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title:“Newspaper Report of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention”
date written:1788-2-4

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"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. 1415-28. Print.

Newspaper Report of the Massachusetts Ratification Convention (February 4, 1788)

Rev Mr THACHER. Mr President-While the different paragraphs. of the proposed Constitution have been debated, I have not troubled this Hon. Convention with any observations of my own upon the subject Conscious that there were men of deeper political knowledge, and of better abilities than myself I conceived it my duty to attend to their instruction, that having heard with attention, I might decide with integrity - I view the object before us as of greater moment than ever was known within the memory of man, or that hath been recorded by the historick page. Were we, Mr President, this day to decide on the lives and fortunes of an hundred of the best citizens of this Commonwealth, solemn would that province be; but much more interesting is the result of the present question; for in this case not a single city-not a single State-but a Continent, wide and extended, may be happy or wretched according to our judgment-and posterity will either bless us for laying the foundation of a wise and equal government, or curse us for neglecting - their important interests, and for forging chains for them, when we disdained to wear them ourselves. Having, therefore, as I trust, a full view of the magnitude of the object, I hope I shall be pardoned if I offer my sentiments with freedom. I am sensible of the prejudices that subsist against the profession to which I belong: But yet, intrusted by my constituents with so solemn a charge, I think they have a right to expect from me the reasons why I shall finally consent to ratify the proposed form of government.
There are three circumstances which deserve notice in considering the subject-These are, the necessity that all the States have of some general band of union-1the checks upon the government in the form offered for our adoption-and lastly the particular disadvantages to which we shall be exposed if we reject it.
With respect to the first of these considerations, I trust there is no man in his senses, but what will own, that the whole country hath largely felt the want of energy in the general government. While we were at war with Britain, common danger produced common union; but the cause being removed, the effect ceased also. Nay I do not know but we may safely add, that that union produced by uniform danger was still inadequate3 general and national purposes. This Common- wealth, with a generous disinterested regard to the good of the whole, appeared foremost in the day of danger-At the conclusion of the late war two-thirds of the continental army were from Massachusetts-their provision and their cloathing proceeded also in a great measure from our extraordinary exertions. The people did this in the fullest confidence, that when peace and tranquility was restored, from the honour and justice of our sister States, our supernumerary expenses would be abundantly repaid. But, alas! how much hath our expectations been blasted?-The Congress, though willing, yet had no power to do us justice. The small district of Rhode-Island put a negative upon the collected wisdom of the continent.2 This was done not by those who are the patrons of their present infamous system of paper currency but by that part of them who now call themselves honest men.4 We have made exertions to stop the importation of foreign luxuries. Our brethren in the neighbouring States, from the view of local advantages, have taken occasion to distress us upon the same account-They have encouraged, where we have prohibited; and by those iniquitous measures have made our virtue and publick spirit an additional cause of our calamity Nor have our calamities been local-they have reached to all parts of the United States, and have produced dissipation and indigence at home, and contempt in foreign countries. On the one hand, the haughty Spaniard has deprived us of the navigation of the river Missis[s]ippi on - the other the British nation are by extravagant duties ruining our fishery Our sailors are enslaved by the pirates of Algiers6-our credit is reduced to so low an ebb, that American faith is a proverbial expression for perfidy as punick faith was among the Romans. Thus have we suffered every species of infamy abroad and poverty at home.3 Such, in fact, have been our calamities, as are enough to convince the most sceptical among us, of the want of a general government, in which energy and vigour should be established, and at the same time the rights and liberties of the people preserved.
A Constitution hath been presented to us, which was composed and I planned by men, who in the council and field, have, in the most conspicuous offices, served their country in the late war It comes authenticated by a man who without any pecuniary reward, commanded our army and who retired to a private station with more pleasure than he left it. I do not say Mr President, that this proves the form of government r. to be perfect or that it is an unanswerable argument that we should adopt it- But it is a reason why we should examine it with care and caution, and1, that we ought not rashly and precipitately to reject it.
It will be objected-"There are more powers granted than are necessary and that it tends to destroy the local governments of the particular States, and that it will eventually end either in aristocracy or despotism." To answer the objection, two considerations should be taken into view-The situation of the Continent when a Constitution was formed-and the impossibility of preserving perfect sovereignty in the States, after necessary powers were ceded to a supreme council of the whole. As to the first, let us candidly examine the state of these republicks, from New-Hampshire to Georgia, and see how far vigour and energy were required. During the session of the late Convention, Massachusetts was on the point of civil war-In Vermont and New- Hampshire, a great disaffection to their several governments prevailed among the people-New-York absolutely refused complying with the requisitions of Congress-In Virginia, armed men endeavoured to stop the courts of justice-In South-Carolina, creditors by law were obliged to receive barren and useless land, for contracts made in silver and gold-I pass over the instance of Rhode-Island-their conduct was notorious. In some States, laws were made directly against the treaty of peace-in others, statutes were enacted which clashed directly against any federal union New lands, sufficient to discharge a great part of the continental debt, intruded upon by needy adventurers-Our frontier settlements exposed to the ravages of the Indians-while the several States were unable or unwilling to relieve their distress. Lay all these circumstances together and you will find some apology for those gentlemen, who framed this Constitution: I trust you may charitably assign other motives for their conduct, than a design to enslave their country and to parcel out for themselves its honours and emoluments.
The second consideration deserves its weight. Can these local governments be sufficient to protect us from foreign enemies, or from disaffection at home? Thirteen States are formed already The same number are probably to be formed from the lands not yet cultivated. Of the former yet smaller divisions may be made. The province of Maine hath desired a separation; in time, a separation may take place. Who knows but what the same may happen with respect to the old colony of Plymouth. Now conceive the number of States increased- their boundaries lessened-their interests clashing; How easy a prey to a foreign power How liable to war among themselves! Let these arguments be weighed; and I dare say sir there is no man but what would conceive, that a coercive power over the whole, searching through all parts of the system, is necessary to the preservation and happiness of the whole people.4
But I readily grant all these reasons are not sufficient to surrender up the essential liberties of the people. But do we surrender them? This Constitution hath been compared both by its defenders and opponents - to the British government: In my view of it, there is a great difference-In Britain the government is said to consist of the three forms, monarchy aristocracy and democracy; but in fact is but a few removes from absolute despotism-In the crown is vested the power of adding at pleasure to the second branch-of nominating all the places of honour and emolument of purchasing, by its immense revenues the suffrages of the house of commons-the voice of the people is but the echo of the king-and their boasted privileges lie entirely at his mercy In this proposed form, each branch of power is derived either mediately or directly from the people. The lower house are elected directly by those persons who are qualified to vote for the representatives of the State;5 and at the expiration of two years become private men, unless their past conduct entitles them to a future election.6 The senate are elected by the legislatures of the different States and represent their sovereignty7 These powers are a check on each other and can never be made either dependent on one another or independent of the people. The president is chosen by electors who" are appointed by the people.8 The high courts of justice arise from the president and senate; but yet the ministers of them can be removed only upon bad behaviour The independence of judges is one of the most favourable circumstances to publick liberty-for when they become - the slaves of a venal corrupt court, and the hirelings of tyranny all property is precarious, and personal security at an end-a man may be stripped of all his possessions, and murdered with the forms of law9 Thus it appears that all parts of this system arise ultimately from the people, and are still independent of each other There are other restraints - , which, though not directly named in this Constitution, yet are evidently discerned by everyman of common observation.-These are the governments of the several States, and the spirit of liberty in the people. Are we wronged or injured? Our immediate representatives are those to whom we ought to apply-their power and influence will still be great. But should any servants of the people, however eminent their stations, attempt to enslave them, from this spirit of liberty such opposition - would arise, as would bring them to the scaffold. But, admitting that there are dangers in accepting this general government; yet are there not greater hazards in rejecting it? Such is, Mr President, the state of our affairs, that it is not in our power to carve for ourselves. To avoid the greatest, and to chuse the least of two evils, is all that we can do.-What then will be the probable effects if this Constitution be rejected? Have we not reason to fear new commotions in this Commonwealth? If they arise can we be always certain that we shall be furnished with a citizen, who though possessed of extensive influence and the greatest abilities, will make no other use of them, than to quiet the tumult of the people, to prevent civil war and to restore the usual course of law and justice? Are we not in danger from other States, when their interests or prejudices are opposite to ours? And in some such scenes of hostile contention, will not some Sylla drench the land in blood, or some Cromwell or Caesar lay our liberties prostrate at his feet? Will not foreign nations attack us in our weak, divided condition, and once more render us provinces to some potentate of Europe? Or will those powers to whom we are indebted lie quiet?10 They certainly will not . They are now waiting for our decision: but when they once see that our union is broken, and that we are determined to neglect them, they will issue out letters of marque and reprisal, and entirely destroy our commerce.
If this system is broken up, will thirteen or even nine States ever agree to another? And will Providence smile on a people who despise the privileges put into their hands, and who neglect the plainest principles of justice and honesty? After all, I by no means pretend, that there is complete perfection in this proposed Constitution-like all other human - productions, it hath its faults-provision is made for an amendment, whenever from practice it is found oppressive. I would add, the proposals which his Excellency hath condescended to lay before this Hon. Convention, respecting future alterations, are real improvements for the better and we have no reason to doubt but they will be equally attended to by other States, as they lead to common security and preservation.
Some of the gentlemen in the opposition have quoted ancient history and applied it to the question now under debate. They have shewn us the danger which arises from vesting magistrates with too much power I wish they had gone on to tell the whole truth. They might have shewn how nearly licentiousness and tyranny are allied-that they who will not be governed by reason must submit to force-that demagogues, in all free governments, have at first held out an idea of extreme - liberty and have seized on the rights of the people, under the mask of patriotism. They might have shewn us a republick in which wisdom, virtue and order were qualities for which a man was liable to banishment-and on the other hand, boasting, sedition and falshood the sure road to honour and promotion.
I am sorry that it hath been hinted by some gentlemen in this House, as if there were a combination of the rich, the learned, and those of liberal professions, to establish and support an arbitrary form of government-Far be it from me to retort [to] so uncharitable and unchristian - a suggestion. I doubt not the gentlemen who are of different sentiments from myself are actuated by the purest motives. Some of them I have the pleasure to be particularly acquainted with, and can safely pronounce them to be men of virtue and honour-They have, no doubt, a laudable concern for the liberties of their country; but I would beg them to remember that extreme jealousy and suspicion maybe as fatal to freedom as security and negligence.
With respect to myself I am conscious of no motive which guides me in this great and solemn question, but what I could justify to my own heart, both on the bed of death, and before the tribunal of Omnipotence. I AM A POOR MAN-I HAVE THE FEELINGS OF A POOR MAN-If there are honours and emoluments in this proposed Constitution, I shall, by my profession and circumstances in life, be for ever excluded from them. It is my wish and prayer that in the solemn verdict we are very soon to pronounce, that we may be directed to that measure, which will be for the glory freedom and felicity of my country.
I shall trouble this House no farther than by joining sincerely in the wish of the Hon. Gentleman from Topsham, that the people in this their day may know the things which belong to their peace.
(The Committee appointed on Saturday to consider his Excellency's. propositions, by their chairman, the Hon. Mr BOWDOIN, reported few alterations to the amendments submitted to them-and that at the decision, the Committee consisted of 24-15 of whom agreed in their report were against it- was absent, and declined giving his opinion: For the report, see the form of ratification, at the end of the:. debates.)
Major LUSK concurred in the idea already thrown out in the debate, that although the insertion of the amendments in the Constitution, was devoutly wished yet he did not see any reason to suppose they ever would be adopted.- Turning from the subject amendments, the Major entered largely into the consideration of the 9th sect. and in the most pathetick and feeling manner described the miseries of the poor natives of Africa, who are kidnapped, and sold for slaves-with the' brightest colours, he painted their happiness and ease on their native, shores; and contrasted them with their wretched, miserable, and unhappy -' condition in a state of slavery11 From this subject, he passed to the article dispensing with the qualification of a religious test-and concluded by saying, that he shuddered at the idea, that Roman Catholicks, Papists, and Pagans might be introduced into office-and that Popery and the Inquisition may be established in America.12
Rev Mr BACKUS. Mr President, I have said very little in this honourable Convention; but I now beg leave to offer a few thoughts upon some points in the Constitution proposed to us. And I shall begin with the exclusion of any religious test. Many appear to be much concerned about it, but nothing is more evident, both in reason, and in the holy scriptures, than that religion is ever a matter between God and individuals; and therefore no man or men can impose any religious test, with- out invading the essential prerogatives of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ministers first assumed this power under the Christian name; and then Constantine approved of the practice, when he adopted the profession of Christianity as an engine state-policy. And let the history of all nations be searched, from that day to this, and it will appear that the imposing of religious tests hath been the greatest engine of tyranny in the world. And I rejoice to see so many gentlemen who are now giving in the rights of conscience, in this great and important matter Some serious minds discover a concern lest, if all religious tests should be excluded, the Congress would hereafter establish Popery or some other tyrannical way of worship. But it is most certain, that no such way of worship can be established, without any religious test.13
Much, sir hath been said, about the importation of slaves into this country I believe that, according to my capacity no man abhors that wicked practice more than I do, and would gladly make use of all lawful means, towards the abolishing of slavery in all parts of the land-But let us consider where we are, and what we are doing. In the articles of confederation, no provision was made to hinder the importation of slaves into any of these States; but a door is now opened, hereafter to do it; and each State is at liberty now to abolish slavery as soon as they please.14 And let us remember our former connection with Great-Britain, from whom many in our land think we ought not to have revolted: How did they carry on the slave-trade! I know that the Bishop of Gloucester in an annual sermon in London, in February 1766, endeavoured to justify their tyrannical claims of power over us, by casting the reproach of the slave-trade upon the Americans.13 But at the close of the war the Bishop of Chester in an annual sermon, in February1783, ingenuously owned, that their nation is the most deeply involved in the guilt of that trade, of any nation in the world; and also, that they have treated their slaves in the West-Indies, worse than the French or Spaniards have done theirs. Thus slavery grows more and more odious through the world-and, as an honourable gentleman said some days ago, Though we cannot say that slavery is struck with an apoplexy yet we may hope it will die with a consumption." And a main source, sir of that iniquity hath been an abuse of the covenant of circumcision, which gave the seed of Abraham to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan, and to take their houses, vineyards, and all their estates as their own; and also to buy and hold others as servants. And as Christian privileges are much greater than those of the Hebrews were, many have imagined that they had a right to seize upon the lands of the heathen, and to destroy or enslave them as far as they could extend their power And from thence the mystery of iniquity carried many in to the practice of making merchandise of slaves and souls of men. But all ought to remember that when God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his seed, he let him know that they were not to take possession of that land, until the iniquity of the Amorites was full and then they did it under the immediate direction of heaven; and they were as real executors of the judgment of God upon those heathens, as any person ever was an executor of a criminal justly condemned. And in doing it they were not allowed to invade the lands of the Edom- ites,18who sprang from Esau, who was not only of the seed of Abraham, but was born at the same birth with Israel; and yet they were not of that church. Neither were Israel allowed to invade the lands of the Moabites, or of the children of Ammon, who were of the seed of Lot. And no officer in Israel had any legislative power but such as were immediately inspired. Even David, the man after God's own heart, had no legislative power but only as he was inspired from above; and he is? Expressly called a Prophet in the New Testament. And we are to remember that Abraham and his seed, for four hundred years, had no warrant to admit any strangers into that church, but by buying of him as a servant, with money And it was a great privilege to be bought, and, adopted into a religious family for seven years, and then to have their freedom. And that covenant was expressly repealed in various parts of the New-Testament; and particularly in the first epistle to the Corinthians, wherein it is said, Ye are bought with a price therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit which are God's. And again, circumcission is nothing and uncircumcission is nothing but the keeping of the commandments of God. Ye are bought with a price be not ye the servants of men.21 Thus the gospel sets all men upon a level; very contrary to the declaration of an honourable gentleman in this house "That the Bible was contrived for the advantage of a particular order of men.
Another great advantage, sir in the Constitution before us, is its excluding all titles of nobility or hereditary succession of power; which hath been a main engine of tyranny in foreign countries. But the American revolution was built upon the principle, that all men are born with an equal right to liberty and property and that officers have no right to any power but what is fairly given them by the consent of the people. And in the Constitution now proposed to us, a power is reserved to the people, constitutionally to reduce every officer again to a private station; and what a guard is this against their invasion of others rights, or abusing of their power! Such a door is now opened, for the establishing of righteous government, and for securing equal liberty as never was before opened to any people upon earth.
Dr JARVIS. Mr President-The objections which gentlemen have made to the form of ratification which has been submitted by your Excellency have arisen, either from a doubt of our having a right to propose alterations; or from the supposed improbability that any amendments recommended by this assembly will ever become a part of the federal system-If we have no right, sir to propose alterations, there remains nothing further to be attempted, but take the final question independent of the propositions for amendment-But, I hope the mere assertion of anyone is not to operate as an argument in this assembly; and we are yet waiting for evidence to prove this very singular position which has been so often repeated-If have a right, sir to receive, or reject the Constitution, surely we have an equal authority to determine in what way this right shall be exercised-It is a maxim, I believe universally admitted, that in every instance, the manner in which every power is to be exerted, must be in its nature discretionary with that body to which this power is delegated-If this principle be just, sir the ground which has been taken to oppose your Excellency's proposal by disputing the right of recommending alterations, must be necessarily relinquished:-But gentlemen say that they find nothing about amendments in the commission under which they are acting, and they conceive it neither agreeable to the resolution of the legislature, nor to the sense of their constituents, that such a scheme should be adopted-Let us inquire then, sir under what authority we are acting; and to what tribunal we are amenable: Is it then, sir from the late federal Convention, that we derive our authority? Is it from Congress, or is it even from the legislature itself-It is from neither sir- we are convened in right of the people, as their immediate representatives, to execute the most important trust which it is possible to receive, and we are accountable in its execution, to God only and our own consciences-When gentlemen assert then, that we have no right to recommend alterations, they must have ideas strangely derogatory to the influence and authority of our constituents, whom we have the honour of representing:-But should it be thought there was even a part of the people who conceived we were thus restricted as to the forms of our proceedings, we are still to recollect that their aggregate sense, on this point, can only be determined by the voices of the majority in this Convention. The arguments of those gentlemen, who oppose - any propositions amendments, amount simply to this, sir that the whole people of Massachusetts, assembled by their delegates, on the most solemn and interesting occasion, are not at liberty to resolve in what form this trust shall be executed.-When we reflect seriously and coolly on this point, I think, sir we shall doubt no longer But with respect to the prospect of these amendments, which are the subject of discussion, being adopted by the first Congress, which shall be appointed under the new Constitution, I really think, sir that it is not only far from being improbable, but is in the highest degree likely. I have thought long and often, on the subject of amendment, and I know no way in which they could be more likely to succeed-If they were made conditional to our receiving the proposed Constitution, it has ever appeared to me, that a conditional amendment must operate as a total rejection. As so many other States have received the Constitution, as it is, how can it be made to appear that they will not adhere to their own resolutions; and should they remain as warmly and pertinaciously attached to their opinion, as we might be decidedly in fact vour of our own sentiments, a long and painful interval might elapse before we should have the benefit of a federal Constitution. I have never yet heard an argument to remove this difficulty: Permit me to inquire of gentlemen what reason we have to suppose that the States which have already adopted the Constitution will suddenly consent to call a new Convention at the request of this State: Are we going to expose the Commonwealth to the disagreeable alternative of being forced into a compliance, or of remaining in opposition, provided nine others should agree to receive it. As highly as some persons talk of the force of this State, I believe we should be but a feeble power unassisted by others, and detached from the general benefit of a national government.15 We are told, that under the blessing of Providence, we may do much-It is very true, sir but it must be proved, that we shall be most likely to secure the approbation of Heaven by refusing the proposed system.
It has been insinuated, sir that these amendments have been artfully introduced to lead to a decision which would not otherwise be had- Without stopping to remark on the total want of candour in which such an idea has arisen, let us inquire whether there is even the appearance - of reason to support this insinuation. The propositions are annexed, it is true, to the ratification; but the assent is complete and absolute without them. It is not possible it can be otherwise understood by a single member in this Hon. body-Gentlemen, therefore, when they m16ake such an unjust observation, do no honour to the saga city of others. Supposing it possible that any single member can be deceived by such a shallow artifice, permit me to do justice to the purity of intention in which they have arisen, by observing, that I am satisfied nothing can be farther from your Excellency's intentions. The propositions are general and not local; they are not calculated for the peculiar - interest of this State, but with indiscriminate justice comprehend the circumstances of the individual on the banks of the Savannah, as well as of the hardy and industrious husbandman on the margin of the Kennebeck: Why then they should not be adopted, I confess I cannot conceive. There is one of them in a particular manner which is very agreeable to me. When we talk of our wanting a bill of rights to the new Constitution, the first article proposed must remove every doubt on this head-as by positively securing what is not expressly delegated, it leaves nothing to the uncertainty conjecture, or to the refinements of implication; but is an explicit reservation of every right and privilege which are nearest and most agreeable to the people. There has been scarcely an instance where the influence of Massachusetts has not been felt and acknowledged in the union-In such a case, her voice will be heard, sir; and I am fully in sentiment if these amendments are not engrafted on the Constitution, it will be our own fault-the remaining seven States will have our example before them, and there is a high probability that they or at least some of them, will take our conduct as a precedent, and will perhaps assume the same mode of procedure. Should this be the fact, their influence will be united to our's. But your delegates will besides be subject to a perpetual instruction until its object is completed; and it will be always in the power of the people and legislature to renew those instructions. But if they should fail, we must then acquiesce in the decision of the majority and this is the known condition on which all free governments depend.
Would gentlemen who are opposed to the Constitution wish to have no amendments? This does not agree with their reiterated objections to the proposed system: Or are they afraid, sir that these propositions will secure a larger majority? On such an occasion, we cannot be too generally united. The Constitution is a great political experiment The amendments have a tendency to remove many objections which have been made to it-and I hope, sir when it is adopted, that they will be annexed to the ratification in the manner which your Excellency has proposed.17