The Constitution or Frame of Government for the United States of America. Boston: printed by Adams and Nourse, 1787
8vo (7 7/8 x 5 1/4 in.; 200 x 133 mm, uncut, 2 gatherings disbound). Browning and foxing. Half green morocco folding-case gilt.
Aaron Wood's annotated copy of the U. S. Constitution. Wood (1720–91) was a justice of the peace in Essex County, Massachusetts. In addition, he served as a state senator in 1781 and was a representative to the General Court for sixteen years during the period from 1761 to 1779. (See lots 76–80 for a series of Wood's civil appointments.) In 1788, he was a delegate to the Massachusetts ratifying convention.
The campaign to ratify the Constitution in Massachusetts was crucial to the Federalists and was closely watched by both sides of the debate. After the rushed ratification in Pennsylvania, the Federalists felt that it was essential to avoid as much controversy as possible in Massachusetts. For the first time, the Federalists did not demand that the state delegates accept or reject the Constitution as it was. Instead the state convention was allowed to propose amendments, which could be offered as recommendations attached to a vote for ratification. One 6 February 1788, the Massachusetts convention ratified the Constitution by a vote of 187 to 168; Wood was among those who voted "nay."
Wood carefully annotated his locally printed copy of the Constitution throughout. He affixed six slips of paper of various sizes, covered in notes, to the printed text. In addition, he made a number of substantial comments in the margins of the text and underlined a number of passages. In these queries, Wood shows himself aligned with the Anti-Federalists and their concerns.
Wood has attached a slip of paper over the printed text for Article I, sections I and II, concerning the creation of the U.S. Congress: "in this first article have they not taken care to anilate all sovereignty in each State when they say, all Legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in Congress ... is not the term of two years for the House of Representatives one year two long has not long Parliment always been Complained off as a Grievence to the Nation." He has underscored in the printed text "Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand, but each State shall have at least one Representative"; Wood comments, "is not this idefinite: who Knows who this Number is to consist of are they to be the whole number of Soles or of Males only or qualified Voters if of the Latter will any State in the Union in that case have a Right to send more than one Member in that Case cannot the Nine Southern States out Vote the four New England States and so carry everything as they Please."
Section V calls for each house of Congress to keep a journal to be published "excepting such parts as may in their judgement require secrecy. Wood rejects this, writing, "Secret Journals to be Kept — are any Free People under the Sun to have their public affairs transacted but know nothing of them. All means of knowledge to be kept from them as proposed Secret."
In the first of two comments expressing concern over the concept of separation of church and state, he finds the proposed Presidential oath to be wanting: "is There one Word in this oath that the President shall in the least Defend the Rights and liberties of the Subject or Support and Defend the Christian Religion ...." He then turns his attention to the creation of a Supreme Court: "is not this Continent to large to have all Power Vested in one Supreme Court & other Inferior Courts shall not like to have Judges set over us by Congress. Perhaps strangers who may have but little Feeling for their Fellow Men." Returning to questions of religion, Wood seems taken aback by the statement "...no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." He imagines a worst case scenario brought about by this regulation: "... may we not then by this Constitution have Atheists Pagans Mahomatents or Roman Catholics to rule over us."
In Wood's final annotation, he sounds a note heard frequently in today's political discourse: "Do we find any thing in this Constitution of a Bill of Rights Showing what Mankind is Naturally Entitled to and has a Right to Enjoy without Interruption — all are born free and have certain unalenable Rights which no man has a Right to Deprive of or have none but Naturally born Vassals subject to New Despots —
"What swarms of officers will this Constitution Naturally require and what will be their salaries. It has been said by some their Numbers will Exceed forty thousand."
An amazing and still timely document offering a candid glimpse of the concerns and questions raised by the formation of a federal government, voiced by a local but influential official from Essex County, Massachusetts.
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