1779: John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Bowdoin Drafting the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780

Milestones on the Road to Freedom

By Albert Herter, 1942

Oil on canvas, 110 x 130 in.

Gift of the artist and his son, Governor Christian Herter.
Unveiled December 16, 1942.

In 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress removed General Sir Thomas Gage as governor and assumed administration of the colony under the second Charter of 1692. Fearful of the direction the state might take without a well-defined system of government, many demanded some form of compact—a constitution. The first draft of the document, prepared by the legislature in 1777 during the first Constitutional Convention, was overwhelmingly rejected.

A second convention held in 1779 appointed John Adams—lawyer, diplomat, author of Thoughts on Government (1776), and future president of the United States—and two colleagues to gather the myriad ideas into a fair, balanced, workable document. Concerns of representation in a bi-cameral legislature, separation of power among three branches of government, and the rights and consent of the governed fueled Adams' framework for a stable and democratic government, guided by a declaration of trust in public servants.

In this mural, Adams confers with Samuel Adams and James Bowdoin at his home in Braintree (now Quincy). The challenging nature of their work is expressed in the quiet concentration of the figures. The Massachusetts Constitution was ratified at town meetings in June 1780. One of the oldest working constitutions in the world, it served as the model for the constitution of the United States in 1788.

mural of 1779: John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Bowdoin Drafting the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780