Fundamental Orders of Connecticut

The Fundamental Orders, inspired by Thomas Hooker’s sermon of May 31, 1638 provided framework for the government of Connecticut colony from 1639 to 1662.

For two years before the adoption of the Fundamental Orders, Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield cooperated under a simple form of government composed of magistrates and representatives from each town, but the towns had no formal instrument of government.

The document consisted of a preamble and 11 orders of law. The preamble was a covenant that bound the three towns to be governed in all civil matters by the Orders. The Connecticut General Court adopted the Fundamental Orders on January 14, 1639.

The 11 orders clearly followed the Massachusetts government model and were consistent with 17th-century trading company charters. The Orders called for the convening of general courts every April and September. At the April Court of Election, a governor and six magistrates were to be chosen. No man could serve as governor more than once every two years, a restriction that lasted until 1660.

The governor and magistrates, who composed the nucleus for an Upper House, were to be elected by the freemen at the Court of Election. No religious test was established for voting, the Orders omitted all reference to the authority of the crown, and the General Court was given supreme authority over the towns and their inhabitants.

The General Court was authorized to adopt and repeal laws, impose taxes, distribute land, apprehend and punish people for misdemeanors, and enact legislation to promote the general good.

The matter of whether the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut should be considered a constitution in the modern sense, let alone honored as the first written constitution (as was once claimed), remains a matter of debate. They are also the reason why, in 1959, the General Assembly officially designated Connecticut as “the Constitution State.”

Source: Fundamental Orders of Connecticut
Copyright © Connecticut Humanities. NC-SA 3.0.

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