The Charter Oak
The rear side of the 1999 Connecticut Quarter depicts a large oak tree that is labeled "The Charter Oak." The story of the Charter Oak has an important lesson for us today.
In 1662, England's King Charles II granted the Connecticut colony a charter with a great deal of autonomy. It included the authority for the people to elect their own leaders and enact their own laws. Yet twenty-five years later, his successor, King James II, sought to consolidate multiple colonies under his rule. He sent out his appointed governor, Sir Edmund Andros, to collect and rescind the various colonial charters. The citizens of Connecticut were horrified. They were about to lose some rights that they had grown to cherish — including the right to enact their own laws. There was a contentious meeting with Andros in Hartford where (as the legend goes) the candles were doused and the charter was rushed out of the room and hidden for safekeeping in a large centuries-old oak tree. There it remained for almost three years until James was deposed and Andros was recalled. There was great celebration as the charter emerged from its three-year exile. The people had regained the authority to enact their own laws.
So what is the lesson for us today? There will always be tyrants who want to usurp lawmaking authority from the people. They, like Andros, must be opposed. One such act happened in 1973, when the Supreme Court rendered the Roe v. Wade decision. The justices channeled their inner Andros and usurped the authority of the people to enact laws designed to protect the unborn. The people were denied a voice on the subject, and, as a result, an important constitutionally guaranteed right was illegally seized. In a sense, a portion of the Constitution went into exile, not into an oak tree, but into the hearts of the people.
Today, for the first time in over 50 years, the majority of Supreme Court justices actually supports the Constitution as written. After a lengthy exile, the Constitution can now return to its place of prominence. The Supreme Court can overturn Roe v. Wade, and the people will once again have the authority to enact their own laws.
I have no doubt that some states will enact laws that align with the views of Roe-supporters and other states will decide differently. But the good news is that whatever laws they enact, at least this issue will be decided by the people. And when we "petition for redress of grievances," the legislators we petition will now have the power to actually do something. It will also be nice to see the Supreme Court return to its official job description — that of being impartial arbiters.
So every time you look at the back side of the Connecticut quarter, remember the lesson of the Charter Oak. Popular sovereignty is always threatened by tyrants — but when we the people stand up, they will stand down. It is time for us, like the people of colonial Connecticut, to banish our modern-day Andros and reclaim our lawmaking authority.