Today in 1818, the voters in every Connecticut town gathered at 9:00 am to select their town’s delegates to a convention at Hartford that would produce – a few months later – the first state Constitution ratified by a vote of the people themselves.
The constitutional convention was the result of a decades-long struggle by the state’s political outsiders – a coalition of competing dissident groups which had come together two years before to form The Toleration Party – to take control of Connecticut’s political and religious institutions away from the venerable Federalist Standing Order.
The Federalists had been beneficiaries of a centuries-long “Land of Steady Habits” political tradition that had kept the reins of power solidly in the hands of a self-perpetuating social elite of Congregational church members. They strongly felt that Connecticut should make no changes to a government that was still ruling under the terms of the Royal Charter of 1662, which had granted Connecticut virtual independence over a century before the American Revolution.
The Tolerationists – Republicans, Baptists, Methodists, and Episcopals – whose interests had not been served under a Federalist government that, with limited exceptions, taxed everyone to support the Congregational church as the state church, had long demanded a constitution written and approved by the people themselves that would do away with the state-mandated church and make other changes to government that would give them, too, a seat at the political table.
At 9:00 am on this day in 1818, that process formally began as voters in every town made their choice of delegates to the state’s first constitutional convention.
Freedom rang out loud and clear, today in Connecticut history.
“Exploring the Legacy of Connecticut’s 1818 Constitution: Background and Links to Resources,” connecticuthistory.org
David Corrigan, “The Standing Order: Connecticut’s Ruling Aristocracy, 1639-1818,” Connecticut Explored