CHAPTER 17|Document 17
Pittsfield Petitions29 May 1776Handlin 90--93
We further beg leave to represent that we were deeply affected at the Misrepresentations that have been made of us and the County in general, as Men deeply in Debt, dishonest, ungovernable, heady untractable, without principle and good Conduct and ever ready to oppose lawful Authority, as Mobbes disturbers of peace order and Union, unwilling to submit to any Government, or ever to pay our Debts, so that we have been told a former House of Representatives had it in actual Contemplation to send an armed force to effect that by violence which reason only ought to effect at the present Day.
We beg leave to lay before your Honors our Principles real Views and Designs in what we have hitherto done and what Object we are reaching after, with this Assurance if we have erred it is thro' Ignorance and not bad Intention.--
We beg leave therefore to represent that we have always been persuaded that the people are the fountain of power.
That since the Dissolution of the power of Great Britain over these Colonies they have fallen into a state of Nature.
That the first step to be taken by a people in such a state for the Enjoyment or Restoration of Civil Government amongst them, is the formation of a fundamental Constitution as the Basis and ground work of Legislation.
That the Approbation of the Majority of the people of this fundamental Constitution is absolutely necessary to give Life and being to it. That then and not 'till then is the foundation laid for Legislation. We often hear of the fundamental Constitution of Great Britain, which all political Writers (except ministerial ones) set above the King, Lords, and Commons, which they cannot change, nothing short of the great rational Majority of the people being sufficient for this.
That a Representative Body may form, but cannot impose said fundamental Constitution upon a people. They being but servants of the people cannot be greater than their Masters, and must be responsible to them. If this fundamental Constitution is above the whole Legislature, the Legislature cannot certainly make it, it must be the Approbation of the Majority which gives Life and being to it.--
That said fundamental Constitution has not been formed for this Province the Corner stone is not yet laid and whatever Building is reared without a foundation must fall into Ruins.
That this can be instantly effected with the Approbation of the Continental Congress and Law subordination and good government flow in better than their antient Channels in a few Months Time.--That till this is done we are but beating the Air and doing what will and must be undone afterwards, and all our labour is lost and on divers Accounts much worse than lost.
That a Doctrine lately broached in this County by several of the Justices newly created without the Voice of the People, that the Representatives of the People may form Just what fundamental Constitution they please and impose it upon the people and however obnoxious to them they can obtain no relief from it but by a New Election, and if our Representatives should never see fit to give the people one that pleases them there is no help for it appears to us to be the rankest kind of Toryism, the self same Monster we are now fighting against.
These are some of the Truths we firmly believe and are countenanced in believing them by the most respectable political Writers of the last and present Century, especially by Mr. Burgh in his political Disquisitions for the publication of which one half of the Continental Congress were subscribers.
We beg leave further to represent that we by no means object to the most speedy Institution of Legal Government thro' this province and that we are as earnestly desirous as any others of this great Blessing.
That knowing the strong Byass of human Nature to Tyranny and Despotism we have Nothing else in View but to provide for Posterity against the wanton Exercise of power which cannot otherwise be done than by the formation of a fundamental Constitution. What is the fundamental Constitution of this province, what are the unalienable Rights of the people the power of the Rulers, how often to be elected by the people etc. have any of these Things been as yet ascertained. Let it not be said by future posterity that in this great this noble this glorious Contest we made no provision against Tyranny amongst ourselves.
We beg leave to assure your Honors that the purest and most disinterested Love of posterity and a fervent desire of transmitting to them a fundamental Constitution securing their sacred Rights and Immunities against all Tyrants that may spring up after us has moved us in what we have done. We have not been influenced by hope of Gain or Expectation of Preferment and Honor. We are no discontented faction we have no fellowship with Tories, we are the staunch friends of the Union of these Colonies and will support and maintain your Honors in opposing Great Britain with our Lives and Treasure.
But if Commissions should be recalled and the Kings Name struck out of them, if the Fee Table be reduced never so low, and multitudes of other things be done to still the people all is to us as Nothing whilst the foundation is unfixed the Corner stone of Government unlaid. We have heard much of Governments being founded in Compact. What Compact has been formed as the foundation of Government in this province?--We beg leave further to represent that we have undergone many grievous oppressions in this County and that now we wish a Barrier might be set up against such oppressions, against which we can have no security long till the foundation of Government be well established.--
We beg leave further to represent these as the Sentiments of by far the Majority of the people in this County as far as we can Judge and being so agreeable to Reason Scripture and Common Sence, as soon as the Attention of people in this province is awakened we doubt not but the Majority will be with us.
We beg leave further to observe that if this Honourable Body shall find that we have embraced Errors dangerous to the safety of these Colonies it is our Petition that our Errors may be detected and you shall be put to no further Trouble from us but without an Alteration in our Judgment the Terrors of this World will not daunt us we are determined to resist Great Britain to the last Extremity and all others who may claim a similar Power over us. Yet we hold not to an Imperium in Imperio we will be determined by the Majority.--
Your Petitioners beg leave therefore to Request that this Honourable Body would form a fundamental Constitution for this province after leave is asked and obtained from the Honourable Continental Congress and that said Constitution be sent abroad for the Approbation of the Majority of the people in this Colony that in this way we may emerge from a state of Nature and enjoy again the Blessing of Civil Government in this way the Rights and Liberties of future Generations will be secured and the Glory of the present Revolution remain untarnished and future Posterity rise up and call this Honourable Council and house of Representatives blessed
and as in Duty bound will ever pray
Handlin, Oscar, and Handlin, Mary, eds. The Popular Sources of Political Authority: Documents on the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1966.
© 1987 by The University of Chicago