Connecticut came to what we call “democracy” relatively late. In this unit I propose to present to eighth-graders an overview of Connecticut from the Massachusetts Bay Commission of 1636 to the Constitution of 1818. It will appear to be the story of a group of people confident that they know what is best for their Commonwealth and determined to continue exercising their power in spite of strenuous assaults upon their privilege.
Today many groups in America have ideas concerning the kind of society we should have. Arguments, sometimes quite heated, are heard about the virtues or dangers of the minimum wage, abortion rights, seat-belt end motorcycle-helmet laws, laetrile and saccharine laws, Sunday closing and liquor laws, tidal-and inland-wetlands laws, exclusionary zoning, and laws prohibiting various kinds of discrimination; and these views are held with varying degrees of willingness to allow any choice. Everyone, it seems, thinks “there oughta be a law.” What is a good law? Whose values should laws reflect? Who should have the right to make the laws or choose those who will? When is it beneficial that a group with one outlook on life be obliged to obey a law which a group with a different outlook has passed? If the right laws are passed, will the society we want be achieved?
Where there are areas in a society where no choice is allowed, to that extent pluralism does not exist there. The Puritans of early Connecticut were not much different from many of us who have our own ideas for the perfect society, and they felt they had the answers. They were so sure of their rightness that they decided they did not want to allow much choice in matters relating to religion and morals. When they arrived in the wilderness of Connecticut and got their chance to try to establish the society they wanted, they enacted rules which they thought were God’s rules. “Theocracy” means a society under the rule of God, and this they tried to approach.
It is important to examine their ideals and methods: to see why they had some success during the first twenty years or so and to notice how their synthesis became gradually subjected to strains which led to its eventual breakdown. As modern Americans search for a workable basis of unity in a fragmented society, perhaps we may profit from their Connecticut Puritan experience.