The Massachusetts Constitution contains three parts: a Preamble, a Declaration of Rights, and a Frame of Government. By placing the Declaration of Rights before the Frame of Government, Adams emphasized that the rights of individuals are paramount.
The Preamble announces that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is "formed by the voluntary association of individuals"; it is a "social compact" whereby all agree to be governed by laws designed for the "common good." The Preamble states that "WE, therefore, the people of Massachusetts . . . DO agree upon, ordain and establish, the following Declaration of Rights, and Frame of Government as the CONSTITUTION OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS."
The Declaration of Rights
The Declaration of Rights protects many individual rights. It opens with a broad statement of individual freedom and equality:
All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their Lives and Liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.
The Declaration of Rights guards against excessive governmental power by prohibiting, for example, unreasonable searches and seizures, ex post facto laws, and the public taking of property without just compensation. Protected rights include the right to trial by jury, right to petition the government, and freedom of religious worship.
The Declaration of Rights proclaims that it is the "right of every citizen to be tried by judges as free, impartial and independent as the lot of humanity will admit." Why is this provision included? Because, as Article 29 explains, it is "essential to the preservation of the rights of every individual, his life, liberty, property, and character, that there be an impartial interpretation of the laws, and administration of justice."
The Declaration of Rights concludes with a clear statement of the separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Three independent branches of government are dedicated to one stated purpose: "to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men."
The Frame of Government
The Frame of Government sets forth the authority and obligations of the three branches of Massachusetts government. The legislative department, known as the General Court of Massachusetts, contains two branches: a Senate and a House of Representatives. The executive department is led by a Governor. The Supreme Judicial Court is the highest court. The three branches, each with a separate sphere of authority but checked by the others, would safeguard against dominance by any one branch. Each branch of the bicameral legislature would restrain the other.
The Frame of Government also declares the importance of education to a free and self-governing republic. "Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties . . . ."