Address of the Convention for the Framing a New Constitution…Massachusetts-Bay

Samuel ADAMS   |   James LOVELL

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Address of the Convention for the Framing a New Constitution…Massachusetts-Bay
Address of the Convention for the Framing a New Constitution…Massachusetts-Bay
Address of the Convention for the Framing a New Constitution…Massachusetts-Bay


(ADAMS, Samuel). An Address of the Convention, for Framing a New Constitution of Government, for the State of Massachusetts-Bay, to their Constituents. Boston: Printed by White and Adam, 1780. Slim octavo, early 20th-century three-quarter red morocco and marbled boards; (i-v), 6-18.

First edition of Samuel Adams' eloquent Address in support of the first Massachusetts constitution (also greatly crafted by Adams), advocating “the free exercise of the rights of conscience" and a government elected to "promote the supreme good of human society." This exceptionally rare association copy is signed on the half title by Massachusetts Founding Father James Lovell, who was arrested and imprisoned in the Revolution before serving as a member of the Continental Congress where, as a self-taught cryptologist, he broke British ciphers intercepted from 1780-81. One of 1800 printed and distributed under Adams' supervision.

One of the drafters of the Articles of Confederation, a delegate to both Continental Congresses, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Samuel Adams "had a powerful influence" on the 1780 Massachusetts state constitution, "above all in giving the people extensive power and in formulating the statement of rights," as well as serving as a guide for other states and the Constitutional Convention of 1787 (ANB). The 1780 Massachusetts constitutional convention addressed "points which had caused the rejection of the constitution of 1778," especially "the absence of a bill of rights." Following completion of an approved draft, the convention appointed a committee "to prepare an address to the people upon the Constitution about to be submitted to their judgment. This paper… is said by Dr. Eliot to have been composed by Samuel Adams," within the judgment of the committee. "The unmistakable style of the paper sufficiently indicates the authorship; but fragments of the Address in the handwriting of Samuel Adams leave no room for doubt… [it offers] a correct view of the principle upon which were founded all his ideas of political society" (Wells III:82-9).

The Address eloquently observes: "We may not expect to agree in a perfect System of Government. This is not the Lot of Mankind. The great End of Government, is, to promote the Supreme Good of human Society." As such, the text emphasizes that the new constitution distinctly provides "for the free exercise of the Rights of Conscience," a House of Representatives, a Senate, a governor who is "emphatically the Representative of the whole People" and a council "to prevent the Governor from abusing the Power which is necessary to be put into his hands." In addition to principally composing this Address, Adams was charged with "supervising the printing and distributing the 1800 copies of the Constitution and Address ordered by the Convention, and he sent one to John Adams… who wrote to one of his correspondents how much the Address was admired there for its 'noble simplicity." The Address, "by its wise reasoning and judicious statement of the Constitution… materially aided in securing the popular assent to the work of the Convention." While the people weighed ratification, Adams "presided at most of the public meetings… and in Faneuil Hall he read to the inhabitants the form of government and the Address to the people… explaining portions of the Constitution which the Address had not made sufficiently clear" (Wells III:90-7). First edition, first printing: signed in print by James Bowdoin, Convention President. Evans 16843. Harvard Law Catalogue II:80. Sabin 45584. ESTC W6515. From the library of Founding Father James Lovell with his owner signature above half title reading, "J Lovells.'" In the Revolution Lovell was arrested and imprisoned by General Howe in 1775 and sent as a prisoner to Halifax where he and Ethan Allen shared a cell. After his release in 1776, he became a member of the Continental Congress in 1777, serving until 1782. There he became "the one and only cryptologic expert Congress had and, it is claimed, he managed to decipher nearly all, if not all, of the British code messages obtained in one way or another by the Americans." Appointed to the Committee for Foreign Affairs, "his considerable talents for breaking ciphers rewarded Nathaniel Greene and Washington when enciphered dispatches from the British commander, Lord Cornwallis, were intercepted in 1780 and 1781" (Weber, Masked Dispatches). On returning to Boston, in 1789 he became naval officer of Boston and Charleston, serving until his death in 1814. With tiny bit of contemporary marginalia, annotation. Bookplate of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania: with deaccession inkstamp.

Text generally fresh with trace of scattered foxing. Half title trimmed a bit close, with just a bit of loss to the top of "J Lovells" ownership signature, and with expert restoration to a tiny hole affecting "S" in "Address." A memorable about-fine copy, handsomely bound.

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