Today’s pic of the week post features an illustration from Silas Andrus’s 1822 compilation of the founding documents of the Colony of Connecticut, “The Code of 1650, Being a Compilation of the Earliest Laws and Orders of the General Court of Connecticut, or Civil Compact Entered Into and Adopted by the Towns of Windsor, Hartford and Wethersfield in 1638-9.” This publication was the first appearance in print of many of the earliest laws of 17th Century Connecticut. Among them is a selection of the so called “Blue Laws of Connecticut Colony.” Blue Laws generally speaking are laws that prohibit or restrict certain activities on Sundays. In this case, however, the laws in question are basic statutes that relate to the administration of the colony, criminal law and public morality. The reference to “Blue Laws” may point to the laws’ somewhat unforgiving or sanguinary quality.
At least one very disgruntled New Englander believed so. Samuel Peters, an Anglican priest who fled Connecticut (to London) in 1774 when he received threats from local patriots, wrote a hostile account of the origins of Connecticut which included this comment:
This dominion, this tyrant of tyrants, adopted the Bible for its code of civil law, till others should be made more suitable to its circumstances. The provision was politic. The lawgivers soon discovered that the precepts in the Old and New Testaments were insufficient to support them in their arbitrary and bloody undertakings; they, therefore, gave themselves up to their own inventions in making others, wherein, in some instances, they betrayed such an extreme degree of wanton cruelty and oppression, that even the rigid fanatics of Boston, and the mad zealots of Hertford, put to the blush, christened them the Blue Laws. (Peters, p. 54).
The illustrated frontispiece depicts a scene relevant to Connecticut’s 1650 prohibition of the public use of tobacco (“that no man within this colonye…shall take any tobacco, publiquely, in the street, highwayes or any barne yards…etc.”). A constable who has seized hold of a man chewing tobacco shouts menacingly, “Chaw tobacco will you?” The villain apparently tries to bargain, whispering, “Don’t worry, you shall have some of the tea.” Meantime, the constable’s son turns to his mother and says, “Mam, Dad has Catcht a man chewing tobacco.” To which the mother replies, “My child, he will have his deserts.” The penalty was six-pence for each offence.
Nine different editions of this title can be found in the Rare Book Collection of The Law Library of Congress. One of these is depicted below. Pickwick & Co. of Philadelphia published some of the content of Andrus’s book in pamphlet form in 1882 in order to instruct the people of New York in the making of “laws just and right, liberal and protective.” In the preface, the publisher expresses the hope that “it may find a place in the household of all classes of society in order to teach the rising generation the importance of “proper” civil government.”