Speech by John Hancock to the Massachusetts General Court
Yesterday, agreeably to Proclamation, the Hon. General Court of this Common-wealth, convened at the State-House, in this town–and a quorum of both Branches being assembled, a joint Committee was appointed to wait on his Excellency the Governour, to inform him, that they were ready to receive communications, &c. –Accordingly, at 5 o’clock, his Excellency, met both Branches, convened in the Representatives– Chamber, and delivered the following SPEECH:
Gentlemen of the Senate, and Gentlemen of the House of Representatives
The Letters which I have received in the recess, the Secretary will lay before you, they are not of such importance, as to claim any particular notice
from me at this time.
The adjournment of the General Court, for the space of one week, became necessary, in order to give the members, who were also members of the late Convention, an opportunity of returning home before the meeting of the Legislature. I could have wished that the Proclamation of adjournment had been of an earlier date, but the Session of the Convention, by the importance of the business before that body, was protracted beyond what was expected. I flatter myself that this will be satisfactory, as well to those of you Gentlemen, who having not heard of the adjournment, have been some days waiting in town, as to those who may be apprehensive that the business of the present Session will demand a longer time, than can be conveniently afforded at this season of the year… .
In the beginning of your last Session, I laid before you the Constitution
and Frame of Government for the United States of America, agreed upon by the late General Convention, and transmitted to me by Congress. As the System was to be submitted to the people, and to be decided upon by their Delegates in Convention, I forbore to make any remarks upon it. The Convention which you appointed to deliberate upon that important subject, have concluded their Session, after having adopted & ratified the proposed plan, according to their resolution, a copy whereof, I have directed the Secretary to lay before you.
The obvious imbecility of the Confederation of the United States, has too long given pain to our friends, and pleasure to our enemies; but the forming a new System of Government, for so numerous a people, of very different views, and habits, spread upon such a vast extent of Territory, containing such a great variety of soils, and under such extremes of climate, was a task, which nothing less than the dreadful apprehension of losing our national existence, could have compelled the people to under-take.
We can be known to the world, only under the appellation of the United States; if we are robbed of the idea of our Union, we immediately become seperate nations, independent of each other, and no less liable to the de-predations of foreign powers, than to wars and bloody contentions amongst ourselves. To pretend to exist as a nation without possessing those powers of coerce, which are necessarily incident to the national Character, would prove a fatal solecism in politicks. The objects of the proposed Constitu-tion, are defence against external enemies, and the promotion of tranquility and happiness amongst the States. Whether it is well calculated for those important purposes, has been the subject of extensive and learned discussion in the Convention which you appointed. I believe there was never a body of men assembled, with greater purity of intention, or with higher zeal for the public interest. And although when the momentous Question was decided, there was a greater division than some expected, yet there appeared a candour, and a spirit of Conciliation, in the minority, which did them great honor, and afforded an happy presage of unanimity amongst the people at large. Tho’ so many of the members of the late Convention could not feel themselves convinced that they ought to vote for the ratification of this System, yet their opposition was conducted with a candid and manly firmness, and with such marks of integrity and real regard to the public interest, as did them the highest honor, and leaves no reason to suppose that the peace, and good order of the Government is not their object.
The amendments proposed by the Convention, are intended to obtain –a constitutional security of the principles to which they refer themselves, and must meet the wishes of all the States. I feel myself assured, that they will very early become a part of the Constitution; and when they shall be added to the proposed plan, I shall consider it the most perfect System of government, as to the objects it embraces, that has been known amongst man-kind.
Gentlemen, As that BEING, in whose hands is the government of all the Nations of the Earth, and who putteth down one, and raiseth up another according to His Sovereign Pleasure, has given to the People of these States, a rich and an extensive Country; has in a marvellous manner, given them a name and a standing among the Nations of the World-has blessed them with external Peace, and internal Tranquility;–I hope and pray, that the gratitude of their Hearts may be expressed by a proper use of those inestimable blessings,–by the greatest exertions of Patriotism,–by forming and supporting Institutions for cultivating the human Understanding, and for the greatest Progress of the Arts and Sciences,–by establishing Laws for the support of Piety, Religion and Morality, as well as for punishing Vice and Wickedness,–and by exibiting in the great Theatre of the World, those social, public and private Virtues, which give more Dignity to a People, possessing their own Sovereignty, than Crowns and Diadems afford to Sovereign Princes….
Draft of Answer to Governor’s Speech 4 March (excerpt)
As the Constitution or frame of Government for these United States which was laid before us by your Excellency in the beginning of the last session was then to be submitted to the people for their unbiassed decision there was the utmost propriety in your Excellencys conduct in not giving your sentiments upon it at that period. We feel with you, the strongest conviction of the truth & justice of your remark “that the imbecility of the Confederation has too long given pleasure to our enemies & pain to our friends….” Powerful and happy as this Country may become by its union; its efforts will be proportionably feeble without a federal Government competent to the necessities of a people extensively diffused over an immense territory and remarkable for the diversity of their habits manners & interests. This Idea Joined to the dreadful apprehension of our even loosing our national existance must undoubtedly have originated in the late Fed eral continental Convention, the result of whose deliberations has since been adopted in this State for our Federal Government
As we are known only in our national Character we must be fully apprized that where we to loose the Ideas of our were the Ideas of an indisoluble union among the states to be abandoned we must become separate nations distracted & unhappy exposed to foreign insults, and to the more fatal evils of domestic & bloody contentions–We agree with your Excellency that the power of coercion is indispensibly requisite to the very Idea name of Government–And as the declared abject end of the new constitution is defence against external enemies, & the maintenance & promotion of liberty and happiness among the States–We fervently pray, that in the progress of its operation it may fully embrace attain secure & perpetuate these noble & essential purposes for which it was instituted–The Zeal Knowledge & purity of intentions discovered by the members of the late Convention of this State in discharge of the great & momentous trust which has been assig[n]ed them leave no doubt of their integrity which we believe with your Excellency has scarcely been exceeded–and we are fully agreed that the candour & pleasing spirit of conciliation displayed by so large a minority renders confer on the Gentlemen who composed it the highest honor & affords an happy presage of our future Unanimity & Peace
When we reflect on the nature of the amendments proposed by the convention and observe their design is to procure a Constitutional Security for those objects to which they refer, and also consider the liberal and extensive principles on which they are established we have reason to hope & believe that they will meet the approbation of the other States; and we flatter ourselves that they will early become a part of the proposed federal Constitution–And should this be the case we consider then view it with respect to the objects it embraces & the principles on which it is constructed as one of the most perfect Systems of Federal Government which we have known in the History of mankind….
New York Journal, 24 March
Extract of a letter from Massachusetts, dated March 19, 1788.
“You have undoubtedly seen our governor’s speech, and his encomiums therein on the proposed constitution; to which an answer, or rather echo, was prepared, and reported, to the legislature. The Whigs, in the house of representatives were highly exasperated at the measure, and prepared an amendment. This terrified the federalists, as they stile themselves (that is, the gentry who opposed the British government because it was arbitrary, and who now are in favor of one infinitelymore so) and produced a proposition from them, “that the matter should subside,” as well the report as the amendment–thus you see that the representatives of the people of this state are not converts of federalism, a term which has the same meaning now which toryism had before the war.”
The AMENDMENT mentioned in the above letter.
Your Excellency is pleased to inform us, that the convention which was appointed to deliberate upon the constitution and frame of government for the United States of America, agreed upon by the late general convention, have concluded their sessions after having adopted and ratified the pro-posed plan. We have long been sensible of the imbecility of the confederation of the United States, and of the consequences of that imbecility, and therefore appointed delegates to the late general convention, for the sole and express purpose of revising the articles of confederation, and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein, as shall, when agreed to in Congress, and confirmed by the states, render the federal constitution adequate to the exigencies of government and the preservation of the union! If they had observed, and acted agreeably to their commission, no difficulty perhaps would have arisen from the numbers of a people spread over a vast extent of territory, containing such a great variety of soils, and under such extremes of climate, and with such different views and habits while they were so well united in that one object, we are fully persuaded that our national existence might in that way have been preserved with unanimity, tranquility and peace. We do not wish to be known to the world under any other appellation than that of the United States.
In confederation and union with our sister states, we have happily baffled the intrigues and defeated the force of Great-Britain, have supported the rights of mankind, and secured the freedom and independence of America. While we wish to preserve the union entire, and are fully sensible of the ill consequences of an interruption of it, we are sorry to differ from your Excellency in the mode of effecting the first and avoiding the last.–Every good government should have for its objects defence against external enemies, and the promotion of internal tranquility and happiness. While we suspend our opinion of the purity of intention, and of the great zeal for the interest and welfare with which the late convention assembled, we are in justice to our constituents constrained to say that the result of their deliberations does not seem well calculated for those valuable purposes. We shall, under this head, only add, that the rights and liberties of a great country should stand on firmer ground than that of mere probability. If the amendments proposed with the ratification of the late convention, had been made a condition of ratification, they would have gone some way, though not fully, to a conciliation of our minds to the system, but your Excellency will permit us to say, that, as they now
stand, they neither comport with the dignity or safety of the Common-wealth.
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