Revolutionary Massachusetts

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Revolutionary activity in Massachusetts centered on the question of taxation and representation. The first spark of rebellion began with the Stamp Act of 1765. Boston’s response was the Braintree Instructions, a listing of the ways in which the act violated the rights of Englishmen. Drafted by John Adams, the Braintree Instructions declared that the taxes imposed would drain cash from the colony and that it violated the principles of the Magna Carta by taxing freemen without their consent. Adams also objected to the enforcement of the tax by a single judge of the Vice-Admiralty Court. This response to the Stamp Act was adopted throughout Massachusetts.

Boston residents also reacted with actions that included vandalizing the home of the royal governor, Thomas Hutchinson. Hutchinson was a native of Massachusetts, but his friendships with English officials, his connections to the Anglican Church, and his wealth all separated him from the colonial activists. He soon became a symbol of all that was wrong with English control of the colony.

Further violence included the 1770 Boston Massacre, in which British troops fired into a mob and killed an 11-year-old boy and several others. This was followed by the Boston Tea Party, Massachusetts’s response to the Crown’s decision to grant a monopoly on tea imports to the colonies to the nearly bankrupt East India Company. While this decision actually lowered the price that colonists would pay for tea, it was interpreted as another attempt at illegal taxation and a threat to American tea merchants. When ships carrying 45 tons of tea docked at Boston Harbor, a group of radicals known as the Sons of Liberty disguised themselves as Native Americans, marched aboard the ships, and dumped the tea, valued at more than 10,000 pounds, into the harbor.

The destruction of property brought Massachusetts to the forefront of England’s response to colonial rebellion. The Crown ordered the Boston ports closed until the tea had been paid for. Other acts, known in Massachusetts as the Coercive Acts, included a nullification of the 1691 Massachusetts charter and a requirement that the colonists quarter British soldiers. The Coercive Acts significantly expanded the power of the royal governor and his appointees, and limited towns to one meeting annually if it was approved by the governor.

In the summer of 1774, Massachusetts’s committees of correspondence framed the colony’s reaction to the Coercive Acts. The response urged the governor’s appointees to resign their positions, requested citizens to gather in order to prevent courts from sitting, and recommended that town militias be activated and military supplies stockpiled. The first shots of the American Revolution were fired in Massachusetts at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. At the same time as the colonies declared their independence, Massachusetts residents also sought reforms in their own government. After years of attempts to revise the state constitution, in the spring of 1779, a constitutional convention was held, and Massachusetts voters approved a new government framework in 1780.

The basic form of government, drafted in large part by John Adams, included an upper legislative body known as the Senate, whose members were chosen annually and apportioned according to the local tax districts. Initially, senators were required to own land valued at 300 pounds or more or a combination of personal and real property worth 600 pounds.

Each incorporated town was allotted one delegate in the lower house of the legislature. In order to be eligible for this office, delegates were again required to be property owners, although the requirement was substantially lower than that for the Senate. In addition, the state agreed to pay for one round-trip journey to the legislative session in order to ensure widespread participation. All elected officials served terms of 1 year. The governor was required to be a Massachusetts freeholder with property valued at 1,000 pounds. As defined, the position of governor was a weak one. The governor’s powers were limited to the ability to call and dismiss the legislature, command the state militia, and veto legislation. Massachusetts elected its first governor, John Hancock, under the terms of the new state government, in 1780.

Tonia M. Compton See also: Boston; Connecticut River; Massachusetts (Chronology); Massachusetts Bay Charter; Massachusetts Bay Colony; Pilgrims; Plymouth; Puritanism; Revolutionary War; Document: Slave Petition to the Governor, Council, and House of Representatives of the Province of Massachusetts (1774). Bibliography Andrews, Charles McLean. The Colonial Period of American History. Vol. 1,The Settlements. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1934. Brown, Richard. Massachusetts: A Bicentennial History. New York: W. W. Norton, 1978. Faragher, John Mack, et al. Out of Many: A History of the American People. 3rd edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000. Main, Gloria. “The Standard of Living in Colonial Massachusetts.” The Journal of Economic History, 43:1 (1983): 101–108. Twombly, Robert C. “Black Puritan: The Negro in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd series, 24:2 (1967): 224–42.

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