Gov. John Hancock Calls the Massachusetts Senate into Session For the First Time Under Its First Constitution

With the Revolution still ongoing, Massachusetts inaugurated a new Constitution with a bill of rights, one that effectively abolished slavery in that state

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Massachusetts called a Constitutional Convention in 1779 to draft its first state constitution. 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. It was also the...

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Gov. John Hancock Calls the Massachusetts Senate into Session For the First Time Under Its First Constitution

With the Revolution still ongoing, Massachusetts inaugurated a new Constitution with a bill of rights, one that effectively abolished slavery in that state

Massachusetts called a Constitutional Convention in 1779 to draft its first state constitution. 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. It was also the first constitution to be created by a convention called for that purpose rather than by a legislative body. Rather than taking the form of a list of provisions, the document was organized into a structure of chapters, sections, and articles. It served as a model for the U.S. Constitution agreed upon seven years later. The Massachusetts Constitution contained a Declaration of Rights, reading “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 provision was a strong bill of rights, and it effectively abolished slavery in Massachusetts.

Col. Seth Washburn was a soldier in the Revolution who commanded a company at Bunker Hill and went on to a career of public service. He was Superintendent for Worcester County, a Representative from the town of Leicester, and was then elected to the first state Senate under the new Massachusetts Constitution. As Senator, he received a document from John Hancock, governor of the state, calling the Senate into session for the first time under the new constitution.

Document signed, Boston, May 14, 1781. “You being chosen Senator by a majority of voters in the County of Worcester for this Commonwealth, are hereby in the name of said Commonwealth of Massachusetts commanded to attend and assist  at a General Court to be begun and holden at the State House in Boston on Wednesday the thirtieth of the present May at nine A.M. You will therefore give your attendance that there may be a due convention of Senators on the said day. Given pursuant to the Constitution of the government of the Commonwealth aforesaid at the Council Chamber in Boston the fourteenth day of May in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty one, and in the fifth year of the independence of the United States of America.”

A search of public sale records going back 40 years turns up no other document in which Hancock calls on a member of either house to attend the first session under the Massachusetts Constitution, making this one extremely rare if not unique.

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