The Puritans in America Created the First Written Constitution of Law

Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, facsimile, 1934, Connecticut State Library

What was the first written constitution in history? Who created it? This post will discuss the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the Puritan influence on early constitutions, and more.

A constitution is a set of laws or principles which govern a people, country, or state. Constitutions are based on the principle of the Rule of Law by which all are subject to the law and the law is regularly enforced, not arbitrarily applied. The practice of written constitutions began in early colonial America.

The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut

The Puritans in Connecticut drafted their first framework of written laws in 1639, agreed upon by the colonists, known as the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. This document became the first complete, written constitution in the history of the world. It was also, essentially, the first complete self-government by the people. 

The constitution was inspired by a speech delivered by Puritan Rev. Thomas Hooker to the Connecticut General Court in which Hooker argued in favor of popular sovereignty and consent of the governed. The Puritans consequently created a civil republic/democratic self-government in their colony with a constitution that implemented:

  • The Rule of Law
  • Elected representatives
  • Voting by secret ballot
  • Due process of law
  • Trial by jury
  • No taxation without representation
  • Prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment

Some of these laws reflected those of the earlier Plymouth Pilgrims of 1636. 

Connecticut Becomes “The Constitution State”

Connecticut would later become known as the “Constitution State” for being the first colony in America to develop a complete constitution to govern itself. The Fundamental Orders would become a model for constitutions in other colonies. It prompted the colonists of Massachusetts, for example, to create a more formal and complete set of written laws, their own constitution called the Massachusetts Body of Liberties of 1641.

Biblical Practices in American Constitutions

In creating written constitutions, the Puritans essentially followed the Biblical Israelites’ practice of written laws. The Israelites’ Ten Commandments, for example, were engraved in stone. Similarly, the Puritans wrote down all of their civil covenants and constitutions of law. Indeed, the written word was very important to them. The Puritans’ practice of written laws would later mean that the founding documents and laws of the United States — including the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution, and Bill of Rights — would also be in written form.

Explore More Free American Heritage Lesson Plans From AHEF

The American Heritage Education Foundation provides free American civics educational resources for homeschoolers, teachers, and citizens. Our mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds with civic knowledge of our country’s history, founding principles, and governing institutions. We invite you to visit The Founding Blog for more articles, research, videos, and lesson plans on America’s philosophical heritage.

Contact us today to learn more about the American Heritage Education Foundation.

Contributed by AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.

—–

Source:  Kamrath, Angela E.  The Miracle of America:  The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief.  Second Edition.  Houston, TX:  American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.

Related Posts:
1. The Puritans Favored Rule of Law Based on the Bible
2.  The Puritans in America Identified with the Ancient Israelites and Practiced Covenants
3.  Why the Puritans Favored Limited Government
4.  The Puritans in America Elected Representatives to Govern in their Colonies
5.  Why Puritan Thomas Hooker Favored Democracy Over Aristocracy
6. The Puritans’ Moral Authority Was the Bible
7. Challenges in the Early Puritan Colonies: The Dilemma of Religious Laws and Dissent
8. Why and How Did Schools Begin in the United States: The Puritans Supported Education for Bible Literacy

Activity:  Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 3, Part 2 of 3, Activity 5:  Predicting What the Puritans’ New Colony Might Be Like, p. 119, 344.  MS-HS.

Predicting What the Puritans’ New Colony Might Be Like

Purpose: Students learn about the Puritans’ Bible-based governing principles and values that characterized their colonies including moral truth, self-government, limited government, rule of law, constitutions, popular sovereignty, elected representatives, work ethic, and a literate citizenry.

Suggested Reading: Miracle of America sourcebook/text.  Students read sections Introduction to 3:13.

Activity: (Continued from Part 1 of this unit) After Part 2 and Part 3 lessons are taught, students fill out the third column on their prediction chart answering the questions of what happened in the colonies.  How did the Puritans in fact set up their colonies?  What were their governing principles and values?  Have students compare the outcome with their prediction.  Did they come close to predicting what happened?  See the “Predicting What the Puritans’ New Colony Might Be Like” prediction chart in the “Supporting Resources” section of the course guide, p. 344.

To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on americanheritage.org.  To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.

Copyright © American Heritage Education Foundation.  All rights reserved.