Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Massachusetts eBay Charter

The Massachusetts Bay Charter of 1629 is the most important document in Massachusetts history—the document upon which a Commonwealth was founded, and without which America would be a profoundly different place.

It's also worth a lot of cash.

The Salem Athenæum is considering auctioning off its copy of the charter—the only original copy this side of the Atlantic—to pay its operating expenses (read gambling debts).

The charter, essentially the founding document of Massachusetts, is the "most significant document" in state history, but it has broader importance, said Dane Morrison, a professor of early American history at Salem State College.

Morrison said the charter, which established an elected governor and legislature, declares a right to representative government more forcefully than other colonial documents, including the Virginia charters or Mayflower Compact. Then, government existed for the benefit of royalty, the aristocracy or the church, he said. [Link]
The Athenæum's willingness to sell the charter has sparked a feud with its crosstown rival, The Peabody Essex Museum. To keep the document in Massachusetts, the Peabody Essex is willing to do whatever it takes—short of ponying up $10 million to buy it.

All is not lost. At least one New England patriot is willing to take up arms against the Athenæum's board of red-coated trustees.
Former state Sen. Bill Saltonstall says he is "violently opposed" to any plan to sell the Massachusetts Bay Charter.

Salem Mayor Leverett Saltonstall left the historic document with the Salem Athenaeum nearly 200 years ago. But his descendant disputes the fact that his family "donated" it.

"We just put it there," said Bill Saltonstall, who questions the ownership and does not rule out legal action as a way to prevent any sale. [Link]

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