Connecticut Constitution, 1818




Over the years since the Revolution and into the first quarter of the Nineteenth Century, opposition to the established church increased. The final of a series of hard fought victories for religious freedom in Connecticut came following the election of Governor Oliver Wolcott in 1817. Under the leadership of their new liberal governor, the state legislature began to modify existing laws restricting religious freedom, and to enact new laws expanding the rights of non-established churches. These changes culminated in the constitutional convention of 1818, which produced a constitution and bill of rights guaranteeing the free exercise of religious beliefs, while refusing to give legal sanction to any Christian sect or mode of worship. Lyman Beacher, a political leader in the state and an ardent supporter of church establishment, summed up the long struggle for disestablishment as follows:

In this moment of dejection my heart was cheered by the sight of the good old ship CONNECTICUT — her hull and rigging all the same, but oh how changed! With the exception of some few of her old officers, she was commanded by midshipmen and common sailors, cooks and cabin-boys, and navigated by raw hands. Her broad pennant, which had floated at masthead for almost two centuries, and whose moto was, “Talents and virtue shall guide us through,” was trodden under foot, and in its place was a new pennant, on which was inscribed in capitals, “Toleration; or reason and philosophy shall guide us.” Her sails were tattered, and she was only moving under the influence of former gales.

Beacher, Lyman, 1 Autobiography at 405.

However, Beacher’s forebodings were never realized, as religion and the various sects in Connecticut were thriving under the new system. This result supports Madison’s oft-repeated words that religion and government could survive and thrive independent of one another.

Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie Religious Institutions Group


The people of Connecticut, acknowledging with gratitude the good providence of God, in having permitted them to enjoy a free government, do, in order more effectually to define, secure, and perpetuate the liberties, rights, and privileges which they have derived from their ancestors, hereby, after a careful consideration and revision, ordain and establish the following constitution and form of civil government:



That the great and essential principles of liberty and free government may be recognized and established, we declare:

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Sec. 3. The exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination, shall forever be free to all persons in this State, provided that the right hereby declared and established shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or to justify practices inconsistent with the peace and safety of the State.

Sec. 4. No preference shall be given by law to any Christian sect or mode of worship.

Sec. 5. Every citizen may freely speak, write, and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that liberty.

Sec. 6. No law shall ever be passed to curtail or restrain the liberty of speech or of the press.

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Sec. 16. The citizens have a right, in a peaceable manner, to assemble for their common good, and to apply to those invested with the powers of government for redress of grievances, or other proper purposes, by petition, address, or remonstrance.

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Source: the federal and state constitutions, colonial charters, and other organic laws of the united states 258-59 (Ben: Perley Poore, 1878).