What A Little-Known Colonial Pamphlet Tells Us About the Constitution

by Rob Natelson

Between 1764 and the Declaration of Independence in 1776 Americans produced a rich series of pamphlets and resolutions listing their grievances against the central government of the British Empire. As I have pointed out before, reading those pamphlets is very helpful in understanding what the Constitution really means. And ignorance of them contributes to common constitutional mistakes.

These pamphlets are particularly useful in comprehending the Founders’ version of federalism. This is because the constitutional balance between states and federal government partly reflected what the Founders had wanted the balance to be between colonies and imperial government.

One of the most extraordinary of these pamphlets is little-known today, but it deserves much more attention. It is “The Votes and Proceedings of the Freeholders and other Inhabitants of the Town of Boston in Town Meeting assembled According to Law.” Historians refer to it as “The Boston Pamphlet.”

The Boston Pamphlet was the product of the Boston “committee of correspondence,” a group consisting of patriots such as James Otis and Sam Adams. The people of the Town of Boston formally approved the Pamphlet on November 20, 1772, whereupon they sent it to other Massachusetts towns for their consideration and response.

The Boston Pamphlet’s statement of natural rights anticipates the statement of natural rights expressed in the Declaration of Independence. The Pamphlet’s view of the limits on British power anticipates the balance the Framers struck in the Constitution……

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1 Comment »

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