1662-Charter for Connecticut

The charter granted Connecticut by the English King in 1662 was amazingly liberal. It legalized almost every act previously taken in the Connecticut colony, including the Fundamental Orders.

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On the restoration of monarchy in England, in 1660, the Connecticut colonists had fears regarding their future. Their sturdy republicanism and independent action in the past might be mortally offensive to the new monarch. The General Assembly of Connecticut, therefore, resolved to make a formal acknowledgment of their allegiance to the crown and ask the king for a charter. A petition was accordingly framed and signed in May, 1661, and Governor John Winthrop bore it to England. He was a son of Winthrop of Massachusetts, and was a man of rare attainments and courtly manners, and then about forty-five years of age. He obtained an interview with the king, and was received with coolness. His name and the people over whom he was the chosen ruler were associated with radical republicanism, and the king received the prayer of the petitioners with disfavor. Winthrop left the royal presence, disappointed but not disheartened, and sought and obtained another interview.

The "merry monarch" was now in more genial mood. He chatted freely with Winthrop about America - its soil, productions, the Indians and the settlers -yet he hesitated to promise a charter. Winthrop, it is said, finally drew from his pocket a gold ring of great value, which the king's father had given to the governor's grandfather, and presented it to his majesty with a request that he would accept it as a memorial of the unfortunate monarch, and a token of Winthrop's esteem for, and loyalty to King Charles, before whom he stood as a faithful and loving subject. The king's heart was touched. Turning to Lord Clarendon, who was present, the monarch said: "Do you advise me to grant a charter to this good gentleman and his people?" "I do, Sire," responded Clarendon. "It shall be done," said Charles, and he dismissed Winthrop with a hearty shake of his hand and a royal blessing.

The governor left Whitehall with a light heart. A charter was issued on the first of May, 1662. It confirmed the popular constitution of the colony, and contained more liberal provisions that, any yet issued by royal hands. It defined the boundaries so as to include the New Haven colony and a part of Rhode Island on the East, and westward to the Pacific Ocean. The New Haven colony reluctantly gave its consent to the union, in 1665, and the boundary between Connecticut and Rhode Island remained a subject of dispute for more than sixty years. That old charter, engrossed on parchment, is among the archives in the Connecticut State Department. It bears the miniature portrait of Charles the Second, drawn in India ink by Samuel Cooper, it is supposed, who was an eminent London miniature painter of the time.

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Connecticut furnished the suggestion upon which the framers of the federal Constitution acted in deciding upon the basis and character of representation in the two federal houses; for in the Connecticut legislature of that time (1662) one house represented the towns, as the confederate units of the state, while the other represented the people directly. Even Connecticut has now abandoned this arrangement, however, and in almost all the states representation in both houses is based directly upon population, the only difference between the senate and house being that the senate consists of fewer members representing larger districts. Often, for instance, each country of a state is entitled to send several representatives to the lower house of the legislature, while several counties are combined to form a single senatorial district.

- - - - - Woodrow Wilson

1662 Bibliography