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Identify the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, including its date, its primary author (John Adams), and the basic rights it gives to citizens of the Commonwealth.
Focus Question: What is the historical importance of the Massachusetts Constitution, who was it primary author, and what basic rights does it guarantee citizens?
The Old Massachusetts State House
Massachusetts Body of Liberties
Massachusetts Constitution of 1780
*The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 is considered one of the key founding documents of American democracy. Largely credited to John Adams, the future second President, the Constitution served as a model for the federal Constitution.
*Contrary to other states constitutions at the time, the Massachusetts Constitution was broken up into section (a model replicated in the federal constitution).
*In Section I, the framers wrote “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness” This call for constitutional universality helped put an end to slavery in the Commonwealth. In the
Brom and Brett vs. Ashley
decision in 1781, a jury of Massachusetts citizens concluded that slavery was unconstitutional effectively ending slavery in the Commonwealth.
*In another fascinating feature, the Massachusetts Constitution allows the governor and the legislature to request an advisory opinion from the State Supreme Court (to interpret the constitutionality of a given topic/article).
The Massachusetts Constitution was structured around a two house system. The House of Representatives were representative of the towns and the Senate was representative of the counties.
*It also had clear definitions of what constituted a voter. Adult males who owned property valued at a minimum of 60 pounds were eligible to vote.
*Currently, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the only one of the original states to retain its first constitution
*Also, the Massachusetts Constitution holds the honor of being the oldest constitution still in use in the world.
to read more about John Adams and the Massachusetts Constitution.
To watch a short video on the importance and history of the Massachusetts Constitution
For more on John Adams, see
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