The plaquette expansion, a general non-perturbative method for calculating the properties of lattice Hamiltonian systems, is established up to the first two orders for an arbitrary system. This method employs an expansion of the Lanczos coefficients, the tridiagonal Hamiltonian matrix elements or equivalently the continued fraction coefficients of the resolvent, in a descending series in the size of the system. The coefficients of this series are formed from the low order cumulants or connected Hamiltonian moments. The lowest order approximation in the plaquette expansion corresponds to a Gaussian model which is a consequence of the control limit theorem. 7 refs.