Item #346778 A Constitution or Frame of Government, Agreed upon by the Delegates of the People. Massachusetts, John Adams.
A Constitution or Frame of Government, Agreed upon by the Delegates of the People

The John Carter Brown Copy

A Constitution or Frame of Government, Agreed upon by the Delegates of the People.

Boston: Benjamin Edes & Sons, 1780.

[3]-43, [1,blank]pp. Without half-title. 8vo. The John Carter Brown Copy. Later morocco-backed cloth, worn at joints. Provenance: John Carter Brown (bookplate and inked stamp on verso of title) Evans 16845; Eberstadt, American Constitutions (166) 71 (ref); Oscar & Mary Handlin, Commonwealth (Cambridge, 1969), pp.24-31; Reese, Revolutionary Hundred 64. Item #346778

Final version of the first Massachusetts state constitution, a document of capital importance in the framing of subsequent state constitutions and the United States Constitution as well.  A slightly more radical constitution was proposed in 1778 which, for example, granted suffrage to all males except Blacks, Indians, and mulattoes, but it was rejected by the people.  A new version was printed in early 1780 for approval, and then printed in this, the final accepted format.

It begins with a long declaration of the rights of Massachusetts citizens (including freedom of the press and protection from unreasonable searches), and then spells out the roles and powers of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches.  "In some respects the constitution of 1780 remedied the defects of its predecessor of 1778.  A bill of rights assured to each citizen 'the security of his person and property' as an unassailable condition to the social contract.  A strong executive with extensive veto powers, an independent judiciary appointed for good behavior, and a senate representing property effectively restrained the house of representatives, the only popular branch of government" - Handlin.  There is also a section continuing the special privileges of Harvard College, and another encouraging the appreciation of literature in the commonwealth. 

The Handlins note that John Adams' role was pre-eminent in the crafting of the 1780 constitution.  It is a constitution that served as a guide for other states and for the Constitutional Convention of 1787.  See the Handlins' COMMONWEALTH for an extended discussion of the creation and importance of the Massachusetts constitution. "Despite the title, Massachusetts is declared to be a free and independent Commonwealth (not State), and its people are referred to repeatedly as 'subjects.'  Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all Protestants, except that Catholics are barred from holding office.  (However, there is nothing to keep them from coming to New York to run for office.)  Enfranchisement is based solely on property" - Eberstadt.  A state constitution of great influence.

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