Local Connection to U.S. Constitution

September 27, 2012

Last week, our nation celebrated Constitution Day, the federal observance recognizing the day that our U.S. Constitution was formally adopted. More broadly, it also celebrates those who have become U.S. citizens. For many around the world, the United States is a beacon of hope because of the ideas grounded in our Constitution: our freedom, individual liberties, and the pursuit of happiness. This year, we mark two important milestones. It is the 225th anniversary of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and also the 285th birthday of Stratford’s own William Samuel Johnson.

Living in the “Constitution State,” we have a unique connection to the documents that make Connecticut and the United States an exceptional place to live, work and raise a family. Back in 1639, Connecticut colonists in Hartford formed and adopted the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut that set forth how the government would be structured and organized. It was born out of the idea that we get our rights from God, not government. This “constitution” became the first written government of the people, by the people and for the people. Considered by many to be one of the first written constitutions, this document improved voting rights and paved the way for future developments, including the U.S. Constitution that continues to limit our government and guide our society today.

Believe it or not, our community has an even closer connection to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. As one of only 40 signers of this document, William Samuel Johnson was born in Stratford on October 7, 1727. During the colonial years, Johnson served in the state militia for over 20 years, was a member of both the lower and upper houses of the state legislature and was a member of the Supreme Court. Johnson’s house still stands on Main Street in Stratford at the corner of West Broad Street.

Following the Revolution, it was his role in the Philadelphia Convention that gained considerable attention. During the meeting where the Articles of Confederation were thrown out in favor of a new U.S. Constitution, Johnson argued that a strong federal government should protect the rights of smaller states, such as Connecticut. This issue ultimately led to the creation of one legislative body based on population and another based on equal representation for the states.

Later, Johnson served as U.S. Senator for the state of Connecticut from 1789 to 1791. Also during this time, Johnson was elected the President of Columbia College, now known as Columbia University, from 1787 to 1800. At the age of 92, Johnson passed away in Stratford on November 14, 1819.

Adopted over two centuries ago, the U.S. Constitution continues to provide the guiding principles that our country was founded on. It remains a source of inspiration for people around the world. With seven original articles and 27 amendments, the U.S. Constitution lays out the structure of our government and protects our individual rights.

For many of us, the preamble remains one of the most memorable statements in history: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.”

Serving as your State Senator, I believe that these words encourage Americans to work together to solve the challenges facing our state and nation. Our Constitution continues to inspire generations of Americans and even those living around the world. It is important to stop and reflect upon the important contribution and role William Samuel Johnson played in the creation of the U.S. Constitution and our country. A role that fosters freedom and liberty to this day and affords all of us the opportunity to fulfill our dreams, whatever they may be.