The Puritans in America Created the First Written Constitutions of Law
A constitution is a set of laws or principles which govern a people, country, or state. Constitutions are based on the principle of the Rule of Law by which all are subject to the law and the law is regularly enforced, not arbitrarily applied. The practice of written constitutions began in early colonial America.
The Puritans in Connecticut drafted their first framework of written laws in 1639, agreed upon by the colonists, known as the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. This document became the first complete, written constitution in the history of the world. It was also, essentially, the first complete self-government by the people. The constitution was inspired by a speech delivered by Puritan Rev. Thomas Hooker to the Connecticut General Court in which Hooker argued in favor of popular sovereignty and consent of the governed. The Puritans consequently created a civil republic/democratic self-government in their colony with a constitution that implemented…
Rule of Law, elected representatives, voting by secret ballot, due process of law, trial by jury, no taxation without representation, and prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. Some of these laws reflected those of the earlier Plymouth Pilgrims of 1636.
Connecticut would later become known as “the constitution state” for being the first colony in America to develop a complete constitution to govern itself. The Fundamental Orders would become a model for constitutions in other colonies. It prompted the colonists of Massachusetts, for example, to create a more formal and complete set of written laws, their own constitution called the Massachusetts Body of Liberties of 1641.
In creating written constitutions, the Puritans essentially followed the Biblical Israelites’ practice of written laws. The Israelites’ Ten Commandments, for example, were engraved in stone. Similarly, the Puritans wrote down all of their civil covenants and constitutions of law. Indeed, the written word was very important to them. The Puritans’ practice of written laws would later mean that the founding documents and laws of the United States—including the Declaration of Independence, U. S. Constitution, and Bill of Rights—would also be in written form
From AHEF and Angela E. Kamrath.
Source: Kamrath, Angela E. The Miracle of America: The Influence of the Bible on the Founding History and Principles of the United States of America for a People of Every Belief. Second Edition. Houston, TX: American Heritage Education Foundation, 2014, 2015.
Activity: Miracle of America High School Teacher Course Guide, Unit 3, Part 2 of 3, Activity 5: Predicting What the Puritans’ New Colony Might Be Like, p. 119, 344. MS-HS.
Predicting What the Puritans’ New Colony Might Be Like…
Purpose/Objective: Students learn about the Puritans’ Bible-based governing principles and values that characterized their colonies including moral truth, self-government, limited government, rule of law, constitutions, popular sovereignty, elected representatives, work ethic, and a literate citizenry.
Suggested Reading: Chapter 3 of Miracle of America sourcebook/text. Students read sections Introduction to 3:13.
Prediction Chart: (continued from Part 1 of this unit). After Part 2 and Part 3 lessons are taught, students fill out the third column on their prediction chart answering the questions of what happened in the colonies. How did the Puritans in fact set up their colonies? What were their governing principles and values? Have students compare the outcome with their prediction. Did they come close to predicting what happened? See the “Predicting What the Puritans’ New Colony Might Be Like” prediction chart in the “Supporting Resources” section of the course guide, p. 344.
To download this whole unit, sign up as an AHEF member (no cost) to access the “resources” page on americanheritage.org. To order the printed binder format of the course guide with all the units, go to the AHEF bookstore.
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