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Rejected bills, 1808-1870

Identifier: RG002_014a-T001366

Scope and Content

Rejected Bills begin in the year 1808 and continue until 1911. They consist of records that chronologically follow what are commonly called the “Connecticut Archives”3 and are closely related to General Assembly Papers, 1803-1870, bulk 1821-1870.4 The papers described here cover the years 1808-1870. RG 002:014, Rejected Bills, 1808-1870, to see the complete finding aid and container list (pdf). Thomas Day succeeded Samuel Wyllys as Secretary of the State in 1810 and this change of administration may have led to the division between Rejected Bills and General Assembly Papers. The 1870 closing date was chosen because it was about the time of the end of post-Civil War legislation to promote civil rights and to care for disabled veterans.

The papers consist of petitions, memorials, remonstrances, drafts of legislation, drafts of resolutions, committee reports, gubernatorial messages, and other official papers that document the activities of the General Assembly, Connecticut municipalities, corporate bodies, and individuals.

Rejected Bills are arranged chronologically by year and then by number under a variety of subjects. The folders are usually alphabetically arranged by subject for each year, the subjects most often being the names of the joint committees that dealt with these matters. The numbering system was established in the 1970s and presumably reflects the arrangement of the papers at that time. It is impossible to determine how extensively the original order of these papers was altered between the time of their creation and the boxing and numbering during the 1970s, although the likelihood is that they were little disturbed due to lack of research use. Some items are misfiled or are otherwise out of order. A handful of numbers are missing and it is not known if the items have disappeared or numbering errors have occurred. Missing numbers are listed on the folders where they should appear.

Rejected Bills, stored in 56 boxes, contain petitions, remonstrances, committee reports, drafts of legislation, and drafts of resolutions that in theory did not pass. The reality, however, is somewhat more complex. On rare occasions, they include papers that properly belong either in the Connecticut Archives or General Assembly Papers. For example, Rejected Bills for 1808 (Box 1, folders 3-4) contain two reports accepted by both houses, the first of nominations for election to the U.S. Congress and the second of the Missionary Society of Connecticut. Petitions by Episcopalians from throughout the state in 1823 asking for a charter to incorporate a college are found in Box 6, folders 12-14 of Rejected Bills, while the act of incorporation for Washington College, now Trinity College, is located in General Assembly Papers, Box 3, folder 3. One final example, scattered throughout 1852 (Boxes 32-34) are annual reports normally found in General Assembly Papers, such as those from the State Normal School, Adjutant General, and Commissioner of the School Fund. Researchers are much more likely, however, to see petitions that are continued from one session to another or are rejected at one session and passed at another. For examples of continued petitions, see those to incorporate the Phoenix Bank of Middletown (Box 2, folder 8) and to establish a horse artillery company in the 23rd Regiment. (Box 2, folder 11). In 1818, the inhabitants of New Salem Society, people who lived in the towns of Colchester, Lyme, and Montville, petitioned for township privileges (Box 5, folder 5). The memorial was rejected by the Upper House, yet the next year the town of Salem was incorporated. Persons studying any Connecticut subject from 1808 onwards, therefore, need to examine Rejected Bills in order to gain a more complete understanding of what did and did not take place. A wide variety of subjects are covered in Rejected Bills and much of what is found parallels that in General Assembly Papers. National and federal-state relations issues are generally found in files identified by the phrase, Federal Relations, although they are occasionally seen elsewhere. In 1862 in the midst of the Civil War, for example, a resolution protesting the arrest of former Ohio Congressman Clement Vallandigham, a notorious Copperhead, was introduced. It is found in a folder titled, Preliminary and Unimportant (Box 46, folder 4). The documentation on state concerns for national issues is relatively sparse, yet a careful search of the records yields some interesting bits of information on such subjects as a constitutional amendment to reduce the terms of U.S. Senators from six to four years (1815), resolutions in support of the Bank of the United States and uniform bankruptcy laws (1831), resolutions favoring Texas independence (1836) and the right of petition (1837), a resolution asserting the country’s claim to all of Oregon territory to 54 degrees and 40 minutes (1845), a petition urging aid to the free citizens of Kansas (1856), a resolve to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act (1861), and a minority report protesting against passage of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution (1870).

Internal improvement and transportation issues occupied a great deal of the General Assembly’s time during the mid-nineteenth century. Scores of turnpike, canal, ferry, bridge, railroad, and horse railroad companies were proposed or incorporated. The companies exist today as only distant memories and the records of virtually all of them are no longer extant. General Assembly Papers and Rejected Bills, therefore, provide important documentation on developments in era of the Transportation Revolution. The files, especially those on Incorporations, Railroads, and Roads and Bridges, contain a great deal of information on the history of the canal movement, the rise and decline of turnpikes in Connecticut, and the growth of the railroad industry, plus material on small transportation companies in municipalities and regions. Rejected Bills include petitions, reports, drafts of legislation and other papers on the proposed canal from the “Tide waters of the Harbor at Saugatuck in Fairfield County to the Village of New Milford,” the Connecticut River Company, Salem & Hamburgh Turnpike Company, Rimmon Falls Turnpike Company, Haddam Island Ferry, Bridgeport Bridge Company, Housatonic Rail Road Company, and Norwich and Worcester Rail Road Company, to cite just a handful of examples.

The General Assembly chartered hundreds of corporations serving a variety of commercial, fraternal, and benevolent purposes, particularly for the period after 1830. Researchers interested in documenting the establishment and development of commercial banks, savings banks, insurance companies, manufacturing companies, fire engine companies, ecclesiastical societies, agricultural societies, benevolent associations, educational institutions, and other similar organizations will find much of value, although the focus in Rejected Bills is on petitions and drafts of legislation that either did not pass or did not pass in the form introduced. The 1836 session, for example, considered petitions to establish or amend the charters of the Derby Fire Company, Commercial Wharf Company of New Haven, Yale Natural History Society, a “Seminary for the education of Young Ladies in the city of New Haven,” a water power company on the Salmon River in East Haddam, the New London and Norwich Steam Boat Company, and a school to educate “color’d children” in Hartford endorsed by such prominent women as Lydia Sigourney and Faith Wadsworth. In addition, it considered a number of petitions to establish new banks, including ones from Chester, Groton, and Westport.

The papers also contain a great deal of information on Connecticut’s towns and cities, mostly found in files on New Towns and Probate Districts and Incorporations. Many municipalities had to struggle to obtain township privileges or to become a separate probate district, and some of these efforts were still born. Rejected Bills provides a wealth of information on these efforts. To cite just a few examples, in 1813 a group of inhabitants in the Second Society of Groton petitioned for township privileges, yet the town of Ledyard was not incorporated until 1836. Similarly, the inhabitants of Scotland Society in Windham petitioned to be set off as a new town as early as 1823, but did not achieve their goal until 1857. A number of citizens in what is now Old Lyme began to petition to be split off from Lyme as early as 1851. The efforts succeeded four years later. Much of the documentation for this struggle is found in General Assembly Papers (Box 75, folder 19; Box 76, folder 1), but additional material is located in Rejected Bills for 1851 and 1854 (Box 31, folder 12; Box 36, folders 3-4). In a related development, some inhabitants of Hadlyme, formed from sections of Lyme and East Haddam, unsuccessfully petitioned in 1856 to be set off as separate town. The town of Putnam was incorporated from parts of Killingly, Pomfret, and Thompson in 1855, yet most of the documentation of the conflict is located in Rejected Bills for 1851 and 1852. Rejected Bills houses a wide variety of material on other municipalities. For example, Guilford petitioned to establish a borough (1815), the inhabitants of West Hartford sought to form a new town (1817), Kent desired to be set off as a separate probate district (1824), the First Society in Chatham wished to establish a new town (1825), Columbia wanted to be annexed to Tolland County (1827), and the residents of Haddam wished to divide the town (1860).

Conscientious researchers can also find a great deal of information on individuals, although what exists is often difficult to find. Petitions from persons seeking legislative favor are found in such files as those on Claims, Divorce, Estates, Sale of Lands, and State Prison Petitions. Only a relative handful of cases, however, were considered in any given year. For every State Prison Release found in General Assembly Papers, however, there exist several rejected petitions from prisoners and their families for each year. Petitions, memorials, and remonstrances sent to the General Assembly on many subjects provide the most information about the greatest number of people, as many petitions contain numerous signatures. Moreover, because persons signing petitions and remonstrances were taking stands on controversial issues, they contain significant information on the attitudes of people towards dividing an existing town, changing the location of the shire town, expanding the bounds of cities, temperance, capital punishment, voting rights for African-Americans, lotteries, imprisonment for debt, divorce, conflicts between competing economic interests, and a number of other subjects. To cite just a few examples, in 1826 the General Assembly received petitions from twenty-six communities urging it “to pass a law limiting divorces to a separation from bed and board only, excepting for the crime of adultery,” and from millers in eight towns seeking to increase their charges for grinding corn. In 1831 and in several other years, the legislature received petitions, mostly from local merchants, protesting against competition from itinerant peddlers. Some twenty towns expressed their sentiments both pro and con in that year. Temperance advocates inundated the legislature with scores of petitions between 1832 and 1852. More than 100 memorials from some seventy municipalities addressed this subject in 1838. The ladies of Hartford petitioned in 1855 for a law to prohibit the use of tobacco because “great and alarming evils to the people of this community . . . are constantly resulting from the almost universal use of that pernicious article.” In 1866 the legislature was presented with a series of petitions and remonstrances regarding the need to build a “new Railroad from Derby to the State Line in Greenwich,” while in that same year and in 1867 the legislature was besieged with petitions protesting against the building of railroad bridges across the Connecticut River at Old Saybrook and Middletown. Hundreds of similar petitions are found in Rejected Bills and General Assembly Papers signed by a large number of individuals. Nevertheless, even assuming that one knows the relevant town or municipality, there is still no certainty that petitions will exist for the relevant time frame or that the persons searched for will be included in them. Still, many researchers will find that their efforts will yield fruitful results.

Rejected Bills, like General Assembly Papers, contains some interesting, although widely scattered, information on minority communities in Connecticut, particularly African-Americans and NativeAmericans. Like similar materials in General Assembly Papers, these papers have been photocopied and these photocopies have been inserted in place of the originals. Separate containers house second copies of these documents. The originals have been restricted and researchers may examine them only if they need to photograph or scan them and then only with the permission of the State Archivist.

The small Indian population of the state is relatively well documented because Native-Americans had tribal status and legislative approval was required before any tribal lands could be sold. Researchers studying the Mohegan, Niantic, Golden Hill Paugussett, Turkey Hill Paugussett, Eastern Pequot, and Mashantucket Pequot tribes will find materials of interest. Much of the documentation concerns tribal lands, in particular the sale of lands, but other petitions address claims for reimbursement of expenses, fishing rights, education, requests for release from state prison, and inheritance laws. Three fascinating sets of documents from 1817, 1820, and 1822 concern rules of inheritance among the Mohegans, as they protested against lands falling “into the hands of Negros & Mulattos.” The concerns of Connecticut’s African-American community are better documented in Rejected Bills than in General Assembly Papers. Rejected Bills houses some twenty-seven memorials from African-Americans from New Haven, Hartford, Norwich, Middletown, New London, Farmington, Lisbon, and Canterbury between 1814 and 1864 petitioning for an exemption from taxation to compensate for their lack of franchise or for voting rights. In one such memorial in 1823, Pero Moody and Isaac C. Glasko of Lisbon (Box 6, folder 12) prayed for “an exemption from taxation” because they were “excluded by the Constitution of the State, from attaining the high character of Electors.” African-Americans from Middletown, New Haven, Hartford, Farmington, and New London petitioned in 1841 for a constitutional amendment to “secure the elective franchise to all men of requisite qualifications, irrespective of color” (Box 19, folders 13-14). Some petitions address other subjects, like prison releases, claims for support, and wages due for Revolutionary War service, but the bulk of the material concerns the subject of political rights. Rejected Bills also includes information on other minority groups, the Irish in particular. Information on the Irish in Connecticut, however, must often be gleaned from checking lists of names on petitions from municipalities with significant foreign born populations.

Rejected Bills command interest in part because the series contains documentation on movements and subjects that attain little success or did not enjoy success until some years after they were originally introduced. Such subjects include voting rights for African-Americans, temperance, the abolition of capital punishment, lotteries, Anti-Masonry, and rights for women, plus conflicts between winners and losers in the emerging capitalism of the mid-nineteenth-century and disputes over the locations of county courts and jails. On the question of the franchise for African-Americans, advocates for political equality mounted serious campaigns in 1839, 1840, 1841, 1844, and 1846 and lesser ones in other years to “admit all men to the right of suffrage.” Inhabitants from several towns in 1843, 1845, 1846, 1847, 1853, and 1854 petitioned for the abolition of capital punishment. In 1867 and 1870, the General Assembly considered constitutional amendments to grant females the right to vote. The legislature also considered constitutional amendments in 1855 and 1863 to change the method of town representation and only grant municipalities with large populations the right to elect two deputies to the General Assembly and in 1858 and 1870 to make Meriden the sole capitol of the state. Conflicts over water rights were invariably resolved in favor of the more powerful economic interests, but these struggles can be followed in Rejected Bills. In the year 1847, for example, the General Assembly was flooded with petitions from over 30 eastern Connecticut towns opposing the construction of a railroad bridge over the Thames River near Allyn’s Point in Ledyard, with memorials supporting and opposing a petition from the Connecticut River Company to build a dam at Enfield Falls, and with petitions from ship masters and ship owners from towns along the Connecticut River opposing the construction of a railroad bridge at Middletown.

The series also contains petitions and memorials on unexpected subjects. To give just a few examples, Nathan Peters of Preston, petitioning in 1814 for compensation for his military services during the American Revolution, provided details on his efforts to save Fort Griswold from destruction after the British attack in 1781 (Box 3, folder 2). In 1846 Governor Roger S. Baldwin received a letter from Mormons in Nauvoo, Illiniois, signed by Brigham Young and three others, urging him to exert his “influence to establish us, as a people, in our civil and religious rights” (Box 24, folder 1). The Rogerene Quakers of Ledyard petitioned in 1854, saying that the education of their children was harmed by their refusal to swear oaths (Box 35, folder 14). The General Assembly declined in 1866 to pay $500 to the New Haven Brass Band to reimburse it “for injuries & loss of musical instruments sustained by sd Band at the Battle of Bull Run July 21, 1861” (Box 48, folder 6).

The business of the state legislature did not consist just of responding to petitions, hearing grievances, considering charters of incorporation, and giving its views on national issues. A great deal of time was devoted to considering general legislation concerning agriculture, education, economic development, military affairs, transportation policy, and the like. The Joint Committee on the Judiciary played a critical role in development of legislation concerning such subjects as civil offices, communities and corporations, crimes and punishments, courts, domestic relations, elections, insolvent estates, paupers, and salaries and fees. For some sessions, fully half the papers concern the activities of the Judiciary Committee on these and related subjects and they merit study because of what they reveal about legislative behavior on a number of legal subjects.

The preceding paragraphs should give researchers an idea of how valuable Rejected Bills are to those studying a variety of subjects on nineteenth-century Connecticut history. During the period between 1808 and 1870, the powers and responsibilities of state government gradually increased, as population grew and the economy became more complex. Rejected Bills have particular significance for those interested in long term societal trends and for those studying subjects that achieve only marginal success.

3. The best overview of the Connecticut Archives is provided by, Sylvie J. Turner, “The Connecticut Archives,” Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 33 (July 1968): 81-89.

4. See the Finding Aid to the General Assembly Papers, 1803-1870, bulk 1821-1870 (pdf) (1998).


  • 1808-1870

Language of Materials

The records are in English.

Historical Note

The General Assembly is Connecticut’s legislative body. Its foundation dates back to a commission granted by the Massachusetts General Court giving eight leaders the right “to govern the people at Connecticutt” [sic] for the year beginning March 1636. The Fundamental Orders of 1639 provided a frame of government for the infant Connecticut Colony and granted the freemen of the jurisdiction the right to elect a governor, six magistrates, and four deputies from each of the three towns then in existence. As new towns were organized, the number of deputies and magistrates increased. The Charter of 1662 provided for the election of a governor, deputy governor, twelve assistants, and two representatives from each town.

In March 1662/63 and on several other occasions, the General Court passed acts allowing a group of assistants to act for the colony in emergencies when the General Court was not in session. The assistants served as the governor’s council and, by an act of October 1698, became the Upper House, while the deputies elected by the freemen of the towns constituted the Lower House.1 After this formal separation of the two bodies, all legislation required the concurrence of both houses, although the General Court had resolved as early as February 1644/45 that “no act shall passe or stand for a law, wch is not confirmed by the major part of the said Magistrats, and by the mayor [sic] prts of the deputys there prsent in Court.”

For many years the General Court or General Assembly, as it became called, also served as the colony’s and later the state’s highest court. Separate lower courts were, however, established: the Particular Court, 1638; Court of Assistants and County Courts, 1665-66; separate probate courts, 1698; the Superior Court, 1711; and the Supreme Court of Errors, 1784. The Constitution of 1818 established the specific separation of judicial, executive, and legislative powers.2

The present Constitution, adopted in 1965, provides for a Senate of 30 to 50 members and a House of Representatives of from 125 to 225 members. The General Assembly currently consists of 36 senators and 151 representatives. Electors in each senatorial and assembly district choose members for two-year terms. The legislature holds regular length sessions in odd-numbered years and shorter sessions in evennumbered years. It conducts business through a system of joint committees comprised of members of both houses, a practice that dates back some 175 years.

1. In May 1699, the “Representatives withdrew from the Upper House” and chose Capt. John Chester as their first Speaker and Capt. William Whiting as their first Clerk.

2. For additional information on early Connecticut courts, see the descriptive register to RG 003, Judicial Records (pdf).


27.75 cubic feet


The Rejected bills described here cover the years 1808-1870. Rejected bills contain petitions, appointments, amendments, committee reports, drafts of legislation, and drafts of resolutions that did not pass. RG 002:014, Rejected Bills, 1808-1870, to see the complete finding aid and container list (pdf).


Rejected bills are arranged by year.

Those accustomed to the detailed indexing for the Connecticut Archives will find Rejected Bills cumbersome to use. Often, the only choice is to plow systematically through each box and folder for the relevant time frame, although if one understands the committee structure of the General Assembly, the search process may be shortened. Needed items may, however, sometimes be located in unlikely files. On rare occasions, related materials on the same person or subject can be found in two or more locations. The collection includes, however, two boxes of lists of dockets and petitions covering most of the years between 1810 and 1903 (Boxes A and B). The petitions may be submitted either by individuals, municipalities, or corporate bodies. They are listed in Boxes A and B in numerical, not alphabetical, order and are generally divided into sections for continued petitions and new petitions. Sometimes it is possible to discern subject from a petition title, like “Norwich & Preston Bridge C. Petition” (May 1823), but in other cases this is not possible. See, for example, Moses Warren’s Mem[oria]l” (May 1824). The indexes in these two boxes can, therefore, be of some help, but it also needs to be remembered that not all legislation began with a petition to the General Assembly.


Rejected Bills came to the Connecticut State Library by transfer from the office of the Secretary of the State, the constitutional office responsible for the “safe-keeping and custody of the public records and documents.”

Related Material

Rejected Bills are the successor records to the “Connecticut Archives,” 1629-1820, part of Record Group 001, Early General Records. General Assembly Papers, 1821-1870 are closely associated with Rejected Bills. A number of items found in Rejected Bills were later passed by the General Assembly. In 1813, for example, the inhabitants of the Second Society in Groton petitioned for township privileges, but Ledyard was not incorporated until 1836. Kent petitioned to be set off as a separate probate district in 1824 and did not achieve this goal until 1831. Researchers need to be acutely aware, therefore, of the close relationship between Rejected Bills and General Assembly Papers. In addition, researchers should examine the Journals of the House which cover most of the years between 1808 and 1870 and the Journals of the Senate, 1819-1869. Other materials of relevance may also be found in gubernatorial papers, Record Group 005. See in particular the Finding Aid to Connecticut Governors Records, 1820-1858.

RG 001:010, Connecticut Archives.

RG 002:004, General Assembly Papers, 1803-1870, bulk 1821-1870 (pdf).

RG 002:004, General Assembly Papers, 1871-2010.

RG 002:004, General Assembly Papers African Americans and Native Americans, 1808-1870 (pdf).

RG 002:013, Engrossed Bills.

RG 002:014, Rejected Bills, 1871-1911.

Processing Information

In 1999, the collection was processed and a finding aid was published. As a result, the box numbers are no longer consecutive. The last box processed for 1870 is 56. The first box for 1871 is box 45. When the remainder of the rejected bills are processed the box numbers will be changed.

Starting in 1913, rejected bills have not been processed and put into a separate series. They can be located within RG 002:004, General Assembly Papers, 1871-2010.

RG 002:014, Rejected Bills,1808-1870
Inventory of Records
Finding aid prepared by Connecticut State Library.
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Connecticut State Library Repository