Massachusetts of 1780 was a different world than today. The state was full of people who believed in God and demanded that was part of their government. While the US Constitution ended up not having the protections against a national religion or the protections that allowed the states to have a state religion until the Bill of Rights, that did not mean that the elected officials were not under the laws and eye of the people who sent them to represent them. While these men who were sent to the Constitutional Convention weren’t as varied as the men and women today, they were kept to a stronger code of ethics, because the voters actually paid attention. This was politics at a true grassroots level.
This document was the only state Constitution that was created by a convention. An idea that was started in the town of Concord, one of the two cities where the Revolution started. The document was drafted by John Adams and took several years to get perfected. Part of the reason for the delay was because the citizens of the state of Massachusetts did not believe the first draft in 1778 emphasized religion enough. Thus, the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution had several references to God and how Christianity was part of the state.
The Massachusetts Constitution preamble
Let’s look at the preamble and see how people looked at government in 1780.
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.
Notice how they say “to provide for an equitable mode of making laws, as well as for an impartial interpretation and a faithful execution of them”. They were in the midst of the Revolution when the state was debating this Constitution. They saw the need to have laws that were not out to destroy the people they were supposed to protect. They were not out to create laws that would be so confusing that anyone could be arrested because of them. The laws were also to be fully observed, not treated as some sort of political pawn of the person in charge of enforcing them.
Also, take note the mention of God and their thanking him for being able to create the Constitution of Massachusetts. That was important to the residents of the state. That is why the only governmental body that was prohibited from making laws for or against religion was the US Congress. The states that were represented at the US Constitutional Convention wanted that understood. While it took until the first Congress to get that guarantee via the Bill of Rights, it was talked about in the convention.