J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Opening Day for the Massachusetts Convention of 1768

On Thursday, 22 Sept 1768, 250 years ago today, the Massachusetts Convention met for the first time in Faneuil Hall. Participants were dubbed to be “committees” from their respective towns.

Gov. Francis Bernard sent a strongly worded message from his official home, the Province House (shown here):
As I have lately received from his Majesty [i.e., the Crown government in London] strict Orders to support his constitutional authority within this Government [i.e., in the province of Massachusetts], I cannot sit still and see so notorious a violation of it, as the calling an Assembly of the people by private persons only. For a meeting of the Deputies of the Towns is an Assembly of the Representatives of the people to all intents and purposes; and it is not the calling it a Convention what will alter the nature of the thing. . . .

It is therefore my duty to interpose at this instant, before it is too late. I do therefore earnestly admonish you that instantly and before you do any business, you break up this Assembly and separate yourselves. I speak to you now as a friend to the Province, and a well-wisher to the individuals of it.
Andrew Oliver, the royal secretary of Massachusetts, delivered that message to Thomas Cushing, the Convention chairman (usually speaker of the Massachusetts house). The Convention records noted that the letter was:
said to be by Order of the Governor, but not being signed, it was by a Vote of the Committees returned to the Secretary, with Assurance to him that they should be always ready to pay all due Respect to any Messages which they might be assured should come to them from the Governor of the Province.
The Convention then approved a petition to Gov. Bernard asking him to convene the Massachusetts General Court. Back in June, the governor had ended a legislative session because the lower house refused to rescind its Circular Letter to other colonies. Bernard had explicit orders from the ministry in London to take that action.

The governor therefore declined to receive the petition from the small committee that brought it, sending a note in reply:

You must excuse me from receiving a Message from that Assembly which is called a Committee of Convention; for that would be to admit it to be a legal Assembly; which I can by no Means allow.
The Convention responded that this letter wasn’t signed, either. But the three delegates who had been to the Province House “declared in Writing under their Hands that his Excellency delivered the same to them.”

The Convention and the governor having each refused to recognize the other, the first day of the momentous gathering came to a close.

TOMORROW: Meanwhile, in the Council Chamber…

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