The following is a digital presentation of An Orderly and Decent Government, an exhibition on the history of representative government in Connecticut developed by the Connecticut Humanities in April, 2000, and put on display in the Capitol concourse of the Legislative Office Building, Capitol Avenue, Hartford.

For almost four hundred years, Connecticut legislators have sought “the common good.” But the agenda of the legislature has always been set by changes in the world around it. Wars, shifts in the economy, political victories and other significant events and developments have constantly reshaped life in Connecticut and challenged the legislature to redefine the common good. To Thomas Hooker and Connecticut’s founders, the common good meant enforced religious conformity. To 19th-century legislators, it meant unhindered economic growth; by the 1930s, the common good meant massive public assistance for victims of the Great Depression.

From the very first, Connecticut’s search for the common good rested on the idea of representation. While today we take for granted that each adult should have an equal vote, very different notions prevailed for much of our history. We’ve always felt that legislators should represent the will of the people. But who selects these officials and whether they should reflect the whole society they serve has been debated for most of the span of Connecticut’s representative form of government.

Since its very beginning, the legislature itself has changed enormously in the way it conducts its business and in the resources at its disposal to do the people’s work more effectively. These transformations, too, are part of the story of representative government in Connecticut.

The General Assembly’s continuing challenge has been making self-government work. The simple society of Connecticut’s founders has long since disappeared, but still with us after all these years is the conviction that we can govern ourselves successfully. That commitment to representative government runs like a straight line throughout our history, connecting us directly to those visionaries who first placed their faith in the people almost four centuries ago.

The Connecticut General Assembly is one of longest continually active legislative bodies in the history of the world. This is its story.

Click on a picture above to learn its story or take the tour in its entirety by clicking “Next.”

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