An Orderly & Decent Government: A New State, A New Constitution, 1776-1818

Tisdale, The Tory’s Day of Judgement, 1795

The American Revolution prompted enormous political and social changes in other states, but Connecticut remained a “land of steady habits” Many states drafted new constitutions after the break with England, but the General Assembly merely dropped all references to the King from the Charter of 1662 and continued on as before. Political power remained in the hands of the same political and religious elite that had governed Connecticut for decades.

The General Assembly emerged from the war a far stronger institution. The great political issues of the war lifted the political vision of many Connecticut citizens beyond town affairs for the first time to those of the state and nation, while the obligation to raise and equip troops and furnish supplies for General Washington’s military campaigns accustomed the legislature to greater responsibility and authority.

Connecticut’s economy expanded rapidly after the Revolution. The General Assembly actively sought to promote economic growth by granting charters of incorporation to the new turnpikes, banks and factories essential to the economy.

Shelling of Stonington

In the early 1800s, a political challenge to Connecticut’s Standing Order emerged at last. For the first time in the state’s history, distinct, long-lived political parties contended for seats in the General Assembly.

The Federalist Party represented privilege, tradition and the status quo. Opponents in the Toleration Party sought to open up the political process, end property requirements for voting and gain equal treatment for all religious groups. Deep antagonisms over the conduct of the War of 1812 intensified these political divisions. In 1817, the Federalists were finally swept away and a new state constitution replaced the Charter of 1662 as the foundation of Connecticut government.

This article is a panel reproduction from An Orderly and Decent Government, an exhibition on the history of representative government in Connecticut developed by Connecticut Humanities and put on display in the Capitol concourse of the Legislative Office Building, Hartford, Connecticut.

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