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Map of Massachusetts

With independence from Great Britain in 1776, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was governed by the same bicameral legislature that existed during the colonial period. It was not until 1780 that John Adams, armed with a statewide mandate for a constitutional convention, set about drafting a formal state constitution. What Adams forged proved so successful that it later became a template for the Constitution of United States. What made the 1780 Massachusetts constitution so influential was how it seemingly balanced the populist ideals promised to the citizenry by the Revolution with the fundamentally conservative expectations of the existing Massachusetts elite. In terms of structure, it established an elective chief magistrate (the governor), a bicameral legislature (the General Court made up of a House and a Senate), and an independent judiciary (an appointed state court system). Also, Adams included a declaration of rights to ensure civil liberties (as well as his brainchild's ratification). Although ratified by town meetings throughout the commonwealth, the document was fundamentally conservative in that it secured the ruling elite's control over the state by giving disproportionate power to the wealthy coastal counties of Suffolk and Essex. Not surprisingly, the 1780 constitution became the darling of the Federalist Party establishment that fought to resist constitutional reform. In opposition, the Democratic-Republicans chafed at the propertied basis for representation in the Senate, which gave an eastern county like Suffolk six senators to Berkshire's two, despite the fact that Berkshire had a larger population. Also, the Democratic-Republicans, whose popular base was in the western part of the state and tended to be of modest means, despised the pecuniary qualifications for the franchise, as well as the nonelected judiciary, claiming both were profoundly undemocratic.

In 1820 the opponents to the 1780 constitution had their chance when the Maine district of Massachusetts was broken off and given statehood. As a result of such radical change, the General Court called for a constitutional convention to revisit the constitution of 1780. Despite optimistic expectations for major constitutional reform, an assortment of conservatives, led by a highly sophisticated Federalist Party machine, outwitted the forces of reform at the convention, and little significant change was effected. Power remained centralized in the east, with Boston serving as its epicenter. Although the state constitutional convention proved a great victory for the Federalist establishment, in the early 1820s the party faced an angry populist insurgency fed up with the dictatorial leadership style of the Federalists. In Boston a third party, the Middling Interest, emerged that rejected the deferential nature of past politics and took up an activist stand for reform. In the mayoral election of 1822, the insurgency forced Federalist Party boss Harrison Gray Otis to bow out of the race and elected a Middling Interest candidate, thus marking the demise of the Federalist Party in Massachusetts. Although it still existed in name for a few more years, the party never regained its once dominant position in Massachusetts political life, thus signaling the advent of the Jacksonian Age and the Second Party System.

<h3>Bibliography </h3> <ul> <li>Banner, James M., Jr. <title>To the Hartford Convention: The Federalist and the Origins of Politics in Massachusetts. New York: Knopf, 1970.
  • Brooke, John L. The Heart of the Commonwealth: Society and Political Culture in Worchester County, Massachusetts, 1713–1861 Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
  • Brown, Richard D. and Jack Tager. Massachusetts: A Concise History. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000.
  • Cayton, Andrew R. L. "The Fragmentation of 'A Great Family': The Panic of 1819 and the Rise of the Middling Interest in Boston, 1818–1822," Journal of the Early Republic, 2 (Summer 1982), 143–167.
  • Clark, Christopher. The Roots of Rural Capitalism: Western Massachusetts, 1780–1860 Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.
  • Crocker, Matthew H. The Magic of the Many: Josiah Quincy and the Rise of Mass Politics in Boston, 1800–1830. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000.
  • Crocker, Matthew H. "'The Siege of Boston is once more raised'": Municipal Politics and the Collapse of Federalism, 1821–1823," in Massachusetts Politics: Selected Essays, ed. Jack Tager, Martin Kaufman, and Michael F. Konig. Westfield, MA: Institute for Massachusetts Studies Press, 1998, pp. 52–71.
  • Dalzell, Robert F., Jr. Enterprising Elite, The Boston Associates and the World They Made. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.
  • Fisher, David Hackett. The Revolution of American Conservatism: The Federalist Party in the Era of Jeffersonian Democracy. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965.
  • Formisano, Ronald P. The Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790s–1840s New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.
  • Handlin, Oscar and Mary Flug Handlin. Commonwealth: Study of the Role of Government in the American Economy, 1774–1861, rev. ed. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1969.
  • Hartford, William F. Money, Morals, and Politics: Massachusetts in the Age of the Boston Associates. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2001.
  • McCaughey, Robert A. Josiah Quincy, 1772–1864: The Last Federalist. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974.
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. Harrison Gray Otis, 1765–1848: The Urbane Federalist. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969.
  • Morison, Samuel Eliot. The Maritime History of Massachusetts, 1783–1860. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961.
  • Peterson, Merrill D., ed. Democracy, Liberty, and Property: The State Constitutional Conventions of the 1820's. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966.
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  • Smith, Page. John Adams: 1784–1826, Vol. II. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1962.
  • Story, Ronald. Harvard and the Boston Upper Class: The Forging of an Aristocracy, 1800–1870 Middletown, CN: Wesleyan University Press, 1980.
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  • Anti-Federalist

    The Anti-Federalists were never a political party as is thought of in modern times. It was a coalesced group of voting interests that were united in their opposition to the Constitution.

    "The Antifederal objections to the Constitution fall into four categories. First, some attacked it for violations of the Whig theory. Such criticisms came particularly from merchants, lawyers and large landowners who believed in Whig ideology themselves, and represented a sort of right wing, non-agrarian Antifederalism. Second, almost all of the new plan's opponents accused it of excessive centralization: these were the localists. Third, some critics attacked the Constitution as leading toward monarchy or aristocracy rather than democracy: these comprised the left wing. Finally, the agrarians feared that the commerical, creditor, or large propertied interests would benefit at the expense of the farmers." (Jackson T. Main, History of U.S. Political Parties Volume I: 1789-1860: From Factions to Parties. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed. New York, 1973, Chelsea House Publisher. p. 153.)

    "Strictly speaking, Antifederalism ended with the ratification of the Constitution in 1788, without ever producing a party in any modern sense. During the next few years the term continued as a word of opprobrium, employed by the Federalists to demean whoever opposed the men or policies of the new government. In some states, opposition nearly ceased. In others, however, former Antifederalists remained strong and even gained ground, especially where they had developed a local political organization: they composed a majority or a strong minority in such states as New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina, and appeared elsewhere for the first time, as in New Jersey. Although they still lacked an inter-state organization and suffered a serious loss of strength during the election of 1788-1789, bitterly fought in certain areas. Presently, in Congress, they supported amendments and opposed various policies of the Federalists. The close relationship between the Anti-Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans may be traced through a continuity both of men and ideas. At least seven-eighths of those known to have opposed the Constitution in 1787-1788 became Republicans." (Main, p. 166)

    "Despite the intensity of Anti-Federalist opposition to the Constitution, no Anti-Constitution party emerged after ratification. With the demise of the second-convention movement, Anti-Federalists turned their attention to seeking office under the new government. Federalist efforts to discredit Anti-Federalists turned their attention to seeking office under the new government. Federalist efforts to discredit Anti-Federalists only diminshed the likelihood of a distinctive Anti-Federalist party's emerging. Instead, Anti-Federalists set about becoming a loyal opposition. A number of other factors facilitated this transformation. The rapid adoption of the Bill of Rights, even if it failed to satisfy many Anti-Federalists, deprived them of an important rallying point. Reverence for the principles of constitutionalism and a belief that, when properly amended, the new frame of government would effectively protect liberty further weakened the chances of an Anti-Federal's party forming. The respect accorded George Washington, the new president, also worked against continued opposition. When coupled with renewed econimic prosperity, all of those factors helped promote the formal demise of Anti-Federalism. Yet, though Anti-Federalism did not generate an Anti-Constitution party, the term 'Anti-Federalist,' the various texts produced by the Anti-Federalists during ratification, and the alternative constitutional discourses that shaped Anti-Federalism did not simply disappear. The emergence of a court faction among Federalists caused many former supporters of the Constitution to rehtink the original Anti-Federalist critique. The efforts of former Federalists, most notable James Madison, and former Anti-Federalists, such as William Findley, were crucial to the creation of a Democratic-Republican opposition. That loyal opposition drew important ideas and rhetorical themes from Anti-Federalism and adapted them to the exigencies of political conflict in the 1790s." (p. 170-171)

    Additional Sources:

    • History of U.S. Political Parties Volume I: 1789-1860: From Factions to Parties. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed. New York, 1973, Chelsea House Publisher.
    • The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism and the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828. Saul Cornell. Chapel Hill, 1999, University of North Carolina Press.