World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Constitution of Massachusetts

The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the fundamental governing document of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one of the 50 individual state governments that make up the United States of America. As a member of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1779, John Adams was the document's principal author. Voters approved the document on June 15, 1780. It became effective on October 25, 1780, and remains the oldest functioning written constitution in continuous effect in the world.[1][2] It was also the first constitution anywhere to be created by a convention called for that purpose rather than by a legislative body.[1] Only the Constitution of San Marino has sections still in force that are older.[3]

The Massachusetts Constitution was written last of the original states' first constitutions. Rather than taking the form of a list of provisions, it was organized into a structure of chapters, sections, and articles. It served as a model for the Constitution of the United States of America, drafted seven years later, which used a similar structure. It also influenced later revisions of many other state constitutions. The Massachusetts Constitution has four parts: a preamble, a declaration of rights, a description of the framework of government, and articles of amendment.

It has been amended 120 times, most recently in 2000.


  • History 1
  • Preamble 2
  • Declaration of Rights 3
  • Frame of Government 4
  • 5 Articles of Amendment
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


In the spring of 1775, Adams took the position that each state should call a special convention to write a constitution and then submit it to a popular vote. He told the Continental Congress that:[4]

We must realize the theories of the Wisest Writers and invite the People, to erect the whole Building with their own hands upon the broadest foundation. That this could be done only by conventions of representatives chosen by the People.... Congress ought now to recommend to the People of every Colony to call such Conventions immediately and set up Governments of their own, under their own Authority; for the People were the Source of all Authority and the Original of all Power.

The legislative body of Massachusetts, known as the

  • Works related to Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1780) at Wikisource
  • Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (Full Text)

External links

  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b Richard Samuelson, "John Adams and the Republic of Laws," in Bryan-Paul Frost and Jeffrey Sikkenga, eds., History of American Political Thought (Lexington Books, 2003), 120-1
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ McCullough, David (2004). John Adams (First Paperback Edition). p. 220
  8. ^ Vile, John. The Constitutional Convention of 1787: a comprehensive encyclopedia of America's founding, Volume 1, page 467 (2005).
  9. ^
  10. ^ Massachusetts Legislature The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  11. ^
  12. ^ Massachusetts Legislature: Article XLVIII, accessed July 5, 2013


See also

The amendment process is governed by the 48th Article of Amendment to the Constitution, which establishes an "indirect initiative" process that requires action by the state legislature followed by a referendum. For an amendment to be placed before the voters as a referendum, a state constitutional convention–a joint meeting of both houses of the legislature sitting as one body–in each of two successive two-year legislative sessions must provide the required number of votes. That number varies according to how the proposed amendment comes before the convention. If it is a legislative amendment, i.e., one legislator has proposed, the threshold is 50% of the members. If it is an initiative amendment, i.e., one put forward by petition, the threshold is 25% of the members. In both cases, the calculation of the votes is based on the number of seats in the constitutional convention, not members present or seated. The number of certified signatures required on the petitions is 3% of the total vote cast for all candidates for governor (excluding blanks) at the immediately preceding state election.[12]

One hundred and twenty Articles of Amendment have been added to the Massachusetts Constitution. The most recent, which disqualified incarcerated felons from voting, was approved by a vote of 60.3% to 33.9% in 2000.[11]

Articles of Amendment

The first three articles in Chapter I, Section I,of the Massachusetts Constitution establishes the three primary branches of government; an executive, a bicameral legislature, and an independent judiciary. The design of this system, unique at the time, was created to ensure the proper separation of power between the different entities. The framers of the state constitution used this tool to prevent the abuse of power by any one branch.

The opening of the "Part the Second" lays down the official name of the State of Massachusetts.

Part II, Chapter I, Section I[10]

Frame of Government

From 1780 to 1824 these democratically selected parish churches were considered the only churches with full legal rights, as "voluntary" churches ran against the Federalist ideal of a commonwealth. Until 1822 all residents of a town were required to belong to the parish church. In that year they were allowed to attend a neighboring town's church instead, and in 1824 full religious freedom was granted. However the parishes remained beneficiaries of local taxes and were unable to expel dissident parishioners, since as residents they were members of the parish until they declared otherwise. Soon both dissident churches and the majority Congregational Church increasingly recognized that this system was contrary to the voluntary nature of religious worship. This section of the constitution was amended by bipartisan consensus in 1834 at the same time that several blue laws were repealed.[9]

Article III continued by noting that "the happiness of a people" and "preservation of civil government" is explicitly tied to religion and morality. This article established the possibility of "town religions" by allowing the state legislature, though Massachusetts cannot declare or recognize a state religion, to require towns to pay for the upkeep of a Protestant church out of local tax funds, with the town to determine by majority vote the denomination it would support as its parish church.

The next several Articles within the "Part the First" in the original 1780 Constitution of Massachusetts called upon the people of the Commonwealth as being their "right as well as the duty of all men" (Article II) to a strong religious conviction and belief.

This article was later amended to substitute the word "people" for the word "men".

This Article was also the basis for the 2003 Supreme Judicial Court's ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health that required the Commonwealth to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples on an equal basis with different-sex couples.

This Article was the subject of a landmark case in 1781 before a Massachusetts court sitting in Great Barrington, Brom and Bett v. Ashley. Elizabeth Freeman (whose slave name was "Bett"), a black slave owned by Colonel John Ashley, sued for her freedom based on this article. The jury agreed that slavery was inconsistent with the Massachusetts Constitution and awarded Freeman £5 in damages and her freedom. A few years later, Quock Walker, a black slave, sued his master for false imprisonment; the jury found for Walker, and awarded him damages of £50. His master was then subject to criminal prosecution for assault and battery against Walker and was found guilty by a jury, which imposed a fine of 40/- (£2). In this manner, slavery lost any and all legal protection in Massachusetts, making it a tortious act under the law, effectively abolishing it within the Commonwealth.

"Part the First: A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts" consists of thirty articles. The first states:

Declaration of Rights

's in a few phrases near the end. It reads: United States ConstitutionThe preamble of the constitution bears some resemblance to the


Male voters 21 years or older ratified the constitution and declaration of rights that the convention on June 15, 1780, and it became effective on October 25, 1780.

Adams's draft declaration of rights read in part: "All men are born equally free and independent..." Before being adopted by the constitutional convention it was revised to read: "All men are born free and equal..."[6] At the insistence of Adams, the document referred to the state as a "commonwealth."[8]

The convention sat from September 1 to October 30, 1779. Its 312 members chose a committee of thirty members to prepare a new constitution and declaration of rights. That committee asked Adams to draft a declaration of rights. It appointed a subcommittee of James Bowdoin, Samuel Adams, and John Adams to draft the constitution and that trio delegated the drafting to John Adams alone. He later wrote that he constituted a "sub-sub committee of one".[7] An article on religion was referred to members of the clergy, which resulted in a form of religious establishment entirely unlike that later adopted at the federal level.[1] Adams advocated for an end to that establishment when revisions to the constitution were considered in 1820 and his views were adopted in 1832.[4]

[6] in September 1779.Cambridge The constitutional convention met in [5]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.