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The Bill of Rights
Digital History ID 246

Author:   John Jay


Massachusetts agreed to ratify the Constitution only after receiving assurances that a Bill of Rights would be added to the document. In this speech, Governor John Hancock (1737-1793) urges the Massachusetts legislature to ensure that this promise is kept.


There never was a time when the public Interest required more attention or greater abilities than the present, the first impression of Laws under the Government of the United States will have a strong and lasting influence, those parts of the Constitution which are now vague and indefinite will receive an interpretation from those acts and great Exertions will be required to place the Commerce of the Southern and Northern States upon a proper degree of equality & reciprocity of advantage....

I submit to your Consideration whether you will instruct your Senators and Representatives to attend to the obtaining Amendments in the Constitution of the United States.

You will recollect that when that System was ratified by the Convention of this Commonwealth it was done on the idea that Amendments should be finally effected. The people have well grounded expectations that this important matter will be attended to; for my own part I wish the world to know that I was sincere in the part I took on the Subject. I had not, nor will I have any other than plain, open, & undisguised politicks.

I should dread as a great Calamity a new general Convention upon this Business. The forms of Government has pointed out an easy method to procure alternations as Congress may propose to the Legislatures such Amendment as appear to be necessary, and in this way there can be no hazard, but another Convention might amount to a dissolution of the Government. I feel obliged therefore to urge you to give our Senators and Representatives such positive instructions on this Subject as may look to the peace, security and tranquility of the Union.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Governor John Hancock to the Massachusetts Legislature

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