No good understanding of American government today is possible without a knowledge of its colonial roots. A most significant contribution to U. S. constitutional history was made by Connecticut, 1639-1789. In the study of American history, teachers often present a quick overview of the colonial period. This hasty treatment of the colonies may be due to a lack of time, or insufficient preparation in that particular area of study, or a number of other factors. I have attempted, in my unit on “Connecticut Constitutionalism, 16391789,” to take one specific colony, Connecticut, and trace its judicial origins and organization through its formative period to 1789.
What is now Connecticut was organized into two distinct colonies from 1634-1662, and neither colony had a charter from Great Britain. As people settled these two colonies, they saw the need to establish a civil body politics. The River Colony, consisting of Windsor, Wethersfield, and Hartford, adopted the Fundamental Orders, while the New Haven colony, including New Haven, Branford, Milford, Stamford, and Southhold, Long Island, drew up a set of Fundamental Laws. Examination of these documents should shed some light upon the type of governments established by the early colonists.
This unit discusses: the Fundamental Orders and the Fundamental Laws; the Great Charter of 1662, which gave Connecticut legal basis for its existence; the attempted withdrawal upon the formation of the Dominion of New England; the struggles Connecticut experienced in establishing its borders; and the great part Connecticut played in the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention. Connecticut had a full and rich history that allows teachers the opportunity to develop the concept of “constitutionalism” in the broader view of the development of the United States Constitution.
This unit was developed for use in a tenth or eleventh grade United States History Course. I am sure that at least some parts are applicable to many other Bade levels. The unit was designed to be integrated as a segment of the regular United States history course. If used in its entirety, this unit should comprise four weeks of class research, study, and discussion.