Fundamental Orders of Connecticut

Fundamental Orders of Connecticut

The Fundamental Orders were adopted by the Connecticut Colony council on January 14 1638 OS (January 24 1639 NS) [The January 14, 1638 date was in the old style Julian Calendar, before conversion to the modern new style Gregorian Calendar, see Old Style and New Style dates for an explanation of the date adjustment.] [cite web|title = Fundamental Orders|work = The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition|publisher = Columbia University Press|date = 2005|url =|accessdate = 2006-09-13] . The orders describe the government set up by the Connecticut River towns, setting its structure and powers.

It has the features of a written constitution, and is considered by some as the first written Constitution in the Western tradition,cite book
author=Lutz, Donald S.; Schechter, Stephen L.; Bernstein, Richard J.
title=Roots of the Republic: American founding documents interpreted
publisher=Madison House
location=Madison, Wis
pages=Pg 24
] and thus earned Connecticut its nickname of "The Constitution State". John Fiske, a Connecticut historian, was the first to claim that the Fundamental Orders were the first written Constitution, a claim disputed by some modern historians. [cite web |url= |title=STATE OF CONNECTICUT Sites º Seals º Symbols |accessdate=2008-01-25 |author=Secretary of State of Connecticut |year=2007 |work=the Connecticut State Register and Manual |publisher=State of Connecticut] The orders were transcribed into the official colony records by the colony's secretary Thomas Welles. It was a Constitution for the colonial government of Hartford and was similar to the government Massachusetts had set up. However, this Order gave men more voting rights and opened up more men to be able to run for office positions.


In 1635 a group of Massachusetts Puritans and Congregationalists who were dissatisfied with the rate of Anglican reforms, sought to establish an ecclesiastical society subject to their own rules and regulations. The Massachusetts General Court granted them permission to settle the cities of Springfield, Windsor, Wethersfield, and Hartford. [cite book |last=Horton |first=Wesley W. |authorlink=Wesley W. Horton |title=The Connecticut State Constitution: A Reference Guide |url=,M1 |accessdate=2008-09-17 |series=Reference guides to the state constitutions of the United States |volume=no. 17 |date=1993-06-30 |publisher=Greenwood Press |location=Westport, Connecticut |isbn=0313285659 |oclc=27066290 |pages=p 2] Ownership of the land was called into dispute by the English holders of the Warwick Patent of 1631. The Massachusetts General Court established the March Commission to mediate the dispute, and named Roger Ludlow as its head. The Commission named 8 magistrates from the Connecticut towns to implement a legal system. The March commission expired in March 1636, after which time the settlers continued to self-govern. On May 29, 1638 Ludlow wrote to Massachusetts Governor Winthrop that the colonists wanted to "unite ourselves to walk and lie peaceably and lovingly together." Ludlow drafted the Fundamental Orders, which were adopted on January 14, 1639, which established Connecticut as a self-ruled entity.

There is no record of the debates or proceedings of the drafting or enactment of the Fundamental Orders. It is postulated that the framers wished to remain anonymous to avoid retaliation by the English authorities. According to John Taylor: [ Taylor, John M., Roger Ludlow the Colonial Lawmaker, 1900, Google Book Search]

"The men of the three towns were a law unto themselves. It is known that they were in earnest for the establishment of a government on broad lines; and it is certain that the ministers and captains, the magistrates and men of affairs, forceful in the settlements from the beginning, were the men who took the lead, guided the discussions, and found the root of the whole matter in the first written declaration of independence in these historic orders. Who were they? Surely these men were: From Windsor, Ludlow, Mason, Hull, Phelps, and Marshall; from Wethersfield, Mitchell, Ward, Raynor, Plum, and Hubbard; from Hartford, Haynes, Hooker, Welles, Webster, Walcott, Steele, and Hopkins. With these leaders in thought and action are grouped other strong personalities: Wareham, Rositer, Wolcott, Steely, Wyllys, Allyn, Chester, Bull, and Goodwin, - all the chief planters of the towns (not alone the dignitaries of the General Court, as some authorities hold), - inspired, providentially directed, to one great purpose."

Individual rights

The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut is a short document, but contains some principles that were later applied in creating the United States government. Government is based in the rights of an individual, and the orders spell out some of those rights, as well as how they are ensured by the government. It provides that all free men share in electing their magistrates, and uses secret, paper ballots. It states the powers of the government, and some limits within which that power is exercised.

In one sense, the Fundamental Orders were replaced by a Royal Charter in 1662, but the major outline of the charter was written in Connecticut and embodied the Orders' rights and mechanics. It was carried to England by Governor John Winthrop and basically approved by the British King, Charles II. The colonists generally viewed the charter as a continuation and surety for their Fundamental Orders; the Charter Oak got its name when that charter was supposedly hidden in it, rather than be surrendered to the King’s agents.

Today, the individual rights in the Orders, with others added over the years, are still included as a "Declaration of Rights" in the first article of the current Connecticut Constitution, adopted in 1965..

ee also

*Provisions of Oxford (1258)
*Declaration of Arbroath (1320)
*Mayflower Compact (1620)
*Instrument of Government (1653)


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