The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780: A Social Compact

The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780: A Social Compact

The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780: A Social Compact

The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780: A Social Compact

Excerpt

This book is an interpretation of the political theory of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. The focus is upon the relationship between the individual and the demos, as that relationship is defined by the Constitution. This is the central problem of social contract theory, as defined by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 was adopted by a political society that was schooled in social contract theory, and was explicitly predicated upon a social contract In order to understand that social contract, I found it necessary to reconstruct the theoretical basis of the Constitution. This reconstruction rests upon an exegesis of the political literature produced in Massachusetts between 1774, the year of the Continental Congress, and 1780. I attempt to develop the theoretical implications of this literature and bring them to bear upon the task of interpreting the theoretical foundations of the Constitution.

Although the study falls within the broad area of the history of ideas, I enter the field with the perspective of the political theorist. Thus, my interest is in attaining theoretical insight into fundamental political questions, such as the proper relationship between the individual and the demos, questions that have implications that extend beyond the politics of Massachusetts during the Revolution. In developing and adopting the Constitution of 1780, the people of Massachusetts were compelled to deal with political fundamentals, and in the process they engaged in a theoretical discourse from which we may learn. Therefore, my interest in the political debates of this period does not run merely to a description of what was said, or to an explanation of what was said in terms of the political and economic conditions . . .

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