Prologue: An Old Colony with New Challenges
Prologue: An Old Colony with New Challenges
For several decades, Massachusetts was regarded as one of, if not the outright most important of the English colonies in North America. Massachusetts was the site of one the first permanent English settlements in North America outside of Virginia, with the Pilgrims settling at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Eight years later, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded. Its capital, Boston, eventually grew into one of the most prominent cities in North America. In the days preceding the American Revolution, Boston was a hotbed of tension between the British and the colonists. It was the very location of what locals called the Boston Massacre, known as the Incident on King Street in Britain, in which nine British soldiers killed five colonial civilians in a crowd in the city streets in March 1770 protesting the Townshend Acts. Boston was also home to the namesake Tea Party in December 1773 where colonists (under the pretense of it being about the tea tax itself when it was largely about the issue of smuggled tea) disguised as Native Americans, threw tea from British ships into Boston Harbor. The Coercive Acts (or Intolerable Acts in North America) targeted Massachusetts as a whole. They closed the port of Boston and cut off most commerce until the dumped tea was paid for, revoked the charter of the royal colony and placed them under the direct control of Great Britain, eliminated trials of British officials in the colonies, and allowed British administrators to house soldiers in any private homes or buildings.
On top of all of this, Massachusetts was the site of the first major battles of the American Revolutionary War, as the Battle of Lexington and the Battle of Concord broke out on April 19, 1775. While this was happening, the Siege of Boston had started up and would last until March 1776 when British commander William Howe withdraw his forces to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Battle of Bunker Hill also took place in mid-1775 near Charlestown. Even before the Declaration of Independence was completed and signed in July 1776, representative Timothy Bigelow declared the end of British rule in October 1774 in his town. His natural response to the Coercive Acts was that it was time to create a government independent of Great Britain. Notable Revolutionary leaders from Massachusetts included cousins John and Samuel Adams, John Hancock, and Elbridge Gerry. It additionally contributed more soldiers to the Continental Army than any other colony under Massachusetts General Henry Knox. Massachusetts was the ninth state to ratify the Articles of Confederation on March 10, 1778, after being debated by the Second Continental Congress between July 1776 and November 1777. The Articles only went into effect in 1781 once the last state, Maryland, ratified them. They established re-affirmed the sovereignty of all 13 states by consciously establishing a weak central government, affording only powers previously recognized by the former colonies as belonging to the British.
Once the Treaty of Paris was signed, the Articles of Confederation left the United States with an extremely unstable government. Congress, the only federal institution set up by the Articles, had little power to finance itself or even enforce its own resolutions. There was also no available tax base, which meant there was no way to pay off state and federal war debts except by requesting money from the states which they rarely gave). Congress was unable to protect American shipping and manufacturing due to the re-entry of British products into the American market and the British, French, and Spanish colonies being largely closed off to foreign products. As a result of all of this, unrest broke out in several states, heightening the anxieties of officials which were reminiscent of those preceding the American Revolution in the first place. The aggravation of the situation reached its climax in August 1786 when an uprising of angry dissidents in western Massachusetts (mostly Springfield) broke out. This was led by American War of Independence veteran Daniel Shays and lasted six months. In February 1787, protestors marched on the Springfield Armory to try and seize its weaponry before being put down by the Massachusetts State militia. At this point, it grew clear that the Articles of Confederation needed to be changed. In September 1786, Alexander Hamilton met with delegates from New York and four other states in Annapolis and recommended holding a convention in Philadelphia to address this.
The Grand Convention was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania between May and September 1787 with the initial intent to revise the Articles of Confederation. Once the Convention began, it generally came to be understood that the delegates would build a new government framework instead of fixing the current one. Several broad outlines were proposed and debated, most notably the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey Plan, with the former chosen as the basis for this proposed new government. There was still plenty of contention across the board, such as the election of the upper house, representation in the legislature based on geography or population, the role and election of the executive, what impeachable offenses were, the abolition of the slave trade, and whether or not slaves would be counted for representation purposes. A series of compromises began being achieved in mid-July and lingering issues were resolved by early September when the final version was complete. It was signed by 39 of the 55 delegates on September 17. Ratification was now in the hands of the states. Through January 1788, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, and Connecticut voted in favor of ratifying the Constitution with little to no problem. Then came the state of Massachusetts. The division between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists was tense, which was quite predictable given that Massachusetts was a hotbed of the American Revolution. On January 24, the majority of the 355 delegates voted against ratification.