Of all the important legacies of First Church of Christ, one piece of writing stands out from our earliest history for its contribution to the Christian origins of our nation—a priceless heritage that still blesses us to this day.
The groundbreaking Fundamental Orders of Connecticut is believed by many to be the first written democratic constitution in history. According to the Constitution Society, the Fundamental Orders “is easily seen as the prototype of our Federal Constitution.” It has earned for Connecticut the nickname “The Constitution State” and it remains a key document in the proof of the Christian roots of the United States. First Church had a significant role in its creation.
In 1638, five godly men from our church were elected to represent Wethersfield in a convocation in Hartford summoned by Governor Thomas Hooker. They were committeemen Andrew Ward, Thurston Raynor, and George Hubbard, and magistrates John Plum and Matthew Mitchell. Hooker preached a rousing sermon from Deuteronomy 1:3 in which he proclaimed that “the foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people” and that the people were responsible to set the boundaries of their leaders‘ power. He ended the sermon with the words, “As God has given us liberty, let us take it.”
Our Wethersfield delegates then worked with fourteen others, from Windsor and Hartford, to write the Fundamental Orders. The final draft was prepared by delegate and lawyer Roger Ludlow of Windsor. In January 1639, the document was presented to Governor Hooker and then was referred to the General Court (the colonial legislature), where it was adopted and sent to the townships for ratification.
The preamble of the Fundamental Orders carries a direct reference to Wethersfield along with the two other original towns, Windsor and Hartford, on the banks of the “River of Conectecotte.” At that time, those were the only settlements in the Connecticut colony.
The document begins with an acknowledgment of the sovereignty of God and states that its purpose is “to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess.”
Significantly, the preamble and the eleven articles that follow were framed by British subjects in an English colony without mention of the King. This was a time when throughout Europe the absolute sovereignty of monarchs was unquestioned.
Hooker has been honored in England as a “Father of American Democracy.” So it can be said that, through their role in the creation and adoption of the Fundamental Orders, the people of First Church helped to shape our democracy.
In 1662, in response to a petition from Connecticut‘s colonial government, King Charles II granted Connecticut a Royal Charter which our forebears saw as the protector and guarantor of the liberties already established by the Fundamental Orders. When Charles‘s brother King James II attempted to take it back by force, in 1687, the colonists successfully resisted and are said to have hidden the Royal Charter in the hollow of a tree that became known as the Charter Oak.