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The Popular Sources of Political Authority

The Popular Sources of Political Authority

Documents on the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780

Edited by Oscar Handlin and Mary Flug Handlin

ISBN 9780674690004

Publication date: 01/01/1966

Rarely is it possible to hear the voice of the people in a revolution except as it filters through the writings of articulate individuals who may not really be representative. But on several occasions during the effort to draft a constitution for Massachusetts after 1776, the citizens of the Commonwealth were asked to convene in their 300 town meetings to debate and convey to the legislators their political theories, needs, and aspirations. This book presents the transcribed debates and the replies returned to Boston which constitute a unique body of material documenting the political thought of the ordinary citizen.

In an important, extended introduction, the editors, interpreting the American Revolution and its sustaining political framework in light of this material, analyze the forces that were singular and those that were universal in the shaping of American democracy. Comparisons are made with popular uprisings in other parts of the world and at other times, and the whole is integrated into a general discussion of the nature of revolution and its relationship to constitutional authority.


  • Oscar Handlin, a Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, was Carl M. Loeb University Professor, Emeritus, at Harvard University. He was the editor of This Was America.
  • Mary Flug Handlin is Research Editor at the Center for the Study of the History of Liberty in America, Harvard University.

Book Details

  • 978 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press