The Massachusetts Constitution

Thoughts on Government

As revolution entered its second stage John Adams counseled Congress that the next step towards independence was to build America’s own institutions. John made his view public in a pamphlet published anonymously in April 1776, titled Thoughts on Government.  This pamphlet had an enormous impact on the way government was structured and influenced the drafting of constitutions in many colonies including Massachusetts.

According to Adams the purpose of government is to promote happiness and to secure it for the largest number of citizens. A republican government was better suited for this purpose. The structure of government he recommended was a bicameral legislature balanced by executive and judicial branches to avoid corruption and unbounded concentration of power. He attributed the continuous collapse of the British Empire in America to the lack of popular vote and involvement of citizens in their own political affairs. However for Adams popular vote would be limited to property owners, those who did not own property should not be allowed to vote.

 

Massachusetts Constitutional Convention

The Massachusetts Constitutional Convention took place between September 1 and October 30, 1779 and appointed John Hancock as its president.

As soon as John Adams returned from his assignment in France the Massachusetts Provincial Congress appointed him to the Constitutional Convention to draft the Massachusetts Constitution which became the foundation of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.

He included most of his ideas from Thoughts of Government and a Declaration of Rights modeled on the bill of rights. Voters were defined as adult males owning property worth a minimum of £60. He structured the government based on two legislative houses which represented different social orders; the House of Representatives represented towns and the Senate, counties. Senators were required to own property of at least £300 while House representatives property of at least £100. Only those who owned property of at least £1000 qualified to run for governor.  Both houses and governor were to be elected by the public. The document was structured into chapters, sections and articles as opposed to existing constitutions with only a listing of provisions.

The Constitutional Convention made substantial changes to Adam’s draft. Adams envisioned a strong executive which was weakened by the power of the legislative to override the governor’s veto. It was ratified on June 15th, 1780 and became effective on October 25th, 1780.

The Massachusetts Constitution ended the command of the Provincial Congress and the legislative centered government since the Coercive Acts in 1774 and has been functioning continuously since its ratification in 1780 making it the oldest functioning constitution in the world.

 

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