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Samuel Adams and the Green Dragon

 

Where was Samuel Adams when we needed him?  Why, as a matter of fact, did it take such a long time for those colonists to make up their minds to ratify the constitution?   And what did the Green Dragon have to do with all this?

 

 First, why did it take such a long time for those colonists to make up their minds to ratify the constitution?  And do we too easily take it for granted today? 

 

They argued and debated; they quarreled and shouted in the press: "CORRUPTION!!!"  Richard Fisk gives us a dramatic picture of the pros and cons of those hectic days: 

 

PRO:  "Brother farmers,...These men of learning, are all embarked in the same cause with us, and we must all sink or swim together.  Shall we throw the Constitution overboard because it does not please us all alike? Suppose two or three of you had been at the pains to break up a piece of rough land and sow it with wheat: would you let it lie waste because you "could not agree what sort of a fence to make?  Would it not be better to put up a fence that did not please everyone's fancy, rather than keep disputing about it until the wild beasts came in and devoured the crop?  Some gentlemen say, Don't be in a hurry; take time to consider. I say, There is a time to sow and a time to reap.  We sowed our seed when we sent men to the Federal Convention, now is the time to reap the fruit of our labour; and if we do not do it now, I am afraid we shall never have another opportunity." 

 

The Media:  On the 21st of January, the "Boston Gazette " came out with an accusation: "The most diabolical plan is on foot to corrupt the members of the convention who oppose the adoption of the new Constitution."

 

No adequate investigation ever determined whether this charge was true or not. 

 

Pro or Con?:  Richard Henry Lee wrote a letter to Gerry , urging that Massachusetts should not adopt the Constitution without insisting upon sundry amendments; and in order to consider these amendments, it was suggested that there should be another Federal Convention.  (More about this in our next article.)

 

Undecided:  Samuel Adams scarcely opened his mouth but listened with anxious care to everything that was said on either side.  The convention was so evenly divided that there could be no doubt that his single voice would decide the result. Every one eagerly awaited his opinion.

 

Turning the tide:  Along with "Brother Farmer," Madison, Washington, Hamilton, John Jay, and others, Samuel Adams was a great influence. 

 

In the debate on the two years' term of members of Congress, Samuel Adams had asked Caleb Strong the reason why the Federal Convention had decided upon so long a term; and when it was explained as a necessary compromise between the views of so many delegates, he replied, " I am satisfied."

 

"Will Mr. Adams kindly say that again ? " asked one of the members. 

 

" I am satisfied," he repeated; and not another word was said on that subject.  So profound was the faith of this intelligent and skeptical and independent people in the sound judgment and unswerving integrity of the Father of the Revolution! 

 

(And now the Green Dragon comes into play:)

 

As the weeks had gone by, and the issue seemed still dubious, the workingmen of Boston, shipwrights and brass-founders and other mechanics, decided to express their opinion in a way that they knew Samuel Adams would heed.  They held a meeting at the Green Dragon Tavern, passed resolutions in favor of the Constitution, and appointed a committee, with Paul Revere at its head, to make known these resolutions to the great popular leader. 

 

When Adams had read the paper, he asked Paul Revere, "How many mechanics were at the Green Dragon when these resolutions passed ?"

 

" More, sir, than the Green Dragon could hold." 

 

"And where were the rest, Mr. Revere ?"

 

" In the streets, sir." 

 

" And how many were in the streets ? " 

 

" More, sir, than there are stars in the sky." 

 

Perhaps it was this incident of the meeting at the Green Dragon that determined Adams's final attitude in the state convention for, on the sixth of February, 1788, Massachusetts became the sixth state to ratify.  Already Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia and Connecticut had ratified.

 

Still the questions of Madison and Gerry must be answered.  How would Virginia, New Hampshire and New York and naughty Rhode Island vote. Would they ratify?

 

At the same time the affair was taking a decided turn.  The long delay in the decision of the Massachusetts convention had carried the excitement to fever heat through-out the country.  Not only were people from New Hampshire and New York and naughty Rhode Island waiting anxiously about Boston to catch every crumb of news they could get, but intrigues were going on, as far south as Virginia, to influence a negative result. 

 

And accusations against those in favor of the Constitution appeared. On the 21st of January, the "Boston Gazette " came out with a warning, headed by enormous capitals with three exclamation-points: 

 

"BRIBERY AND CORRUPTION! ! ! 

 

The most diabolical plan is on foot to corrupt the members of the convention who oppose the adoption of the new Constitution.  Large sums of money have been brought from a neighboring state for that purpose, contributed by the wealthy.  If so, is it not probable there may be collections for the same accursed purpose nearer home?" 

 

Inspiration poetryNo adequate investigation ever determined whether this charge was true or not. We may hope that it was ill. founded; but our general knowledge of human nature must compel us to admit that there was probably a grain of truth in it. What was undeniable was that Richard Henry Lee wrote a letter to Gerry , urging that Massachusetts should not adopt the Constitution without insisting upon sundry amendments; and in order to consider these amendments, it was suggested that there should be another Federal Convention. At this anxious crisis, Washington (another Virginian!) suddenly threw himself into the breach with that infallible judgment of his which always finds a way to victory. 

 

"If another Federal Convention is attempted," said Washington, " its members will be more discordant, and will agree upon no general plan. The Constitution is the best that can be obtained at this time. The Constitution or disunion are before us to choose from. If the Constitution is our choice, a constitutional door is open for amendments, and they may be adopted in a peaceable manner, without tumult or disorder."

 

When this advice of Washington's reached Boston, it set in motion a train of events which soon solved the difficulty, both for Massachusetts and for the other states which had not yet made up their mind. Chief among the objections to the Constitution had been the fact that it did not contain a bill of rights. It did not guarantee religious liberty, freedom of speech and of the press, or the right of the people peacefully to assemble and petition the government or a redress of grievances. It did not provide against the quartering of soldiers upon the people in time of peace. It did not provide against general search-warrants, nor did it securely prescribe the methods by which individuals should be held to answer for criminal offences. It did not even provide that nobody should be burned at the stake or stretched on the rack, for holding peculiar opinions about the nature of God or the origin of evil.

 

That such objections to the Constitution seem strange to us to-day is partly due to the determined attitude of the men who, mid all the troubles of the time, would not consent to any arrangement from which such safeguards to free thinking and free living should be omitted. 

 

So, perhaps the Green Dragon of Massachusetts was necessary after all.

 

Much of the information and quotations for this article are from: Fisk, John, The Critical Period of American History-1783-1789, Houghton Mifflin Co. Publishers, 1888


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