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Why is Connecticut Called the Constitution State?

Connecticut earned the moniker "Constitution State" because it's believed to have inspired the U.S. Constitution with its early governance document, the Fundamental Orders of 1638-39. This pioneering framework set a precedent for a democratic system, underscoring Connecticut's pivotal role in shaping American governance. How did this small state influence the nation's founding principles? Join us as we explore its historic impact.
Jason C. Chavis
Jason C. Chavis

Connecticut is referred to as the "Constitution State" due to the fact that it has the first written constitution as recognized by many historians. On 24 January 1639, the Connecticut Colony council passed a resolution to adopt a system of government known as the Fundamental Order of 1638/39. It wasn't until a historian from Connecticut, John Fiske, pushed for the establishment of the "Constitution State" nickname in the late 1950s, that the state officially adopted the slogan. The General Assembly passed a resolution in 1959 that mandated the motto.

The "Constitution State" nickname was made possible by the desire of a number of Massachusetts residents to seek religious and social freedom during the period of Anglican reform in the British colonies. A section of land was chosen by the Massachusetts General Court for settlement; however, it was under dispute with other colonists regarding ownership rights. In response to this problem, a group of magistrates from the proposed region in Connecticut were assembled to settle the dispute. Known as the March Commission, it organized under the leadership of Roger Ludlow, widely known as one of the main founders of Connecticut.

The US Constitution.
The US Constitution.

This commission was only scheduled to last until March 1636, at which time a legal system was to be put in place throughout the region. Due to the fact that the organization was so successful in resolving the land dispute and a push to build an ecclesiastical society, the group stayed in power and began the process of self-governing the colony, a fact unique during the era. Ludlow took it on himself to announce to Massachusetts that it had the desire to self-govern. As such, he drafted the Fundamental Orders of 1638/39 as the first constitution in the colonies. This effectively established Connecticut as the Constitution State and an independent entity.

Massachusetts began the Constitution State phenomena.
Massachusetts began the Constitution State phenomena.

One of the unique factors in the document is the fact that it established many of the fundamentals later used in the drafting of the United States Constitution as well as many of the future democratic republics throughout the world. The Fundamental Orders deemed that the government was based on the rights of individuals, meaning it served the greater good through the will of the people rather than a divine right. Every free male was mandated the right to elect representatives through a process of secret ballot. The document also outlined the duties and responsibilities of the government, while also addressing its limitations on certain matters, a principle that still holds true in constitutions throughout the country and the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Connecticut known as the Constitution State?

Connecticut earned the nickname "The Constitution State" because it's believed to have been the first place in the world to have a written constitution, the Fundamental Orders of 1638-1639. This document outlined the framework for the government of the Connecticut Colony and is considered by some historians to be the first written constitution in the Western tradition, predating the United States Constitution by over a century and a half.

What are the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut?

The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut were adopted on January 14, 1639, and served as the governing document for the Connecticut Colony. They established a framework for the government that included the election of a governor and a legislature. The Orders are significant because they represent an early step towards the creation of a government by consent of the governed, a foundational principle of democratic governance.

How did the Fundamental Orders influence the United States Constitution?

While the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut were not a direct template for the United States Constitution, they are seen as a forerunner because they embodied the idea of a government that derived its authority from the consent of the people it governed. This concept was a key element in the development of democratic principles that would later be central to the United States Constitution.

Are there any other states known for their constitutional history?

Yes, several other states have notable constitutional histories. Pennsylvania, for example, is known for the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, which was a radical and democratic constitution for its time. Massachusetts is famous for the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, drafted by John Adams, which is the world's oldest functioning written constitution. Virginia is also significant for its Virginia Declaration of Rights, which influenced the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution.

When did Connecticut officially adopt "The Constitution State" as its nickname?

Connecticut officially adopted "The Constitution State" as its nickname by an act of the General Assembly in 1959. This act recognized the state's claim to having the first written constitution in the Western tradition, the Fundamental Orders, and solidified the nickname in the state's identity and on its license plates.

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Discussion Comments

runner101

@Tomislav - Although Washington DC has been the capital since 1800, the cities in which Congress met before Washington DC became the official capital were considered the nation's capital during whatever year Congress met there.

Surprisingly though after learning about Connecticut's constitution history, Connecticut was not one of the states in which Congress held its meetings, the primary states that held the meetings were of no surprise Pennsylvania and Maryland.

NathanG

@Mammmood - Brilliant or not, both the Connecticut Constitution and the United States Constitution suffered from a fatal flaw in their inception – only white males were allowed to vote.

It would be almost another hundred years later, during the time of the Civil War, that all blacks would be allowed to vote.

It wouldn’t be until the early twentieth century that women would be allowed the right to vote. So while the Constitution is rightfully a great document, it is also a living document, one that needed to be refined so that it could properly guarantee rights to all citizens.

jholcomb

@dfoster85 - You're right; Americans like to think that they invented the idea of "freedom." Really, though, the colonists objected to the particular king and his particular government and felt they were being denied their rights as Englishmen.

I think the reason you hear so much about the Virginia constitution was that it had a Bill of Rights that really inspired the US Bill of Rights, written several years later. But Virginia's Bill of Rights (or maybe it was a Declaration) was based on England's 1689 Bill of Rights! They'd had a king they didn't much care for and wanted to make sure that kings in the future would mind their own business.

But there were some key differences. Most notably, the English Bill of Rights was intended partly to *codify* England's state religion and keep Roman Catholics off the throne. In contrast, Virginia's Declaration of Rights included a section on religious freedom, leading to the idea of separation between church and state.

Tomislav

What an exciting time in history! Were there any democracies or constitutions in other places before Connecticut?

Although our current state of government does not always adhere all too great with the original constitution ideals (which is good in some places - such as women obtaining the right to vote but not so good in others such as the taxation that goes on now - for example instead of being taxed one time on things we are taxed multiple times like on our cars and our houses), I still think we do pretty well considering the many different opinions and ideals of the people in the U.S.

But I digress; it is incredible to live in a country whose people I think still work and protest to keep our country a strong democracy.

What I am curious about now after knowing that the first constitution that was recognized as official was written in Connecticut is if Connecticut was ever looked at as the state where our nation's capital should be held and if Connecticut has built upon their first original constitution and made it the longest state constitution (since obviously they would have had a head start on the whole constitution thing).

Mammmood

This is an interesting history lesson. It’s fascinating to discover that the roots of the United States Constitution were found in a document written nearly 150 before, in the early Connecticut constitution.

I had always known that, as a matter of principle, our Constitution borrowed from some ideas in the English colonies, notably a desire for freedom of religion and assembly, as well as the idea of separation of church and state.

I didn’t realize, however, that the Constitution was over a hundred years in the making and had used a prototype document in its creation.

It makes sense, when you think about, however. The Constitution is a brilliant work. It’s not likely that all of its ideas, so clearly articulated, could have been hammered out in the Constitutional convention alone.

dfoster85

I always thought that maybe Connecticut had been the tenth state to ratify the US Constitution (meaning it then took effect) or something like that. I had no idea that's what the saying referred to! In history class, you hear a lot about the VA state constitution and not this one so much.

The idea of it having the first written constitution is particularly interesting because the English used the term "constitution" a lot more loosely. They didn't have a written constitution, but relied on a collection of laws, customs, etc. And the Magna Carta, of course!

What a lot of Americans don't realize is that the English considered themselves a "free people," as opposed to, for instance, the French. While a French king had nearly absolute power, the English king had to work with Parliament. And, of course, if you do the math, it was only a few years after this era that the Puritans in England, counterparts fo those in Massachusetts, decided they'd had enough of king, thank you very much, and cut Charles I's head off.

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