Fundamental Orders

Fundamental Orders, in U.S. history, the basic law of the Connecticut colony from 1639 to 1662, formally adopted (Jan. 14, 1639) by representatives from the towns of Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor, meeting at Hartford. Thomas Hooker, John Haynes, and Roger Ludlow were most influential in framing the document. It was not “the first written constitution that shaped a government,” as it has been popularly called; nor did it mark the beginning of a “commonwealth democracy”—another misconception fostered by 19th-century historians straining hard to mark the foundations of American democracy. Its provisions for voting in what is now Connecticut reveal how far from democratic it actually was. However, this deficiency is no reflection on the importance or soundness of the document, for political democracy as we know it today was virtually nonexistent in the 17th cent. except in such rare cases as the Rhode Island colony under Roger Williams. Indeed the Puritans regarded unconfined democracy as an aberration. To them only the most substantial, respectable, and reliable Christians were considered worthy to build up a community essentially religious in design. The Fundamental Orders consisted of a preamble and 11 orders or laws. The preamble bound the inhabitants of the three towns to be governed in all things by the orders that followed, and these were similar to the statute laws elsewhere in New England, differing only in that they were shaped into a brief, clear, compact frame of government (Ludlow, a lawyer, is believed chiefly responsible for the excellence of the final form). The government, or “combination,” as Hooker called it, confirmed the system that had functioned in the three towns since 1636 and was very like the Massachusetts model. The main concern of the Fundamental Orders was the welfare of the community; the individual always had to give way if the needs of the community at large so required. The charter of Connecticut in 1662 superseded and was largely based on the Fundamental Orders.

See C. M. Andrews, The Beginnings of Connecticut, 1632–1662 (1934).

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