George Washington Papers
Documents filtered by: Author="Bowdoin, James" AND Period="Revolutionary War"
sorted by: editorial placement
Permanent link for this document:

To George Washington from James Bowdoin, 6 April 1780

From James Bowdoin

Boston April 6–1780


A new Constitution of Government being generally apprehended necessary for this State, a majority of the Towns, on recommendation of the Assembly, Some months ago appointed Delegates for the purpose of forming one: And they have lately in convention agreed upon one, which is to be laid before the people at large for their Consideration. They ordered a number of copies to be printed, two or three of which being at my disposal, I have the honour of enclosing one of them to your Excellency. If it should afford you any amusement I shall be much gratified.1

By a Letter in January from our Peace-Ambassador Mr Adams, So far as he then had the means of judging, he did not expect to have any thing to do in the business of his department, at least for this year: So that another Campaign Seems unavoidable.2 I wish it may be productive of Such happy events as to insure a lasting peace, established on American principles.3 I have the honour to be with the most perfect Esteem Sr Yr Excellency’s most obed. hble servt

James Bowdoin


1Bowdoin presumably enclosed A Constitution or Frame of Government; Agreed upon by the Delegates of the People of the State of Massachusetts-Bay, In Convention; Begun and held at Cambridge on the First of September 1779; And Continued by Adjournments to the Second of March, 1780; To be submitted to the Revision of their Constituents, in Order to the compleating of the same, in Conformity to their Amendments, at a Session to be held for that Purpose, on the First Wednesday in June next ensuing (Boston, 1780). The copy actually sent GW has not been identified, but see his letter to Henry Knox, 2 May.

Delegates had gathered in Cambridge, Mass., on 1 Sept. 1779 to prepare a new state constitution. Bowdoin, the convention’s president, served on the committee to draft a constitution, which subsequently assigned the task to John Adams. The convention considered the draft in late October and early November and completed deliberations during an additional session in Boston that began in late January 1780 and ended on 2 March. Ratification of the Massachusetts Constitution occurred in June after deliberations in town meetings. For details, see Robert J. Taylor, “Construction of the Massachusetts Constitution,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 90 (1981): 317–46. See also Samuel Eliot Morison, A History of the Constitution of Massachusetts (Boston, 1917), 18–22; Ronald M. Peters, Jr., The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780: A Social Compact (Amherst, Mass., 1978); and Papers of John Adams description begins Robert J. Taylor et al., eds. Papers of John Adams. 17 vols. to date. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1977–. description ends , 8:228–71.

2Bowdoin almost certainly is referring to a letter from Adams to Samuel Huntington, president of Congress, written at Bilbao, Spain, on 16 Jan., in which Adams observed that “the belligerent Powers are bent on War, without manifesting the least disposition for Peace, and most of all Great Britain, whose ostentatious display of trifling Successes, and weak Exultation in them, shews that nothing can divert her from her furious course” (Butterfield, Diary of John Adams description begins L. H. Butterfield, ed. Diary and Autobiography of John Adams. 4 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1961. description ends , 4:230–36; see also Papers of John Adams description begins Robert J. Taylor et al., eds. Papers of John Adams. 17 vols. to date. Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1977–. description ends , 8:310–11). Congress had selected Adams as minister plenipotentiary to negotiate peace with Great Britain.

3GW replied to Bowdoin from Morristown on 26 April: “I am much obliged to you for your favour of the 6th Instant transmitting me a copy of the plan proposed for the constitution of your state.

“I have not yet had leizure to give it an attentive consideration, but from a cursory view it appears to me to be a very judicious one & to possess all the requisites towards securing the liberty & happiness of Individuals and at the same time giving energy to the administration. This last indeed is essential to the former, though unfortunately in some of our constitutions it has not been sufficiently consulted.

“It is of great importance that a State which is of so much weight in the Union as that of Massachusetts should have a well combined and vigorous government. and nothing will give me greater pleasure than to learn that the People have adopted one which answers this description.

“Accept my thanks for your communication of the advice from Mr Adams—It corrisponds with my expectations; though very little with our circumstances. It is devoutly to be wished this Campaign may be the last” (ALS, UkWC-A; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; GW signed the cover of the ALS, which is addressed to Bowdoin at Boston. Robert Winthrop wrote a note on the ALS at Boston on 19 Oct. 1860: “Presented to The Prince of Wales”). GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton, who wrote the draft, penned and then struck out “European” after the word “the” in the opening line of the final paragraph.

Index Entries