In preparation for the 200th anniversary of the Connecticut Constitution of 1818, Connecticut Humanities (CTH) is coordinating statewide efforts around the constitution’s commemoration. CTH has set aside a small amount of grant money to support projects around this issue. It is our hope that we may inspire the creation of programs, exhibits, academic research, and other projects as well as bring together organizations that have an interest in celebrating this landmark document.
For anyone interested in applying for funding as well as for history buffs, it is important to understand the background of the Constitution of 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, corrupt, and unfit for political participation). To participate, one had to own property, be approved by the town’s freemen and selectmen, and 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 met with legal consequences. Connecticut Blue Laws were a way Connecticut leaders sought to legislate sin out of existence. Everyone, regardless of religious preferences, was taxed to support the Congregational Church.
In 1818, some changes occurred. A sufficient number of dissenters from the Congregational Church organized to unseat the Federalist Party in Connecticut (the traditional party of the Congregationalists). 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, gave greater independence to the judicial branch (their decisions could no longer be appealed to the executive branch), and gave each existing town two Representatives in the House.
The sentiments and social concepts of 1818 are still happening currently and could make potential programming surrounding the topic relatable to society today (e.g. religious freedom, separation of church and state, emoluments, state’s rights, voting rights, changing population demographics). More themes to be considered include the fact that there were newspapers in 1818 associated with certain ideologies, such as Federalist and Antifederalist papers. This theme relates directly to today’s media.
If your organization is interested in learning more about the grant funds, please grant guidelines here. If you are interested in learning more about the Constitution of 1818, see ConnecticutHistory.org.