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.
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Selectman: One of a board of officers elected annually to manage various local concerns in a ‘town’ or ‘township’ in New England.
Oxford English Dictionary
1795 - 1824: Massachusetts, New Hampshire
Office Scope: Town
Role Scope: Town