College Laws of 1655, 1692, and 1767 and College Customs 1734/5

College Laws and Customs


WE here print three separate collections of the laws of Harvard College, what one might call the Chauncy Code of 1655, the Mather Code of 1692, and the Holyoke Code of 1767, together with the earliest known copy of the College Customs, dated 1734/5.459

The earliest laws of Harvard College, dated 1642, are found in New Englands First Fruits. These, with subsequent enactments through 1646, and the Overseers’ Orders of 1650, in both English and Latin, are recorded in College Book I, and are printed in our first volume of Harvard College Records.460

The “Lawes of the Colledge published publiquely . . . May 4. 1655,” early in President Chauncy’s administration, constitute the first college laws in the enactment of which the Corporation took part. Either because they were recorded in College Book II, which was burned in 1764, or because they were never recorded at all, this important code, by which the college was regulated for over thirty years, has hitherto escaped being printed.461 Our copy, which was presented to the college by Samuel A. Green in 1897,462 was the official one, used by Presidents Chauncy and Hoar; and some of the additions at the end, after the laws proper, are in President Chauncy’s hand.

The third, or Dudley Code of college laws, a very brief collection in Latin, was dated July 3, 1686. Duly recorded in College Book IV, it has been printed in our second volume of Harvard College Records.463

The fourth, or Mather Code, which we have printed below, was adopted November 22, 1692, following President Mather’s return from England and the granting of a new charter by the General Court.464 These laws are in Latin, and are based on the Dudley Code of 1686. They too were not recorded in any extant manuscripts of the Corporation, and have been printed hitherto only in Cotton Mather’s Magnalia.465 This code is noteworthy for the statutes on divinity degrees (of which nobody took advantage), reflecting the Reverend President’s ambition to make Harvard College a true university.466 It remained in force until 1734, when a new body of laws was adopted.467 We have printed the Laws of 1692 from the oldest and most authentic manuscript copy known to exist, the one which formerly belonged to Tutor Flynt, and is now owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society. The Laws of 1767 are printed from an “official” copy in the University Archives. Amendments down to 1788 inserted in this copy have been given here in footnotes.

The College Customs, throughout the greater part of the eighteenth century and possibly earlier, were read aloud by a Sophomore (backed up by his classmates) to the assembled Freshmen shortly after they entered college. The manuscript which has been used here is the earliest known copy, and was made by Richard Waldron, A.B. 1738, when he entered Freshman.468 Some of these customs go back to the early days of the college; several references, for instance, will be found in the older Corporation records to “abusing the freshmen” when they refused to run errands for their elders and betters.469

S. E. Morison