Description

    John Hancock commissions the first congressional election in Massachusetts under the U.S. Constitution

    John Hancock Document Signed Twice as governor of Massachusetts. One page partly printed, 9.25" x 14.75", April 10, 1789, Boston. This document directs the citizens "in the District of Hampshire and Berkshire" to vote for their first U.S. representative. In part (boldfaced words are handwritten, all others are printed): "To the Selectmen of the Town of [blank] in the District of Hampshire and Berkshire Greeting. These are in the name of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to will and require you, forthwith, in manner as the law directs for calling Town-Meetings, to cause the freeholders and other inhabitants of the town of [blank] duly qualified to vote for Representatives to the General Court of this Commonwealth, to assemble on Monday, the eleventh of May next, to give in their votes for a Representative, who shall be an inhabitant of the district of Hampshire and Berkshire to represent the said district in the Congress of the UNITED STATES of AMERICA, to the Selectmen who shall preside at said Meeting . . . you shall in open Town-Meeting, sort and count the votes, and form a list of the persons voted for, with the number of votes for each person against his name, and shall make a publick declaration thereof, in the said Meeting." Countersignature by Secretary John Avery Jr.

    The document continues by reporting that two men have received the most votes, though neither is named in the document as the first congressman from the district: "These certify, that the returns from the several towns within the district of Hampshire and Berkshire, respecting the choice of a Representative, to represent the people thereof, in the Congress of the United States, have been examined agreeably to the resolution of the General court, passed the twentieth of November 1788, by which it appears, that The Honorable Theodore Sedgwick Esq. & Samuel Lyman Esq. have had the greatest number of votes in the returns from the said district, in which no person has been chosen." This is followed by John Hancock's well-known, large, elaborate, and bold signature and another Secretary Avery countersignature. The second Hancock signature is below the paper seal in the far left margin, equally elaborate and bold.

    Under the Articles of Confederation (1781-1789), Massachusetts' General Court (the state legislature) chose the state's one delegate to the Congress of the Confederation. Under the U.S. Constitution, which replaced the Articles on March 4, 1789, congressmen were to be chosen "every second Year by the People" according to the population of the state (U.S. Constitution, art. 1, sec. 2, cl. 1 and 3). Before the first congressional election under the new U.S. Constitution, Massachusetts had divided into eight congressional districts. Four of those districts quickly chose their representatives, but the other four--including the fourth district of Hampshire and Berkshire--were chosen later. This was not a matter of great concern, for even though the U.S. Constitution was ratified in late 1788 and the Constitution took effect on March 4, 1789, the U.S. House of Representatives did not become viable until a quorum of elected members met for the first time on April 1, 1789--only nine days before this document was produced. Theodore Sedgwick (1746-1813), a lawyer and statesman, eventually won the election and served as the U.S. representative from Massachusetts' fourth district until 1793. Samuel Lyman (1749-1802), also a lawyer and statesman, was later elected in 1795. He served for five years.

    John Hancock, prominent American patriot perhaps best known for his conspicuous signature on the Declaration of Independence, served two terms as governor of Massachusetts: from 1780-1785 as the state's first governor and from 1787-1793 as its third. This document, which contains a large blind embossed stamped paper seal affixed with wax at upper left, is hinged to a mat (21" x 18"). Archival tape on verso reinforces some fold creases, which appear weak. Well preserved and in fine condition. Together with an engraving (also hinged to the mat) of Hancock published by Johnson, Fry, & Co. of New York.


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    February, 2010
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