THE FUNDAMENTAL ORDERS OF 1639

January 14, 1639

     For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God by the wise
disposition of his divine providence so to order and dispose of
things that we the Inhabitants and Residents of Windsor,
Hartford and Wethersfield are now cohabiting and dwelling in
and upon the River of Connectecotte and the lands thereunto
adjoining; and well knowing where a people are gathered
together the word of God requires that to maintain the peace
and union of such a people there should be an orderly and
decent Government established according to God, to order and
dispose of the affairs of the people at all seasons as occasion
shall require; do therefore associate and conjoin ourselves to
be as one Public State or Commonwealth; and do for ourselves
and our successors and such as shall be adjoined to us at any
time hereafter, enter into Combination and Confederation
together, to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of
the Gospel of our Lord Jesus which we now profess, as also, the
discipline of the Churches, which according to the truth of the
said Gospel is now practiced amongst us; as also in our civil
affairs to be guided and governed accordinbg to such Laws,
Rules, Orders and Decrees as shall be made, ordered, and
decreed as followeth:

1.    It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that there shall
be yearly two General Assemblies or Courts, the one the second
Thursday in April, the other the second Thursday in September
following; the first shall be called the Court of Election,
wherein shall be yearly chosen from time to time, so many
Magistrates and other public Officers as shall be found
requisite:  Whereof one to be chosen Governor for the year
ensuing and until another be chosen, and no other Magistrate
to be chosen for more than one year: provided always there be
six chosen besides the Governor, which being chosen and sworn
according to an Oath recorded for that purpose, shall have
the power to administer justice according to the Laws here
established, and for want thereof, according to the Rule of
the Word of God; which choice shall be made by all that are
admitted freemen and have taken the Oath of Fidelity, and do
cohabit within this Jurisdiction having been admitted
Inhabitants by the major part of the Town wherein they live
or the major part of such as shall be then present.

2.    It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that the election
of the aforesaid Magistrates shall be in this manner:  every
person present and qualified for choice shall bring in (to the
person deputed to receive them) one single paper with the name
of him written in it whom he desires to have Governor, and that
he that hath the greatest number of papers shall be Governor
for that year.  And the rest of the Magistrates or public
officers to be chosen in this manner: the Secretary for the
time being shall first read the names of all that are to be put
to choice and then shall severally nominate them distinctly,
and every one that would have the person nominated to be chosen
shall bring in one single paper written upon, and he that would
not have him chosen shall bring in a blank; and every one that
hath more written papers than blanks shall be a Magistrate for
that year; which papers shall be received and told by one or
more that shall be then chosen by the court and sworn to be
faithful therein; but in case there should not be six chosen
as aforesaid, besides the Governor, out of those which are
nominated, than he or they which have the most writen papers
shall be a Magistrate or Magistrates for the ensuing year, to
make up the aforesaid number.

3.    It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that the Secretary
shall not nominate any person, nor shall any person be chosen
newly into the Magistracy which was not propounded in some
General Court before, to be nominated the next election; and to
that end it shall be lawful for each of the Towns aforesaid by
their deputies to nominate any two whom they conceive fit to be
put to election; and the Court may add so many more as they
judge requisite.

4.    It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that no person be
chosen Governor above once in two years, and that the Governor
be always a member of some approved Congregation, and formerly
of the Magistracy within this Jurisdiction; and that all the
Magistrates, Freemen of this Commonwealth; and that no
Magistrate or other public officer shall execute any part of
his or their office before they are severally sworn, which
shall be done in the face of the court if they be present,
and in case of absence by some deputed for that purpose.

5.    It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that to the
aforesaid Court of Election the several Towns shall send their
deputies, and when the Elections are ended they may proceed in
any public service as at other Courts.  Also the other General
Court in September shall be for making of laws, and any other
public occasion, which concerns the good of the Commonwealth.

6.    It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that the Governor
shall, either by himself or by the Secretary, send out summons
to the Constables of every Town for the calling of these two
standing Courts one month at least before their several times:
And also if the Governor and the greatest part of the
Magistrates see cause upon any special occasion to call a
General Court, they may give order to the Secretary so to do
within fourteen days' warning:  And if urgent necessity so
required, upon a shorter notice, giving sufficient grounds for
it to the deputies when they meet, or else be questioned for
the same;  And if the Governor and major part of Magistrates
shall either neglect or refuse to call the two General standing
Courts or either of them, as also at other times when the
occasions of the Commonwealth require, the Freemen thereof, or
the major part of them, shall petition to them so to do; if
then it be either denied or neglected, the said Freemen, or the
major part of them, shall have the power to give order to the
Constables of the several Towns to do the same, and so may meet
together, and choose to themselves a Moderator, and may proceed
to do any act of power which any other General Courts may.

7.    It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that after there
are warrants given out for any of the said General Courts, the
Constable or Constables of each Town, shall forthwith give
notice distinctly to the inhabitants of the same, in some
public assembly or by going or sending from house to house,
that at a place and time by him or them limited and set, they
meet and assemble themselves together to elect and choose
certain deputies to be at the General Court then following to
agitate the affairs of the Commonwealth; which said deputies
shall be chosen by all that are admitted Inhabitants in the
several Towns and have taken the oath of fidelity; provided
that none be chosen a Deputy for any General Court which is
not a Freeman of this Commonwealth.
      The aforesaid deputies shall be chosen in manner
following:  every person that is present and qualified as
before expressed, shall bring the names of such, written in
several papers, as they desire to have chosen for that
employment, and these three or four, more or less, being the
number agreed on to be chosen for that time, that have the
greatest number of papers written for them shall be deputies
for that Court; whose names shall be endorsed on the back side
of the warrant and returned into the Court, with the Constable
or Constables' hand unto the same.

8.    It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that Windsor,
Hartford, and Wethersfield shall have power, each Town, to send
four of their Freemen as their deputies to every General Court;
and Whatsoever other Town shall be hereafter added to this
Jurisdiction, they shall send so many deputies as the Court
shall judge meet, a reasonable proportion to the number of
Freemen that are in the said Towns being to be attended
therein; which deputies shall have the power of the whole Town
to give their votes and allowance to all such laws and orders
as may be for the public good, and unto which the said Towns
are to be bound.

9.    It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that the
deputies thus chosen shall have power and liberty to appoint
a time and a place of meeting together before any General
Court, to advise and consult of all such things as may concern
the good of the public, as also to examine their own Elections,
whether according to the order, and if they or the greatest
part of them find any election to be illegal they may seclude
such for present from their meeting, and return the same and
their reasons to the Court; and if it be proved true, the
Court may fine the party or parties so intruding, and the Town,
if they see cause, and give out a warrant to go to a new
election in a legal way, either in part or in whole.  Also the
said deputies shall have power to fine any that shall be
disorderly at their meetings, or for not coming in due time or
place according to appointment; and they may return the said
fines into the Court if it be refused to be paid, and the
Treasurer to take notice of it, and to escheat or levy the
same as he does other fines.

10.   It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that every General
Court, except such as through neglect of the Governor and the
greatest part of the Magistrates the Freemen themselves do
call, shall consist of the Governor, or some one chosen to
moderate the Court, and four other Magistrates at least, with
the major part of the deputies of the several Towns legally
chosen; and in case the Freemen, or major part of them,
through neglect or refusal of the Governor and major part of
the Magistrates, shall call a Court, it shall consist of the
major part of Freemen that are present or their deputiues,
with a Moderator chosen by them:  In which said General Courts
shall consist the supreme power of the Commonwealth, and they
only shall have power to make laws or repeal them, to grant
levies, to admit of Freemen, dispose of lands undisposed of,
to several Towns or persons, and also shall have power to call
either Court or Magistrate or any other person whatsoever into
question for any misdemeanor, and may for just causes displace
or deal otherwise according to the nature of the offense; and
also may deal in any other matter that concerns the good of
this Commonwealth, except election of Magistrates, which shall
be done by the whole body of Freemen.
      In which Court the Governor or Moderator shall have power
to order the Court, to give liberty of speech, and silence
unseasonable and disorderly speakings, to put all things to
vote, and in case the vote be equal to have the casting voice. 
But none of these Courts shall be adjourned or dissolved
without the consent of the major part of the Court.

11.   It is Ordered, sentenced, and decreed, that when any
General Court upon the occasions of the Commonwealth have
agreed upon any sum, or sums of money to be levied upon the
several Towns within this Jurisdiction, that a committee be
chosen to set out and appoint what shall be the proportion of
every Town to pay of the said levy, provided the committee be
made up of an equal number out of each Town.

      14th January 1639 the 11 Orders above said are voted.

 

The Fundamental Orders OF 1639 are often credited as being the
first written Constitution in the new world.  However, see also
the Iroquois Constitution and the Mayflower Compact of earlier times.

 
Prepared by Gerald Murphy (The Cleveland Free-Net - aa300)
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