James Bowdoin
Painting: by Edmund Charles Tarbell, 1900

Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: 1785-1787

Typical of the Commonwealth's early governors, James Bowdoin was a merchant and important revolutionary figure. He served on the twenty-eight person executive council, which managed Massachusetts' wartime affairs between 1775 and 1780. He was a key participant in drafting Massachusetts' constitution and was the first President of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Mr. Bowdoin had secured the most votes in the popular election, but failed to gain a majority from among the field of four candidates. He was elected by the members of the legislature. A year later he won reelection with a three-quarters majority.

The dominant issue in Governor Bowdoin's two terms in office was the continued high rate of inflation. This combined with strict debt laws brought a number of rural communities to the point of revolution. In August and September of 1786, farmers wearing the same uniforms in which they had fought for independence, took over Massachusetts courthouses in Springfield, Northampton, Worcester, Concord, Taunton, and Great Barrington.

Over the next five months, Governor Bowdoin assembled 4,400 militiamen to vigorously suppress the revolt of 2,000 farmers. He succeeded in breaking the rebellion in February 1787, capturing fourteen of the insurrection's leaders who were sentenced to hang. Bowdoin's vigorous response to the rebellion contributed to his defeat. He polled below twenty percent against his successor, John Hancock.