The Massachusetts Constitution: A Model for Public Education from the Hand of John Adams


Author: Doug Sharp
Subject: Science Education
Date: 06/07/2003

In 1990, our family vacationed in the Boston, Massachusetts area, and one of the stops on the visit was the Adams National Historic Site in Quincy. This site feature the birthplaces of John Adams, second president of the United States, and John Quincy Adams, his son, sixth president of the United States. These men were among the most influential of the founding fathers, and they played an important role in the thinking as to how the government of the United States should be set up. When we visited the site of the birthplace of John Adams, one of the rooms in the house was where John Adams framed the constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The curator at the site handed out photocopies of the first page of this document. My copy sat in a drawer in my house for many years, and recently I was cleaning out my garage and found it in one of the boxes and read it.

As I read this document, I was impressed with the wisdom with which this document was crafted, and I was enlightened as to the thinking of John Adams and the founding fathers of our nation as to what they had in mind concerning public education. With all of the current debate concerning the “separation of church and state” and the subsequent removal of the liberties of Christians to have their children taught in the ways of their faith if their schooling is through public education, I believe it would be helpful for legislators and educators to review the foundation documents such as this one to get a grasp as to how our founding fathers envisioned solving this problem. Take note of the excerpt below and the parts I have highlighted in green.

A Constitution or Form of Government for
the Commonwealth of Massachusetts


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 forming a new Constitution of Civil Government for Ourselves and Posterity; and devoutly imploring his direction so interesting a Design, Do agree upon, ordain and establish the following Declaration of Rights and Frame of Governmentas the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.



Art. I. All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying their Lives and Liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.
II. It is the right as well as the Duty of all men in society, publickly and at stated seasons to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and preserver of the Universe. And no Subject shall be hurt, molested or restrained in his person, Liberty or Estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the Dictates of his own conscience, or for his religious profession or sentiments, provided he doth not disturb the public peace, or obstruct others in their religious worship.
III. As the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of a civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through a Community, but by the institution of the public Worship of God, and of public instructions in piety, religion and morality: Therefore, to promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this Commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several Towns, parishes, precincts and other bodies politic, or religious societies, to make suitable provision, at their own Expense, for the institution of Public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily. ~ And the people of this Commonwealth have also a right to, and do, invest their legislature with authority to enjoin upon all their Subjects an attendance upon the instructions of the public teachers aforesaid, at stated times and seasons, if there be any on whose instructions they can Conscientiously and conveniently attend. Provided, notwithstanding, that the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic, or religious societies, shall, at all times, have the exclusive right of electing their public Teachers, and of contracting with them for their support and maintenance. ~ And all monies, paid by the Subject to the support of public worship, and of the public teachers aforesaid, shall, if he require it, be uniformly applied to the support of the public teacher or teachers of his own religious sect or denomination, provided there be any on whose instructions he attends; otherwise it may be paid toward the support of the teacher or teachers of the parish or precinct in which the said monies are raised. ~ And every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably, and as good subjects of the Commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the Law. And no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law. ~
IV. The people of this Commonwealth have the sole and exclusive right of governing themselves, as a free, sovereign, and independent State, and do, and forever hereafter shall, exercise and enjoy every power, jurisdiction , and right, which is not, or may not hereafter, be by them expressly delegated to the United States of America in Congress assembled. ~
V. All power residing originally in the people, and being derived from them, the several magistrates and officers of government, vested with authority, whether legislative, executive, or judicial, are their substitutes and agents, and are at all times accountable to them.~
VI. No man, nor Corporation, or association of men, have any other title to obtain advantages, or particular and exclusive privileges, distinct from those of the Community, than what arises from the consideration of services rendered to the public; and this title being in nature neither hereditary, non transmissible to children, or descendants, or relations by blood, the idea of a man born a magistrate, lawgiver or judge, is absurd and unnatural. ~
VII. Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family or Class of men: Therefore the people alone have an incontestable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to institute government and to reform, alter, or totally change the same, when their protection, safety, prosperity and happiness require. ~
VIII. In order to prevent those, who are vested with authority, from becoming oppressors, the people have a right, at such periods and in such manner as they shall establish by their frame of government to cause their public officers to return to private life; and to fill up vacant places by certain and regular elections and appointments. ~
IX. All elections ought to be free; and all inhabitants of this Commonwealth, having such Qualifications as they shall establish by their frame of government, have an equal right to elect officers, and to be elected, for public employments. ~
X. Each individual of the society has a right to be protected by it in the enjoyment of his life, Liberty and property, according to standing Laws. He is obliged, consequently, to contribute his share to the expense of this protection; to give his personal service, or an equivalent, when necessary: But no part of the property of any individual, can, with justice, be taken from him, or applied to public uses without his own consent, or that of the representative body of the people. In fine, the people of this Commonwealth are not controllable by an other Laws than those to which their Constitutional representative body have given their consent. And whenever the public exigencies require, that the property of any individual should be appropriated to public uses, he shall receive a reasonable Compensation there for. ~
XI. Every subject of the Commonwealth ought to find a certain remedy by having recourse to the laws, for all injuries or wrongs which he may receive in his person, property or character. He ought to obtain right and justice freely, and without being obliged to purchase it; compleatly, and without any denial; promptly, and without delay; conformably to the laws. ~
XII. No subject shall be held to answer for any Crimes or offence, until the same is fully and plainly, substantially and formally, described to him; or be compelled to accuse, or furnish evidence against himself. And every subject shall have a right to produce all proofs, that may be favourable to him; to meet the witnesses against him face to face, and to be fully heard in his defence by himself or his council, at his election. And no subject shall be arrested, imprisoned, despoiled, or deprived of his property, immunities, or privileges, put out of the protection of the law, exiled, or deprived of his life, liberty or estate, but by the judgment of his peers, on the law of the land. And the legislature shall not make any law, that shall subject any person to a capital or infamous punishment, except for the government of the army and navy, without trial by jury.
XIII. In criminal prosecutions, the verification of facts in the vicinity where they happen, is one of the greatest securities of the life, liberty and property of the Citizen. ~

In reviewing this document, I make the following observations: (1) In article II, it spells out the foundational importance of the worship of and service to the creator God for the success of a government. It spells out the rights of all persons to worship God as his conscience dictates. (2) In article III, it spells out the importance of teaching the worship of God, piety and morality as the foundation for public education, and a manner in which this teaching could be executed without offense to any particular denomination or sect. The way this would work would be for each denomination to provide their own teachers supplied by their congregation for that purpose.

The question I would ask is this: does the current system of public education reflect the wishes of the founding fathers? I would say no. Our founding fathers, such as John Adams, recognized the necessity of the role of the worship of God in public education. But what we have created with our current public education system is a tax-funded parochial school for atheists, where if any other religious point of view is discussed, it is done so with scorn. The Bible warns us of traveling down the road where man does not like to “retain God in his knowledge” (Romans 1:28) and outlines serious consequences for doing so.

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