Rights for All? The Connecticut Constitution of 1818

The State of Connecticut didn’t adopt its first state constitution until 1818 – more than thirty years after most of the other twelve original colonies had adopted theirs. Instead, Connecticut had chosen to continue to abide by the charter it had received from King Charles II of England in 1662.   

Even before the charter, slavery as an institution had been legally recognized by Connecticut in 1650.    

Connecticut’s constitution, drafted well after the end of the Revolutionary War and establishment of a strong Federal government, had the unique opportunity to clarify and address issues faced by its residents of color – but did it? 

Although Hartford native Harriet Beecher Stowe’s seminal work Uncle Tom’s Cabin brought attention to the abolitionist cause, it also helped create the persistent fantasy that Connecticut was an emancipation state. In fact, 19th century Connecticut—and Fairfield County in particular— remained the most reluctant of the New England states to abolish emancipation.

In 1781 Massachusetts had already abolished slavery via its constitution, which was legislatively affirmed with the case Brom and Bett v. John Ashley. Vermont ended the practice in 1777 with the adoption of its own constitution. Connecticut would not free its last enslaved people until 1848. 

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