By Elizabeth J. Normen
In the Fall 2012 issue we again examine one of Connecticut’s sobriquets. State Historian Walt Woodward first tackled our “Constitution State” moniker in the Spring 2005 issue, and in Winter 2007/2008 issue he took on “Nutmeg State.” In this issue we explore the “Land of Steady Habits,” which has proven no less thorny than the others. Team member Dave Corrigan dug into the historical origins of the term and found the use of the phrase was in its heyday around the turn of the 19th century, when the struggle to break the Federalist Party’s long-held lock on the state’s top offices was at its zenith. Walt Woodward offers a theory as to why the name has endured and what exactly it means is in his column (page 12).
If you’ve been reading recent issues of Connecticut Explored carefully, you may have noted a common thread of state political history in our stories. Woodward’s discussion of the state’s Charter of 1662 last spring (“The Map that Wasn’t a Map”), his explanation of our attitude toward the War of 1812 in the summer issue (“The War Connecticut Hated”), and Matt Warshauer’s story “The Notorious Hartford Convention” in that same issue are a terrific lead-in to Wesley Horton’s story in this issue about why it took us 156 years to adopt a state constitution. Like us, you might have been asking yourself how or if Connecticut’s generally uncooperative attitude toward the War of 1812 had any bearing on the adoption of a new state constitution in 1818. It certainly seemed to us like too great a coincidence—and so it was—that just three years after the war ended we finally adopted a state constitution.
The thread I’ve picked up from this year’s issues is the feisty independent streak that characterizes Connecticut, the genesis of which Woodward argues was the unusually generous Charter of 1662. He points out, unlike the other New England colonies, we were never under royal governance. That’s a 350-year-long tradition of doing things our own Connecticut way.
And doing things our own way includes, when the situation warrants it, abandoning the way we’ve always done them. Mary Witkowski brings us the story of the election as mayor in Depression-era Bridgeport of Jasper McLevy—a working-class son of Scottish immigrants and a Socialist, to boot! How far we’d come since the days when a handful of Connecticut’s founding families ran our cities and state. Having broken that tradition by electing a socialist, though, voters reverted to their steady habits, returning McLevy to office 11 times. In fact, McLevy remains Bridgeport’s longest-serving mayor (1933-1957).
What I like about our being called the “Land of Steady Habits” is the idea that in Connecticut we continually draw upon our long history. What irks me about it, though, is the word “habit.” A habit is an automatic, ingrained, knee-jerk response that I don’t think fits. I’m thinking a more appropriate moniker is the “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” state.” But somehow I don’t see that catching on…
40 never looked so good. With this—our 40th—issue, and a number of terrific events this fall (see page 11), we round out our year-long 10th-anniversary celebration!
We have big news, too. Connecticut Explored has incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization independent of Hartford Public Library, which will take effect when we receive our IRS designation. (It should arrive any minute!) The library was our fiscal sponsor for our first 10 years, and our colleagues there rightly recognized it was time for us to stand on our own two feet. We are grateful for their assistance in helping us get launched and thrive. Fortunately, this is not “goodbye,” as we’ll continue to collaborate with Hartford Public Library and its Hartford History Center.
Needless to say, now more than ever subscriber and Friends of Connecticut Explored support (our largest source of revenue) is critical to our ongoing publication. Please make a gift this fall above and beyond your subscription as a vote of confidence as we go forward under our own power. We have a thank you gift for you—a poster featuring images of all 40 covers of the magazine–and we’ll acknowledge our Friends in next spring’s issue. Please respond generously to our Friends letter coming to subscribers in September—or go to our Web site (ctexplored.org) today to donate on-line.
Elizabeth J. Normen