Constitution Sunday: John Hancock Proposes Ratification with Amendments and Samuel Adams Supports

Massachusetts Ratifying Convention

January 31, 1788

John Hancock, at the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention, made a motion for the Convention to adopt the Constitution as it was a document that would not only “advance the prosperity of the whole world” but create a form of government that would “extend its good influences to every part of the United States.” But, recognizing that a contingent in the Convention would not support the Constitution without some modifications, Hancock argued that a series of “some general amendments” accompany the approved Constitution so as to “quiet the apprehensions of gentlemen.” Samuel Adams, recognizing that many people in other Conventions had similarly felt that a set of amendments was not only necessary but urgently needed, saw that including amendments would “have the most salutary effect throughout the union.”

For Adams, it was “essential that the people should be united in the federal government, to withstand the common enemy, and to preserve their valuable rights and liberties.” If there were large minorities that opposed the amendments, that would amount to disunion; and Adams feared “the consequences of such disunion.” But, even with a set of amendments being a possibility, there remained a question of whether there should be amendments passed with the Constitution or whether those amendments were better left for passage in the near future. Adams, in view of the arduous process for amendment set out in the Constitution, urged his fellow statesmen to pass proposed amendments with the Constitution or as soon thereafter as possible. Otherwise, given the burdensome process of amending, it was doubtful that a sufficient number of states would agree to amend the Constitution. And for Adams, the paramount goal was to see the passage of the Constitution; its imperfections could later be resolved.

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