Exploring the Legacy of Connecticut’s 1818 Constitution: Background


Before 1818

Unlike other states, after the American Revolution Connecticut did not form a new state constitution. Instead, they chose to rely on the Charter of 1662 as the framework for government. Prior to 1818, Connecticut’s government was based on membership in and leadership by the Congregational Church (thanks to the premise that mankind as a whole was evil and corrupt and unfit for political participation). To participate, one had to, among other things:

  • Own property
  • Be approved by the town’s freemen and selectmen
  • Be a member of the Congregational Church

Religion and law were intertwined. For example, all law books in Connecticut began: “There is no Power but of God,” and not adhering to accepted religious practices (e.g. attending church on Sundays, fasting, etc.) met with legal consequences. In addition, everyone, regardless of religious preferences, was taxed to support the Congregational Church.

Change Comes in 1818

In 1818, enough dissenters from the Congregational Church organized to unseat the Federalist Party (the traditional party of the Congregationalists) in Connecticut. Consequently, the newly empowered state Republicans called for a constitutional convention to overhaul the state’s government along more liberal lines. The Republican aim was disestablishment of the Congregational Church.
Among other things, the 1818 constitution:

  • Called for a separation of church and state and equality before the law of all Christian denominations
  • No longer required property ownership to vote
  • Provided for universal white male suffrage
  • Gave greater independence to the judicial branch – their decisions could no longer be appealed to the executive branch
  • Gave each existing town two Reps in the House. This tended to provide over-representation for rural farmers and under-representation to growing industrial areas

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