Mass. Ratification reenacted

By Andrew Bonifant

One of the first things any American learns is that July 4 is the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Not as well known is Sept. 17, the day in 1787 when another document of relative importance: the Constitution was ratified in Massachusetts.

The importance of that day was not lost on former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis, Professor Michael Tolley and Professor William Fowler. The three organized a reenactment last Wednesday in the Behrakis Center to demonstrate the issues delegates discussed and to show the procedure that went with the document’s ratification.

The event was designed to allow students to act as delegates. With Dukakis leading the meeting as John Hancock, students in attendance read through copies of the Constitution and asked questions based on what the actual delegates argued about in 1787, including slaves’ rights, office term length and the strength of the national government.

According to Dukakis, the ratification of the Constitution in Massachusetts deserves more unique acknowledgement than it has received in the past.

“We do not appreciate how important the Massachusetts vote was when it came to the Constitution,” Dukakis said. “Even with a compromise that became the Bill of Rights, it still came down to 19 votes, 187 to 168.”

If Massachusetts had not ratified, some other states would likely have followed suit and possibly declined ratification in their states, he said.

This is the second year Northeastern has celebrated the ratification, but Tolley decided to change the structure of the event this year, switching from what was a speech on the Constitution’s importance to a more hands-on activity.

“This was open to the whole university, and all were allowed to play an active role in deciding this framework of government,” Tolley said. “It is our Constitution, after all, and it is important that people connect themselves with that document.”

Participation from the audience and student reaction indicated the interactive style was a success.

“I wanted to go because I am interested in history and think the forming of the country is interesting,” said Nate Millan, a sophomore finance major and history minor. “At first, I thought it was going to be watching as an audience, but once I saw it was audience oriented, it seemed less like a show and more like a learning experience.”

Josh Minney, a sophomore political science major, had a similar opinion.

“We have been talking about [the Constitution] in my American Government class, and I thought it would be cool to see it reenacted,” he said. “I did not know the format, being that we were supposed to talk, but it was pretty interesting. I have never been to anything like that. It is definitely worth seeing again.”

The reenactment was arranged to allow each professor to take turns handling the mock meeting, and at the end Fowler went over John Hancock’s proposal to the delegates and analyzed how Massachusetts came to accept the document. He said the influence Samuel Adams and Hancock had on the delegates when they supported it was crucial.

“If Adams or Hancock voted against the Constitution it would be dead,” Fowler said.

Though the emphasis was on what happened more than 200 years ago, Dukakis took the liberty of commenting on a few contemporary issues.

“But of course, there is no need to worry about the President’s using his power for illegal surveillance,” Dukakis said while going over the power of the national government. “So we don’t need to worry about that.”

Leave a Reply