The Massachusetts Ratifying Convention was sharply divided between Federalists and Anti-federalists. One of the main complaints of the Anti-federalists was the lack of a bill of rights. After debating the Constitution for a month, the vote to ratify was approved by the narrow margin of 187 to 168. To win approval, Massachusetts Federalists agreed to include a set of proposed amendments that were sent to Congress along with the notice of ratification (in part, this was to avoid the more radical suggestion of making ratification contingent on the approval of the amendments, which would have required a second constitutional convention). As you will see, the suggested amendments fall well short of the eventual Bill of Rights. Samuel Adams proposed adding several more amendments, but his proposal was defeated. Nonetheless, this was a crucial moment in the eventual creation of the Bill of Rights. The convention’s decision to include proposed amendments along with its ratification was copied in other states where the battle between Federalists and Anti-federalists was closely contested. By the time the First Congress convened, there was widespread consensus that a bill of rights should to be added to the Constitution.
There are a couple of general questions you can ask students about this document. First, which rights are named in this document and in the Bill of Rights? Second, do you notice any differences in the language used for those rights? And are those differences important to how that right might have been understood at the time?
Ratification of the Constitution by Massachusetts
In Convention of the delegates of the People of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts February 6th 1788.
The Convention have impartially discussed, & fully considered the Constitution for the United States of America, reported to Congress by the Convention of Delegates from the United States of America, & submitted to us by a resolution of the General Court of the said Commonwealth, passed the twenty fifth day of October last past, & acknowledging with grateful hearts, the goodness of the Supreme Ruler of the Universe in affording the People of the United States in the course of his providence an opportunity deliberately & peaceably without fraud or surprize of entering into an explicit & solemn Compact with each other by assenting to & ratifying a New Constitution in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure Domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare & secure the blessings of Liberty to themselves & their posterity; Do in the name & in behalf of the People of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts assent to & ratify the said Constitution for the United States of America.
And, as it is the opinion of this Convention that certain amendments & alterations in the said Constitution would remove the fears & quiet the apprehensions of many of the good people of this Commonwealth & more effectually guard against an undue administration of the Federal Government, The Convention do therefore recommend that the following alterations & provisions be introduced into the said Constitution: —
First, That it be explicitly declared that all Powers not expressly delegated by the aforesaid Constitution are reserved to the several States to be by them exercised.
This was a precursor to the Tenth Amendment.
Secondly, That there shall be one representative to every thirty thousand persons according to the Census mentioned in the Constitution until the whole number of the Representatives amounts to Two hundred.
This was included among the amendments that Congress sent to the states, but it was not ratified.
Thirdly, That Congress do not exercise the powers vested in them by the fourth Section of the first article, but in cases when a State shall neglect or refuse to make the regulations therein mentioned or shall make regulations subversive of the rights of the People to a free & equal representation in Congress agreeably to the Constitution.
Fourthly, That Congress do not lay direct Taxes but when the Monies arising from the Impost & Excise are insufficient for the publick exigencies nor then until Congress shall have first made a requisition upon the States to assess levy & pay their respective proportions of such Requisition agreeably to the Census fixed in the said Constitution; in such way & manner as the Legislature of the States shall think best, & in such case if any State shall neglect or refuse to pay its proportion pursuant to such requisition then Congress may assess & levy such State’s proportion together with interest thereon at the rate of Six per cent per annum from the time of payment prescribed in such requisition
Fifthly, That Congress erect no Company of Merchants with exclusive advantages of commerce.
Sixthly, That no person shall be tried for any Crime by which he may incur an infamous punishment or loss of life until he be first indicted by a Grand Jury, except in such cases as may arise in the Government & regulation of the Land & Naval forces.
This was a direct precursor to the Fifth Amendment.
Seventhly, The Supreme Judicial Federal Court shall have no jurisdiction of Causes between Citizens of different States unless the matter in dispute whether it concerns the realty or personally be of the value of three thousand dollars at the least. nor shall the Federal Judicial Powers extend to any actions between Citizens of different States where the matter in dispute whether it concerns the Realty or personally is not of the value of Fifteen hundred dollars at the least.
Eighthly, In civil actions between Citizens of different States every issue of fact arising in Actions at common law shall be tried by a Jury if the parties or either of them request it.
This was a precursor to the Tenth Amendment.
Ninthly, Congress shall at no time consent that any person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States shall accept of a title of Nobility or any other title or office from any King, prince or Foreign State.
And the Convention do in the name & in behalf of the People of this Commonwealth enjoin it upon their Representatives in Congress at all times until the alterations & provisions aforesaid have been considered agreeably to the Fifth article of the said Constitution to exert all their influence & use all reasonable & legal methods to obtain a ratification of the said alterations & provisions in such manner as is provided in the said Article.
And that the United States in Congress Assembled may have due notice of the Assent & Ratification of the said Constitution by this Convention it is, Resolved, that the Assent & Ratification aforesaid be engrossed on Parchment together with the recommendation & injunction aforesaid & with this resolution & that His Excellency John Hancock Esqr President & the Hong William Cushing Esqr Vice President, of this Convention transmit the same, counter-signed by the Secretary of the Convention under their hands & seals to the United States in Congress Assembled
JOHN HANCOCK President
WM CUSHING Vice President
GEORGE RICHARDS MINOT, Secretary.
Pursuant to the Resolution aforesaid WE the President & Vice President abovenamed Do hereby transmit to the United States in Congress Assembled, the same Resolution with the above Assent and Ratification of the Constitution aforesaid for the United States, And the recommendation & injunction above specified.
In Witness whereof We have hereunto set our hands & Seals at Boston in the Commonwealth aforesaid this Seventh day of February Anno Domini, one thousand Seven Hundred & Eighty eight, and in the Twelfth year of the Independence of the United States of America.