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And now, in conclusion, while thanking gentlemen for the kind attention with which they have honored me, let me express briefly the result to which I have
I have openly declared my convictions with regard to the District System, and in accordance with these have recorded my votes in this Convention. These votes, which reveal my inmost desires on this matter, I would not change. But the question is not now between the District System, which I covet so much for Massachusetts, and the proposed amendments, but between these amendments and the existing system. On this issue I decide without hesitation. I shall vote, Sir, for the propositions of amendment before the Convention, should they come to a question on their final passage, not because they are all that I desire, not because they satisfy the requirement of principles which I cannot deny, not because they constitute a permanent adjustment of this difficult question, but because they are the best which I can now obtain, because they reform grievances of the existing system, and because they begin a change which can end only in the establishment of a Representative System founded in reality, as in name, on Equality. Their adoption will be the triumph of conciliation and harmony, and will furnish new testimony to the well-tempered spirit of our institutions, where
"jarring interests, reconciled, create The according music of a well-mixed State."
BILLS OF RIGHTS: THEIR HISTORY AND
SPEECH ON THE REPORT FROM THE COMMITTEE ON THE BILL OF RIGHTS,
IN THE CONVENTION TO REVISE AND AMEND THE CONSTITUTION OF MASSACHUSETTS, JULY 25, 1853.
As Chairman of the Committee on the Bill of Rights, Mr. Sumner submitted a Report, on which, in Committee of the Whole, he spoke as follows.
MC Ha the Preamble and Bill of Rights, it is my
R. CHAIRMAN, - As Chairman of the Commit
tee on the Preamble and Bill of Rights, it is my duty to introduce and explain their Report. It will be perceived that it is brief, and proposes no important changes. But in justice to the distinguished gentlemen with whom I have the honor of being associated on that Committee, I deem it my duty to suggest that the extent of their labors must not be judged by this result. It appears from the proceedings of the Convention of 1820, that the Committee on the Bill of Rights at that time sat longer than any other Committee. I believe that the same Committee in the present Convention might claim the same preëminence. Their records show twenty different sessions.
At these sessions, the Preamble and the Bill of Rights, in its thirty different propositions, were passed in review and considered clause by clause; the various orders of the Convention, amounting to twelve in number, the petitions addressed to the Convention and referred to the Committee, as also informal propositions from members of the Convention and others were con sidered, some of them repeatedly and at length. On many questions there was a decided difference of opinion, and on a few the Committee was nearly equally divided. But after the best consideration we could bestow in our protracted series of meetings, it was found that the few simple propositions now on your table were all upon which a majority of the Committee could be brought to unite. As such I was directed to present them. Admonished by the lapse of time and the desire to close these proceedings, I might be content with this simple statement.
But, notwithstanding the urgency of our business, I cannot allow the opportunity to pass -- indeed, I should not do my duty -- without attempting for a brief moment to show the origin and character of this part of our Constitution. In this way we may learn its weight and authority, and appreciate the difficulty and delicacy of any change in its substance or even its form. I will try not to abuse your patience.
The Preamble and Bill of Rights, like the rest of our Constitution, were from the pen of John Adams, among whose published works the whole document, in its original draught, may be found. At the time when he rendered this important service to his native Commonwealth and to the principles of free institutions everywhere, he was forty-four years of age. He was also quite prepared. The natural maturity of his powers had been enriched by the well-ripened fruit of assiduous study and of active life, both of which concurred in
him. The examples of Greece and Rome and the writings of Sidney and Locke were especially familiar to his mind. The Common Law he had made his own, and mastered well its whole arsenal of Freedom. long time the vigorous and unfailing partisan of the liberal cause in Boston, throughout its many conflicts, then in Congress, whither he was transferred, the irresistible champion of Independence, -- and then the republican representative of the United, but still struggling, Colonies at the Court of France, — in the brief interval between two foreign missions, only seven days after landing from his long ocean voyage, he was chosen a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and at once brought all his varied experience, rare political culture, and eminent powers to the task of adjusting the framework of government for Massachusetts. As his work, it all claims our regard; and no part bears the imprint of his mind so much as the Preamble and Bill of Rights; nor is any other part authenticated as coming so exclusively from him.
At the time of its first adoption the Massachusetts Bill of Rights was more ample in provisions and more complete in form than any similar declaration in English or Colonial history. Glancing at its predecessors, we learn something of its sources. First came, long back in the thirteenth century, Magna Charta, with generous safeguards of Freedom, wrung from King John by the Barons at Runnymede. From time to time these liberties were confirmed, and, after an interval of centuries, they were again ratified, near the beginning of the unhappy reign of Charles the First, by a Parliamentary Declaration, to which the monarch assented, known as the Petition of Right, which, in its very title, reveals the
humility with which the rights of the people were then maintained. Finally, in a different tone and language, at the Revolution of 1688, when James the Second was driven from his dominions, a “Declaration of the true, ancient, and indubitable rights and liberties of the people of the kingdom," familiarly known as the Bill of Rights, was delivered by the Convention Parliament to the new sovereigns, William and Mary, and embodied in the Act of Settlement, by virtue of which they sat on the throne. These, Sir, are English examples.
Their influence was not confined to England. It crossed the ocean. From the beginning the Colonists were tenacious of the rights and liberties of Englishmen, and at various times and in various forms declared them. Connecticut, as early as 1639, Virginia in 1624 and 1776, Pennsylvania in 1682, New York in 1691, — and I might mention others still, — put forth Declarations, brief and meagre, but kindred to those of the mother country. In the Colony of New Plymouth, the essential principles of Magna Charta were proclaimed in 1636, under the name of “The General Fundamentals"; and in 1641 the inhabitants of Massachusetts Bay announced, in words worthy of careful study, that “the free fruition of such Liberties, Immunities, and Privileges, as Humanity, Civility, and Christianity call for, as due to every man in his place and proportion, without impeachment and infringement, hath ever been and ever will be the tranquillity and stability of Churches and Commonwealths, and the denial or deprival thereof the disturbance, if not the ruin, of both.” 1
1 Preamble to the Body of Liberties of the Massachusetts Colony, 1641: Coll. Mass. Hist. Soc., 3d Ser. Vol. VIII. p. 216. See also General Laws and Liberties of the Massachusetts Colony, revised and reprinted by Order of the General Court, 1672, p. 1.