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Arguments such as these, bearing as they did some show of reason and candor, were not the most difficult to meet and refute. Just recovering from the perils and anxieties of Shays's rebellion, Massachusetts was filled with uneasy spirits who were not prepared to consider any constitution on its merits. They were ready to break out into declamation, to appeal to class prejudices, and make much noise by the use of popular phrases whose cogency outweighed much calm discussion. Those who had followed the fortunes of Shays and Luke Day were wroth, indeed, at the sight of an instrument which forbade the states to issue paper money or impair the obligations of contracts, and which proposed to establish a powerful government that could collect taxes, establish federal courts, and put down insurrections. The Anti-Federalists came largely from the interior districts, from regions without capital or commerce, where paper money and tender - laws had found their chief support." The old distrust of the upper classes and the “wellborn,” the hostility among the countrymen to the dwellers in Boston, the dislike of lawyers as instruments of injustice, all appear in the opposition to the Constitution. The advocates of adoption were declared by a vehement opponent to "consist generally, of the NOBLE order of C[incinnatu]s, holders of public securities, B[an]k[er]s, and L[aw]y[er]s: these with their train of dependents form the Aristocratick combination—the L[aw]y[e]r in particular, keep up an incessant declamation for its adoption, like greedy gudgeons they long to satiate their voracious stomacks with the golden bait."1
1 Libby, Distribution of Vote on Federal Const., 1787 - 1788,
“It is a singular circumstance," wrote Knox, “that in Massachusetts, the property, the ability, and the virtue of the State, are almost solely in favor of the Constitution." The clergymen, whose political influence was of real moment, the merchants and business men, the men of substance who had been startled by the recent popular extravagances, the sober - minded who could reason thoughtfully and were not easily driven by declamation, strongly favored the proposed government. The Anti-Federalists were challenged by a Boston newspaper to point out a man of independent sentiments, either merchant, trader, farmer, mechanic, lawyer, physician, or divine, who was not fully persuaded that on the adoption of the Constitution depended the peace, honor, and happiness of the land.
The struggle in Massachusetts has for the student of history a profound interest. We see clearly the difficulty of establishing popular government, even under the best of circumstances in a community where men were fairly well educated and had had practical experience in politics. The opposition to
1 “A Federalist," in the Boston Gazette, November 26, 1787.
* Debates and Proceedings, 410; King, Life and Corresp. of King, I., 317
3 Boston Gazette, December 3, 1787.
the Constitution shows how hard it was to found a strong government at the end of a Revolution which had shaken the foundations of society. The conditions then disclosing themselves enable us to understand the political situation of the next generation, for party organizations were forming, and political prejudices and opinions were hardening in those days when the government of the new nation, peace, and domestic tranquillity were at stake. In watching the contest over the Constitution, we see the dangerous element of extreme democracy, vehement, suspicious, and talkative, which by its very strength confirmed the unbending conservatism of the substantial classes, the social and business leaders of the state, a conservatism which lasted for a generation and more. The substantial elements of society were gathering together preparing to support strong and efficient government; they were to fight off the development of democratic tendencies for many years to come; they were, in a reactionary spirit, to oppose the liberal and enlightened notions of the reasonable, patriotic, and progressive democracy that was soon to find its own organization, its own distinct purpose.
When the convention assembled, it was plain that the majority was opposed to ratification. The Federalists found efficient leaders in King, Gorham, Strong, Fisher Ames, Parsons, and Bowdoin. The task was to meet prejudice and assertion with
1 Knox to Washington, in Debates and Proceedings, 410.
patient argument, and to win over the remnant of silent delegates whose ears were still open to counsel.' The opponents of ratification demanded amendments in the nature of a bill of rights; they objected to the exclusive powers of Congress and to its wide power of taxation in particular; they found fault with the representation of slaves and with the right to introduce slaves for twenty years.” The problems of the Federal leaders were well described by King in a letter to Madison:
“Our Convention proceeds slowly; an apprehension that the liberties of the people are in danger, and a distrust of men of property or education have a more powerful effect upon the minds of our opponents than any specific objections against the Constitution."
There were two men in Massachusetts whose influence was much needed by the Federalists. Without them success was next to impossible. One was John Hancock. Though elected a delegate and chosen chairman of the convention, he did not at first attend the sessions, being detained at home by an attack of gout which some of his friends thought would disappear as soon as a majority was shown on either side of the difficult question. Plans were
Belknap Papers, pt. ii., in Mass. Hist. Soc., Collections, 5th series, III., 6. · Debates and Proceedings, 208, 209; Elliot, Debates, II., 107. King, Life and Corresp. of King, I., 314.
King, in Thatcher Papers, Historical Magazine, 2d series, VI., 266.
laid to secure his aid. He was given to understand that the friends of Bowdoin would support him for governor at the next election. He was also told that his chances for election to the vice-presidency were good, and that in case Virginia did not ratify the Constitution he would naturally be chosen as the first president of the new republic.
The other man whose influence was needed was the veteran politician Sam Adams. He was probably sincerely in doubt, for he did not lack decision when he could read the stars aright. When the Constitution first came into his hands he did not like it. “I stumble at the threshold,” he wrote Lee in December. "I meet with a national government, instead of a federal union of sovereign states. The Federalists feared his opposition, for he had already expressed his dissatisfaction; but for some reason, perhaps common political shrewdness, he did not openly enter the lists of combatants, and so when the friends of the Constitution began gathering their strength, and when the Boston tradesmen announced their desire for ratification, he was ready to acquiesce without humiliation.
A letter from Washington, which probably had a decided effect on the Massachusetts convention, was now published in a Boston paper. “And clear I
· Harding, Fed. Const. in Mass., 85-87, where evidence is summarized; King, Life and Corresp. of King, I., 317, 319, 360; The Writings of Laco, No. vii., 25, 28.
? Lee, Richard Henry Lee, II., 130.