969. London Gentleman’s Magazine, December 17881

Debates, Resolutions, and other Proceedings of the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, convened at Boston, on the 9th of January, 1788, and continued until the 7th of February following, for the Purpose of assenting to and ratifying the Constitution recommended by the Grand Federal Convention. Together with the Yeas and Nays on the Decision of the grand Question. To which the Federal Constitution is prefixed. Boston. 1788. 8vo.

This book is a curiosity; as it shews the discussion of the several articles of the federal constitution, and the differences of opinion concerning its power, and the duration of that power: some of the members arguing against representation, as divesting the people of their own power; others, that the people cannot of themselves erect a government; and the generality averse to any government but at the will of the people, and jealous of each other: though Mr. Otis himself was of opinion the different provinces ought not to take upon them to resist an act of parliament.

The Convention met on the 9th of January, and continued their proceedings every day (Sundays excepted) till February 7. The whole of their debates, resolutions, and other proceedings, are printed and published by authority, in a large octavo pamphlet, containing above 200 pages, closely printed. <Some of the speeches are very ingenious, and of considerable length; and most of the speakers appear to have been well informed, and to have duly considered the subjects they speak upon. In point of oratory or elocution they are rather behind the gentlemen of St. Stephen’s Chapel: but, as men of business, and speaking on a subject they thoroughly understand, they are really more worthy of attention than the flowery speechifiers on this side of the water.>2

The most remarkable part of their debates(a) was upon the article in the Constitution which states, that the Congress for the time being are to have a federal town, or district of ten or twelve miles round, where they are to exercise unlimited legislation, uncontrouled by the people or assembly of any state or states. The advocates in favour of this measure asserted, that it was of no use to appoint a Constitutional Congress, if that Congress could not protect itself against the tumults of the country where they met. Their proceedings for the good of the whole might be overpowered or counteracted by the violence of a few, assembled in a mob, who might carry any measures by endangering the lives of the Congress, or making them decamp before they had come to any determination.

Against this it was said, that all power was from the people; and if Congress were at liberty to build fortifications, ships, and wall round a district of this extent, they might set aside the voice of the people, and become quite despotic and arbitrary. These sort of arguments were put in various shapes, and strongly enforced.

But all was overthrown by the speakers on the other side, who shewed that, since the United States had been rescued and delivered from the hands of their oppressors, and been blessed with freedom and independency, the Congress had been over-awed by tumults, and obliged to seek safety by flight.

The time agreed upon for taking the grand question being arrived, and the same being called for from every quarter, his Excellency the President (John Hancock, Esq.) rose, and addressed the Honourable Convention as follows:

[Here follows Hancock’s speech of 6 February, RCS:Mass., 1475–76.]

Upon the whole, the Constitution was approved of, and carried by a majority of 19—187 being for, and 168 against it; but with the recommendation of NINE alterations and provisions.

As the very basis of this Constitution was to establish peace, and to insure domestic tranquillity, it is rather remarkable that there should be found, in a country so truly commercial as America always must be, so many voices against the establishment of justice, or, in other words, against paying their debts.

One of the young members observed, that “faction is the vehicle of all transactions in public bodies; and that the prevalent faction is the body.”

1. Printed: Gentleman’s Magazine, LXIV (December 1788), 1096–97.

2. The material in angle brackets appeared in the Maryland Journal, 5 December. The Journal attributed the observation to “A Writer in a late Caledonian Mercury.” The Journal’s version was reprinted in the Massachusetts Spy, 25 December, and, in whole or in part, in fourteen other newspapers by 15 January 1789: Conn. (2), N.Y. (2), Pa. (5), Va. (2), N.C. (2), S.C. (1).

(a) See p. 128, &c.