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Why is Connecticut Called the Constitution State?

By Jason C. Chavis
Updated May 17, 2024
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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.

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.

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.

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Discussion Comments
By runner101 — On Oct 10, 2011

@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.

By NathanG — On Oct 09, 2011

@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.

By jholcomb — On Oct 09, 2011

@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.

By Tomislav — On Oct 08, 2011

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).

By Mammmood — On Oct 08, 2011

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.

By dfoster85 — On Oct 08, 2011

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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