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Fundamental Orders Of Connecticut – First Constitutiuon Essay, Research Paper
Fundamental Orders of
Direct Democracy. . .A New Beginning
In search of more fertile land and greater political and religious
freedom, English settlers left the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the
1630’s and established three settlements along the banks of the
Connecticut River: Windsor, Wethersfield, and Hartford. These
Puritan (Congregationalist) settlements formed the core of the
In 1638, Reverend Thomas Hooker, chief founder of Hartford,
preached a powerful sermon urging settlers to take a more active role
in governing themselves than they had in the Bay Colony. He boldly
proclaimed that the authority to govern lies “firstly, in the free consent
of the people. . .As God has given us liberty, let us take it.”
Inspired by Hooker’s vision, the Connecticut Colony adopted a set of
Fundamental Orders in 1639. It stands as the first known written
constitution embodying the principle of self-government, recognizing
the right of the people both to vote directly for their officials and to
limit their powers.
Even though “the people” did not mean everyone–only “Godly adult
males who owned property” could vote–the adoption of these Orders
marked the beginning of representative government in Connecticut
and embodied the spirit of constitutionalism so basic to American
Because of this unique early history, Connecticut came to be called
“The Constitution State.”
The Mayflower Compact served as a model for the other small New
England colonies. Roger Williams and his followers, who dissented
from the strict Puritanism of Massachusetts, fled that colony in
search of greater religious freedom and founded Providence (later
Rhode Island) on the basis of a mutual compact. Three years later
Connecticut River towns of Hartford, Windsor and Wetherfield joined
together to create a government patterned after that of
The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut provided for a governor,
governor and magistrates to meet with an assembly, or general court,
elected by the people. The general court not only possessed all
lawmaking authority, but stood supreme over the governor. By far the
most ambitious of all the compacts, the Fundamental Orders
in many ways a modern constitution, setting out a particular scheme
government and defining the powers and authority of its components.
But where a true constitution is superior to the agencies it
establishes, and can only be amended by the people, the Connecticut
assembly could, on its own, amend the Fundamental Orders. Not
much later would the Americans distinguish between a supreme
law and ordinary legislative enactments.
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