Massachusetts General Court at the time of their creation and are University records. Some of the handwritten and typed copies of the Charters were received from donors, and others were acquired in the course of University business. When specific acquisition information is known, it is noted at the item level.

Processing Information:

The material was first classified and described in the Harvard University Archives shelflist prior to 1980. The material was re-processed in 2011. Re-processing involved a collection survey, re-housing in appropriate archival folders and boxes, and the creation of this finding aid. Photostat use copies of the charters originally classified as UAI 15.100.7 PF were removed from the collection, and color slides (UAI 15.100 tr) and photographic negatives (UAI 15.100 pN) of the Charter of 1650 were moved to the control file for the collection.
This finding aid was created by Diann Benti in January 2011.
Preservation and description of the Charters and legislative acts relating to the governance of Harvard was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.

Researcher Access:

The charters and legislative acts relating to the governance of Harvard are open for research. Access to original charters may be restricted; facsimiles may be provided for researcher use.

Copying Restriction:

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.

Online access:

All of the records have been digitized and are available online. Links accompany detailed descriptions.

Preferred Citation:

Harvard University. Charters and legislative acts relating to the governance of Harvard, 1650-1814. UAI 15.100, Harvard University Archives.

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives

Historical note

Introduction
Harvard College was founded by a vote of the Great and General Court of Massachusetts on October 28, 1636 that allocated "400£ towards a schoale or colledge." Subsequent legislative acts in 1642 established the Board of Overseers, but it was the Charter of 1650 that created the Harvard Corporation as the College's primary governing board and defined its composition and authority. The College Charter became a contentious target for College officials, the Massachusetts Governor and General Court, and the British government grappling with conflicting conceptions of both Harvard and the colony's autonomy, and was revised on multiple occasions into the 18th century.
More than a year after the founding of the College, on November 20, 1637, the General Court established the College's first governing board: a Board of Overseers comprised of six magistrates and six ministers, "to be always one, to take order for a Colledge at Newetowne." What followed was an inchoate period for the College during which the first school master, Nathaniel Eaton, was dismissed for negligent and abusive behavior, and the College closed its doors for the 1638-1639 academic year. The College reopened in August 1640 with the newly appointed President Henry Dunster as its head. On September 27, 1642, four days after the College celebrated its first Commencement, the General Court passed an act granting that the Board of Overseers "for the time being, shall, from time to time, have full power and authority" to manage the College.
Charter of 1650
The 1642 legislation, at times incorrectly identified as the "First Charter," formalized the authority of the Board of Overseers over the College. Of the Overseers, only the president of Harvard had any direct contact with the College's day-to-day affairs, and because the Board was comprised of ex-officio members disbursed throughout the Boston area, it was difficult for the Board to meet and govern effectively. On May 23, 1650, President Dunster delivered a petition (no longer extant) to the General Court requesting the establishment of a corporation to manage the College. The Court agreed and a Charter was passed on May 30, 1650 and signed by Governor Thomas Dudley on May 31, 1650.
The Charter of 1650 established the Harvard Corporation board consisting of seven individuals: the President, five Fellows, and a Treasurer. The Corporation had the authority to manage the College's finances, properties, and donations, act as a legal entity in courts of law, select officers and servants, and create orders and bylaws for the College, with the approval of the Board of Overseers. The Charter named the Corporation as the "President and Fellowes of Harvard College" and transferred to them, in "perpetual succession," the duties of managing the College.
Appendix to the Charter of 1650
The Charter of 1650 created the Corporation, but it also ambiguously referred to the Board of Overseers as a second governing body. The relative roles of the Corporation and the Board of Overseers were clarified in an "Appendix" to the 1650 Charter passed by the General Court in 1657, which explained that while the Corporation had the power to create orders and bylaws, the Corporation would be responsible unto, and the laws alterable by, the Overseers.
Charter of 1672
On October 21, 1672, the General Court passed another Charter for Harvard that changed the name of the Corporation to "The President, Fellows, and Treasurer of Harvard College," but otherwise made only minimal changes to the powers granted in the Charter of 1650. The impetus behind the creation of the 1672 Charter and its influence on the College are unclear. The document was generally unacknowledged in College records until 1723, when a controversy over the rights of the Tutors to be named to the Corporation led to an examination of the charters and a note by the Corporation that, "The Charter of 1672 requires no Such thing, nor seems at all to look that way; w'ch Act is for the Perpetuation of the Charter of 1650" (College Book IV, pp. 89-90). During the 1720s, the Charter was also copied by President Leverett in his diary, and Benjamin Wadsworth, then a fellow, made a manuscript copy of the Charter from Leverett's diary in 1722 (now in the College Papers, Supplement, I. 18).
After 1723, the 1672 Charter went unacknowledged until 1742, when Tutor and Fellow Nathan Prince was dismissed from the College by the Board of Overseers "on Account of Sundry Crimes & Misdemean'rs." Prince contended that as a Fellow, he could only be dismissed by the Corporation itself, and published The Constitution and Government of Harvard-College in response. In his publication, Prince recognized the College Charter of 1672, and suggested "this Law of 72 was not entered in due Form into some College Records" because it shifted some power from the Board of Overseers to the Corporation. Though the Charter of 1672 was referenced both in 1723 and in 1742, on January 27, 1812 President Kirkland noted, "there remains no evidence that the Corporation ever accepted this Charter, or exercised any powers therein granted; and it is not on the records of either the Overseers or the Corporation" (College Records, X, 67).
Charter of 1692
In October 1684, the English Court of Chancery voided the Royal Charter of the Massachusetts colony, and seemed to render the College Charter of 1650, and the Corporation and Board of Overseers defunct. In May 1686, Joseph Dudley (Harvard AB 1665) received a commission as the President of the Council of New England, and on July 23, 1686, Dudley and the Council met in Boston to create a provisional College governing board led by Increase Mather as Rector of the College, and John Leverett and William Brattle as Tutors. The "Rector and Tutors" mirrored in purpose if not name the Corporation's "President and Fellows." On June 27, 1692, a new act of incorporation for Harvard College was passed in the Massachusetts legislature and signed by the Governor. The Charter of 1692 merged the functions of the Board of Overseers and the Corporation into one board consisting of the President, Treasurer, and eight Fellows. As the newly established Corporation expanded, it became unwieldy, met less frequently, and the Faculty (known until 1825 as the "Immediate Government") assumed more responsibility for managing the College's daily operations and addressing student disciplinary issues.
Charter of 1697
Massachusetts General Court legislation did not require the approval of the British government to become law, but the King in Council could subsequently disallow acts. All colonial acts were submitted to the Privy Council and beginning in 1696, legislation was reviewed by the Board of Trade and Plantations (known as the Lords of Trade), which could recommend to the Privy Council the disallowance of laws.
In July 1696, the College learned that the Privy Council had disallowed the Charter of 1692 because it did not stipulate the right of the King or Governor to appoint visitors of the College. The power of visitation granted access to an institution to inspect whether all laws and orders were being followed. In the Charter of 1697, the Massachusetts General Court amended the Charter of 1692 with a clause that created "for the time being" a supervisory group comprised of the colony's Governor and Council to be "Visitors of the said College or academy, and shall have, use, and exercise a power of visitation as there shall be occasion for it." But the clause, again, did not acknowledge the King's power of visitation. The new charter also increased the size of the Corporation to include fourteen Fellows. The Charter of 1697 was signed by Lieutenant-Governor Stoughton on June 4, 1697. But in London, the Charter was stalled by the Lords of Trade who noted the omission of the King's visitation privilege, and upon the recommendation of the Lords of Trade, the Charter was disallowed by the King in Council.
Draft Charter of 1700
Boston did not learn of the disallowance of the Charter of 1697 until April 26, 1699, and beginning that summer, a new Charter draft was presented to the General Court that gave the power of visitation to "his Majesty and his Governor." But the draft also introduced a clause, requested by President Increase Mather and his son Cotton Mather, that restricted Corporation membership to those who "shall declare and continue their adherence unto the principles of Reformation." The Earl of Bellomont, Richard Coote (1636-1701), who served as Governor of Massachusetts from May 26, 1699 to July 17, 1700, refused to approve the Charter so long as it retained a religious oath, and Bellomont ordered the Corporation to proceed temporarily under the Charter of 1697. On May 30, 1700, Governor Bellomont began the new session of the General Court by suggesting that the Legislature draft their own charter for the College and petition the King to create a "Royal Charter of Priviledges" based on their model. The "Draught of a Charter of Incorporation for Harvard Colledge at Cambridge in New England, agreed by the Council and House of Representatives…to be humbly Sollicited for his Majesty" was dated July 12, 1700. The draft retained a fourteen-member Corporation, but did not contain a religious test (though the Corporation members it identified were almost all clergymen).
The day after the drafted Charter was signed, on July 13, 1700, the General Court created a new "Temporary Settlement" that identified members of a de facto Corporation and empowered them to manage the College until "his majestie's pleasure shall be known." The drafted Charter attempted to end the nine years of legislative disagreement that followed the Charter of 1692, but it never achieved its purpose because it was lost by Sir John Hawles, Solicitor-General of the Crown. Harvard College, instead, continued to function under the "Temporary Settlement" until 1707.
Resolve of 1707
On October 28, 1707, the Corporation elected Fellow John Leverett to succeed President Samuel Willard who had died on September 12th. The Corporation vote was forwarded to the General Court for approval, and faced political opposition in the House of Representatives. In a compromise, Governor Joseph Dudley promised to restore the Charter of 1650, if the House authorized Leverett's election. The concurrent resolve signed on December 6, 1707 authorized Leverett's election, assigned him a salary of 150£, and declared that as the Charter of 1650 had never been "repealed or Nulled," the Corporation should "regulate them selves according to the Rules of the Constitution."
Proposed Charter of 1723
In 1716, the Corporation, still led by President Leverett, imposed three-year terms on the College tutor appointments, and in 1716 and 1717, instead of following the traditional practice of electing tutors to vacant fellowships, selected three ministers to join the Corporation. In 1720, tutors Henry Flynt, Nicholas Sever, and Thomas Robie presented a memorial to the Board of Overseers in 1720 calling for the tutors' right of fellowship. As the disagreement unfolded, the Corporation refused to re-elect Sever as a fellow in 1722, and Sever presented memorials to both the Corporation and the Board of Overseers. The Overseers responded on June 3, 1722 by recognizing Sever as a Fellow and declaring that they had not approved the Corporation's vote mandating three-year terms. The Overseers also petitioned the General Court to enlarge the size of the Corporation to accommodate both the newly-appointed ministers and the tutors. As the General Court argued over the legislation in 1723, Leverett drafted a charter himself to accompany a request for a royal charter from King George I. The draft called for John Leverett to be President "for and during his natural life," with a Vice-President elected annually. Leverett's draft was never presented, and when he died on May 3, 1724, the matter was abandoned.
Acts related to the Board of Overseers, 1810-1865
In 1805, Harvard students led a rebellion protesting bad food, and while College authorities insisted on the students' complete culpability, a committee of Overseers suggested the students' complaints be heard. The committee's proposal was only narrowly outvoted by the full Board of Overseers, and led the Corporation in 1810 to demand a state law that altered the membership of the Board of Overseers. The Corporation took advantage of the politically contentious atmosphere in state politics to change the makeup of the Board of Overseers (still based on the 1642 legislation).The law, passed on March 6, 1810, reduced the number of ex-officio ministerial and political Overseers, and allowed for the Board to elect fifteen new lay members. But the political composition of the Massachusetts legislature fluctuated in the 1810s, and on February 29, 1812, the Act of 1810 was repealed. On February 28, 1814, the Act of 1812 was itself repealed, and the 1810 layout of the Board of Overseers was restored, with the addition of the State Senate to the ex-officio members.
With the Act of May 22, 1851, the composition of the Board of Overseers changed again, and the ministerial, Council and State Senate representatives were removed, and only high-level state officials were retained as ex-officio members; the rest of the Board was to be elected to six-year terms by the General Court. In 1854 however, the General Court began exploring whether the legal relationship between Massachusetts and Harvard University should be dissolved, and on April 28, 1865 "An Act in Relation to the Board of Overseers of Harvard College" (Massachusetts Chapter 173) was passed. The 1865 Act transferred the elective power over the Board of Overseers from the Massachusetts legislature to Harvard bachelors, masters, and honorary degree holders, and signaled the end of the of the State's legal involvement with the College.
The Charter as Insignia
The Charter of 1650 is part of the insignia of the office of the Harvard presidency, along with the oldest surviving record book, College Book I, the University's seals, and silver ceremonial keys. The first documented transferring of the insignia occurred during the inauguration of President Leverett in 1708, when the College "Library Keeper" carried the charter, seal, and records in the ceremonial procession, and the insignia was presented to Leverett by the governor of the colony. The symbolic transfer of the insignia during presidential installations has continued as a tradition, with the insignia presented by the governor of Massachusetts through 1865. After the University ceased to be under the Commonwealth's control, the outgoing Harvard president and members of the Board of Overseers made the presentation.
Between 1877 and 1897, the framed Charter of 1650 hung in the office of Harvard Librarian Justin Winsor. The Charter of 1650 is now housed in the Harvard University Archives and only rarely displayed. On October 11 and 12, 2007, in conjunction with the inauguration of Drew Faust as president of Harvard, the Charter was exhibited publicly in the University Archives.

Introduction

Harvard College was founded by a vote of the Great and General Court of Massachusetts on October 28, 1636 that allocated "400£ towards a schoale or colledge." Subsequent legislative acts in 1642 established the Board of Overseers, but it was the Charter of 1650 that created the Harvard Corporation as the College's primary governing board and defined its composition and authority. The College Charter became a contentious target for College officials, the Massachusetts Governor and General Court, and the British government grappling with conflicting conceptions of both Harvard and the colony's autonomy, and was revised on multiple occasions into the 18th century.
More than a year after the founding of the College, on November 20, 1637, the General Court established the College's first governing board: a Board of Overseers comprised of six magistrates and six ministers, "to be always one, to take order for a Colledge at Newetowne." What followed was an inchoate period for the College during which the first school master, Nathaniel Eaton, was dismissed for negligent and abusive behavior, and the College closed its doors for the 1638-1639 academic year. The College reopened in August 1640 with the newly appointed President Henry Dunster as its head. On September 27, 1642, four days after the College celebrated its first Commencement, the General Court passed an act granting that the Board of Overseers "for the time being, shall, from time to time, have full power and authority" to manage the College.

Charter of 1650

The 1642 legislation, at times incorrectly identified as the "First Charter," formalized the authority of the Board of Overseers over the College. Of the Overseers, only the president of Harvard had any direct contact with the College's day-to-day affairs, and because the Board was comprised of ex-officio members disbursed throughout the Boston area, it was difficult for the Board to meet and govern effectively. On May 23, 1650, President Dunster delivered a petition (no longer extant) to the General Court requesting the establishment of a corporation to manage the College. The Court agreed and a Charter was passed on May 30, 1650 and signed by Governor Thomas Dudley on May 31, 1650.
The Charter of 1650 established the Harvard Corporation board consisting of seven individuals: the President, five Fellows, and a Treasurer. The Corporation had the authority to manage the College's finances, properties, and donations, act as a legal entity in courts of law, select officers and servants, and create orders and bylaws for the College, with the approval of the Board of Overseers. The Charter named the Corporation as the "President and Fellowes of Harvard College" and transferred to them, in "perpetual succession," the duties of managing the College.

Appendix to the Charter of 1650

The Charter of 1650 created the Corporation, but it also ambiguously referred to the Board of Overseers as a second governing body. The relative roles of the Corporation and the Board of Overseers were clarified in an "Appendix" to the 1650 Charter passed by the General Court in 1657, which explained that while the Corporation had the power to create orders and bylaws, the Corporation would be responsible unto, and the laws alterable by, the Overseers.

Charter of 1672

On October 21, 1672, the General Court passed another Charter for Harvard that changed the name of the Corporation to "The President, Fellows, and Treasurer of Harvard College," but otherwise made only minimal changes to the powers granted in the Charter of 1650. The impetus behind the creation of the 1672 Charter and its influence on the College are unclear. The document was generally unacknowledged in College records until 1723, when a controversy over the rights of the Tutors to be named to the Corporation led to an examination of the charters and a note by the Corporation that, "The Charter of 1672 requires no Such thing, nor seems at all to look that way; w'ch Act is for the Perpetuation of the Charter of 1650" (College Book IV, pp. 89-90). During the 1720s, the Charter was also copied by President Leverett in his diary, and Benjamin Wadsworth, then a fellow, made a manuscript copy of the Charter from Leverett's diary in 1722 (now in the College Papers, Supplement, I. 18).
After 1723, the 1672 Charter went unacknowledged until 1742, when Tutor and Fellow Nathan Prince was dismissed from the College by the Board of Overseers "on Account of Sundry Crimes & Misdemean'rs." Prince contended that as a Fellow, he could only be dismissed by the Corporation itself, and published The Constitution and Government of Harvard-College in response. In his publication, Prince recognized the College Charter of 1672, and suggested "this Law of 72 was not entered in due Form into some College Records" because it shifted some power from the Board of Overseers to the Corporation. Though the Charter of 1672 was referenced both in 1723 and in 1742, on January 27, 1812 President Kirkland noted, "there remains no evidence that the Corporation ever accepted this Charter, or exercised any powers therein granted; and it is not on the records of either the Overseers or the Corporation" (College Records, X, 67).

Charter of 1692

In October 1684, the English Court of Chancery voided the Royal Charter of the Massachusetts colony, and seemed to render the College Charter of 1650, and the Corporation and Board of Overseers defunct. In May 1686, Joseph Dudley (Harvard AB 1665) received a commission as the President of the Council of New England, and on July 23, 1686, Dudley and the Council met in Boston to create a provisional College governing board led by Increase Mather as Rector of the College, and John Leverett and William Brattle as Tutors. The "Rector and Tutors" mirrored in purpose if not name the Corporation's "President and Fellows." On June 27, 1692, a new act of incorporation for Harvard College was passed in the Massachusetts legislature and signed by the Governor. The Charter of 1692 merged the functions of the Board of Overseers and the Corporation into one board consisting of the President, Treasurer, and eight Fellows. As the newly established Corporation expanded, it became unwieldy, met less frequently, and the Faculty (known until 1825 as the "Immediate Government") assumed more responsibility for managing the College's daily operations and addressing student disciplinary issues.

Charter of 1697

Massachusetts General Court legislation did not require the approval of the British government to become law, but the King in Council could subsequently disallow acts. All colonial acts were submitted to the Privy Council and beginning in 1696, legislation was reviewed by the Board of Trade and Plantations (known as the Lords of Trade), which could recommend to the Privy Council the disallowance of laws.
In July 1696, the College learned that the Privy Council had disallowed the Charter of 1692 because it did not stipulate the right of the King or Governor to appoint visitors of the College. The power of visitation granted access to an institution to inspect whether all laws and orders were being followed. In the Charter of 1697, the Massachusetts General Court amended the Charter of 1692 with a clause that created "for the time being" a supervisory group comprised of the colony's Governor and Council to be "Visitors of the said College or academy, and shall have, use, and exercise a power of visitation as there shall be occasion for it." But the clause, again, did not acknowledge the King's power of visitation. The new charter also increased the size of the Corporation to include fourteen Fellows. The Charter of 1697 was signed by Lieutenant-Governor Stoughton on June 4, 1697. But in London, the Charter was stalled by the Lords of Trade who noted the omission of the King's visitation privilege, and upon the recommendation of the Lords of Trade, the Charter was disallowed by the King in Council.

Draft Charter of 1700

Boston did not learn of the disallowance of the Charter of 1697 until April 26, 1699, and beginning that summer, a new Charter draft was presented to the General Court that gave the power of visitation to "his Majesty and his Governor." But the draft also introduced a clause, requested by President Increase Mather and his son Cotton Mather, that restricted Corporation membership to those who "shall declare and continue their adherence unto the principles of Reformation." The Earl of Bellomont, Richard Coote (1636-1701), who served as Governor of Massachusetts from May 26, 1699 to July 17, 1700, refused to approve the Charter so long as it retained a religious oath, and Bellomont ordered the Corporation to proceed temporarily under the Charter of 1697. On May 30, 1700, Governor Bellomont began the new session of the General Court by suggesting that the Legislature draft their own charter for the College and petition the King to create a "Royal Charter of Priviledges" based on their model. The "Draught of a Charter of Incorporation for Harvard Colledge at Cambridge in New England, agreed by the Council and House of Representatives…to be humbly Sollicited for his Majesty" was dated July 12, 1700. The draft retained a fourteen-member Corporation, but did not contain a religious test (though the Corporation members it identified were almost all clergymen).
The day after the drafted Charter was signed, on July 13, 1700, the General Court created a new "Temporary Settlement" that identified members of a de facto Corporation and empowered them to manage the College until "his majestie's pleasure shall be known." The drafted Charter attempted to end the nine years of legislative disagreement that followed the Charter of 1692, but it never achieved its purpose because it was lost by Sir John Hawles, Solicitor-General of the Crown. Harvard College, instead, continued to function under the "Temporary Settlement" until 1707.

Resolve of 1707

On October 28, 1707, the Corporation elected Fellow John Leverett to succeed President Samuel Willard who had died on September 12th. The Corporation vote was forwarded to the General Court for approval, and faced political opposition in the House of Representatives. In a compromise, Governor Joseph Dudley promised to restore the Charter of 1650, if the House authorized Leverett's election. The concurrent resolve signed on December 6, 1707 authorized Leverett's election, assigned him a salary of 150£, and declared that as the Charter of 1650 had never been "repealed or Nulled," the Corporation should "regulate them selves according to the Rules of the Constitution."

Proposed Charter of 1723

In 1716, the Corporation, still led by President Leverett, imposed three-year terms on the College tutor appointments, and in 1716 and 1717, instead of following the traditional practice of electing tutors to vacant fellowships, selected three ministers to join the Corporation. In 1720, tutors Henry Flynt, Nicholas Sever, and Thomas Robie presented a memorial to the Board of Overseers in 1720 calling for the tutors' right of fellowship. As the disagreement unfolded, the Corporation refused to re-elect Sever as a fellow in 1722, and Sever presented memorials to both the Corporation and the Board of Overseers. The Overseers responded on June 3, 1722 by recognizing Sever as a Fellow and declaring that they had not approved the Corporation's vote mandating three-year terms. The Overseers also petitioned the General Court to enlarge the size of the Corporation to accommodate both the newly-appointed ministers and the tutors. As the General Court argued over the legislation in 1723, Leverett drafted a charter himself to accompany a request for a royal charter from King George I. The draft called for John Leverett to be President "for and during his natural life," with a Vice-President elected annually. Leverett's draft was never presented, and when he died on May 3, 1724, the matter was abandoned.

Acts related to the Board of Overseers, 1810-1865

In 1805, Harvard students led a rebellion protesting bad food, and while College authorities insisted on the students' complete culpability, a committee of Overseers suggested the students' complaints be heard. The committee's proposal was only narrowly outvoted by the full Board of Overseers, and led the Corporation in 1810 to demand a state law that altered the membership of the Board of Overseers. The Corporation took advantage of the politically contentious atmosphere in state politics to change the makeup of the Board of Overseers (still based on the 1642 legislation).The law, passed on March 6, 1810, reduced the number of ex-officio ministerial and political Overseers, and allowed for the Board to elect fifteen new lay members. But the political composition of the Massachusetts legislature fluctuated in the 1810s, and on February 29, 1812, the Act of 1810 was repealed. On February 28, 1814, the Act of 1812 was itself repealed, and the 1810 layout of the Board of Overseers was restored, with the addition of the State Senate to the ex-officio members.
With the Act of May 22, 1851, the composition of the Board of Overseers changed again, and the ministerial, Council and State Senate representatives were removed, and only high-level state officials were retained as ex-officio members; the rest of the Board was to be elected to six-year terms by the General Court. In 1854 however, the General Court began exploring whether the legal relationship between Massachusetts and Harvard University should be dissolved, and on April 28, 1865 "An Act in Relation to the Board of Overseers of Harvard College" (Massachusetts Chapter 173) was passed. The 1865 Act transferred the elective power over the Board of Overseers from the Massachusetts legislature to Harvard bachelors, masters, and honorary degree holders, and signaled the end of the of the State's legal involvement with the College.

The Charter as Insignia

The Charter of 1650 is part of the insignia of the office of the Harvard presidency, along with the oldest surviving record book, College Book I, the University's seals, and silver ceremonial keys. The first documented transferring of the insignia occurred during the inauguration of President Leverett in 1708, when the College "Library Keeper" carried the charter, seal, and records in the ceremonial procession, and the insignia was presented to Leverett by the governor of the colony. The symbolic transfer of the insignia during presidential installations has continued as a tradition, with the insignia presented by the governor of Massachusetts through 1865. After the University ceased to be under the Commonwealth's control, the outgoing Harvard president and members of the Board of Overseers made the presentation.
Between 1877 and 1897, the framed Charter of 1650 hung in the office of Harvard Librarian Justin Winsor. The Charter of 1650 is now housed in the Harvard University Archives and only rarely displayed. On October 11 and 12, 2007, in conjunction with the inauguration of Drew Faust as president of Harvard, the Charter was exhibited publicly in the University Archives.

References

Arrangement

The collection is arranged in eight series:

Scope and Content

The College charters are documents establishing Harvard College as a legal entity and defining the composition and authority of its governing boards. For most of Harvard's history to the present, the College has operated under the Charter of 1650; between 1672 and 1707, alternate Charters were recognized. This collection contains copies of the Charters of 1650, 1692, and 1697; the Resolve of 1707 (that reinstated the 1650 Charter); a draft of a proposed Charter likely penned by President John Leverett in 1723; and two pieces of Massachusetts legislation, an Act of 1810 that altered the composition of the Board of Overseers, and an Act of 1814 that reinstated the 1810 legislation. The documents include official ceremonial originals signed by the Governor and stamped with the Massachusetts seal, as well as various handwritten and typed drafts and copies.
The documents in the collection reflect the legal and financial control of the Massachusetts General Court and the British Government over Harvard in the 17th and 18th centuries. With the exception of the 1723 Charter proposal, the documents represent legislation created by the Massachusetts General Court with the input of College administrators. The documents offer a resource for studying college governance, Massachusetts politics, the influence of the British government in colonial affairs, and the role of religion in the College's governance. The collection does not represent a complete holding of all papers related to the Charter; similar official documents, including the Appendix of 1650 and the Charter of 1672 are held in record books in the Massachusetts State Archives. Additional charter copies, and supplemental documents are held in the Massachusetts State Archives, in the British Archives, and in other University collections.

General

This document last updated 2015 September 17.

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