A Dike To Fence Out the Flood

The Ratification of the Constitution in Massachusetts

When in September of 1787 the new instrument of government proposed by the Great Convention went out from Philadelphia to be received and considered by the several commonwealths connected through the old Articles of Confederation, those fraternally affiliated societies saw the document delivered to them through the Continental Congress according to their own needs and purposes—out of their distinctive histories and established political dispositions. In other words, working from their respective myths of themselves as Americans of a special kind, as Federalists or Anti-Federalists, the spokesmen of these societies saw in the prospect of a more perfect Union implications very dissimilar from those discovered by like-minded individuals—persons agreed with them in supporting or opposing the Constitution in other states. Amid the variety of these responses, that of Massachusetts, in both its Federalism and Anti-Federalism, is distinctive in several respects. Moreover, what was observed concerning the Constitution in the state ratification convention which began in Boston on January 9, 1788, was as detailed, as representative of the essentially local politics which produced it, and as thought-provoking as any record of deliberations at this level generated by the great process of lawgiving—of Constitution-making—which has survived to us from those momentous times: a copious and inclusive proceeding, the outcome of...

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