The Capital Laws of Connecticut ( 1642
Derived partly from the Massachusetts Body of Liberties ( 1641 ) [q.v.], the Capital Laws, despite their draconian tone, actually functioned like a modern bill of rights. (The Massachusetts Body of Liberties was arguably the first colonial bill of rights.) In 1639 the legislature had passed the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the first proper written constitution in the modern world. The Fundamental Orders, while establishing a government over several consolidated towns, were short on specifics, especially those pertaining to the rights of citizens. The Capital Laws provided those specifics, within the government framework created by the Fundamental Orders. They also significantly narrowed the scope of capital offenses compared with the so-called “Bloody Laws” of England at the time. By 1688 there were roughly fifty capital crimes in England, and the number continued to rise to more than 150 by 1750, including pick-pocketing and stealing linen. By contrast, the Capital Laws of Connecticut limited the number to thirteen and applied only to the most violent crimes between citizens. By 1650 the colonial legislature had amended the Fundamental Orders by adding new “due process” rights and protections for real and personal property. Then in 1656 the Laws and Orders of New Haven lessened punishments from death to indenture or to lesser forms of corporal punishment.
SEE ALSO Fundamental Orders of Connecticut ; Massachusetts Body of Liberties, 1641 ; New Haven Fundamentals, 1643 ; Rhode Island Parliamentary Patent of 1643/44 and Acts and Orders of 1647 .
Lutz, Donald S., ed. Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1998.
McLynn, Frank. Crime and Punishment in Eighteenth-Century England. London: Routledge, 1989.
Trumbull, J. Hammond, and Samuel Peters. The True-Blue Laws of Connecticut. Hartford, CT.: American Publishing Company, 1876.
Jeffry H. Morrison