The Fundamental Orders

In the spring of 1638 three Connecticut towns, Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield, chose
representatives and held a general court at Hartford. At its opening session the Reverend Thomas
Hooker preached a powerful sermon on the text that "the foundation of authority is laid in the free
consent of the people." On January 14 following, by the Julian calendar in use at the time, which would
January 24, 1639, by today's Gregorian calendar, the constitution given here was adopted by the
freemen of the three towns assembled at Hartford, and is usually named The Fundamental Orders.
Nowhere in this great document is there a reference to "our dread Sovereign" or "our gracious Lord the
King," — nor to any government or power outside of Connecticut itself. It did not even limit the vote to
members of Puritan congregations. This appears to be the first written constitution in the Western
tradition which created a government, and it is easily seen to be the prototype of our Federal
Constitution, adopted exactly one hundred and fifty years later. However, see also the Iroquois
Constitution and the Mayflower Compact of earlier times.
Note that the year recorded in the document is 1638, because the British calendar in use at the time
began the new year on March 25 instead of January 1 as does the Gregorian calendar we use today.
Britain did not convert to the Gregorian calendar until 1751, when 11 days had to be added to their
dates to get the Gregorian dates. In 1639 they were 10 days behind the Gregorian calendar.
For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God by the wise disposition of his divine providence so to
order and dispose of things that we the Inhabitants and Residents of Windsor, Hartford and
Wethersfield are now cohabiting and dwelling in and upon the River of Connectecotte and the
lands thereunto adjoining; and well knowing where a people are gathered together the word of God
requires that to maintain the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and
decent Government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affairs of the people
at all seasons as occasion shall require; do therefore associate and conjoin ourselves to be as one
Public State or Commonwealth; and do for ourselves and our successors and such as shall be
adjoined to us at any time hereafter, enter into Combination and Confederation together, to
maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now
profess, as also, the discipline of the Churches, which according to the truth of the said Gospel is
now practiced amongst us; as also in our civil affairs to be guided and governed according to such
Laws, Rules, Orders and Decrees as shall be made, ordered, and decreed as followeth:

1. It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that there shall be yearly two General Assemblies or
Courts, the one the second Thursday in April, the other the second Thursday in September
following; the first shall be called the Court of Election, wherein shall be yearly chosen from time
to time, so many Magistrates and other public Officers as shall be found requisite: Whereof one to
be chosen Governor for the year ensuing and until another be chosen, and no other Magistrate to
be chosen for more than one year: provided always there be six chosen besides the Governor,
which being chosen and sworn according to an Oath recorded for that purpose, shall have the
power to administer justice according to the Laws here established, and for want thereof, according to                                          the Rule of the Word of God; which choice shall be made by all that are admitted freemen and
have taken the Oath of Fidelity, and do cohabit within this Jurisdiction having been admitted
Inhabitants by the major part of the Town wherein they live or the major part of such as shall be
then present.

2. It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that the election of the aforesaid Magistrates shall be in this
manner: every person present and qualified for choice shall bring in (to the person deputed to receive
them) one single paper with the name of him written in it whom he desires to have Governor, and he
that hath the greatest number of papers shall be Governor for that year. And the rest of the Magistrates
or public officers to be chosen in this manner: the Secretary for the time being shall first read the names
of all that are to be put to choice and then shall severally nominate them distinctly, and every one that
would have the person nominated to be chosen shall bring in one single paper written upon, and he that
would not have him chosen shall bring in a blank; and every one that hath more written papers than
blanks shall be a Magistrate for that year; which papers shall be received and told by one or more that
shall be then chosen by the court and sworn to be faithful therein; but in case there should not be six
chosen as aforesaid, besides the Governor, out of those which are nominated, than he or they which
have the most writen papers shall be a Magistrate or Magistrates for the ensuing year, to make up the
aforesaid number.

3. It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that the Secretary shall not nominate any person, nor shall
any person be chosen newly into the Magistracy which was not propounded in some General Court
before, to be nominated the next election; and to that end it shall be lawful for each of the Towns
aforesaid by their deputies to nominate any two whom they conceive fit to be put to election; and
the Court may add so many more as they judge requisite.

4. It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that no person be chosen Governor above once in two years,
and that the Governor be always a member of some approved Congregation, and formerly of the
Magistracy within this Jurisdiction; and that all the Magistrates, Freemen of this Commonwealth; and
that no Magistrate or other public officer shall execute any part of his or their office before they are
severally sworn, which shall be done in the face of the court if they be present, and in case of absence
by some deputed for that purpose.

5. It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that to the aforesaid Court of Election the several Towns shall
send their deputies, and when the Elections are ended they may proceed in any public service as at
other Courts. Also the other General Court in September shall be for making of laws, and any other
public occasion, which concerns the good of the Commonwealth.

6. It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that the Governor shall, either by himself or by the Secretary,
send out summons to the Constables of every Town for the calling of these two standing Courts one
month at least before their several times: And also if the Governor and the greatest part of the
Magistrates see cause upon any special occasion to call a General Court, they may give order to the
Secretary so to do within fourteen days warning: And if urgent necessity so require, upon a shorter
notice, giving sufficient grounds for it to the deputies when they meet, or else be questioned for the
same; And if the Governor and major part of Magistrates shall either neglect or refuse to call the two
General standing Courts or either of them, as also at other times when the occasions of the                                 Commonwealth require, the Freemen thereof, or the major part of them, shall petition to them so to do;
if then it be either denied or neglected, the said Freemen, or the major part of them, shall have the
power to give order to the Constables of the several Towns to do the same, and so may meet together,
and choose to themselves a Moderator, and may proceed to do any act of power which any other
General Courts may.

7. It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that after there are warrants given out for any of the said
General Courts, the Constable or Constables of each Town, shall forthwith give notice distinctly to the
inhabitants of the same, in some public assembly or by going or sending from house to house, that at a
place and time by him or them limited and set, they meet and assemble themselves together to elect and
choose certain deputies to be at the General Court then following to agitate the affairs of the
Commonwealth; which said deputies shall be chosen by all that are admitted Inhabitants in the several
Towns and have taken the oath of fidelity; provided that none be chosen a Deputy for any General
Court which is not a Freeman of this Commonwealth. The aforesaid deputies shall be chosen in manner
following: every person that is present and qualified as before expressed, shall bring the names of such,
written in several papers, as they desire to have chosen for that employment, and these three or four,
more or less, being the number agreed on to be chosen for that time, that have the greatest number of
papers written for them shall be deputies for that Court; whose names shall be endorsed on the back
side of the warrant and returned into the Court, with the Constable or Constables' hand unto the same.

8. It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that Windsor, Hartford, and Wethersfield shall have power,
each Town, to send four of their Freemen as their deputies to every General Court; and Whatsoever
other Town shall be hereafter added to this Jurisdiction, they shall send so many deputies as the Court
shall judge meet, a reasonable proportion to the number of Freemen that are in the said Towns being to
be attended therein; which deputies shall have the power of the whole Town to give their votes and
allowance to all such laws and orders as may be for the public good, and unto which the said Towns are
to be bound.

9. It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that the deputies thus chosen shall have power and liberty to
appoint a time and a place of meeting together before any General Court, to advise and consult of all
such things as may concern the good of the public, as also to examine their own Elections, whether
according to the order, and if they or the greatest part of them find any election to be illegal they may
seclude such for present from their meeting, and return the same and their reasons to the Court; and if it
be proved true, the Court may fine the party or parties so intruding, and the Town, if they see cause,
and give out a warrant to go to a new election in a legal way, either in part or in whole. Also the said
deputies shall have power to fine any that shall be disorderly at their meetings, or for not coming in due
time or place according to appointment; and they may return the said fines into the Court if it be
refused to be paid, and the Treasurer to take notice of it, and to escheat or levy the same as he does
other fines.

10. It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that every General Court, except such as through neglect of
the Governor and the greatest part of the Magistrates the Freemen themselves do call, shall consist of
the Governor, or some one chosen to moderate the Court, and four other Magistrates at least, with the
major part of the deputies of the several Towns legally chosen; and in case the Freemen, or major part
of them, through neglect or refusal of the Governor and major part of the Magistrates, shall call a Court,                                     it shall consist of the major part of Freemen that are present or their deputies, with a Moderator
chosen by them: In which said General Courts shall consist the supreme power of the Commonwealth,
and they only shall have power to make laws or repeal them, to grant levies, to admit of Freemen,
dispose of lands undisposed of, to several Towns or persons, and also shall have power to call either
Court or Magistrate or any other person whatsoever into question for any misdemeanor, and may for
just causes displace or deal otherwise according to the nature of the offense; and also may deal in any
other matter that concerns the good of this Commonwealth, except the election of Magistrates, which
shall be done by the whole body of Freemen. In which Court the Governor or Moderator shall have
power to order the Court, to give liberty of speech, and silence unseasonable and disorderly speakings,
to put all things to vote, and in case the vote be equal to have the casting voice. But none of these
Courts shall be adjourned or dissolved without the consent of the major part of the Court.

11. It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that when any General Court upon the occasions of the
Commonwealth have agreed upon any sum, or sums of money to be levied upon the several Towns
within this Jurisdiction, that a committee be chosen to set out and appoint what shall be the proportion
of every Town to pay of the said levy, provided the committee be made up of an equal number out of
each Town.

14th January, 1638, the 11 Orders above said are voted.