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There have been four - Constitutional Conventions” in the history of Massachusetts. The first was that which formed the State Constitution in 1779-80; the second was that which adopted and ratified the Constitution of the United States in 1788; the third was held in 1820–21, and proposed fourteen Articles of Amendment to the State Constitution, of which nine were adopted by the people; the fourth was held in 1853, and proposed a new State Constitution which was not adopted by the people.
The Journal of the first Convention was printed by order of the legislature in 1832, on the recommendation of the Joint Committee on the Library, of which the late Hon. Alexander H. Everett was chairman.
The proceedings of the second Convention were of great importance, and were so regarded throughout the country at the time. It is quite certain that if Massachusetts had refused her assent to the Constitution of the United States, that well-devised scheme of government, the careful work of the patriots and statesmen of the last century, under which the nation has enjoyed so large a degree of prosperity, would have failed. There is ample evidence of this in the letters which are printed at the end of this volume.
The Constitution was adopted in the Massachusetts Convention, after a full discussion, by a majority of nineteen in a vote of three hundred and fifty-five. Certain amendments were recommended by the Convention, a portion of which were in substance agreed to by all the States. It is believed that at the beginning of the session of the Convention there was a majority against the Constitution. The determination which was reached must thus be ascribed, in a large degree, to the arguments which were used by the speakers.
The debates were reported in the Boston newspapers of the time, the “Independent Chronicle” and the “Massachusetts Centinel,” and these reports were collected into a volume printed soon after the adjournment of the Convention. A second edition of this volume was printed in Boston in 1808; and its contents were afterwards repeated in Elliott's Debates.
In the course of the session of the Massachusetts legislature, in 1856, the attention of the Joint Committee on the Library was called by the State Librarian to the fact that the volume of Debates was rare, there being but a single copy, and that imperfect, in the possession of the Commonwealth. The interest and value of the work were obvious. Accordingly the chairman of the Committee offered the following Resolve, which passed both houses without opposition, and was approved by the Governor, March 5, 1856:
“ Resolved, That the Report of the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Convention of the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight be reprinted under the direction of the Committee on the Library; that the same number be printed as of ordinary legislative documents; and that one copy be furnished to each member of the executive and legislative departments of the government for the present political year.”
Upon inquiry in the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, it was discovered that the official journal, and a small file of documents relating to the Convention, which had never been printed, were in a perishable condition. It was thought that their publication would add essentially to the value of the Report, and that they were even necessary, at the present time, to throw light upon the discussions. The Committee also learned that an original manuscript, containing the clear and striking notes of the debates kept by Chief Justice Parsons, of Newburyport, who was a member of the Convention, was in the possession of the Boston Athenæum, and the Committee were kindly permitted to take a copy of it.
The printed report of the debates was not in itself an official document; and in order to give a full view of the transactions of the Convention, it seemed to be necessary that the official journal, together with the record of certain other preliminary and subsequent legislative proceedings should be presented at the same time, while Judge Parsons's notes, together with a few of the more elaborate discussions in the public prints, would serve to exhibit a clearer idea of the tone and scope of the Debates. Induced by these considerations, the Committee proposed the following additional Resolve, which, also, passed both houses with the same unanimity as the former, and was approved by the Governor, April 8, 1856 :
“ Resolved, That in the reprint of the Report of the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Convention, of one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, there shall be included the Official Journal of the Convention, now in the archives of the State ; and such other documents relating to the subject, as in the opinion of the Committee on the Library may be necessary.”
In discharge of the duty enjoined by these Resolves, the Committee, after a full discussion of the plan, appointed two of their number-Bradford K. Peirce and Charles Hale--as a sub-committee to prepare and arrange the materials of the volume, and to supervise its passage through
This work has been attended to with such diligence and ability as we were able to bring to it. It has been our understanding of the Resolves, that we were not to digest the various papers coming into our hands in order to present a new report, but to obtain and arrange such original documents as had been preserved, illustrating the transactions of the Convention. We have not sought to multiply unnecessary notes, but when an explanation seemed to be required, or when a quotation from the press of the day illustrated the text, we have appended it at the foot of the page. In order to preserve the official journal exactly as it was kept by the Secretary (with the exception of the errors in spelling) we have introduced the documents to which it refers, in the form of notes. Among these papers will be found several of permanent historical value.
We have given special attention to the correction of the press; the original report and many of the papers being sadly disfigured by typographical errors.
We have been indebted to the attentions of Hon. George S. Boutwell, the State Librarian, to his Assistant, Dr. Jackson, and to Hon. F. DeWitt, Secretary of the Commonwealth, for their assistance in consulting and using the archives of the Commonwealth ; to the Boston Athenæum, for the privilege of copying Judge Parsons's Minutes, already mentioned, and for the use of its files of newspapers; to Charles Folsom, Esq., and William F. Poole, Esq., the past and present Librarians of the Athenæum, for facilities in using the rich literary stores of that institution ; to Hon. Josiah Quincy, senior, Hon. Edward Everett, Jared Sparks, LL.D., Hon. George Bancroft, and Richard Hildreth, Esq., for their kind answers to questions asked by the Committee in the prosecution of their labors. Mr. Quincy remembers attending the debates in the gallery of the meeting-house in Federal Street. Mr. Bancroft has
ied us with two letters, which are printed at the close of the volume, and others have been copied from Mr. Sparks's valuable collections.
It will be observed that three separate and independent records of the proceedings of the Convention are included within this volume. The first is the Official Journal kept by the Secretary of the Convention, occupying pages 29 to 94, inclusive. The second is the Report of Debates, taken by the editors of the newspapers, occupying pages 95 to 284, inclusive. The third is Judge Parsons's Minutes, occupying pages 285 to 320, inclusive ;--this record unfortunately closes abruptly, ten days before the adjournment of the Convention. The first and third of these records are here printed for the first time. The second is printed from the volume published in 1808, which was the second edition of the Debates. The Constitution and documents following it, beginning at page 1 and ending at page 17 of this volume, are printed in the order and style of the volume published in 1808.
B. K. P.