Chapter 19


Once upon a time four desperate adventurers went out from Massachusetts. To be sure, they appeared to be quiet, sober, dignified, and highly respectable gentlemen, in the attractive and picturesque costume of our great-great-grandfathers of the year 1774.

But as they rode toward staid and conservative Philadelphia, where a congress of the American colonies was to meet, they discovered that a most startling reputation had preceded them; for, as they approached the Quaker city by the Delaware, a party of the Philadelphia "Sons of Liberty" came out to meet and greet them, but more especially to warn and caution them as to what they should do or say; for, so the welcomers told them, they had been represented to the town which they were approaching as "four desperate adventurers, seeking to raise themselves by popularity, and having independence in view "—dangerous and unsafe men, simply because they were the delegates from Massachusetts, "that hotbed of rebellion."

These" four desperate adventurers "—political pirates and colonial ciitthroats, as they were deemed—were Samuel Adams, John Adams, Thomas Gushing, and Robert Treat Paine—learned, cultivated, gifted, and in




fluential gentlemen, fearless and earnest patriots, the representatives of the Massachusetts Bay colony in the first American Congress. Of them Massachusetts was to make judges, governors, and presidents; three of them were to sign the Declaration of Independence, and all of them were to help guide the destinies of Massachusetts as she took her place in the new nation of the United States of America.

Three of them were born in Boston, one in that part of the town of Braintree that is now called Quincy.

To-day, if you visit Quincy you may see a little, low-roofed, unpretentious farmhouse, honored by all Americans as the birthplace of that "desperate adventurer" John Adams, the first of a long line of statesmen, presidents, diplomats, and patriots, of whom ,Massachusetts and America may well be proud.

But John Adams and his famous cousin Samuel were to see Massachusetts in much strain and stress in those early days of Statehood.

It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good, and the threatening months of Shays’s rebellion, though they shook the new State well-nigh to its foundations, disturbed it in all its relations, and made agitators of peace-loving citizens, did have a salutary effect on the State and the nation as well.

Shays’s rebellion seems, to-day, a small affair; but it brought the people of Massachusetts face to face with the question: Shall we support our government with all its shortcomings, or side with restlessness and anarchy? And they chose the side of law and order. Then, too, the strain of this upheaval led the people to



see that if such uprisings as this were possible, there must be some strong central government, able and authorized to support the State governments and protect the integrity of the Union. Leaders and thinkers throughout all the thirteen States felt this; a Constitutional Convention followed, out of which came at last the Constitution of the United States and the formation of a permanent and controlling government—the republic of the United States of America; and for this result Shays’s rebellion was largely responsible.

It was hard, however, to bring the several States to sink their own importance and place the controlling power in the hands of a central federal government. Prominent men, men who had been statesmen and patriots in the stir and stress of revolution, could not agree to the plans of Washington and Franklin, of Hamilton and Madison and John Adams.

One of the chief of these objectors to a federal union was Sam Adams of Massachusetts—the organizer of revolution, the man who has been styled the "Father of America."

Sturdy, uncompromising, and unyielding, this man of the people was unalterably opposed to anything that seemed like taking the power from the many and placing it in the hands of the few.

He opposed everything that looked like what is called a centralization of power. He objected to a general government vested with control, and to a President armed with power. He objected to the departments of government such as we know today—the secretaries of state, treasury, war, navy, etc. He



wished the Union, if there must be a Union, governed by committees of Congress, as the colonies had been governed during the Revolution; and he was very certain that, to give men outside his State the power to say anything about the affairs of his State, would weaken and swallow the sovereign commonwealth of Massachusetts.

There were other people in America who thought as he did. There were many in Massachusetts who ardently followed his lead; for Sam Adams, the "tribune of the yeomanry," as some loved to style him, was still the people’s idol.

But the lesson of Shays’s rebellion had its effect upon the people of Massachusetts. Even Sam Adams had no good word for Captain Shays’s midwinter madness. In fact, he was ready to suppress the rebellion by stern measures, and was one of the first to strengthen the hands of the prompt and fearless Governor Bowdoin, who put it down.

But when, out of such threatening uncertainties of popular discontent and weakness came the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia, and finally the Constitution itself, Sam Adams decided slowly.

He was not, as too many unjustly believe to-day, an opponent of a Constitution; he was simply against certain things prescribed by the Constitution which was signed in Philadelphia.

So when, in 1788, a State Convention met in Boston to decide whether or not Massachusetts would ratify— that is, agree to and adopt—the Constitution prepared by Washington and Franklin and Hamilton and their asso-



ciates, as the controlling law of the land, Sam Adams and John Hancock, those fellow-patriots of the American Revolution, were either openly or silently opposed to that great document.

There were, however, in the State of Massachusetts, able, clear-headed, and determined men, who were agreed that the State should ratify the Constitution, Sam Adams and John Hancock to the contrary notwithstanding. They believed it to be the only salvation of the country, already imperiled by anarchy, and, being as shrewd as they were able and as politic as they were determined, they set about to win over the Constitution’s chief opponents, Adams and Hancock.

What they could not effect by argument they determined to bring about by strategy—by an appeal to the weak side of these two famous men. With Sam Adams this was a belief in the will of the people; with John Hancock it was a belief in John Hancock himself.

So Hancock's support was won by just a bit of a trick played upon his well-known vanity and his always convenient gout. But when it came to Sam Adams, who was neither susceptible to flattery nor swayed by personal desires, a different course was pursued.

The friends of the Constitution prevailed upon Paul Revere, that historic rider of the Revolution, to get up a big mass meeting of mechanics and working people— the plain people in whom Sam Adams believed so implicitly—and make a noise over the new Constitution.

The ratification meeting was held at the Green Dragon tavern in Boston; resolutions favoring the Constitution were rushed through, and a committee,


whom Paul Revere was one, was appointed to wait upon Samuel Adams and tell him what the people desired.

The committee called at the modest house in Winter Street, and Revere presented the resolutions.

"A meeting about the Constitution?" exclaimed Sam Adams—" a meeting of the people? Why, Mr. Revere—was was not I asked to attend the meeting?"

"Oh, they are too apt to do as you say. We wanted to get the real voice of the people," replied Revere.

Adams glanced over the resolutions. There was no mistaking their tone of approval of the Constitution.

"Hm! " he said; "who made up the meeting, Mr. Revere?"



"The mechanics of Boston, Mr. Adams," was the answer.

Well, tell me,’’ said Adams, still holding the resolutions in his hand, "how many mechanics were at the. Green Dragon when these resolutions were passed?"

More, sir," was the prompt reply, "than the Green Dragon could hold."

And where were the rest of ‘em, Mr. Revere?" queried the " Father of the Revolution," who knew the mechanics of Boston even better than does a modern walking delegate."

"They were in the streets, sir,’ Revere answered.

"And how many were in the streets, Mr. Revere?" persisted Sam Adams.

But Revere’s reply was prompt and convincing.

"Why, sir," he said, " more than there are stars in the sky."

That settled it. With Paul Revere, comparison was emphasis; but Sam Adams did not need an arithmetical comparison. He knew that the meeting was the voice of the people, and in that voice he was a firm believer.

It was their will, he said, that Massachusetts ratify this Constitution, faulty as it was. Their will was his law, and he would vote to ratify.

So he became, for the time being, a Federalist, or supporter of the Constitution, and, because of his advocacy, the end came at last. On the 6th of February, in the year 1788, the Massachusetts State Convention, assembled in the meetinghouse on Long Lane in Boston, decided, by a close vote of ‘87 to 167, that Massachusetts should ratify the Constitution of the United States.



Then the people shouted their approval. From the Berkshires to the sea, Massachusetts celebrated the event.

Bells rang; bonfires blazed; cannons boomed. "The Boston people have lost their senses with joy," wrote General Henry Knox.

And, as a memento of their joy, the street on which stood the meetinghouse in which the convention was held was no longer called Long Lane, but Federal Street; and Federal Street it remains to this day.