Some view it as the first written constitution, others as the first declaration of independence.
The Fundamental Orders was an extraordinary document written by Roger Ludlow, a lawyer who had sailed to the Massachusetts Bay Colony from England in 1630. Nowhere did it mention a king or a sovereign. Nowhere did it refer to any power outside of Connecticut. It spells out individual rights and provides that all free men elect their representatives using paper ballots. It states the powers of the government and the limits of that power.
Connecticut had been governing itself since Thomas Hooker led a band of Puritans away from Massachusetts in 1636. The Fundamental Orders gave men more voting rights than they had in Massachusetts and allowed more men to run for office. That was pretty much the reason Hooker and his followers had left Massachusetts.
The Fundamental Orders were launched the previous year, when representatives from the three towns held a General Court at Hartford. Hooker started the meeting with a sermon in which he said, ‘the foundation of authority is laid in the free consent of the people.’
The Fundamental Orders were followed two years later by the Massachusetts Body of Liberties. The two documents laid the foundation for the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution.
Little is known of that meeting of the General Court in the spring of 1638; perhaps the participants kept the proceedings quiet because they feared retaliation. The outcome, however, was The Fundamental Orders. It is a short document, with 11 chapters and fewer than 2,000 words. (Full text here.) Thomas Welles, the colony’s secretary, transcribed the document.
Welles was the only person in Connecticut’s history to serve as governor, deputy governor, treasurer and secretary. Not much is known about him. He was born in England, joined Hooker at the spring meeting of the General Court, served in the various offices and died on Jan. 14, 1660 in Wethersfield.
He can be considered a founding father of America, as he has thousands of descendants. They include a U.S. president, movie stars, religious leaders and captains of industry:
- Lyman Beecher, a Presbyterian clergyman, temperance movement leader, and the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe
- Bob Bennett, former U.S. Senator
- Bruce Dern, an Academy Award-nominated American film actor.
- Laura Dern actress, film director and producer.
- Gerald R. Ford, U.S. president
- Henry Wells, founder of American Express
- Wilford Woodruff, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
- Gideon Wells, secretary of the U.S. Navy
- Nancy Reagan, First Lady of the United States
- Archibald MacLeish, Pulitzer Prize winning poet.
This story was updated from the 2015 version.