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The Commonwealth of Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Constitution, adopted in 1780, is the oldest still-governing constitution of any state or country in the world. A constitution is a document stating the basic laws of government and the rights of its citizens.

The Massachusetts Constitution was adopted in 1780, during the Revolutionary War. It was written by James Bowdoin, Samuel Adams and John Adams. John Adams, who wrote most of it, is considered the foremost expert on constitutional law of the time. It was a model for the United States Constitution, which was written seven years later, and for the governing rights and rules for several other states.

Massachusetts relied on the rights written in its Constitution to declare slavery unlawful in 1783, eight decades before the Civil War.

The Massachusetts Constitution allows private citizens to file legislation, called "the right of free petition," a rarity among the states.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Constitution (Abridged)

Rights: "Part the First" A declaration of 30 rights of the citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts:

All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their Lives and Liberties; that of acquiring, possessing and protecting personal property, ... that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness. These rights are natural and not given by a government. Other recognized rights are freedoms of religion, self-government, trial by jury, liberty of the press; and the power to change the government. Taxation must have the consent of the people.


Government: "Part the Second" or the Frame of Government
Lays out the officers of government:

  • The legislators or lawmakers, called The General Court, which is the House of Representatives and the Senate;

  • The executive branch, which administers and manages the government, including the governor and lieutenant governor, other statewide elected offices and Governor's Council;

  • The Judiciary: judges, clerks and district attorneys.

  • Amendments: In addition, there are currently 117 amendments, most have been the result of lawmakers proposing changes or additions, but some started as petitions by private citizens.

  • All citizens are protected also by state laws, county, town or city charters, local laws and other regulations.

  • Both the Massachusetts Constitution and the United States Constitution give rights and protections, but also expect duties and responsibilities of its citizens.

Click here to view the full text of the
Massachusetts Constitution