984. Reminiscences (In Alphabetical Order By Author)

984-A. Thomas C. Amory, Life of James Sullivan
Boston, 1859 (excerpt)1

… In order to insure more entire harmony in the Boston delegation to the state convention, which was to meet in January, it was decided to select candidates equally from both parties; and, in the list first nominated, the name of Judge Sullivan stood fourth in order; those of Hancock, Bowdoin and Samuel Adams, preceding, and that of Stephen Higginson, whose implacable hostility haunted his footsteps, immediately following his own. Before the day of election both the last were dropped, and others, more influential perhaps, substituted in their place. Though not chosen a member, it is believed that the opinions of Judge Sullivan, expressed in conversation and in his contributions to the public press, were not without weight. He was often afterwards charged as having been an opponent of the constitution; and he no doubt was opposed to its adoption without important modifications. He was especially dissatisfied with the too liberal concession to the south of slave representation, anticipating as its consequence the unfortunate dissensions so constantly since disturbing the harmony and good-fellowship of our people, and threatening the permanency of their institutions. In his opinion, besides, trial by jury was not sufficiently secured; and, brought up to attach a sacred obligation to constitutional compacts, he considered the substitution of a new system for the articles of confederation, without first complying with the forms provided in that instrument for its amendment, an illegal violation of the rights of the minority, one equally impolitic and unjust; for it was probable that, with a little delay, the general assent could be obtained. The creation of a frame of government for an empire to endure for ages, appeared, moreover, a matter of sufficient moment for full and candid consideration, and not to be hurried through under feverish excitements. Such were his sentiments, as frequently expressed in friendly confidence and in his writings. In the extreme sensitiveness generally prevailing, however, every objection urged against particular provisions of the constitution was argued to denote an anti-federal feeling; and long after, many of its most ardent and consistent supporters were branded in opprobrium as anti-federalists, for having been bold enough to question its absolute perfection.

Some of the more zealous advocates of the instrument, believing it as perfect as could be wished, thought their chance of securing its ratification greater by discouraging discussion, and by carrying it through with a high hand. But the friends of the state administration were not generally of this mind, nor pleased that their suggestion of defects to be corrected should be met, not with candid attention, but with reproach and the imputation of discreditable motives. Before the close of the year it was evident that the opposition was increasing, and that success would be doubtful unless some compromise could be effected. In his sketch of Hancock, published at the period of his death, Judge Sullivan says: “When the plan was offered to the public for consideration, it was realized that the part which Governor Hancock should take would decide the fate of the important business as to this state. He had objections to the system, for he did not suppose it perfect, or free from errors; but he considered a general government to be the salvation of his country, and believed whatever might be found necessary to amend the system would be effected by the good sense and wisdom of the people; therefore, before the convention was assembled, he prepared his proposals for amendments, and resolved to give the constitution his decided support. He was chosen president of the convention, and, as soon as he was able to attend his duty, acted pursuant to the resolution he had formed.”

As one of his Council and most intimate friends and advisers, as also the friend of King, Gorham, Parsons, and other leading members of the convention, Sullivan’s views were no doubt respected in framing the amendments. The object was not so much to devise what could be desired, as what would be generally acceptable; and the sentiments of the other parts of the country were to be considered as well as those prevailing in Massachusetts. Many others than those accepted were no doubt suggested, but failed to secure a support sufficiently general to be included among those adopted. Theophilus Parsons, afterwards the distinguished chief justice, is believed to have drafted them, that is to say, to have put them into form; for, according to tradition, the amendments themselves were suggested by those who thought the instrument defective, which he did not. The copy which Hancock used in the convention was said by Mr. Benjamin Russell to have been in the handwriting of Sullivan.

A statesman of the period, who had abundant opportunity of knowing the truth, says: “It is well known that the amendments, not as the condition of acceptance, but to accompany the ratification, was not a new idea, for it had been resorted to, on the acceptance of the old articles of confederation, by many states in the Union, and was suggested in convention, and before, by the friends of the governor; and it had been by none more warmly supported than by the late worthy lieutenant-governor, Thomas Cushing. It is well known, by many irreproachable characters of all professions, that this was the theme of conversation, as well with his excellency as with other persons; and, if any man besides his excellency deserves the credit of applying this happy expedient on this occasion, perhaps he was the person. It was certainly not the scheme of the high-flying federalists; though I believe many deserve not that honorable appellation, as they are not the friends of a federal government, but of an actual consolidation of the Union itself. It was in consequence of mature and early deliberations with the friends of peace and good government, with the real federalists and with the friends of republicanism, that his excellency made his celebrated proposition; and as to the circumstance of the clerkship, it was certainly very immaterial in whose handwriting it appeared, as long as it corresponded with his own favorite opinions, as it certainly did; as it had in view the two great objects of amending the constitution, at the same time that it had a direct tendency to allay the zeal of opposition. For this act alone is his excellency deserving the thanks of every true friend of the peace and union of America. And, although no one man deserves the preeminent distinction of being considered as the savior of his country, yet in this point he is entitled to our full approbation, and our warmest and most grateful sensations.”2

The charge, preferred against those of the Hancock party who would not consent to ratification without the proposal for amendments, that they were opposed to a central government for fear it would diminish their consequence within their several states, has the less probability from the fact that the leading republicans had as good reason to expect at that period to enjoy their share of its official honors as their opponents, and probably would have, had not these opponents the policy to avail themselves of the cry of anti-federalism to secure their exclusion. Another charge thrown out for political capital, under high party excitement, that Hancock was induced to give the constitution his support from a promise, on the part of the federalists, to give him their votes at the coming election, has as little ground to rest upon. His popularity was beyond their power to subvert, and such an overture was neither consistent with his character nor theirs.

These proposed amendments were nine in number. The first reserved to the states all powers not expressly delegated; the second provided for the gradual increase in the number of representatives to two hundred; the third, that Congress should not regulate elections of senators and representatives, except where a state neglected, or her regulations were subversive of the right of the people to free and equal representation; the fourth, that Congress should not lay any direct tax, while the impost and excise were adequate, nor then unless a state neglected to pay its proportion, according to census, of the sum required; the fifth, that Congress should erect no company of merchants with exclusive advantages of commerce; the sixth, that no person should be tried for crime, unless by indictment of Grand Jury, except in cases within the army and navy regulations; the seventh, that, in suits between citizens of different states, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court should be limited to cases where the amount at issue was over three thousand dollars, and that of the other federal courts to amounts over fifteen hundred dollars; the eighth, that all issues of fact should be tried by jury, if either party requested; the ninth, that Congress should have no power to permit any person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, to accept a title or nobility, or any other title or office, from any king, prince, or sovereign state.

When circumstances seemed propitious, and a sufficient number of the opposition appeared persuaded that the public welfare demanded the adoption of the instrument as all that could be hoped for, Governor Hancock, a martyr to the gout, was carried from his sick chamber, wrapped in flannel, to his seat in the convention, then sitting in the meeting-house in Long-lane, ever after this occasion called Federal-street, and proposed his articles of ratification. They were debated and committed, and a motion of Samuel Adams to add to the first article that Congress should not infringe the liberty of the press, the rights of conscience, of keeping arms, or of petition, nor maintain a standing army but for defence, nor authorize unreasonable seizures or searches of persons, papers or possessions, was rejected. The final vote resulted in a majority of nineteen out of three hundred and fifty-five votes cast. The ratification was absolute, and the amendments recommended to Congress for submission to the states under the fifth article of the constitution. …

984-B. Joseph T. Buckingham, Specimens of Newspaper Literature
Boston, 1850 (excerpt)1

… Russell was a constant attendant in the Massachusetts Convention, and reported the debates for the Centinel. These reports he afterwards revised, with the aid of the principal speakers, and published in a duodecimo volume. Very few copies of this book are now in existence, and those few are highly valued by their owners. The sittings of the Convention were held in the old meeting-house, which stood on the site now occupied by the Rev. Mr. Gannett’s meeting-house in Federal-street. This street was then known by the name of Long Lane, a name, which was changed for that, which it bears now, immediately after the adoption of the constitution. In a memorandum, now before me, Russell says—“I had never studied stenography, nor was there any person then in Boston that understood reporting. The presiding officer of the Convention sat in the Deacon’s seat, under the pulpit. I took the pulpit for my reporting desk, and a very good one it was. I succeeded well enough in this my first effort to give a tolerably fair report in my next paper; but the puritanical notions had not entirely faded away, and I was voted out of the pulpit. A stand was fitted up for me in another place, and I proceeded with my reports, generally to the acceptance of the Convention. The doubts that still existed as to whether enough of the states would come into the compact to make the constitution binding, made the proceedings of the Convention intensely interesting. When the news arrived of the acceptance of it by the State of Virginia,2 there was a most extraordinary outbreak of rejoicing. It seemed as if the meeting-house would burst with the acclamation.” …

984-C. Theophilus Parsons, Jr., Memoir of Theophilus Parsons, [Sr.]
Boston, 1859 (excerpt)1

… I insert also a letter which the Hon. James Savage was good enough to send me, in which he speaks of the same topics; and which all will be glad to read, who are interested in the history of that period, and who like to listen to indisputable evidence.


Boston, May 4, 1857.  


Long before I had the pleasure of ever seeing your father, I had a sort of acquaintance with him from frequent conversations about him, with which I was favored by my uncle and guardian, the late Judge Tudor, who was his classmate. Opinions thus gradually formed were strengthened by notices derived from the late Chief Justice Parker, under whose instruction I began the study of the law at Portland, where he then lived, in 1803. Before your father was appointed successor of Chief Justice Dana, I had the same conviction with the rest of our community, that he was the fittest man for that exalted situation; and after coming to Boston, in 1805, to finish my preparation for the bar, I diligently watched his course, and benefited by his administration of justice at nisi prius and law terms.

That he was more instrumental in the formation of the Constitution of Massachusetts than any other citizen, was the opinion of every one who knew him as the author of the famous Essex Result, which exhibited the necessary elements of fundamental law for our republic, with as much completeness and precision as human sagacity could ever supply.

From the time of throwing off the royal government for its violation of the Charter of the Province of 1691 and its utter disregard of the foundation principles of English liberty, Massachusetts acted without any constitution; yet the authority of law was sustained, and a form of civil polity adhered to, by following the guidance of that Charter. More direct application of rules controlling the machinery of government than under that instrument was attainable, in our condition of revolution and of independence necessarily resulting, seemed urgent and indispensable. In February, 1778, our General Court, which by order or desire of its predecessor had been elected for this purpose, in part, sent out to the people a form of government for their consideration, which was very promptly by them rejected by a vote of nearly five to one of the voters. Very easy it is to account for such a result. In several parts of that document strange crudities appear; as, for a remarkable instance, when you recollect how well the body of our people had exercised their faculties in the controversy of 1774, as to the Judges of the Superior Court receiving salaries from the crown instead of the public treasury of the Province, as ever before had been the rule, and in the close of which, all those judges who accepted such compensation were impeached by the representatives of the people,—yet the provision as to tenure “during good behavior”—that must be always regarded as the sine qua non of judicial independence, without which there can exist no sincere republic or government of laws—was childishly extended to include justices of the peace, as if to incite contempt and provoke opposition. More puerile was the total inadequacy of constituting an Executive department especially for that state of foreign war when Massachusetts must assert equality of rights with other nations, and in the exercise of its belligerent privileges, through its navy, might be exposed to have controversy with every neutral maritime power. In that Constitution, commonly called Judge Paine’s, one would suppose the seat of Governor had been artistically provided for the enjoyment of an individual, rather than the general good in support of every individual’s right. As chairman of the Boston Board of Selectmen, John Hancock had, before the Revolution began, shown that his accomplishments were fully adequate to that station, in which dignity and grace like his were never surpassed; and something like the same exercise of talents and share of responsibleness would have attended the pageant of Executive head of the Commonwealth under the rejected form.

Early in the year 1778, a Convention of Delegates of the County of Essex was held. It is not in my power to give the names of the authors, or even to recollect the sequence of argument in The Result, as the issue of their deliberation was called. Of the modest pamphlet you may easily believe that my impression has been somewhat weakened in the four or five and thirty years since I saw a copy; but the seminal principles of our “government of laws, and not of men,” that has so many years made my native State respected as having the best of any frames of polity, (as these concretions are termed,) at least on our side of the water, were fully exhibited and skilfully enforced in your father’s writing of that tract. Pickering and Goodhue of Salem, Choate of Ipswich, Phillips of Andover, Cleaveland of Rowley, Chief Justice Sargent of Haverhill, Judge Holten of Danvers, above all, Cabot of Beverly, must have assisted with their wisdom or their sympathy, though which of them may have attended the Convention, if any, is unknown. Farther aid would come from his admirable townsmen, Jonathan Jackson and Nathaniel Tracy. All these were associated in that Convention, so soon after called by our General Court to assemble in September, 1779; and that Essex should not have all the superior minds of the republic to discuss the substance and model the form of the supreme law to be offered as the digest of wisdom, other parts furnished John Adams, James Bowdoin, Samuel Adams, Increase Sumner, Nathaniel Gorham, James Sullivan, Levi Lincoln, Caleb Strong, William Cushing, R. T. Paine, and Rev. Samuel West, to combine sagacity and experience in the product. You may judge, in some fair degree, how much is due to the sobriety of the members of that assembly, during the stormy period of our history, by the curious exhibit of members attending the sessions, as shown by the journal. At the end of October, before deliberation began on the Report of the Committee of Thirty, chosen early in September, to draw up the Declaration of Rights and Form of Government, which was offered on the 28th of October, the members were three hundred and twelve. The first question which was put to vote by a division of the house was on Saturday, November 6th; and it was on the cardinal point of independence of the judiciary, which was settled by seventy-eight against thirty-five, the whole number of votes cast being one hundred and thirteen. The next question brought in one hundred and nineteen. After the recess taken to permit the members to go home for consultation with their constituents, only fifty appear on the 26th of January, 1780, and sixty the following day; but from that time to the end of February, not more than eighty were counted at any day, except on the 4th of that month, when eighty-four were seen. Such was the confidence reposed in the integrity of that committee and the wisdom of their report.

Once more the mature skill of statesmen and the profound sagacity of observing students were called into operation to establish the glorious Union that could alone preserve the happiness of Massachusetts; and in which a dozen other States were to join for setting up a power to restrain each and benefit all. Our Federal Constitution owes to your father, for its wonderful simplicity and skill of organization, nothing beyond the wise discourses so few years before produced with reference only to that of this Commonwealth, or the deep sagacity often invoked in their perplexing politics by other members of the confederacy, termed in way of contempt the United States, who were rapidly moving, all without common principles of action, to the wildest consummation of anarchy. Severally, these thirteen members of the great family of civilized nations, in 1787, were an offence in the nostrils of each other; while, conjunctly, they were the laughing-stock of all the rest of the world.

Yet the projection of that immortal model of a government was to be lamented as an untimely birth, unless it should be accepted. Vain would be the dreadful experience of danger, deepening every hour in rebellions in Massachusetts, or the self-inflicted disgrace of violations of the treaty of peace in Virginia; vain the anxious labors of Washington, more wearisome in three years of civil anarchy than in the seven years of impoverished campaigns; vain the cautious explorations through quicksands, without the benefit of soundings or buoys, that guided Jay and Madison, Morris and Hamilton, in laying out that chart for the ship of state,—unless it were ratified by MASSACHUSETTS. Virginia, New York, and North Carolina would forthwith reject the benignant company of such a stranger; and even Rhode Island, that must derive more blessing than any other family, in proportion to its numbers, would suspiciously have forbidden his visit. Fear that the majority of our Convention of 1788 was adverse to the proposed Federal compact, whose effect would, perhaps, be to elevate the body of people from being brawling mobs in a dwindling community to become citizens of a great nation; yet necessarily would reduce a few leaders of town-meetings to their proper level, was generally diffused among those who desired a better result. It was a wise apprehension lest the plan was too good to meet the acceptance of the agricultural part of our State, before the country should be subjected to a wider and even universal prostration. An indistinct dread of acknowledging any other sovereignty than that of Massachusetts withstood the experience of Dana, the judgment of King, the pure sentiment of Gore, and the liquid wisdom of Ames, gurgitibus vastis exundans. It might be silenced, but it could not be convinced. This childish dread was, therefore, to be overcome; and your father, late in the session, no doubt with the concurrence and advice of several of the prominent members in the Convention, submitted a draft of sundry amendments to Governor Hancock, the President of the assembly, chosen in his absence from that body, (in which he had never attended an hour before,) on the 9th of January, but in which he was expected to take his seat on the last day of the same month. All the parts of the Constitution had been discussed, and the Vice-President, a more able officer, William Cushing, (appointed one of the Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States on the organization of that tribunal,) had filled the chair up to that day. On that day, January 31st, your father made the motion “to assent to and ratify this Constitution.” At the next meeting, in the afternoon of the same day, his Excellency, who had in the morning session mentioned his intention of “submitting a proposition to the consideration of the Convention,” made the important motion for amendments, as written by your father. Well expressed, yet of the effect in no single provision to alter the force and principle of a solitary clause in that instrument, but only to supply deficiencies and explain the import of particular clauses in it, this proposition was received with the profoundest respect. Mr. Adams, who had very seldom taken any part in the discussions during the month, yet had expressed, seven days before, some “difficulties and doubts respecting parts of the proposed Constitution,” but, as a member for Boston in this assembly, was by his constituents expected to sustain it, and who doubtless had been consulted by the writer of the amendments,—entitled also to great weight for his long experience in most of the Continental Congresses during the war,—was the first gentleman to propose that the amendments be considered before action on the motion made by the member from Newburyport. His plan was adopted, and the next day Governor Bowdoin, in a set speech, very well reported, approved the amendments, in which he was followed by Judge Dana, in the afternoon; and the next day by Mr. Strong, in a particular examination of each of the articles, nine in number, of the submitted proposition; which was then, by unanimous vote, referred on Saturday to a committee of twenty-five, Governor Bowdoin being chairman. Of course that committee was selected with great judgment. Your father, Dana, Strong, and Sedgwick, were on it; and the other side was fairly represented, as must be apparent, for, after all the wisdom and influence that could be exerted on such vital interests, nine of them voted for the rejection of the Constitution. The Report was presented on Monday, February 4th, and the diffusion of harmony was encouraged by Rev. Mr. Backus of Middleborough, followed, the next day, by Mr. Ames of Dedham and Mr. Barrell of York. This last gentleman had been of the committee, and seems to have become a convert from the opposition. On Wednesday, Mr. Adams introduced some amendments to be added to those in the committee’s report; but they did not receive the approbation of those whom they were designed to conciliate, and after some debate he withdrew them. By the Rev. Mr. Stillman a very effective support was given in the forenoon, and Turner of Scituate and Symmes of Andover in the afternoon renounced their opposition, in direct terms; and the closing by Governor Hancock was succeeded by the vote of one hundred and eighty-seven against one hundred and sixty-eight, there being only nine members absent; which was a most honorable verdict from the body that could have counted fifty majority, as is believed, at its first meeting, adverse to the most important provisions of the Federal Constitution.

No doubt exists of the principal fact of the drawing of the amendments by your father, as I had it from the late Colonel Joseph May, who acted in the settlement of Governor Hancock’s estate, from his death, in November, 1793, and was of course intimately acquainted with the relations between Parsons and Hancock, and paid occasionally the fees for professional services by your father, as shown in the administrator’s accounts at various times. He had often seen and handled the original manuscript furnished by your father and produced by the President of the Convention, whose habitual self-indulgence would wish to be spared, even if in health, the labor of making a copy, though abundant apology existed, up to the very day preceding his first coming to the assembly, on which he brought forward the proposition, in his inveterate gout. Perhaps the precise expression implying the identical paper may be incorrect, for a fair copy may have been used by the Governor to lay upon the table; and I have heard that, by examination of the original papers in the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, it appears that the amendments are not in the handwriting of either your father or Governor Hancock.

Of that happy ratification the general effect is well observed throughout the civilized world; and I would gladly fasten attention of many (who in our times calculate the value of the Union) on the special benefits of the measure. From the hopeless state of debt, sunk so low that it was not matter even of exertion to pay the interest; from the universal public distraction between equal States owning no superior, and the private distrust, when no law could be invoked to compel justice to be done between man and man, the new creation sprang from our chaotic elements, to restore order, diffuse light, support equity, vindicate honor, establish individual happiness by national prosperity, take away our reproach as a by-word, and make us a name and a praise in the earth. Sun, moon, and all the host of heaven, exulted in the occasion of shedding their benignest aspects on the commerce, without which our country could do nothing for raising any other portion of our fellow-men, but with which in a single generation we might outvie the growth of any other nation for three centuries.

Excuse my reference, as a statist, to the circumstances of my native city. Its growth in population, for seventy years preceding this Convention, had not equalled thirty per cent; and in the seventy years following, nearly nine hundred per cent mark the increase. When I was a boy, as many houses fell down, or were torn down, in a year, as there were new ones erected. When two houses were built in a season, it made a town’s talk; and I suppose twice two hundred has been the addition for each year in the present generation.

With great regard, your obedient


At this distance of time, when we have forgotten the personal passions and interests which doubtless existed in that Convention, and often influenced their debates if they did not determine their conclusions, we are struck by the appearance at least—by the reality, as I believe—of intense earnestness which prevailed among all parties. Many were the interesting topics discussed. … [Parsons continues by printing excerpts from the 1856 edition of the convention debates, including excerpts from his father’s notes of those debates contained in that volume.]

984-D. Edmund Quincy, Life of Josiah Quincy
Boston, 1868 (excerpt)1

… My father had invited Governor Hancock to the entertainment he had given at Cambridge on Commencement Day [in 1790], on the occasion of his graduation; and in return he was invited, though so young a man, to dine with his Excellency. The party consisted of not less than fifty or sixty persons, and the dinner and its appointments were in keeping with the rank and fortune of the host. He, however, did not sit at meat with his guests, but dined at a small table by himself, in a wheel-chair, his legs swathed in flannel. He was a martyr to the gout, of which circumstance he made an excuse for doing as he pleased in political as well as social life. Thus, when the adoption of the Federal Constitution hung doubtful in the balance in the Massachusetts Convention of 1788, the gout was made the convenient reason for his staying away, until he was made to see that his indecision must cease, and he interposed, to secure the ratification. My father was in the gallery of the Old South Church at the time, and used to describe how Hancock, wrapt in flannels, was borne in men’s arms up the broad aisle, when he made the speech which caused the Constitution to be accepted by nineteen majority. On the occasion with which we have now to do, when the Governor had despatched the frugal repast to which his infirmities condemned him, he wheeled himself about the general table to pay personal attention to his guests, and to take part in the conversation. …

984-E. William V. Wells, The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams
Boston, 1866 (excerpt)1

…The debates by paragraphs were then resumed, and lasted another week.

In this week a plan was agreed upon among several prominent members, of which various accounts have been given by contemporaries. To meet the objections of those opposed to the Constitution, it was arranged to prepare certain amendments, afterwards historically known as the “Conciliatory Propositions,” which Hancock should be persuaded to indorse, and submit in person to the Convention. The late Colonel Joseph May related from his personal knowledge the following interesting facts concerning the Convention.

“Adams and Hancock were both members of the Convention in Massachusetts, and the two most powerful men in the State: Mr. Hancock on account of his wealth and social rank (much thought of in 1787–88) and the chivalrous patriotism with which he went into the contest; but Adams had more intelligence, more judgment, and was less swayed by personal ambition than Hancock, and besides had done more for the independence which was then secured. Neither was well pleased with the Constitution. It made the central government too strong, and cut off the State rights and local power of the people. In short, it was not sufficiently democratic, as we say in these days. Mr. Adams foresaw none of the consequences of a strong central government which are now so obvious. The friends of the Constitution were anxious to have the votes of both; for it was thought Massachusetts would go as Hancock and Adams went, and New Hampshire would follow Massachusetts, and other States would copy their example. Adams questioned the policy of the adoption without amendments, and let men know his reasons; but Hancock was in great trouble, and, as usual on such occasions, he had, or affected to have, the gout, and remained at home, wrapped up in flannel. The friends of the Constitution gathered about him, flattered his vanity, told him the salvation of the nation rested with him: if the Constitution was not accepted, we should be a ruined nation; if he said accept it, Massachusetts and the nation would obey. They persuaded him to that opinion. It was reported abroad that he had made up his mind, and had recovered from his illness so far that, on a certain day, he would appear again in the Convention, and would make a speech which would probably be in favor of adopting the Constitution. Theophilus Parsons, afterwards the famous judge, was the most active in procuring this result. He wrote a speech for Hancock to read in the Convention.

“So when the day arrived, Mr. Hancock was helped out of his house into his coach, and driven down to the place were the Convention was held,—Federal Street,—and thence carried into the Convention by several young gentlemen, who were friends of the family and in the secret. He rose in his place and apologized for his absence, for his feebleness, and declaring that nothing but the greatness of the emergency would have brought him from his bed of sickness; but duty to his country prevailed over considerations of health. He hoped they would pardon him for reading a speech which he had carefully prepared, not being well enough to make it in any other manner. Then he read the speech which Parsons had written for him, and from Parsons’s manuscript, and sat down. One of his friends took the manuscript hastily from him, afraid that the looker-on might see that it was not in Hancock’s hand, but Parsons’s.”

The narrator of this incident was intimate in the Hancock family, and his account agrees substantially with that of Stephen Higginson, “Laco,” in the Massachusetts Sentinel in the following year. It is to some extent corroborated in the recently published life of Parsons. It differs from the journal of the Convention, in a few slight particulars as to Hancock’s introductory remarks and in the fact that a short adjournment intervened between the remarks and the offering of the propositions. Colonel May, who was an administrator of the Hancock estate, found the original draft in the handwriting of Parsons among Hancock’s papers. There is no doubt that Parsons wrote it.

As to the origination of the plan and Adams’s connection with it, there is another contemporary narrative. Among the papers of Samuel Adams there is a copy of the “Conciliatory Propositions” and preamble, as submitted by Hancock. That Adams had had it under his personal inspection is shown by interlineations in his handwriting; but the document was penned by some person who often acted as an amanuensis for him, especially when his “trembling hand” rendered such services requisite. It was related early in the present century by Joseph Vinal, who visited both Hancock and Adams, that during the illness of the former, while the Convention was sitting, he called at Hancock’s house, and found Adams in the room with him; that while he was there several gentlemen came in, who appeared to be a committee. They desired to know specifically the objections of Hancock and Adams to the Constitution, and to endeavor to remove them by some means that would conciliate their favor and support. Adams, in the course of a free conversation, enumerated his objections, and suggested some of the amendments which seemed to be generally demanded, and which were afterwards proposed in the Convention. Hancock agreed with him, and added that, if such amendments were prepared, he would present them in person to the Convention,—an offer which seemed to give great satisfaction to all present,—one gentleman declaring that he should be willing to help drag the Governor in his carriage to the Convention.

Colonel May next relates the course adopted to secure the co-operation of Adams:—

“The same means were undertaken to influence Mr. Adams. It was not, however, so easy. They had done what they could with experiment: flattery would have no effect upon him; but they knew two things,—first, that he had great confidence in the democratic instincts of the people; and second, that he was a modest man, and sometimes doubted his own judgment when it differed from the democratic instincts aforesaid. So they induced some of the leading mechanics of Boston to hold a meeting at the ‘Green Dragon Inn’ in Union Street, their private gathering-place, and pass resolutions in favor of the Constitution, and send a committee to present them to him. He was surprised at the news of the meeting, and the nature of the resolutions, and asked who was there. They were just the men, or the class of men, whom he confided in. He inquired why they had not called him to attend the meeting. ‘O, we wanted the voice of the people,’ was the answer. Mr. Adams was still more surprised, and, after long consideration, concluded to accept the Constitution with the amendments.”

Daniel Webster, in 1833, thus alludes to this occasion, which seems to have been generally known in former times:—

“These resolutions were carried to the Boston delegates in the Convention, and placed in the hands of Samuel Adams. That great and distinguished friend of American liberty, it was feared, might have doubts about the new Constitution. Naturally cautious and sagacious, it was apprehended he might fear the practicability or the safety of a general government. He received the resolutions from the hands of Paul Revere, a brass-founder by occupation, a man of sense and character and of high public spirit, whom the mechanics of Boston ought never to forget. ‘How many mechanics,’ said Mr. Adams, ‘were at the Green Dragon when the resolutions were passed?’ ‘More sir,’ was the reply, ‘than the Green Dragon could hold.’ ‘And where were the rest, Mr. Revere?’ ‘In the streets, sir.’ ‘And how many were in the streets?’ ‘More, sir, than there are stars in the sky.’ ”(a)

The influence, however, which the resolutions of these mechanics had upon Mr. Adams has evidently been much exaggerated in local tradition. The honest convictions of so large and respectable an assemblage of the people undoubtedly had weight with him; but his acquiescence might be more reasonably traced to the “Conciliatory Propositions,”—as he himself first named them,—though even such amendments were not absolutely necessary to secure his vote. We have only to look at his seconding of the propositions upon their introduction, and his speeches thereupon in favor of adopting the Constitution, to see that the one and only thing which had kept him back was the desire for amendments.

These propositions, which came out on the last day of January, consisted of nine amendments; reserving to the several States all powers not expressly delegated to Congress; altering the basis of representation; restricting the powers of taxation, and the granting of commercial monopolies by Congress; providing for grand jury indictments in capital trials; limiting the jurisdiction of the Federal courts in cases between the citizens of different States, and prescribing the right of trial by jury in such cases. This embraces all the points which Mr. Adams had already raised in objection. That he had been previously consulted as to the substance of these amendments, and that they had been prepared partly with reference to his expressed ideas, is highly probable. Whatever intentions Parsons and his friends may have had, as to bringing over Hancock by means of the propositions, Adams attached importance to them for their harmonizing influence in this Convention as well as in those of other States. That he was prepared to advocate them is also apparent; for, as if by preconcert, he immediately arose, and, having heartily indorsed them, moved for their consideration by the Convention. In his remarks on this occasion, he very plainly specifies what his own objections had been, and the effects likely to be produced by the proposed amendments. Addressing the chair, he said:—

[Here follows Adams’s speech delivered on the afternoon of 31 January 1788, RCS:Mass., 1384–85.]

This motion having been seconded, and the proposition submitted to a special committee, and again placed before the Convention, another week of debate ensued, in which the eloquence of Fisher Ames was particularly conspicuous in support of the Constitution. Mr. Adams took up the proposed amendments the day after their introduction, and considered their bearing upon the points in objection, and argued that these propositions would prove much more effectual in reconciling the country at large to the Constitution than the clause in that instrument providing for future revision. By plain matter-of-fact statements, he endeavored to remove the objections of members. He was convinced that the passage of the Constitution, with the proposed amendments by this Convention, would alone secure its acceptance by the nation. In fact, this speech, brief and condensed as it is, affords a complete index to opinions of Mr. Adams on the Constitution. A curious feature of it is his evident desire to encourage the general idea of Hancock’s origination of the amendments. Their success depended mainly on the popular supposition that the Governor had presented his own views and suggestions, and Adams constantly speaks of them as “your Excellency’s propositions.”

[Here follows Adams’s speech delivered on the morning of 1 February 1788, RCS:Mass., 1394–96.]

After the propositions had been a few days under discussion, Mr. Adams embodied in a resolution, to be added to the first article, some further amendments which suggested themselves to him as essential.

“And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms; or to raise standing armies, unless when necessary for the defence of the United States, or of some one or more of them; or to prevent the people from petitioning, in a peaceable and orderly manner, the Federal Legislature for a redress of grievances; or to subject the people to unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, papers, or possessions.”

These were long debated, but the journal makes no report of the arguments, merely adding that, “not meeting with the approbation of those gentlemen whose minds they were intended to ease, the honorable gentleman withdrew them.” The only ground upon which reasonably to account for the rejection of these precious principles of human liberty is, that the original propositions being now under debate, and the acceptance of the Constitution, even with that recommendation, being still doubtful, it was judged hazardous to hamper the main issue with further conditions. The wisdom of all these amendments, some of which had been canvassed in other States, was apparent when most of them were accepted by the nation; the first, third, sixth, seventh, and eighth clauses of the “Conciliatory Propositions” being adopted as articles in the amendments to the United States Constitution; while the whole of Mr. Adams’s resolutions, above quoted, now form the first, second, third, and fourth articles.

Several prominent members of the Convention objected to the clause for the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, that it did not, as in the Massachusetts Constitution, limit the time. Mr. Adams evidently acquiesced in this important power, as now delegated for the preservation of the general government; for, in replying to the inquiries of a member on that subject, he explained that this power, given to the Federal Legislature to suspend the habeas corpus in cases of rebellion or invasion, did not deprive the several States of the exercise of that power within their own limits. In this he was entirely consistent, having a year before pressed upon the Legislature a suspension of the writ during Shays’s rebellion. In the discussion of the section relative to the slave-trade, which the reporter of the debates has unfortunately abridged, it was considered by some that the prohibition of that traffic after the year 1808 was “one of the beauties of the Constitution, as a step towards the abolition of slavery.” Others opposed it, preferring a clause for the immediate prevention of the slave-trade. Mr. Adams was among those who “rejoiced that a door was now to be opened for the annihilation of this odious, abhorrent practice in a certain time.” Those who occupied this ground are represented as the opposite of a party who were in favor of eventually emancipating slaves by some special provision in the Constitution.

With all the harmonizing influence of the “Conciliatory Propositions,” the Constitution narrowly escaped defeat, having passed by a majority of only nineteen out of three hundred and fifty-five votes. In Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia a majority in its favor was very doubtful; and had the question been decided by a direct popular vote, it must have been rejected, such was the general prejudice against it. Aware of this, Mr. Adams and others who urged the adoption of the “Conciliatory Propositions” could not have devised a plan of more consummate wisdom than this; for it must be inferred, from the small majority the Constitution finally received, that, had debate been silenced, and the question hurried to a vote early in the session, as was once attempted, not all the efforts of Adams and Hancock, and all its eloquent advocates, could have saved it. Adams intimated to the Convention his belief that, with the proposed amendments, a general acquiescence among the other States was probable; and the result verified his conjecture. Only two of the States adopted the Constitution after Massachusetts without recommending similar amendments for the future consideration of Congress. Whether, in case of a failure, another Federal Convention would have succeeded in creating a system combining the checks and balances necessary for the cohesion of a vast republic such as ours, or whether America could ever have advanced to its subsequent glory and power under any other form, are profound questions as yet beyond mortal solution.

In glancing back over the course and opinions of Samuel Adams in this interesting period of our national history, we find him actuated by a high, patriotic consciousness of duty, untainted by a single consideration of selfishness or sectional feeling. If he is thought to have erred in judgment, it must be remembered that he could not know the future. Republican institutions were yet on trial, and no precedent offered as a guide. Patriot statesmen could only reason upon the great principles of human freedom, apply them to the circumstances of the times, and adapt them to the genius of the people. The great and the wise cherished their own peculiar views of government, which they desired to frame upon the surest foundations. Adams, though he at first feared for the permanency of a national union which seemed totally to extinguish the sovereignty of the States, had been by no means opposed to the entire Constitution, even before the proposed amendments were offered; but he then believed that it was an instrument too defective in its original shape to long sustain the liberties of America. He saw also the necessity of its adoption with such amendments as would render it acceptable to the whole country. He delayed giving it his assent earlier in the Convention, with the hope that some such amendments would be introduced. The difference between the views of Adams and those of Parsons, Cabot, and other special advocates of the Constitution, as originally submitted, was, that the latter appear to have urged its adoption unconditionally up to the time of the “Conciliatory Propositions,” apprehending that, though it had defects, it was better to accept it, and trust to the clause providing for future amendments, rather than imperil the whole; while Adams, fearing that the amendments could not be easily effected after the instrument had been adopted, desired to have them settled at once and definitely. There should be nothing left to inference, which might renew in another form and for another generation momentous questions similar to those which he had so often contested with the crown writers, and upon which was founded the memorable controversy with Governor Hutchinson in the winter of 1773. His thoughts on this subject have already been given in his speech to the Convention. He had confidence enough in that body to believe that nothing would be lost by delaying decisive action, until amendments could be brought forward. The Constitution, as originally framed, was distasteful to numbers in the general Convention of 1787, but for very different reasons. Hamilton and Morris, after vainly laboring to make the foundation of the instrument a life tenure of office for the President and Senate, had reluctantly assented to it in the present form, rather than risk a failure. Franklin objected to it for its lack of simplicity. He proposed an Executive without a salary, and a Legislature of a single body. In the end, these adverse elements harmonized, and the Constitution went forth as perfect a form of government as the world has ever seen, and, in fact, the only plan upon which the members could have agreed. Hamilton and Madison immediately became its able and eloquent advocates in “The Federalist,” assisted by Jay, who had not been a member; and their joint efforts were all-powerful in dispelling popular objections and securing its adoption in several of the State Conventions. Upon similar considerations Mr. Adams would have voted for it in the Massachusetts Convention under any and all circumstances, and would have influenced others in the same direction. Most of his doubts were shared by Jefferson, who wrote to that effect from Paris; and the amendments which Jefferson desired he afterwards admitted were fully met by the Massachusetts propositions, the first of which—that relating to the reserved rights of States—supplied, in his opinion, the vital absence of a bill of rights, which, he said, was what “the people were entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse or rest on inference.” Adams had already said that this amendment appeared to him “to be a summary of a bill of rights.” The necessity of this was generally recognized, and was recommended as an amendment to the Constitution by the Conventions of Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. …

(a) Webster’s Works, I. 303.