April 8: Connecticut Becomes “The Constitution State”


What’s in a name?  Or… a nickname?

Connecticut has had its share of diverse nicknames over the course of its nearly 400 years of recorded history — some of them more flattering than others.

During the American Revolution, the colony and soon-to-be state of Connecticut became known as “The Provisions State” because of its outsized contributions of both men and supplies to the Continental Army.  Connecticut was home to several crucial munitions depots for the Continental Army throughout the duration of the war, and its governor, Jonathan Trumbull, was the only governor of the thirteen American colonies who was openly committed to the Patriot cause at the start of the war. This meant that Connecticut was in the unique position of having a government that could actively help coordinate and support troop recruitment and supply efforts.

A few decades later, during the early 1800s, the epithet “Land of Steady Habits” began appearing in newspapers and literature as a poetic way to refer to the state of Connecticut.  When used in a flattering light, it usually referred to Connecticut residents’ reputation for upholding traditional Puritan mannerisms and genteel decorum.  The nickname, however, could take on a slightly derogatory cast if one were frustrated with Connectican’s collective resistance to change — as many political writers were in the early 19th century, given the state’s tendency to re-elect politicians from the same wealthy, powerful families.

An illustration from a 1891 British guide to American travel, labeling Connecticut “The Land of Steady Habits.”

Later during the 19th century, a number of clever Connecticans who had traveled throughout the country to peddle dry goods and exotic wares earned a considerably less charming nickname for their home state.  Legend has it that these “Yankee peddlers” would swindle unsuspecting customers by selling them jars of whole nutmegs — a prized and expensive spice — which contained wooden counterfeits at the very bottom of the jar.  The peddlers, who were by definition itinerant traders, would be long gone by the time the customer used up the genuine nutmegs and discovered the forgeries.  The nickname that was created in response — “the Nutmeg State” — has always had a slightly tongue-in-cheek quality to it; some Connecticut boosters have derided the nickname as an insult to the state’s character, while others find it an amusing homage to its clever Yankee forbears.

A facsimile of the first page of the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, written in 1639. (Connecticut State Library)

Finally, on April 8, 1959, the Connecticut General Assembly voted on “The Constitution State” as the state’s official nickname.  The phrase, an ode to the state’s colonial history, is a reference to the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut: a compact between some of Connecticut’s earliest European settlers written in 1639 and one of the first written constitutions in recorded history.  The official appellation has decorated countless pins, license plates, coins, and souvenirs ever since.  A nickname befitting a state rich in history became law, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Connecticut’s Nicknames,” Connecticut State Library

Wesley Horton, “The Land of Steady Constitutional Habits,” Connecticut Explored

The Debate over Connecticut as the Constitution State,” National Constitution Center