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Portraits in Massachusetts Law is intended to be a regular feature of Massachusetts Law Updates. These pages will provide links to biographical information about people who have been particularly important in legal history in Massachusetts, as our government took shape in the cauldron of the American Revolution and grew and changed throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

John Adams drafted the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1780. It is the oldest written constitution serving as the foundation of a functioning government. The Massachusetts Constitution supplied a template for the U.S. Constitution drafted seven years later.

“You and I, my dear Friend, have been sent into life at a time when the greatest lawgivers of antiquity would have wished to live. How few of the human race have ever enjoyed an opportunity of making an election of government, more than of air, soil, or climate, for themselves or their children. When! Before the present epocha, had three millions of people full power and a fair opportunity to form and establish the wisest and happiest government that human wisdom can contrive?”

– John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776

“Adams believed that a stable and democratic government required the consent of the governed and the separation of powers among the executive, legislature, and judiciary, and a bicameral (two-body) legislature.” His role in seizing the “opportunity of making an election of government” for himself and his children is outlined in the Massachusetts Court System’s  “John Adams & the Massachusetts Constitution.”

An exhibit, John Adams: Architect of American Government, on view online and at the John Adams Courthouse in Boston, rounds out the picture of this steadfast, dedicated citizen destined to have a pivotal role in the creation of our government.


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