The following is John Hancock’s speech to the Ratification Convention of Massachusetts on February 27, 1788. The Convention was to ratify the document that would become the Constitution of the United States replacing the Articles of Confederation. Delegates in Massachusetts were divided and most had concerns. After his speech Hancock managed to influence a sufficient amount of delegates to vote for a constitution.
Gentlemen of the Senate & Gentlemen of the House of Representatives—
The Letters which I have received in the recess, the Secretary will lay before you, they are not of such importance, as to claim any particular notice from me at this time.
The adjournment of the General Court, for the space of one week, became necessary, in order to give the Members, who were also Members of the late Convention, an opportunity of returning home before the meeting of the Legislature. I could have wished that the proclamation of adjournment had been of an earlier date, but the Session of the Convention, by the importance of the business before that Body, was protracted beyond what was expected—I flatter myself that this will be satisfactory, as well to those of you Gentlemen, who having not heard of the adjournment, have been some days waiting in Town, as to those who may be apprehensive that the business of the present Session will demand a longer time, than can be conveniently afforded at this Season of the year.
I have nothing of more importance at this time, to recommend to your deliberation than the Lands of the Commonwealth—It is scarcely necessary to remark that this State from its particular situation, as well as from the noble ardor of its citizens in defense of their liberties & independence hath accumulated a very heavy debt; the interest of which arises to Ninety thousand pounds annually; this consideration alone, Gentlemen, should induce us by every possible exertion consistent with the peace of the Commonwealth, to diminish the principal. In order to this the great quantities of unappropriated territory both in the eastern part of the Government, as well as the immense tract lately ceded to us by the State of New York afford ample resources, if wisely & expeditiously improved by that spirit of unanimity & discernment which I flatter myself will always distinguish your conduct, when the interest of the people is so deeply & essentially engaged in the result of your deliberations.—
I am sorry that my duty urges me to mention to you the necessity of a small tax, but the Treasury is so far exhausted that the business of the Government must cease it’s progress unless a Tax is granted.—
Since the last Session, Luke Day, one of those persons for whose arrest a bounty was offered in consequence of an act of the Legislature, has been taken by some of the Citizens of New Hampshire, to whom one hundred pounds has been paid, upon their delivering him into the Custody of the Sheriff of the County of Suffolk. Could the late unhappy commotions be thrown into oblivion, consistently with the honor of Government, & the safety of the people, I persuade myself it would give satisfaction.—In the beginning of your last Session, I laid before you the Constitution & Frame of Government for the United States of America, agreed upon by the late General Convention, & transmitted to me by Congress. As the System was to be submitted to the people, & to be decided upon by their Delegates in Convention, I forbore to make any remarks upon it. The Convention which you appointed to deliberate upon that important subject, have concluded their Session, after having adopted & ratified the proposed plan, according to their resolution, a copy whereof, I have directed the Secretary to lay before you.
The obvious imbecility of the Confederation of the United States, has too long given pain to our friends, & pleasure to our enemies; but the forming a new System of Government, for so numerous a people, of very different views, & habits, spread upon such a vast extent of Territory, containing such a great variety of Soils, & under such extremes of climate, was a task, which nothing less than the dreadful apprehension of loosing our national existence could have compelled the people to undertake.
We can be known to the World, only under the appellation of the United States, if we are robbed of the idea of our Union, we immediately become separate nations, independent of each other, & no less liable to the depredations of foreign powers, than to Wars, & bloody contentions amongst ourselves. To pretend to exist as a nation without possessing those powers of Coerce, which are necessarily incident to the national Character, would prove a fatal solecism in politics. The objects of the proposed Constitution, are defense against external enemies, & the promotion of tranquility, & happiness amongst the States—Whether it is well calculated for those important purposes, has been the subject of extensive & learned discussion in the Convention which you appointed—I believe there was never a Body of Men assembled, with greater purity of intention, or with higher zeal for the public interest. And although when the momentous Question was decided, there was a greater division than some expected, yet there appeared a candor, & a spirit of Conciliation, in the Minority, which did them great honor, & afforded an happy presage of unanimity amongst the people at large. Tho’ so many of the Members of the late Convention could not feel themselves convinced that they ought to vote for the ratification of this System, yet their opposition was conducted with a candid & manly firmness & with such marks of integrity & real regard to the public interest, did them the highest honor, & leaves no reason to suppose that the peace, & good order of the Government is not their object.—
The amendments proposed by the Convention are intended to obtain a Constitutional security of the principles to which they refer themselves, & must meet the wishes of all the States, I feel myself assured that they will very early become a part of the Constitution, & when they shall be added to the purposed plan, I shall consider it as the most perfect System of Government, as to the objects it embraces, that has been known amongst mankind.—
As that Being, in whose hands is the government of all the Nations of the Earth, & who putteth down one, & raiseth up another according to His Sovereign Pleasure, has given to the people of these States a rich & an extensive Country; has in a marvelous manner given them a name & a standing among the Nations of the World, has blessed them with external peace & internal tranquility; I hope & pray that the gratitude of their hearts may be expressed by a proper use of those inestimable blessings, by the greatest exertions of patriotism, by forming & supporting institutions for cultivating the human understanding & for the greatest progress of the Arts & Sciences, by establishing Laws for the support of piety, Religion & Morality, as well as for punishing vice & wickedness, & by exhibiting on the great Theatre of the World, those social, public & private virtues, which give more Dignity to a people possessing their own Sovereignty, than Crowns & Diadems afford to Sovereign Princes.
Every matter of a public nature which may occur worthy of your notice shall be communicated by Message, & in every concern tending to promote the public welfare I shall be happy to concur with you, & be ready at all times to give every possible dispatch to the business that may come before you.