Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (January 14, 1639)

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FUNDAMENTAL ORDERS OF CONNECTICUT (January 14, 1639)

Historians almost invariably refer to this document as a constitution, indeed as the first written constitution of the modern world. It was very probably a statute enacted by a provisional legislative body representing the freemen of three towns meeting in Hartford. It was not, however, an ordinary statute, because it described a frame of government, though the statute lacked any explicit provision for amendment. The assembly or "general court" which enacted it, derived its powers from it but could and did alter it.

thomas hooker, the founder of Hartford and the leading divine of the colony, was probably the principal author of the document. In a 1638 sermon he had declared that the foundation of authority in both state and church was the free consent of the people expressed in a covenant or social compact; the people, according to Hooker, had power to appoint officers for their governance and "to set the bounds and limitations of the power and place unto which they call them." But the Fundamental Orders did not impose such limitations or reserve any rights that the government could not abridge.

The preamble stated that the inhabitants of the towns joined together to become "one Public State or Commonwealth" to preserve their churches and be governed according to laws made and administered by the officers described in the document. The people, "all that are admitted inhabitants," chose an assembly or "general court" which in turn annually elected a governor and magistrates, who together exercised the judicial power. The document empowered the general court to make laws, impose taxes, dispose of lands, and admit freemen and deputies from other towns. The general court, "the supreme power of the Commonwealth," consisted of the governor, magistrates, and deputies, who were guaranteed "liberty of speech," probably the progenitor of the speech or debate clause in Article I, section 6, of the Constitution.

Leonard W. Levy
(1986)

Bibliography

Andrews, Charles Mc Lean 1936 The Colonial Period of American History. Vol. 2, pages 94–113. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.