1650 — Roger Ludlow

Born in 1590, died after 1664, one of the founders of Connecticut. Educated at Oxford and admitted to the Inner Temple to study law, he was elected (1630) an assistant of the Massachusetts Bay Company and in the same year sailed to America. He was one of the founders of Dorchester, Mass., and served (1634) as deputy governor of Massachusetts. Moving to the new settlements along the Connecticut River, he presided (1636) at Windsor over the first court held in Connecticut and is credited with the final drafting of the Fundamental Orders, adopted by the colony in 1639. He also completed the first codification of Connecticut laws, known as Ludlow's Code or the Code of 1650. In 1639 he founded the settlement of Fairfield, Conn., and for many years served as a magistrate and deputy governor of Connecticut. He represented (1651-53) the colony in the New England Confederation. Disagreement over his proposed expedition against the Dutch settlers of New Netherland caused him to return (1654) to England, after which he settled in Ireland.

The Code of 1650

This first constitution of the New World was simple in its terms, comprehensive in its policy, methodical in its arrangement, beautiful in its adaptation of parts to a whole, of means to an end. Compare it with any of the constitutions of the Old World then existing. I say nothing of those libels upon human nature, the so-called constitutions of the Continent of Europe - compare it reverently, as children speak of a father's roof, with that venerated structure, the British Constitution. How complex is the architecture of the latter! here exhibiting the clumsy work of the Saxon, there the more graceful touch of later conquerors; the whole colossal pile, magnificent with turrets and towers, and decorated with armorial devices and inscriptions, written in a language not only dead, but never native to the island; all eloquent, indeed, with the spirit of ages past, yet haunted with the cry of suffering humanity and the clanking of chains that come up from its subterranean dungeons.

Mark, too, the rifts and seams in its gray walls - traces of convulsion and revolution. Proud as it is, its very splendor shows the marks of a barbarous age. Its tapestry speaks a language dissonant to the ears of freemen. It tells of exclusive privileges, of divine rights, not in the people, but in the king, of primogeniture, of conformities, of prescriptions, of serfs and lords, of attainder that dries up like a leprosy the fountains of inheritable blood; and, lastly, it discourses of the rights of British subjects, in eloquent language, but sometimes with qualifications that startle the ears of men who have tasted the sweets of a more enlarged liberty. Such was the spirit of the British Constitution, and code of the seventeenth century. I do not blame it that it was not better; perhaps it could not then have been improved without risk. Improvement in an old state is the work of time. But I have a right to speak with pride of the more advanced freedom of our own.

The Constitution of Connecticut sets out with the practical recognition of the doctrine that all ultimate power is lodged with the people. The body of the people is the body politic. From the people flow the fountains of law and justice. The governor and the other magistrates, the deputies themselves, are but a kind of committee, with delegated powers to act for the free planters. Elected from their number, they must spend their short official term in the discharge of the trust, and then descend to their old level of citizen voters. Here are to be no interminable parliaments. The majority of the general court can adjourn it at will. Nor is there to be an indefinite prorogation of the Legislature at the will of a single man. Let the governor and the magistrates look to it. If they do not call a general court, the planters will take the matter into their own hands and meet in a body to take care of their neglected interests.

One of the most striking features in this new and at the same time strange document is that it will tolerate no rotten-borough system. Every deputy who goes to the Legislature is to go from his own town, and is to be a free planter of that town. In this way he will know what is the will of his constituents and what their wants are.

This paper has another remarkable trait. There is to be no taxation without representation in Connecticut. The towns, too, are recognized as independent municipalities. They are the primary centres of power older than the constitution - the makers and builders of the State. They have given up to the State a part of their corporate powers, as they received them from the free planters, that they may have a safer guarantee for the keeping of the rest. Whatever they have not given up they hold in absolute right.

How strange, too, that in defining so carefully and astutely the limits of the government, these constitution-makers should have forgotten the King. One would but suppose that those who indited this paper were even aware of the existence of titled majesty beyond what belonged to the King of kings. They mention no supreme power save that of the commonwealth, which speaks and acts through the general court.

Such was the Constitution of Connecticut. I have said it was the oldest of the American constitutions. More than this, I might say, it is the mother of them all. It has been modified in different States to suit the circumstances of the people and the size of their respective territories; but the representative system peculiar to the American republics was first unfolded by Ludlow - who probably drafted the Constitution of Connecticut - and by Hooker, Haynes, Wolcott, Steele, Sherman, Stone, and the other far-sighted men of the colony, who must have advised and counselled to do what they and all the people in the three towns met together in a mass to sanction and adopt as their own. Let me not be understood to say that I consider the framers of this paper perfect legislators or in all respects free from bigotry and intolerance. How could they throw off in a moment the shackles of custom and old opinion? They saw more than two centuries beyond their own era. England herself at this day has only approximated, without reaching, the elevated table-land of constitutional freedom, whose pure air was breathed by the earliest planters of Connecticut. Under this constitution they passed, it is true, some quaint laws, that sometimes provoke a smile, and, in those who are unmindful of the age in which they lived, sometimes a sneer.

I shall speak of these laws in order, I hope with honesty and not too much partiality. It may be proper to say here, however, that for one law that has been passed in Connecticut of a bigoted or intolerant character, a diligent explorer into the English court records or statute-books for evidences of bigotry and revolting cruelty could find twenty in England. "Kings have been dethroned," says Bancroft, the eloquent American historian, "recalled, dethroned again, and so many constitutions framed or formed, stifled or subverted, that memory may despair of a complete catalogue; but the people of Connecticut have found no reason to deviate essentially from the government as established by their fathers. History has ever celebrated the commanders of armies on which victory has been entailed, the heroes who have won laurels in scenes of carnage and rapine. Has it no place for the founders of states, the wise legislator who struck the rock in the wilderness, and the waters of liberty gushed forth in copious and perennial fountains?"

John Marshall

About this period many evidences were given of a general combination of the neighboring Indians against the settlements of New England; and apprehensions were also entertained of hostility from the Dutch of Manhadoes. A sense of impending danger suggested the policy of forming a confederacy of the sister colonies for their mutual defence. And so confirmed had the habit of self-government become since the attention of England was absorbed in her domestic dissensions that it was not thought necessary to consult the parent state on this important measure. After mature deliberation articles of confederation were digested; and in May, 1643, they were conclusively adopted.

By them "The United Colonies of New England" - Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven - entered into a firm and perpetual league, offensive and defensive.

Each colony retained a distinct and separate jurisdiction; no two colonies could join in one jurisdiction without the consent of the whole; and no other colony could be received into the confederacy without the like consent.

The charge of all wars was to be borne by the colonies respectively, in proportion to the male inhabitants of each between sixteen and sixty years of age.

On notice of an invasion given by three magistrates of any colony, the confederates were immediately to furnish their respective quotas. These were fixed at one hundred from Massachusetts, and forty-five from each of the other parties to the agreement. If a larger armament should be found necessary, commissioners were to meet and ascertain the number of men to be required.

Two commissioners from each government, being church members, were to meet annually on the first Monday in September. Six possessed the power of binding the whole. Any measure approved by a majority of less than six was to be referred to the general court of each colony, and the consent of all was necessary to its adoption.

They were to choose annually a president from their own body, and had power to frame laws or rules of a civil nature and of general concern. Of this description were rules which respected their conduct toward the Indians, and measures to be taken with fugitives from one colony to another.

No colony was permitted, without the general consent, to engage in war, but in sudden and inevitable cases.

If, on any extraordinary meeting of the commissioners, their whole number should not assemble, any four who should meet were empowered to determine on a war, and to call for the respective quotas of the several colonies, but not less than six could determine on the justice of the war or settle the expenses or levy the money for its support.

If any colony should be charged with breaking an article of the agreement, or with doing an injury to another colony, the complaint was to be submitted to the consideration and determination of the commissioners of such colonies as should be disinterested.

This union, the result of good-sense and of a judicious consideration of the real interests of the colonies, remained in force until their charters were dissolved. Rhode Island, at the instance of Massachusetts, was excluded; and her commissioners were not admitted into the congress of deputies, which formed the confederation.

— G. H.Hollister, 1992

1650 Bibliography