Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter ii: The Frame of Government - Revolutionary Writings
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Chapter ii: The Frame of Government - John Adams, Revolutionary Writings 
The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams, Selected and with a Foreword by C. Bradley Thompson (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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The Frame of Government
The people inhabiting the territory heretofore called the Province of Massachusetts Bay, do hereby solemnly and mutually agree with each other to form themselves into a free, sovereign, and independent body politic, or State, by the name of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
In the government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the legislative, executive, and judicial power shall be placed in separate departments, to the end that it might be a government of laws, and not of men.
Art. i.The department of legislation shall be formed by two branches, a senate and house of representatives; each of which shall have a negative on the other.
They shall assemble once, on the last Wednesday in May, and at such other times as they shall judge necessary, every year, and shall be styled The General Court of Massachusetts.
And the first magistrate shall have a negative upon all the laws, that he may have power to preserve the independence of the executive and judicial departments.
ii. The general court shall forever have full power and authority to erect and constitute judicatories and courts of record, or other courts, to be held in the name of the commonwealth, for the hearing, trying, and determining of all manner of crimes, offences, pleas, processes, plaints, actions, matters, causes, and things, whatsoever, arising or happening within the commonwealth, or between or concerning persons inhabiting, or residing, or brought within the same; whether the same be criminal or civil, or whether the said crimes be capital or not capital, and whether the said pleas be real, personal or mixt; and for the awarding and making out of execution thereupon. To which courts and judicatories are hereby given and granted full power and authority, from time to time, to administer oaths or affirmations, for the better discovery of truth in any matter in controversy, or depending before them.
iii. And further, full power and authority are hereby given and granted to the said general court, from time to time, to make, ordain, and establish all manner of wholesome and reasonable orders, laws, statutes, and ordinances, directions, and instructions, either with penalties or without; so as the same be not repugnant or contrary to this constitution, as they shall judge to be for the good and welfare of this commonwealth, and for the government and ordering thereof, and of the subjects of the same, and for the necessary support and defence of the government thereof; and to name and settle annually, or provide by fixed laws, for the naming and settling all civil officers within the said commonwealth, such officers excepted the election and constitution of whom are not hereafter in this Form of Government otherwise provided for; and to set forth the several duties, powers, and limits, of the several civil and military officers of this commonwealth, and the forms of such oaths as shall be respectively administered unto them for the execution of their several offices and places, so as the same be not repugnant or contrary to this constitution; and also to impose fines, mulcts, imprisonments, and other punishments; and to impose and levy proportional and reasonable assessments, rates, and taxes, upon the persons of all the inhabitants of, and within the said commonwealth, and upon all estates within the same, to be issued and disposed of by warrant, under the hand of the governor of this commonwealth for the time being, with the advice and consent of the council, for the public service, in the necessary defence and support of the government of the said commonwealth, and the protection and preservation of the subjects thereof, according to such acts as are or shall be in force within the same and to dispose of matters and things whereby they may be religiously, peaceably, and civilly governed, protected, and defended.
And that public assessments may be made with equality, there shall be a valuation of estates within the commonwealth taken anew once in every ten years at the least.
i.There shall be annually elected by the freeholders and other inhabitants of this commonwealth, qualified as in this constitution is provided, forty persons, to be counsellors and senators for the year ensuing their election, to be chosen in and by the inhabitants of the districts into which the commonwealth may from time to time be divided by the general court, for that purpose. And the general court, in assigning the numbers to be elected by the respective districts, shall govern themselves by the proportion of the public taxes paid by the said districts; and timely make known to the inhabitants of the commonwealth, the limits of each district, and the number of counsellors and senators to be chosen therein; provided that the number of such districts shall be never more than sixteen, nor less than ten.
And the several counties in this commonwealth shall, until the general court shall determine it necessary to alter said districts, be districts for the choice of counsellors and senators (except that the counties of Dukes County and Nantucket shall form one district for that purpose,) and shall elect the following number for counsellors and senators, namely,—
ii. The senate shall be the first branch of the legislature; and the senators shall be chosen in the following manner, namely,—There shall be a meeting on the first Monday in April, annually, forever, of the inhabitants of all the towns in the several counties of this commonwealth, to be called by the selectmen, and warned in due course of law, at least seven days before the first Monday in April, for the purpose of electing persons to be senators and counsellors. And at such meetings every male person of twenty-one years of age and upwards, resident in such towns one year next preceding the annual election of senators, having a freehold estate within the commonwealth of the annual income of three pounds, or other real or personal estate of the value of sixty pounds, shall have a right to give in his vote for the senators for the district.
The selectmen of the several towns shall preside at such meetings, and shall be under oath, as well as the town-clerk, to preside impartially, according to their best skill and judgment; and to make a just and true return.
The selectmen shall receive the votes of all the inhabitants of such towns, qualified to vote for senators, and shall sort and count them in open town meeting, and in presence of the town-clerk, who shall make a fair record, in presence of the selectmen, and in open town meeting, of the name of every person voted for, and of the number of votes against his name; and a fair copy of this record shall be attested by the selectmen and the town-clerk, and shall be sealed up, directed to the secretary of the commonwealth, for the time being, with a superscription, expressing the purport of the contents thereof, and delivered by the town-clerk of such towns to the sheriff of the county in which such town lies, thirty days at least before the last Wednesday in May, annually; or it shall be delivered into the secretary’s office seventeen days at least before the said last Wednesday in May; and the sheriff of each county shall deliver all such certificates by him received into the secretary’s office, seventeen days before the said last Wednesday in May.
And the inhabitants of plantations unincorporated, qualified as this constitution provides, who are or shall be empowered and required to assess taxes upon themselves toward the support of government, shall have the same privilege of voting for counsellors and senators in the plantations where they reside, as town inhabitants have in their respective towns; and the plantation meetings for that purpose shall be held annually, on the same first Monday in April, at such place in the plantations respectively, as the assessors thereof shall direct; which assessors shall have like authority for notifying the electors, collecting and returning the votes, as the selectmen and town-clerks have in their several towns by this constitution. And all other persons living in places unincorporated (qualified as aforesaid) who shall be assessed to the support of government by the assessors of an adjacent town, shall have the privilege of giving in their votes for counsellors and senators, in the town where they shall be assessed, and be notified of the place of meeting by the selectmen of the town where they shall be assessed for that purpose accordingly.
iii. And that there may be a due convention of senators on the last Wednesday in May, annually, the governor, with five of the council, for the time being, shall, as soon as may be, examine the returned copies of such records; and fourteen days before the said day he shall issue his summons to such persons as shall appear to be chosen by a majority of voters, to attend on that day, and take their seats accordingly; provided, nevertheless, that, for the first year, the said returned copies shall be examined by the president and five of the council of the former constitution of government; and the said president shall, in like manner, issue his summons to the persons so elected, that they may take their seats, as aforesaid.
iv. The senate however shall be the final judge of the elections, returns, and qualifications of their own members, and shall, on the said last Wednesday in May, annually, determine and declare who are elected by each district to be senators, by a majority of votes. And, in case there shall not appear to be the full number of senators returned, elected by a majority of votes for any district, the deficiency shall be supplied in the following manner, namely:—The members of the house of representatives, and such senators as shall be declared elected, shall take the names of twice the number of senators wanting, from those who shall be found to have the highest number of votes in such district, and not elected; and out of these shall elect, by ballot, a number of senators sufficient to fill up the vacancies in such district. And in this manner all such vacancies shall be filled up in every district of the commonwealth; and in like manner all vacancies in the senate, arising by death, removal out of the state, or otherwise, shall be supplied as soon as may be after such vacancies shall happen.
v. Provided, nevertheless, that no person shall be capable of being elected as a senator, who is not of the Christian religion, and seised in his own right of a freehold within this commonwealth, of the value of three hundred pounds at least, and who has not been an inhabitant of this commonwealth for the space of seven years, three of which immediately preceding his election, and in the district for which he shall be chosen.
vi. The senate shall have power to adjourn themselves, provided such adjournments do not exceed two days at a time.
vii. The senate shall choose its own president, appoint its own officers, and determine its own rules of proceedings.
viii. The senate shall be a court, with full authority to hear and determine all impeachments made by the house of representatives, against any officer or officers of the commonwealth, for misconduct and maladministration in their offices. But previous to the trial of every impeachment, the members of the senate shall respectively be sworn, truly and impartially to try and determine the charge in question, according to evidence. Their judgment, however, shall not extend farther than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold or enjoy any place of honor, trust, or profit under this commonwealth. But the party so convicted shall be, nevertheless, liable to indictment, trial, judgment, and punishment, according to the laws of the land.
House of Representatives
i.There shall be in the legislature of this commonwealth a representation of the people annually elected, and founded in equality.
ii. And, in order to provide for a representation of the citizens of this commonwealth, founded upon the principle of equality, every corporate town, containing one hundred and fifty ratable polls, may elect one representative. Every corporate town, containing three hundred and seventy-five ratable polls, may elect two representatives. Every corporate town, containing six hundred ratable polls, may elect three representatives; and proceeding in that manner, making two hundred and twenty-five ratable polls the mean increasing number for every additional representative.
And forever, hereafter, the least number of ratable polls necessary to entitle a corporate town to elect one representative, when increased by the addition of a number equal to half the said least number, shall be the mean increasing number of ratable polls for every additional representative any corporate town may elect.
And, to prevent hereafter the house of representatives from becoming unwieldy, and incapable of debating and deliberating, by the great additions it would continually receive from the increasing settlement and population of this commonwealth, no corporate town shall, from and after the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and ninety, be entitled to elect one representative, unless it shall contain two hundred ratable polls; nor to elect two representatives, unless it shall contain five hundred ratable polls; nor to elect three representatives, unless it shall contain eight hundred ratable polls; and so proceeding in that manner, making, by the aforesaid rule, three hundred ratable polls the mean increasing number for every additional representative. And every tenth year, from and after the said year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and ninety, and until such time as the number of representatives which may be elected for this commonwealth shall not exceed the number of two hundred, the least number of ratable polls which, at that time, any corporate town must contain to entitle it to elect one representative, shall be increased by the addition of fifty; and the least number aforesaid, thus increased by the said addition, shall be the number of ratable polls any corporate town must contain to entitle it to elect one representative; and the number of representatives any corporate town may elect shall be regulated accordingly, by the rules aforesaid.
The freeholders and other inhabitants of this commonwealth, qualified to vote for representatives, living in corporate towns, which, severally, shall contain a less number of ratable polls than is necessary to entitle them, respectively, to elect one representative, shall, nevertheless, have a right to associate with some town or towns adjoining, for the election of representatives; and, in such cases, the voters thus united, shall have a right to elect the same number of representatives as they would have done were they inhabitants of one corporate town; which representatives may be elected out of either of the associated towns, indifferently. And the legislature shall, from time to time, determine what towns shall thus associate, the manner of the association, and the method and manner of calling and conducting the meetings of the associated towns for the election of representatives.
iii. The members of the house of representatives shall be chosen by written votes; and no person shall be qualified or eligible to be a member of the said house, unless he be of the Christian religion, and, for one year at least, next preceding his election, shall have been an inhabitant of, and have been seised in his own right of a freehold of the value of one hundred pounds, within the town or towns he shall be chosen to represent; and he shall cease to represent the said town or towns immediately on his ceasing to be a freeholder within the same.
iv. Every male person, being twenty-one years of age, and resident in any particular town in this commonwealth for the space of one year next preceding, having a freehold estate within the same town, of the annual income of three pounds, or other estate real or personal or mixt of the value of sixty pounds, shall have a right to vote in the choice of a representative or representatives for the said town, or for the towns united as aforesaid.
v. The members of the house of representatives shall be chosen annually in the month of May, ten days at least before the last Wednesday of that month, from among the wisest, most prudent, and virtuous of the freeholders.
vi. The house of representatives shall be the grand inquest of this commonwealth; and all impeachments made by them shall be heard and tried by the senate.
vii. All money-bills shall originate in the house of representatives; but the senate may propose or concur with amendments, as on other bills.
viii. The house of representatives shall have power to adjourn themselves; provided such adjournment shall not exceed two days at a time.
ix. Not less than sixty members of the house of representatives shall constitute a quorum for doing business.
x. The house of representatives shall choose their own speaker, appoint their own officers, and settle the rules and orders of proceeding in their own house. They shall have authority to punish, by imprisonment, every person who shall be guilty of disrespect to the house, in its presence, by any disorderly or contemptuous behavior; or by threatening or ill-treating any of its members; or, in a word, by obstructing its deliberations; every person guilty of a breach of its privileges, in making arrests for debts, or by assaulting one of its members during his attendance at any session, or on the road, whether he be going to the house or returning home; in assaulting any one of its officers, or in disturbing him in the execution of any order or procedure of the house; in assaulting or troubling any witness or other person ordered to attend the house, in his way in going or returning, or in rescuing any person arrested by order of the house.
xi. The senate shall have the same powers in the like cases; and the governor and council shall have the same authority to punish in like cases. Provided, that no imprisonment on the warrant or order of the governor, council, senate, or house of representatives, for either of the above described offences, be for a term exceeding thirty days.