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Tapping the Scales of Justice - A Dose of Connecticut Legal History

The Charter Oak

The Charter OakThe Royal Charter of 1662 is one of the earliest and most significant legal documents in Connecticut history. The Charter, preceded only by the Fundamental Orders, is the source of the legend of the Charter Oak. While the Fundamental Orders, prepared by Roger Ludlow and other leaders of the Colony in 1639, were considered the first constitution; the Charter was signed by an English king, Charles II, and virtually guaranteed Connecticut the right to govern itself.

No wonder then that in 1687, King James II intent upon gaining control of all the colonies, revoked the Charter and sent his Agent with an armed troop to seize the document. Here the tale takes a dramatic twist. In a candle lit room, representatives of the Governor and forces of the King gathered to discuss surrender of the Charter. Suddenly the room went dark, and when the candles were lit, the charter that had been on the table was gone, hidden in a white oak tree.

Connecticut QuarterThe legend has endured to this day, its significance emphasized by the selection of the Charter Oak for the design of the Connecticut State quarter in 1999. For a narrative of the Charter Oak episode and the nickname "Constitution State" check the web site of the Connecticut Register and Manual.

The Royal Charter can be viewed at the Museum of Connecticut History, framed, it is said, in wood from the Charter Oak Tree.

Doses of Connecticut Legal History