Connecticut History on the Web



Connecticut Colony and the Empire  




Below is a list of the readings used with this unit. You may go directly to a document or group of documents by clicking on its name, or you may scroll down through the whole collection.

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§ "The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut" (January 1638/39), as transliterated by Albert Carlos Bates in 1934.

§ "Selections from Connecticut's Early Laws" - from the Code of 1650.

§ Thomas Fitch, "Reasons Why the British Colonies in America Should Not be Charged with Internal Taxes" (1764) - a pamphlet criticizing the proposed Stamp Act.

§ A page from a letter by Thomas Fitch to Richard Jackson, Feb. 23, 1765, suggesting that the colonists would probably end up obeying the Stamp Act.

§ An issue of The Connecticut Courant (September 9, 1765), with articles showing radical opposition to the Stamp Act.

§ Selections from the Colonial Records of Connecticut: October Session, 1765, including instructions to the colony's agent in London and radical resolutions against the Stamp Act

§ "Connecticut Colony: A Background Essay", by Mark Williams

This site was created by Mark Williams, a history teacher at The Loomis Chaffee School, Windsor, Connecticut, under a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council. Some of the materials published here were originally created by Mark Williams as Connecticut Case Studies, under a grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council, and printed by the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. John F. Sutherland of Manchester Community College, Ronald P. Dufour of Rhode Island College, Thomas P. Weinland of the University of Connecticut, Tracey Wilson of Conard High School, Robert K. Andrian of The Loomis Chaffee School, and State Historian Christopher Collier served as consultants. The Connecticut Humanities Council is the State Committee of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The viewpoints or recommendations expressed in the materials on this site of are not necessarily those of the Council or the Endowment. Teachers are encouraged to print and make copies of these materials for their students.




FORASMUCH as it hath pleaƒed the Allmighty God by the wiƒe diƒpoƒition of his diuyne providence ƒo to Order and diƒpoƒe of things that we the Inhabitants and Reƒidents of Windƒor Hartford and Wetherƒfield are now Cohabiting and dwelling in and vppon the River of Connectecotte and the Lands thereunto adioyneing, And well knowing where a people are gathered togather the word of god requires that to mayntayne the peace and Vnion of ƒuch a people there ƒhould be an Orderly and decent Government eƒtabliƒhed according to God to Order and diƒpoƒe of the affayres of the people at all ƒeaƒons as occation ƒhall require. Doe therefore aƒƒociate and conioyne our ƒelues to be as one Publike State or Common welth, and doe for our ƒelves and our Succeƒƒors and ƒuch as ƒhall be adioyned to vs att any tyme hereafter enter into Combination and Confederation togather to mayntayne and prƒearve the liberty and purity of the goƒpell of our lord Jeƒus wch we now profeƒƒe, as alƒo the diƒciplyne of the Churches wch according to the truth of the ƒaid goƒpell is now practiƒed amongƒt vs, As alƒo in or Civell affaires to be guided and gouerned according to ƒuch lawes Rules Orders and decrees as ƒhall be made Ordered & decreed as followeth.


I It is Ordered ƒentenced and decreed that there ƒhall be yerely two generall Aƒƒemblies or Courts, the on the ƒecond thurƒday in Aprill the other the ƒecond thurƒday in ƒeptember following, the first ƒhall be called the Courte of Election wherein ƒhall be yerely Choƒen from tyme to tyme ƒoe many Mageƒtrats and other publike Officers as ƒhall be found requiƒitte: Whereof one to be choƒen Gouernour for the yeare enƒueing and vntill another be choƒen and noe other Mageƒtrate to be choƒen for more then one yeare, provided allwayes there be ƒixe choƒen beƒids the Gouernour wch being choƒen and ƒworne according to an Oath recorded for that purpoƒe ƒhall adminiƒter iuƒtice according to the Lawes here eƒtabliƒhed, and for want thereof according to the rule of the word of god wch choiƒe shall be made by all that are admitted freemen and haue taken the Oath of Fidellity, and doe Cohabitte wthin this Juriƒdiction hauing beene admitted Inhabitants by the maior pt of the Towne where in they liue or the mayor parte of ƒuch as ƒhall be then prƒente.

2 It is Ordered ƒentenced and decreed that the Election of the aƒoreƒaid Mageƒtrats ƒhall be on this manner euery pƒon prƒent and quallified for choyƒe ƒhall bring in (to the pƒons deputed to receave the) one Single paper wth the name of him written in yt whom he deƒires to haue Gouernor and he that hath the greateƒt number of papers ƒhall be Gouernor for that yeare; and the reƒt of the Mageƒtrats or publike Officers to be Choƒen in this manner. The Secretary for the tyme being ƒhall firƒt read the names of all that are to be put to choiƒe and then ƒhall ƒeuerally nominate them diƒtinctly, and euery one that would haue that perƒon nominated to be choƒen ƒhall bring in one ƒingle paper written vppon, and he that would not haue him choƒen ƒhall bring in a blanke. and euery one that hath more written papers then blanks ƒhall be a Mageƒtrat for that yeare wch papers ƒhall be receaued and told by one or more that ƒhall be then choƒen by the court and ƒworne to be faythfull therein, but in Caƒe there ƒhould not be ƒixe choƒen aƒ aforeƒaid beƒids the Gouernor out of thoƒe wch are nominated, then he or they wch haue the moƒt written papers ƒhall be a Mageƒtrate or Mageƒtrats for the enƒueing yeare to make vp the foreƒaid number.

3 It is Ordered ƒentenced and decreed that the Secretary ƒhall not nominat any perƒon, nor ƒhall any perƒon be choƒen newly into the Mageƒtracy wch was not propownded in ƒome Generall Courte before to be nominated the next Election, and to that end yt ƒhall be lawfull for ech of the Townes aforeƒaid by their deputyes to nominate any two whom they conceaue fitte to be put to Election, and the Courte may ad ƒo many more as they iudge requiƒitt.

4 It is Ordered ƒentenced and decreed that noe perƒon be choƒen Gouernor aboue once in two yeares and that the Gouernor be alwayes a member of ƒome approued congregation and formerly of the Mageƒtracy wthin this Juriƒdiction and all the Mageƒtrats Freemen of this Common welth and that no Mageƒtrate or other publike Officer ƒhall execute any parte of his or their Office before they are ƒeuerally ƒworne wch ƒhall be don in the face of the Courte if they be prƒent and in Caƒe of abƒence by ƒome deputed for that purpoƒe.

5 It is Ordered ƒentenced and decreed that to the aforƒaid Courte of Election the ƒeurall Townes ƒhall send their deputyes and when the Elections are ended they may proceed in any publike ƒearuice as at other Courts, Alƒo the other General Courte in September ƒhall be for makeing of lawes and any other publike occation, wch conƒerns the good of the Common welth.

6 It is Ordered ƒentenced and decreed that the Gournor ƒhall ether by himƒelfe or by the ƒecretary ƒend out ƒummons to the Conƒtables of eur Towne for the cauleing of theƒe two ƒtanding Courts on month at leƒt before their ƒeurall tymes, And alƒo if the Gournor and the greteƒt parte of the Mageƒtrats ƒee cauƒe vppon any ƒpectiall occation to call a generall Courte, they may giue order to the ƒecretary ƒoe to doe wthin fowerteene dayes warneing and if vrgent neceƒƒity ƒo require vppon a ƒhorter notice, giueing ƒufficient grownds for yt to the deputyes when they meete, or els be queƒtioned for the ƒame, And if the Gournor and Mayor parte of Mageƒtrats ƒhall ether neglect or refuƒe to call the two Generall ƒtanding Courts or ether of them as alƒo at other tymes when the occations of the Common welth require, The Freemen thereof or the Mayor parte of them, ƒhall petition to them ƒoe to doe, if then yt be ether denyed or neglected the ƒaid Freemen or the Mayor parte of them ƒhall haue power to giue order to the Conƒtables of the ƒeueral Townes to doe the ƒame and ƒo may meette togather and Choƒe to themƒelues a Moderator and may proceed to doe any acte of power, wch any other Generall Courte may.

7 It is Ordered ƒentenced and decreed that after there are warrants giuen out for any of the ƒaid Generall Courts the Conƒtable or Conƒtables of ech towne ƒhall forthwth giue notice diƒtinctly to the Inhabitants of the ƒame in ƒome Publike Aƒƒembly or by goeing or ƒending from howƒe to howƒe that at a place and tyme by him or them lymited and ƒett they meet and Aƒƒemble themƒelues togather to elect and chuƒe certen deputyes to be at the Generall Courte then following to agitate the afayres of the common welth wch ƒaid Deputyes ƒhall be choƒen by all that are admitted Inhabitants in the ƒeurall Townes and haue taken the oath of fidellity, provided that non be choƒen a Deputy for any Generall Courte wch is not a Freeman of this Common welth.

The foreƒaid deputyes ƒhall be choƒen in manner following, euery perƒon that is prƒent and quallified as before exprƒƒed ƒhall bring the names of ƒuch written in ƒeurall papers as they deƒire to haue choƒen for that Imployment, and theƒe 3 or 4 more or leƒƒe being the number agreed on to be choƒen for that tyme, that haue greateƒt number of papers written for they ƒhall be deputyes for that Courte whoƒe names ƒhall be endorƒed on the backe ƒide of the warrant and returned into the Courte, wth the Conƒtable or Conƒtables hand vnto the ƒame.

8 It is Ordered ƒentenced and decreed that wyndƒor Hartford and Wetherƒfield ƒhall haue power ech Towne to ƒend fower of their freemen as their deputyes to euery Generall Courte, and whatƒoeuer other Townes ƒhall be hereafter added to this Juriƒdiction they ƒhall ƒend ƒo many Deputyes as the Courte ƒhall Judge meete a reƒonable proportion to the number of Freemen that are in the ƒaid Townes being to be attended therein, wch deputyes ƒhall haue the power of the whole Towne to giue their voats and alowance to all ƒuch lawes and Orders as may be for the Publike good, and vnto wch the ƒaid Townes are to be bownd.

9 It is Ordered and decreed that the deputyes thus choƒen ƒhall haue power and liberty to appoynt a tyme and a place of meeting togather before any generall Courte to aduiƒe and conƒult of all ƒuch things as may concerne the good of the publike as alƒo to examine theire owne Elections whether according to the order, and if they or the greteƒt parte of them find any election to be Illegall they may ƒeclud ƒuch for prƒent from there meeting and returne the ƒame and there reƒons to the Courte, and if yt proue true the Courte may fyne the property or propertyes ƒo Intruding, and the Towne if they ƒee Cauƒe, and giue out a warrant to goe to a newe Election in a Legall way ether in parte or in Whole, Alƒo the ƒaid deputyes ƒhall haue power to Fyne any, that ƒhall be diƒorderly at their meetings or for not coming in due tyme or place according to appoyntment, and they may returne the ƒaid Fynes into the Courte if yt be refuƒed to be paid and the Treƒurer to take notice of yt and to Eƒtreete or leuy ƒame as he doth other Fynes.

10 It is Ordered ƒentenced and decreed that euery Generall Courte except ƒuch as through neglecte of the Gournor and the greateƒt parte of Mageƒtrats the Freemen themƒelues doe call, ƒhall conƒiƒt of the Gouernor or ƒome one choƒen to moderate the Court and 4 other Mageƒtrats at leƒt wth the mayor parte of the deputyes of the ƒeuerall Townes legally choƒen, And in Caƒe the Freemen or the mayor parte of them through neglect or refuƒal of the Gouernor and Mayor parte of the mageƒtrats ƒhall call a Courte yt ƒhall conƒiƒt of the mayor parte of Freemen that are prƒent or their Deputyes wth a moderator choƒen by them, In wch ƒaid Generall Courts ƒhall conƒiƒt the ƒupreme power of the Common welth and they only ƒhall haue power to make lawes or repeale them to graunt Leuyes to admitt of Freemen diƒpoƒe of Lands vndiƒpoƒed of to ƒeuerall Townes or and perƒons, and alƒo ƒhall haue power to call ether Courte or Mageƒtrate or any other perƒon whatƒoeuer into queƒtion for any miƒdemeanour and may for Juƒt Cauƒes diƒplace or deale otherwiƒe according to the nature of the offence, And alƒo may deale in any other matter that concerns the good of this Common welth excepte election of Mageƒtrats wch ƒhall be done by the whole boddy of Freemen,

In wch Courte the Gouernour or Moderator ƒhall haue power to Order the Courte to giue liberty of ƒpech and ƒilence vnceaƒonable and diƒorderly ƒpeakeings to put all things to voate and in Caƒe the voate be equall to haue the caƒting voice, But non of theƒe Courts ƒhall be adiorned or diƒƒolued wthout the conƒent of the maior parte of the Court.

11 It is Ordered ƒentenced and decreed that when any Generall Courte vppon the occations of the Common welth haue agreed vppon any ƒum or ƒomes of mony to be leuyed vppon the ƒeuerall Townes wthin this Juriƒdiction that a Committee be choƒen to ƒett out and appoynt wt ƒhall be the proportion of euery Towne to pay of the ƒaid leuy, provided the Committes be made vp of an equall number out of ech Towne.

14th January 1638 the 11 Orders aboueƒaid are voted.

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[During its first decade of operation as Connecticut Colony's government, the general court enacted numerous laws to try to achieve the purposes mentioned in The Fundamental Orders. These are selections from the Connecticut Code of Laws as it stood in 1650.]

Forasmuch as the free fruition of such liberties, immunities, privileges as humanity, civility and Christianity call for, as due to every man in his place and proportion, without impeachment and infringement, has ever been and ever will be the tranquility and stability of churches and commonwealths; and the denial or deprival thereof, the disturbance, if not ruin of both: It is thereof ordered by this Court, and authority thereof, that no man's life shall be taken away; no man's honor or good name shall be stained; no man's person shall be arrested, restrained, banished, dismembered, nor any way punished; no man shall be deprived of his wife or children; no man's goods or estates shall be taken away from him nor anyways damaged, under color of law, or countenance of authority; unless it be by the virtue or equity of some express law of the country warranting the same, established by a General Court and sufficiently published, or in case of the defect of a law, in any particular case, by the Word of God.


It is ordered and decreed by this Court, and authority thereof, that no person shall be arrested or imprisoned for any debt or fine if the law can find any competent means of satisfaction otherwise from his estate, and if not, his person may be arrested and imprisoned, where he shall be kept at his own charge, not the plaintiff's, till satisfaction be made, unless the court that had cognizance of the cause, or some superior court, shall otherwise determine; provided, nevertheless, that no man's person shall be kept in prison for debt, but when there appears some estate which he will not produce, to which end, any court or commissioners authorized by the General Court, may administer an oath to the party, or any others suspected to be privy in concealing his estate, he shall satisfy by service, if the creditor require it; but shall not be sold to any but of the English nation....

Capital Laws

1. If any man after legal conviction shall have or worship any other God but the Lord God, he shall be put to death. Deut. 13: 6, 17: 2, Ex. 22: 20.

2. If any man or woman be a witch, that is, has or consults with a familiar spirit, they shall be put to death. Ex. 22: 18; Lev. 20: 27; Deut. 18: 10,11.

3. If any person shall blasphemy the name of God the Father, Son or Holy Ghost with direct, express, presumptuous, or high-handed blasphemy, or shall curse in the like manner, he shall be put to death.

4. If any person shall commit any willful murder, which is manslaughter, committed upon malice, hatred, or cruelty, not in a man's necessary and just defense, nor by mere casualty against his will, he shall be put to death. Ex. 21: 12-14; Num. 35: 30,31.

5. If any person shall slay another through guile, either by poisoning or other such devilish practice, he shall be put to death. Ex. 21: 14.

6. If any man or woman shall lie with any beast or brute creature, by carnal copulation, they shall surely be put to death, and the beast shall be slain and buried. Lev. 20: 15, 16.

7. If any man lies with mankind as he lies with woman, both of them have committed abomination, they both shall surely be put to death. Lev. 20: 10, 18: 20; Deut. 22: 23,24.

8. If any person commits adultery with a married or espoused wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. Lev. 20: 10, 18: 20; Deut. 22: 23, 24.

9. If any man shall forcibly, and without consent, ravish any maid or woman that is lawfully married or contracted, he shall be put to death. Deut. 22: 25.

10. If any man steals a man or mankind, he shall be put to death. Ex. 21: 16.

11. If any man rise up by false witness, wittingly and of purpose to take away any man's life, he shall be put to death. Deut. 19: 16, 18, 19.

12. If any man shall conspire or attempt any invasion, insurrection, or rebellion against the Commonwealth, he shall be put to death.

13. If any child or children above sixteen years old and of sufficient understanding shall curse or smite their natural father or mother, he or they shall be put to death; unless it can be sufficiently testified that the parents have been very unchristianly negligent in the education of such children, or so provoke them by extreme and cruel correction that they have been forced thereunto to preserve themselves from death, maiming. Ex. 21: 15, 17; Lev. 20.

14. If any man have a stubborn and rebellious son of sufficient years and understanding, viz., sixteen years of age, which will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and that when they have chastened him will not hearken unto them, then may his father and mother, being his natural parents, lay hold on him and bring him to the magistrates assembled in Court, and testify unto them that their son is stubborn and rebellious and will not obey their voice, and chastisement, but lives in sundry notorious crimes, such a son shall be put to death. Deut. 21: 20, 21....


Forasmuch as the good education of children is of singular behoof and benefit to any commonwealth; and whereas many parents and masters are too indulgent and negligent of their duty in that kind: It is therefore ordered by this Court and authorized hereof that the selectmen of every town in the several precincts and quarters where they dwell shall have a vigilant eye over their bretheren and neighbors, to see, first, that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families, as not to endeavor to teach by themselves or others their children and apprentices so much learning as may enable them perfectly to read the English tongue, and knowledge of the capital laws, upon penalty of 20s. for such neglect therein. Also, that all masters of families do, once a week, at least, catecize their children and servants in the grounds and principles of religion, and if any be unable to do so much, that then, at the least, they procure such children or apprentices to learn some short orthodox catechism, without book, that they may be able to answer to the questions that shall be propounded to them out of such catechisms by their parents or masters, or any of the selectmen where they shall call them to a trial of what they have learned in this kind. And further, that all parents and masters do breed and bring up their children and apprentices in some honest, lawful calling, labor, or employment, either in husbandry or some other trade profitable for themselves and Commonwealth, if they will not nor cannot train them up in learning, to fit them for higher employments. And if any of the selectmen, after admonition by them given to such masters of families, shall find them still negligent of their duty in the particulars aforementioned, whereby children and servants become rude, stubborn, and unruly, the said selectmen, with the help of two magistrates, shall take such children or apprentices from them and place them with such masters for years, boys till they come to twenty-one, and girls, eighteen years of age complete, which will more strictly look unto and force them to submit unto government, according to the rules of this order, if by fair means and former instructions they will not be drawn unto it....


It is ordered by this Court, and authority thereof, that no man shall exercise any tyranny or cruelty toward any brute creatures, which are usually kept for the use of man.

Damages Pretended

Forasmuch as the open contempt of God's Word, and messengers thereof, is the desolating sin of civil states and churches, and that the preaching of the Word by those whom God does send is that chief ordinary means ordained by God for the converting, edifying, and saving the souls of the elect, through the presence and power of the Holy Ghost thereunto promised; and that the ministry of the Word is set up by God in His churches for those holy ends; and accordingly to the respect or contempt of the same, and of those whom God has set apart for His own work and employment, the weal or woe of all Christian states, is much furthered and promoted; It is therefore ordered and decreed, that if any Christian, so called, within this jurisdiction, shall contemptuously bear himself toward the Word preached, or the messengers that are called to dispense the same in any congregation, when he does faithfully execute his service and office therein, according to the Will and Word of God, either by interrupting him in his preaching or by charging him falsely with an error, which he has not taught, in the open face of the church, or like a son of Korah, cast upon his true doctrine, or himself, any reproach to the dishonor of the Lord Jesus, who has sent him, and to the disparagement of that His Holy Ordinance, and making God's ways contemptible and ridiculous, that every such person or persons, whatsoever censure the church may pass, shall, for the first scandal, be convented and reproved openly by the magistrates, at some lecture, and bound to their good behavior. And if a second time they break forth into the like contemptuous carriages, they shall either pay 5 pounds to the public treasure, or stand two hours, openly, upon a block or stool four foot high, upon a lecture day, with a paper fixed on his breast written with capital letters AN OPEN AND OBSTINANTE CONTEMNER OF GOD'S HOLY ORDINANCES, that others may fear and be ashamed of breaking out into the like wickedness.

It is ordered and decreed by this Court, and authority thereof, that wheresoever the ministry of the Word is established, according to the order of the Gospel, throughout this jurisdiction, every person shall duly resort and attend thereunto respectively upon the Lord's Day, and upon such public fast days and days of thanksgiving as are to be generally kept by the appointment of authority. And if any person within this jurisdiction shall, without just and necessary cause, withdraw himself from hearing the public ministry of the Word, after due means of conviction used, he shall forfeit for his absence, from every such public meeting, 5s. all such offenses to be heard and determined by any one magistrate, or more, from time to time.

Forasmuch as the peace and prosperity of churches, and members thereof, as well as civil rights and liberties, are carefully to be maintained; it is ordered by this Court and decreed, that the civil authority here established has power and liberty to see the peace, ordinances, and rules of Christ be observed in every church, according to His Word; as also to deal with any church member in a way of civil justice, notwithstanding any church relation, office, or interest, so it be done in a civil and not in an ecclesiastical way; nor shall any church censure degrade or depose any man from any civil dignity, office, or authority he shall have in the Commonwealth....


Upon complaint of great disorder, by the use of the game called shuffleboard, in houses of common entertainment, whereby much precious time is spent unfruitfully, and much waste of wine and beer occasioned; It is therefore ordered and enacted by the authority of this Court, that no person shall henceforth use the said game of shuffleboard in any such house, nor in any other house used as common for such purpose, upon pain for every keeper of such house to forfeit for every such offence 20s.; and for every person playing at the said game in any such house, to forfeit for every such offense 5s.; the like penalty shall be for playing in any place at any unlawful game....

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 Governor Thomas Fitch's Pamphlet

In 1764, when the Connecticut legislature heard that Parliament had passed the Sugar Act and was thinking about a Stamp Act, they authorized Governor Thomas Fitch to write a pamphlet protesting the bills.




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Letter from Governor Thomas Fitch to Richard Jackson,

Agent for the Colony of Connecticut in Parliament

Even though Fitch had written on behalf of the colony's legislature to protest the upcoming Stamp Act, he wrote this letter to Richard Jackson a few months later, seeming to say that the colony would submit to Parliamentary taxation. The letter, though written in confidence, somehow found its way into the colony's newspapers.

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Clippings from The Connecticut Courant, September 9, 1765



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Selections from the Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut

October Session, 1765

Whereas at the special Assembly holden at Hartford in September last Eliphalet Dyer, William Samuel Johnson and David Rowland, Esqrs, were appointed Commissioners on behalf of this Colony to join a proposed Congress at New York, for the purpose of conferring upon a general and united humble, loyal and dutiful representation to his Majesty &c., of the present circumstances of the Colonies and the difficulties to which they are and must be reduced by the operation of the act of Parliament for laying duties and taxes on the Colonies, and to report their doings with the doings of the Commissioners at such Congress to this Assembly for acceptance and approbation: And whereas the said Commissioners have, pursuant to their aforesaid instructions, presented to this Assembly three several petitions: one to the King's Most Excellent Majesty, one to the Right Honorable the Lords Spiritual and temporal of Great Britain in Parliament assembled, the other to the Honorable Knights, Citizens and Burgesses in Great Britain in Parliament assembled, made at said Congress and signed by Commissioners from several of the Colonies on this continent, for the acceptance and approbation of this Assembly: The same being taken into consideration, this Assembly do accept and approve of said petitions, and hereby authorize and desire the said Commissioners by said special Assembly appointed as aforesaid, to sign said petitions for and in behalf of this Colony. And this Assembly do desire his Honour the Governor to forward said petitions to great Britain, (in order that they may be duly presented,) together with a proper certificate of the appointment of said Commissioners and the doings of this Assembly thereon.

Sir: The Committees of the several Colonies lately appointed to meet at New York, to consider of the present unhappy circumstances of the Colonies, having agreed upon petitions to his Majesty and both Houses of Parliament, for relief from the grievances they at present labour under, which have been approved by the General Assembly of this Colony, and it being a subject of the last importance to us, you are desired to prefer those petitions, and to support them with your utmost influence, skill and ability, and leave no probable means unattempted to secure success in so interesting a matter.

The Colony being most firmly persuaded that the power lately exercised by Parliament of imposing taxes on the Colonies without their consent, and extending the jurisdiction of the court of admiralty beyond its ancient limits is inconsistent with the principles and spirit of the British constitution, and an infringement of the essential liberties of the colonists, we can by no means be content that you should give up the matter of right, but must beg you would on all proper occasions claim and firmly insist upon the exclusive right of the Colonies to tax themselves, and the priviledge of tryal by jury, and to maintain these principles in the most effectual manner possible, as what we can never recede from. The arguments from inconvenience and the fatal consequences, both to Great Britain and her Colonies which must flow from this exercise of parliamentary power, are obvious, and will no doubt be also fully insisted upon by you.

You will give proper attention to all such arguments, hints and materials as may be furnished you by his Honour the Governor, or which you may be able to collect from any other quarter, and make the best use you can of them to place the rights of the Colonies and the inconveniencies of a parliamentary taxation in the most striking point of light.

You are also desired to correspond with the agents appointed by the other Colonies, and unite your utmost endeavours with them in the common cause, for obtaining a repeal of the late acts of Parliament, so grievous to the Colonies.

We request your closest attention to this most important subject, and shall ever retain the most grateful sense of your assiduity and diligence upon this occasion, and wish you all the success that so just a cause fairly demands.

To Richard Jackson, Esqr, Agent
for the Colony of Connecticut


The House of Representatives of his Majesty's Colony of Connecticut in New England, in General Court assembled, taking into their serious consideration that an act of the Parliament of Great Britain has been lately past, for granting and applying certain stamp-duties &c. in the British Colonies and Plantations in America, find ourselves distressed with the most alarming apprehensions, when we observe that grand legislature to entertain sentiments so different from ours respecting what we ever reckoned among our most important and essential rights as Englishmen. The constitution of the British government we esteem the happiest in the world, founded on maxims of consummate wisdom, and in the best manner calculated to secure the prerogatives of the crown while it maintains the just rights and liberties of the subject. By virtue of which constitution and the royal grant and charter of his Majesty King Charles the second, the inhabitants of this Colony have enjoyed great and inestimable liberties and priviledges, of a civil and religious nature, for more than a century past, and more especially under the auspicious government of the illustrious House of Hanover. That royal house have ever held sacred and inviolable those rights and priviledges of their loyal subjects in this Colony, derived to them as aforesaid. In return for which the princes of that exalted line have ever had from this people their ardent desires of all happiness to their persons and glory to their empire. Inspired with the warmest sentiments of affectionate loyalty and duty, the colonist have been ever ready to sacrifice their lives and fortunes to the service of their King and country; and believing that his Majesty's interest in this Colony cannot be more firmly established and perfectly secured, nor the happiness of the British nation more effectually promoted by us, than in our full possession and continued enjoyment of the rights and priviledges of the British constitution, which we have not forfeited, but ought to hold as Englishmen, and which are, if possible, rendered more sacred and indefeasibly by the royal grant and charter aforesaid, which we conceive to stand upon the same basis with the grand charters and fountains of English liberty. And as the foresaid act tends, (as we conceive,) to deprive us of the most interesting, important and essential of those rights, which we hold most dear and cannot on any possible considerations be induced willingly to part with, we are therefore, filled with the most sensible grief and concern, and think it a duty we owe to his Majesty, to the Nation, to Ourselves and to Posterity, to express and declare the sense we have respecting the rights and priviledges which we may justly claim, and humbly hope to enjoy under his Majesty's gracious protection and government; and do therefore declare and make it known in the following Declarations and Resolves.

1. In the first place, we do most expressly declare, recognize and acknowledge his Majesty King George the third to be lawful and rightful King of Great Britain and all other the dominions and countries thereto belonging, and that it is the indispensible duty of the people of this Colony, as being part of his Majesty's dominions, always to bear faithful and true allegiance to his Majesty, and him to defend to the utmost of their power against all attempts against his person, crown and dignity.

2. That this Colony, or the greatest part thereof, was purchased and obtained for great and valuable considerations, and some other part thereof gained by conquest, with much difficulty, and at the only endeavours, expences and charges of our forefathers; and that thereby considerable addition was made to his Majesty's dominions and interest; and that in consideration of such purchase &c., as aforesaid, his Majesty King Charles the second in the fourteenth year of his reign did for himself, his heirs and successors, ordain declare and grant, unto the Governor and Company of this Colony and their successors, that all and every of the subjects of him, his heirs and successors, which should go to inhabit within the said Colony, and every of their children, which should be born there or on the sea in going thither or returning from thence, should have and enjoy all liberties and immunities of free and natural subjects within any of the dominions of the said King, his heirs or successors, to all intents, constructions and purposes whatsoever, as if they and every of them were born within the realm of England.

3. That the free natural subjects of Great Britain born within the realm of England have a property in their own estate, and are to be taxed only by their own consent, given in person or by their representatives, and are not to be disseized of their liberties or free customs, sentenced or condemned, but by lawful judgment of their peers; and that the said rights and immunities were granted to and conferred on the inhabitants of this Colony by the royal grant and charter aforesaid, and therefore are their rights, to all intents, constructions and purposes whatsoever.

4. That the consent of the inhabitants of this Colony was not given to the said act of Parliament, personally or by representation, actual or virtual, in any sense or degree that at all comports with the true intendment, spirit, or equitable construction of the British constitution.

5. That his Majesty's liege subjects of this Colony have enjoyed the right and priviledge of being governed by their General Assembly in the article of taxing and internal police agreeable to the powers and priviledges granted and contained in the royal charter aforesaid, for more than a century past; and that the same have never been forfeited or any war yielded up, but have been constantly recognized by the King and Parliament of Great Britain.

6. That, in the opinion of this House, an act for raising money by duties or taxes differs from other acts of legislation, in that it is always considered as a fee gift of the people made by their legal and elected representatives; and that we cannot conceive that the people of Great Britain, or their representatives, have right to dispose of our property.

7. That the only legal representative of the inhabitants of this Colony are the persons they elect to service as members of the General Assembly thereof.

8. That the vesting an authority in the courts of admiralty, as in said act is provided, to judge and determine in suits relating to the duties and forfeitures contained in said act, and other matters foreign to their accustomed and established jurisdiction, is in the opinion of this House highly dangerous to the liberties of his Majesty's America subjects, contrary to the great charter of English liberty, and destructive of one of their most darling rights, that of tryal by juries, which is justly esteemed one chief excellence of the British constitution and principal bulwark of English liberty.

9. That it is the opinion of this House, that the said act for granting and applying certain stamp-duties &c., as aforesaid, is unprecedented and unconstitutional.

10. That whenever his Majesty's service shall require the aid of the inhabitants of this Colony, the same fixed principles of loyalty, as well as self preservation, which have hitherto induced us fully to comply with his Majesty's requisitions, will, together with the deep sense we have of its being our indispensible duty, (in the opinion of this House,) ever hold us under the strongest obligations which can be given or desired, most cheerfully to grant his Majesty from time to time our further proportion of men and money for the defence, security, and other services of the British-American Dominions.

11. That we look upon the well-being and greatest security of this Colony to depend (under God) on our connections with Great Britain, which we ardently wish may continue to the latest posterity; and that it is the humble opinion of this House, that the constitution of this Colony being understood and practiced upon as it has been ever since it existed is the surest band of union, confidence and mutual prosperity of our mother country and us, and the best foundation on which to build the good of the whole, whether considered in a civil, military, or mercantile light; and of the truth of this opinion we are the more confident, as it is not founded on speculation only, but has been verified in fact, and by long experience found to produce, according to our extent and other circumstances, as many loyal, virtuous, industrious and well-governed subjects, as any part of his Majesty's dominions, and as truly zealous, and as warmly engaged to promote the best good and real glory of the grand whole, which constitutes the British Empire.

At a General Assembly holden at New Haven 2d Thursday of October, A.D. 1765.

In the House of Representatives: The foregoing Declarations and Resolves were voted and pass'd with great unanimity. And it is further voted and desired by this House, that the same be entered on the records and remain in the files of the General Assembly of this Colony.

Test. William Williams, Clerk

In the Upper House: Consented that the foregoing Declaration and Resolves be entered on the records and remain in the files of the General Assembly of this Colony, according to the desire of the House of Representatives.

Test. George Wyllys, Secretary

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Connecticut Colony

A Background Essay

by Mark Williams


Puritans from England

In the early part of the 17th Century, New England was the scene of remarkably rapid immigration of English people - most of them unhappy for one or more reasons with the state of their native land. In England political oppression was a constant threat for those who disliked the policies of the autocratic Stuart monarchs (James I, 1603-1625, and Charles I, 1625-1649). If one was inclined to favor legislative power for the House of Commons, or if one liked the idea that the Church of England should be "purified," life could become extremely hazardous. "Seditious libel" (damaging the reputation of the government) could cost a man his ears, improper religious activity his money, and organization of resistance his life. And there were other problems. The economy was in a miserable state. The landed gentry were turning to sheep raising, employing fewer farm laborers, and evicting tenant farmers; and with the war in Europe (1618-1648) cutting down on exports (thus jobs), vagrancy and crime were on a rapid increase. It was from this environment that people wished to escape. "The land grows weary of its inhabitants," wrote a distraught John Winthrop.

The leaders of the English settlements in New England were predominantly Puritans. Some like those in Plymouth, wanted little to do with England and nothing to do with its Church, which they saw as corrupt beyond repair. Others, like Winthrop and his partners in the Massachusetts Bay Company, felt that attitude might be a bit impractical in the long run, and perhaps irresponsible as well. The Massachusetts Bay Puritans knew the Church of England to be corrupt, and its administrator, Archbishop William Laud, to be a tyrant. They had always advocated a return to "purity" - no elaborate hierarchy of officials, no ornaments in the church buildings, no fancy rituals other than the worship prescribed in the Bible. They saw little reason to bring the wrath of the government upon them, though, and what is more, they believed the Church of England could yet be saved - in America if not in England. Winthrop exhorted his followers not to reject the Church of England, but also to create a "City upon a Hill" as an example for the world to follow - a holy commonwealth established in accordance with the laws of God.

They believed God had made a "Covenant" with a select few - the Covenant of Grace. These few, according to the great theologian John Calvin, were destined to live lives to the glorification of God and gain eternal salvation. The Puritans who settled in Massachusetts Bay believed they were the "Elect" - the chosen few. It was their destiny, therefore, not only to keep their ears and improve their economic condition, but also (and more so in their minds) to show the nearly worthless, hopeless, vile and corrupt remainder of the human race the way to live.

The first thing to do was for the people to establish a "covenant" among themselves - that is, agree together to follow the laws of God. As more and more people came to New England in the 1630's, groups spread out from the original settlement at Boston. Each group established its covenant and was granted land by the General Court, the royally chartered government of Massachusetts Bay. The settlers formed a "congregation" first, - then they made a town. Thus, they realized their vision of "the good life" in the new world. In their communities they sought the peace, order, and harmony which they felt God had intended them to seek, and which they knew they needed for survival in an environment so alien to them.

The Commonwealth of Connecticut

There were disputes in Massachusetts, though, and some people were even forced to leave the colony. Others chose to leave of their own accord. Such a group of about 100 members of the Newton, or Cambridge, congregation traveled cross country to establish the town of Hartford and the colony of Connecticut in 1636. A couple of exploratory missions had preceded this migration and reported favorably of the land along the Connecticut River. Already the Dutch had a trading post at Hartford, and the Plymouth colony had one just north of it in "the meadows," where the Farmington River meets the Connecticut. Some Massachusetts people had even begun to settle in Dorchester (now Windsor) and Watertown (now Wethersfield) without any particular grant of permission or "incorporation."

The Dutch presented a problem, to be sure, and relations between Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth Colony were always a bit strained. But even if the Dutch and Plymouth traders had not been in Connecticut, there was still a question over who had legal title to the land. There was supposedly a mysterious patent by which Robert, Earl of Warwick, had deeded that part of the world to certain "Lords and Gentlemen," some of whom were also members of the Massachusetts Bay Company. Warwick had apparently received the land for services to the government; but the "Warwick Patent" could only be produced in copy form. Besides, land ownership said nothing of who should govern those who owned the land. The Charter of Massachusetts Bay had given the Company jurisdiction over the Massachusetts Bay Colony as long as the laws made were not repugnant to the laws of England. But that charter did not necessarily apply to lands on the Connecticut River. In fact, so vague were the descriptions in everyone's royal grant that it could not be said for sure where any of these colonies were supposed to be! They simply stretched "from sea to sea," or "along the coast." It was a sticky problem - one which the Massachusetts General Court was reluctant to face. Nevertheless, the people of Cambridge were persistent in their pleas. They were uncomfortable in Massachusetts Bay. They wanted more land, and their leaders had some theological differences with the leaders of the churches in the Bay Colony.

Finally, the General Court resolved the matter by setting up a commission, including leaders of the migrants and the agent of the Earl of Warwick, John Winthrop, Jr. The Court empowered the commission to govern the new colony for a year. Whether or not this was a legitimate action did not matter in the long run. Charles I was so embroiled in his conflict with the landed gentry in England that he had little time to worry about making claims on a ragged little group of people barely scratching out an existence from a desolate wilderness 3000 miles from England.

Armed with dubious authority, led by the dissident selectmen of Cambridge and inspired by a leading Cambridge University divine, Thomas Hooker, the congregation drove their goods, cattle and families down through the woods to their new home - their new "city upon a hill." And that is what it was to be. If anything, this group of people was more zealous than the people of Massachusetts about creating a "holy commonwealth;" and they had the preacher for it too.

Thomas Hooker was one of the most renowned Puritan ministers of the English speaking world. So dangerous did Archbishop Laud consider Hooker, that Hooker barely missed arrest twice before sailing to America. He was as great a theologian as New England had. Even John Cotton was reluctant to dispute with him (although that growing dispute may have prompted Hooker to leave for Connecticut).

Battling the wilderness and displacing the Dutch and Indians took up the majority of the settlers' energy for the first two years. The Dutch actually did not make much effort to maintain their trading post, and most of the Indians that lived on the river either died out from the smallpox the Europeans had brought with them, or were bought out by the new settlers. The most powerful tribe in the region, the Pequots, were brutally conquered in 1637, as all the English settlements in New England joined forces to end what they considered the greatest threat to their safety. Through that year, the settlers in the three towns on the Connecticut had banded together in a loose confederation run by their own "General Court."

By 1638, though, it was clear that some permanent form of government with sufficient authority was necessary - both for the sake of protection from outside enemies and internal discord, and for the sake of creating a Bible Commonwealth. Hooker preached a sermon on the subject in May, 1638. From Henry Wolcott's notes we have:

text Deuteronomy I 13 choose you wise men and understanding and known among your tribes and I will make them heads over you captains over thousands captains over hundreds 50 10

doctrine that the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by Gods own allowance

2 doctrine the privilege of election which belongs to the people it must not be exercised according to their humors but according to the blessed will and law of God

3 doctrine they who have power to appoint officers and magistrates it is in their power also to set the grounds and limits of the power and places unto which they may call them

1st of I - I reason because the foundation of authority is laid firstly in the free consent of people

2 - reason because by a free choice the hearts of the people will be more enlarged to the love of the person and more ready to yield obedience

3 - reason because of that duty and engagement of the people

It was these ideas which, a few months later, would form the basis of The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, drawn up primarily by a lawyer named Roger Ludlow and accepted by the three towns.

Some historians have commented on the surprisingly democratic tone of Hooker's statements. Care must be taken, however, in assessing Hooker's ideology. By "people" Hooker was not about to allow every person, rich or poor, man or woman, high or "mean" to participate in decision making. While he didn't say so, he probably would have preferred that "the people" choose only from "the elect" in creating a government. Having made a covenant among themselves to observe God's laws, such magistrates would run a government that was but a manifestation of God's will. Yet Hooker knew that a "commonwealth" struggling for survival had to rely on the good will and loyalty of all inhabitants to survive; and besides, he had to be careful that word would not get back to England that radical Puritans were discriminating against loyal subjects of the King. In the years that followed, no more than one third of the male inhabitants of the colony were allowed to become "freemen" (voters in colony elections), and most of them were church members. At the local level, though, all male inhabitants of a town were allowed to speak and vote upon issues in town meetings, and the local level was where these independent-minded people made decisions that affected their lives the most.

Not only was Hooker not thinking about broad participation in government when he spoke, but he was also not thinking about active participation. In another sermon before the adoption of The Fundamental Orders, he made clear that obedience was the paramount virtue in his political ideology. Again from Henry Wolcott's notes of the sermon:

Doctrine that men should be carried out of conscience to yield subjection unto superior power
2 doctrine that this conscientious subjection is marvelously useful
Use of instruction those that are in subjection should take the oath of fidelity - here were multiple arguments to prove this
2 use of exhortation 1 to governors 2ly to all
1st to 1st they should punish those that are opposite to subjection
2ly to all they should be subject for conscience sake.

Obedience, for Hooker, was the path to success in achieving the goal of the colony. His spellbinding oratory and sound logic convinced the people of Connecticut and they created a constitution and a body of laws which reflected his thinking. At least temporarily, anyway, Connecticut society was orderly and generally harmonious. The system that they created worked smoothly and efficiently - and, what is most significant, it worked so with absolutely no involvement on the part of the Government of England. Shortly after The Fundamental Orders were adopted, England erupted in Civil War and experienced two decades of political anarchy. No one in England had any time for Connecticut - and that was just fine for God's chosen few.

The Charter

In the twenty years that England was suffering from political instability (1640-1660) the Connecticut colony's population was growing steadily. There were also other settlements in the area - in 1638 John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton had led a group to settle the New Haven colony, and, in by 1646, John Winthrop, Jr. had established a growing community at New London. None of these settlements had any more legal basis than the Connecticut Colony, but as long as the King was busy, or Puritans in power in England, there was no particular worry.

In 1660, however, monarchy was restored in England in the person of Charles II, son of the late King. No longer could the colony escape notice - the new King would not be too busy, the colony was growing, and the King would not be friendly to the people of New England and their aspirations. Many of those involved in the beheading of Charles I had migrated to Connecticut and New Haven. Even though the Connecticut towns, and the six New Haven towns too, believed their governments had sufficient authority from God, they knew that there would soon be a need for the world to recognize their legitimate existence.

Connecticut's General Court commissioned John Winthrop, Jr. to go to England and ask the King for a charter similar to that of Massachusetts Bay. Winthrop, apparently, was quite a diplomat, for he was able to acquire a charter which would allow Connecticut to continue almost completely the practices and form of government it had established under The Fundamental Orders. The King did ask for one-fifth of all gold found, but Connecticut still governed itself - elected its own magistrates, made its own laws (as long as they did not conflict with England's laws) set up its own court system, and supported its own established church. The towns of the New Haven colony were persuaded to join the colony, and for the next century Connecticut enjoyed virtual independence from England.

One incident in 1687 did threaten to upset this happy state of affairs. In 1686, King James II, having received reports that Connecticut had been passing laws contrary to English ones, enforcing a Connecticut oath of fidelity, and denying freedom of worship, dispatched Edmund Andros to be governor of the so-called Dominion of New England, and demanded the New England colonies surrender their charters. Andros arrived at Hartford in October, 1687, and asked for the charter. Benjamin Trumbull, writing in 1797, gives us this account of what happened at the meetinghouse after Andros demanded the document.

The important affair was debated and kept in suspense until the evening, when the charter was brought and laid upon the table, where the assembly were sitting. By this time, great numbers of people were assembled, and men sufficiently bold to enterprise whatever might be necessary or expedient. The lights were instantly extinguished and one captain Wadsworth, of Hartford, in the most silent and secret manner, carried off the charter and secreted it in a large hollow tree, fronting the house of the Hon. Samuel Wyllys, then one of the magistrates of the colony. The people appeared all peaceable and orderly. The candles were officiously relighted, but the patent was gone, and no discovery could be made of it, or of the person, who had conveyed it away.

Whether or not the famous "Charter Oak" tree was actually used is not certain, but it is certain that the charter was hidden and quickly produced when James II was dethroned and his governor sent away from New England. Connecticut people were not about to hand over their best source of security and independence. Even after the Declaration of Independence Connecticut continued to operate under the Charter's provisions. Not until 1818 did the state write a new Constitution. Today the state of Connecticut proudly displays its Royal Charter as the centerpiece of its exhibit room in the State Library in Hartford.

Prelude to Revolution

Even though Connecticut was a virtually self-governing colony, that does not mean that it was a democratic colony or that its people were all content with each other and with their lives in the new world. To be sure, the colony was settled by dissident radicals who would have done very well without a King - the colony was always ripe for liberal and independent thought. However, as we have seen, the political structure of the early Commonwealth did not include wide citizen participation in the government. Throughout the next century the pattern continued - there was a ruling oligarchy of magistrates and ministers who sought to maintain both their positions and the obedience of the people. Also during that time, there arose numerous issues that divided the colony or simply served to create stress among the population.

Until the 1730's, a general spirit of unity and harmony had made governing relatively easy for the ruling class. There were gnawing issues of relations with the Indians, distribution of land, decreasing interest in the church and church membership, and concern about the role that the rising merchant class would play in the changing society; but these matters just simmered, as they did throughout the colonies, finding expression in some town meeting debates and a good many lectures (sermons). During the decades of the 1730's and 1740's, bitter divisions began to arise in Connecticut society. Religious disputes divided the established church. "New Lights" opposed the strict central control of religion in Connecticut. In 1708 leading ministers of Connecticut had spelled out basic doctrines and a centralized organizational system for the colony's established church at Saybrook. The "New Light" ministers of the 1730's and 1740's argued that the "Saybrook Platform" was in error, and preached emotion-charged sermons that stirred up great religious fervor, and not a little controversy. In actuality, the "New Lights" were hardly a forward-looking bunch, but rather hearkened back to an older breed of Calvinism they felt New England had forgotten. George Whitefield, an English evangelist who toured the colony in 1740, was one of the most effective of these preachers attempting to bring a "Great Awakening", to Connecticut. The "Old Lights," or the established clergy, fought back by refusing to license New Light ministers or recognize the covenants of Congregations that did not share the views of the Saybrook Platform. They saw all this upheaval as threatening to moral order, divisive for a Christian commonwealth, and further evidence that religion was in deep trouble (and there the New Lights agreed!). As a result of the controversy, religious dissidents began to look to the government for laws that would loosen the iron grip of the Old Light clergy. Connecticut's growing Anglican (Church of England) population was also hoping for increased toleration in the Puritan Commonwealth. A recognizable group of political leaders favoring toleration, or at least Congregational independence, began to achieve influence.

More internal conflict emerged as economic changes and the rise of an aggressive merchant class ended the spirit of consensus in regard to public policy. In eastern Connecticut, land speculators agitated for changes in the colony's policies regarding Connecticut lands west of the Appalachians. Many of these people also sided with the New Lights on the religious controversy. British policies, particularly the Proclamation of 1763, the Sugar Act, and the Stamp Act only served to exacerbate tension that already existed over local issues. At the end of the French and Indian War (1754-1763) Connecticut found itself in a severe depression as markets for its agricultural products evaporated and farmers were unable to pay their debts. Thus, Connecticut citizens were hardly in the mood to hear about taxes, restrictions on trade, or interference with settlement in the West.

Governor Thomas Fitch, representing the "old party," counseled caution and begrudging obedience to Parliament's new laws. Many of his supporters did actually become Tories after 1775. Most of Connecticut, however, was inclined toward more radical opposition to Parliamentary policy, and those who had been on the outside of establishment-dominated politics on one issue or another took advantage of the opportunity to unseat their longtime political foes by appealing to the current mood of protest. The radicals managed to win control of the government for the first time in a century and a half over the established leaders of Connecticut.

Fitch's last year as governor, 1766, represented the closing of an era for Connecticut. The Presbyterian ("Old Light" Puritan) dominance of religion was coming apart. The spirit of civil harmony and obedience that Hooker so forcefully instilled in his followers was disappearing. Finally the colony's cherished independence was in danger. Conservatives, and even radicals, would continue in the future to attempt to maintain one or more of the traditional features of colonial Connecticut - its independence, its religious zeal, and its establishment-dominated politics, but by the middle of the 19th Century only its independence remained.


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