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Fundamental Orders Of Connecticut – First Constitutiuon Essay, Research Paper

Fundamental Orders of

Connecticut (1639)

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

Connecticut Colony.

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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