Constitution Sunday: John Hancock’s Final Observation

February 6, 1788

Massachusetts Ratifying Convention

At the conclusion of the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention, John Hancock requested to “close the business with a few words.” He began with an endorsement: the Constitution—amended or not—was destined to deliver political freedom and dignity to the country. This was particularly so given the exhaustive debate that the draft Constitution fostered all of which tended to improve the proposed government.

But the Constitution was still creating a system that had its flaws, its defects. There were parts of the Constitution that would prove problematic, but when one considered “the variety of interests, and the different habits of the men it is intended for, it would be very singular to have an entire union of sentiment respecting it.” This was a system that would see power bestowed in men who did not differ in background, blood, or rank such that those who obtained power were inherently going to be distrusted; these would be rulers who, until or unless they became corrupt, would be “upright and able rulers.”

Fundamentally, the most important aspect of the Constitution and the people who would protect it was the acceptance of rule by the majority. There could be a lingering want of unanimity, but there also must be a spirit of conciliation. All would rise and fall together, and some progress—even progress that was gradual and a compromise for the parties involved—was better than no progress. To the extent that detractors of the Constitution would quietly acquiesce, seeing a “want of perfection in it,” they would endeavour to have it amended.” So should it always be this way: acquiescence giving way to momentum to refine what all have built; discontent fostering constructive, healthy changes in the system.

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