Massachusetts Constitution

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Massachusetts Constitution
Seal of Massachusetts.png
Part the First:
Articles I - XXX
Part the Second:
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Articles of Amendment
The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the fundamental governing document of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It went into effect on October 25, 1780.[1]


The Massachusetts Constitution is often referred to as the oldest state constitution in continuous effect.[2]

The Massachusetts Constitution contains four parts: a preamble, a declaration of rights, a description of the framework of government in six chapters and articles of amendment. Specifically, the Preamble identifies the constitution as “a voluntary association of individuals” originating in a “social compact” that protects both individual rights and the common good.[2]

As a result of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1917 - 1919, it was re-codified through the incorporation of 66 previously approved amendments.[1]


See also: Preambles to state constitutions

The preamble of the Massachusetts Constitution, in its last paragraph, mirrors in many respects the preamble of the United States Constitution.

Text of Preamble:

The end of the institution, maintenance, and administration of government, is to secure the existence of the body politic, to protect it, and to furnish the individuals who compose it with the power of enjoying in safety and tranquility their natural rights, and the blessings of life: and whenever these great objects are not obtained, the people have a right to alter the government, and to take measures necessary for their safety, prosperity and happiness.

The body politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals: it is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good. It is the duty of the people, therefore, in framing a constitution of government, to provide for an equitable mode of making laws, as well as for an impartial interpretation, and a faithful execution of them; that every man may, at all times, find his security in them.

We, therefore, the people of Massachusetts, acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the goodness of the great Legislator of the universe, in affording us, in the course of His providence, an opportunity, deliberately and peaceably, without fraud, violence or surprise, of entering into an original, explicit, and solemn compact with each other; and of forming a new constitution of civil government, for ourselves and posterity; and devoutly imploring His direction in so interesting a design, do agree upon, ordain and establish the following Declaration of Rights, and Frame of Government, as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.[3]

Part the First: "Declaration of the Rights"

Part the First of the Massachusetts Constitution is entitled "A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts." Known as a bill of rights, it identifies the origin and purpose of all legitimate government. It contains 30 sections.

Section 1 of Part the First begins by stating:

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 property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.[3]

This article was later amended by substituting the word "people" for the word "men."

Part the Second: "Frame of Government"

Article I of this part begins by stating:

The department of legislation shall be formed by two branches, a Senate and House of Representatives: each of which shall have a negative on the other.[3]

This part consists of the remaining six chapters of the constitution that describe the powers of the bicameral legislature, the governor, his advisory council and the judiciary. Other provisions honor Harvard College, detail oaths of office and encourage the study of the liberal and useful arts, to inculcate civic and private virtues. At the state level, the advancement of intellectual and moral character and the articulation of governmental powers belong together.[2]

Chapter 1

Chapter I of the Massachusetts Constitution is entitled "The Legislative Power."

Chapter 2

Chapter II of the Massachusetts Constitution is entitled "Executive Power."

Chapter 3

Chapter III of the Massachusetts Constitution is entitled "Judiciary Power" and consists of five articles.

Chapter 4

Chapter IV of the Massachusetts Constitution is entitled "Delegates to Congress." It has a single section.

Chapter 5

Chapter V of the Massachusetts Constitution is entitled "The University at Cambridge, and Encouragement of Literature, Etc."

Chapter 6

Chapter VI of the Massachusetts Constitution is entitled "Oaths and Subscriptions; Incompatibility of and Exclusion from Offices; Pecuniary Qualifications; Commissions; Writs; Confirmation of Laws; Habeas Corpus; the Enacting Style; Continuance of Officers; Provision for a Future Revisal of the Constitution, Etc." and consists of 11 sections.

Articles of Amendment

The section titled "Articles of Amendment" detail the various amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution.

Amending the constitution

See also: Article XLVIII, Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution and Laws governing ballot measures in Massachusetts

The process of amending the Massachusetts Constitution is governed by Article XLVIII, Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution, which is itself the 48th amendment to the state's constitution.

Initiated amendments

Article 48 allows only the indirect initiative amendment and imposes a number of restrictions on such proposed amendments:

  • Petitions that relate to "religion, religious practices or religious institutions" are prohibited.
  • Petitions that relate to the "appointment, qualification, tenure, removal, recall or compensation of judges" are prohibited.
  • Petitions that would reverse judicial decisions are prohibited.
  • Petitions relating to the "powers, creation or abolition of courts" are prohibited.
  • Petitions that apply only to "a particular town, city or other political division or to particular districts or localities of the commonwealth" are prohibited.
  • Petitions that would make "a specific appropriation of money from the treasury of the commonwealth" are prohibited.
  • Any petition relating to Amendment 18 is prohibited through citizen initiative; however, Amendment 18 was altered through other paths.
  • Petitions "inconsistent with" a list of "rights of the individual" are prohibited; those rights include:
  • "The right to receive compensation for private property appropriated to public use."
  • "The right of access to and protection in courts of justice."
  • "The right of trial by jury."
  • "Protection from unreasonable search unreasonable bail and the law martial."
  • "Freedom of the press."
  • "Freedom of elections."
  • "The right of peaceable assembly."
  • The sections of the constitution that prohibit various matters from being taken up by citizen initiative are also, themselves, prohibited from change through the process.
  • Petitions that are "substantially the same as any measure which has been qualified for submission or submitted to the people at either of the two preceding biennial state elections" are prohibited.
  • The Massachusetts General Court is allowed to refer an alternative substitute measure to the ballot to compete with the proposed citizen initiative.
  • The state legislature is allowed to amend the text of an initiated constitutional amendment through a three-fourths vote in joint session.
  • 25 percent of the members of two successively elected sessions of the Massachusetts General Court must support the proposed amendment in order for it to go on the ballot. There are 200 legislators altogether -- 40 in the Massachusetts State Senate and 160 in the Massachusetts House of Representatives -- so a proposed amendment must earn 50 positive votes. The proposed amendment does not need to earn a 25 percent vote from both chambers, but rather, from a joint session. (This means, for a hypothetical example, that if 50 members of the state house voted in favor of an amendment, it would require no support from any state senator to qualify for the ballot.)


The people of Massachusetts held a special convention in 1780 where elected delegates met to debate the eventual framework for Massachusetts' new state government.[4] A constitution was submitted for popular approval, which was not a popular notion for this early American era, requiring a two-thirds vote for final approval. As the Preamble explains, “The Body-Politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals: It is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each Citizen, and each Citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain Laws for the Common good.”[5] A social compact was now codified.

Overall, it took four years to create a state constitution that the people of Massachusetts could ratify.[5]

See also

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External links

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Additional reading