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title:“Newspaper Report of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention”
date written:1788-1-25

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:00 a.m. UTC
retrieved:June 27, 2022, 3:46 p.m. UTC

"Newspaper Report of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention." The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. Vol. 6. Ed. Gaspare J. Saladino and John P. Kaminski. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2000. 1344-48. Print.

Newspaper Report of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention (January 25, 1788)

The 8th section still under debate: But the conversation continued desultory; and much attention was paid to the inquiries of gentlemen on different parts of the Constitution, by those who were in favour of it.
Mr. AMES, in a short discourse, called on those who stood forth in 1775, to stand forth now; to throw aside all interested and party views, to have one purse, and one heart for the whole; and to consider that as it was necessary then, so was it necessary now to UNITE, or DIE we must.
Hon. Mr. SINGLETARY. Mr President, I should not have troubled the Convention again, if some gentlemen had not called upon them that were on the stage in the beginning of our troubles, in the year 1775. I was one of them—I have had the honour to be a member of the court all the time, Mr President, and I say that if any body had proposed such a Constitution as this, in that day it would have been thrown away at once—it would not have been looked at. We contended with Great-Britain—some said for a three-penny duty on tea, but it was not that—it was because they claimed a right to tax us and bind us in all cases whatever. And does not this Constitution do the same? does it not take away all we have all our property? does it not lay all taxes, duties, imposts and excises? and what more have we to give? They tell us Congress won't lay dry taxes upon us, but collect all the money they want by impost. I say there has always been a difficulty about [an] impost. Whenever the General Court was a going to lay an impost they would tell us it was more than trade could bear that it hurt the fair trader and encouraged smuggling; and there will always be the same objection; they won't be able to raise money enough by impost and then they will lay it on the land, and take all we have got. These lawyers, and men of learning, and monied men, that talk so finely and gloss over matters so smoothly, to make us poor illiterate people swallow down the pill, expect to get into Congress themselves; they expect to be the managers of this Constitution and get all the power and all the money into their own hands, and then they will swallow up all us little folks, like the great Leviathan, Mr. President, yes, just as the whale swallowed up Jonah.1 This is what I am afraid of but I won't say anymore at present, but reserve the rest to another opportunity.
Hon. Mr. SMITH. Mr President, I am a plain man and get my living by the plough. I am not used to speak in publick, but I beg your leave to say a few words to my brother plough joggers in this house. I have lived in a part of the country where I have known the worth of good government by the want of it. There was a black cloud that rose in the east last winter and spread over the west.—(Here Mr. Widgery interrupted. Mr President I wish to know what the gentleman means by the east.) I mean, sir, the county of Bristol; the cloud rose there and burst upon us, and produced a dreadful effect. It brought on a state of anarchy, and that leads to tyranny. I say it brought anarchy People that used to live peaceably and were before good neighbours, got distracted and took up arms against government. (Here Mr Kingsley called to order and asked what had the history of last winter to do with the Constitution? Several gentlemen, and among the rest the Hon. Mr. Adams, said the gentleman was in order—let him go on in his own way.) I am a going, Mr President, to shew you, my brother farmers, what were the effects of anarchy that you may see the reasons why I wish for good government. People, I say took up arms, and then if you went to speak to them, you had the musket of death presented to your breast. They would rob you of your property threaten to burn your houses; oblige you to be on your guard night and day; alarms spread from town to town; families were broke up; the tender mother would cry, 0 my son is among them! What shall I do for my child! Some were taken captive, children taken out of their schools and carried away. Then we should hear of an action, and the poor prisoners were set in the front to be killed by their own friends. How dreadful, how distressing was this! Our distress was so great that we should have been glad to catch at any thing that looked like a government for protection. Had any person, that was able to protect us, come and set up his standard we should all have flocked to it, even if it had been a monarch, and that monarch might have proved a tyrant, so that you see that anarchy leads to tyranny and better have one tyrant than so many at once.2
Now, Mr. President, when I saw this Constitution, I found that it was a cure for these disorders. It was just such a thing as we wanted. I got a copy of it and read it over and over I had been a member of the Convention to form our own state Constitution, and had learnt something of the checks and balances of power, and I found them all here. I did not go to any lawyer to ask his opinion, we have no lawyer in our town, and we do well enough without. I formed my own opinion, and was pleased with this Constitution. My honourable old daddy there (pointing to Mr. Singletary) won't think that I expect to be a Congressman, and swallow up the liberties of the people. I never had any post, nor do I want one, and before I am done you will think that I don't deserve one. But I don't think the worse of the Constitution because lawyers, and men of learning and monied men, are fond of it. I don't suspect that they want to get into Congress and abuse their power I am not of such a jealous make; they that are honest men themselves are not apt to suspect other people. I don't know why our constituents have not as good a right to be as jealous of us, as we seem to be of the Congress, and I think those gentlemen who are so very suspicious, that as soon as a man gets into power he turns rogue, had better look at home.
We are by this Constitution allowed to send ten members to Congress. Have we not more than that number fit to go? I dare say if we pick out ten, we shall have another ten left, and I hope ten times ten, and will not these be a check upon those that go; Will they go to Congress and abuse their power and do mischief when they know that they must return and look the other ten in the face, and be called to account for their conduct? Some gentlemen think that our liberty and property is not safe in the hands of monied men, and men of learning, I am not of that mind.
Brother farmers, let us suppose a case now—suppose you had a farm of 50 acres, and your title was disputed, and there was a farm of 5000 acres joined to you that belonged to a man of learning, and his title was involved in the same difficulty; would not you be glad to have him for your friend, rather than to stand alone in the dispute? Well, the case is the same, these lawyers, these monied men, these men of learning, are all embarked in the same cause with us, and we must all swim or sink together; and shall we throw the Constitution over-board, because it does not please us alike? Suppose two or three of you had been at the pains to breakup a piece of rough land, and sow it with wheat—would you let it lay waste, because you could not agree what sort of a fence to make? would it not be better to put up a fence that did not please every one's fancy rather than not fence it at all, or keep disputing about it, until the wild beast came in and devoured it. Some gentlemen say don't be in a hurry—take time to consider and don't take a leap in the dark—I say take things in time—gather fruit when it is ripe. There is a time to sow and a time to reap we sowed our seed when we sent men to the federal convention, now is the harvest, now is the time to reap the fruit of our labour and if we don't do it now I am afraid we never shall have another opportunity.
Mr. PARSONS considered the several charges of ambiguity which gentlemen had laid to the Constitution; and with a great deal of accuracy stated the obvious meaning of the clauses thus supposed to be ambiguous. He concluded his explanation, by saying, that no compositions which men can pen, could be formed, but what would be liable to the same charge.

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