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Third Constitutional Convention of 1781-1783.– On March 28, 1781, the House of Representatives voted :
“That a Convention of Delegates from the several Towns & places in this State be called in order to settle a Plan of Government for sd State, & that said Convention be held at Concord in the State aforesaid on the first Tuesday of June next, at three o'clock in the afternoon.”
“That Mr. Batcheldor, Mr. Foster, & Colo Mooney, with such of the Hon Board as they shall join, be a Committee to draft the form of a Precept to be sent to the several Towns & places in this State for calling a Convention to settle a plan of Government for sd State, & lay the same before this House-Concurred, and Mr. Clagett & Mr. Gilman joined.”
A little over a week later, on April 5, the House by a yea and nay vote of 31 to 15 passed the following act :
“Whereas the present situation of affairs in this State make it necessary that a full & free Representation of the Inhabitants thereof should meet in Convention for thesole purpose of forming & laying a permanent Plan or system of Government for the future happiness and well being of the good people of this State, and this house having received instructions from a considerable part of their constituents for that purpose ; therefore :
“ Voted & Resolved, That the Honourable the President of the Council issue to every Town, Parish & District within that part of this State East of Connecticut River, a Precept recommending them to elect and choose one or more persons as they shall judge it expedient, to convene in Concord in said State on the first Tuesday of June next for the purpose aforesaid --- saving to the small Towns liberty to join two or more together if they see fit, to elect & send one person to represent them in said Convention.
“And such system or form of Government as may be agreed upon by such Convention being printed and sent to each and every town, Parish and District in this State for the approbation of the people :- which System or Form of Government being approved by such number of the Inhabitants of this State in their respective town meetings legally called for that purpose, as shall be ordered by said Convention, and a return of such approbation being made to said Convention, and confirmed by them, shall remain as a permanent system or form of Government of this State, and not otherwise : And if the first proposed System or form of Government should be rejected by the People, that the same Convention shall be empowered to proceed and make such amendment and alterations from time to time as may be necessary, Provided always that after such alterations, the same be sent out for the approbation of the People in manner as aforesaid, & that the charge & expense of Such Convention be defrayed by their respective electors.”
The Council concurred in this vote on the following day.
Pursuant to the foregoing vote and precept issued, a convention of delegates to revise the constitution of New Hampshire met at Concord on the first Tuesday of June, the fifth day of the month, 1781.* Tradition assigns the place of meeting to a hall above the store of John Stevens, Esq.
The convention was organized by the election of George Atkinson, of Portsmouth, as president, and Jonathan Mitchell Sewall, also of Portsmouth, as secretary. John Sullivan acted as secretary pro tem. in at least one session in 1782, and Nathaniel Folsom, as president pro tem. in 1783. The membership as far as it is known has been compiled from town records by Mr. G. Parker Lyon, who published a list in the New Hampshire Register for 1852, of which he was editor. This list shows an attendance of 54.* Eleven towns voted specifically not to send delegates, while nineteen others failed to send any for reasons stated. The Connecticut river towns, then disaffected, were not represented. Dr. Bouton accepted this list as approximately correct. Besides the above mentioned officers may be named among the more prominent delegates, John Langdon, Ammi Ruhami Cutter, and John Pickering, of Portsmouth; John Taylor Gilman, of Exeter; Timothy Walker, Jr., of Concord; John Dudley, of Raymond; John McClary, of Epsom ; Otis Baker and Joshua Wingate, of Dover; and Ebenezer Webster, of Salisbury.
* Authorities differ as to the date of the first session of the convention. The convention was called for the first Tuesday in June, 1781. Bouton in his His. tory of Concord, Mr. Lyon in the N. H. Register for 1852, and the editor of the N. H. Manual of the General Court for 1889, all accept this date as the correct one. On the other hand the version of the constitution proposed in 1781 given in the Town Papers, v. 9, appendix, is preceded by the words "... in convention, begun and held at Concord, on the second Tuesday of June, 1781."
Unfortunately the journal of this convention was not preserved, and consequently the records of its proceedings are very meager. The work of the convention, therefore, must be judged largely by its product, the two rejected constitutions with their accompanying addresses to the people, and the third constitution which met with the approval of the people and was accepted. In addition to this, however, there may be found in the New Hampshire Register for 1852, a general outline of the convention, which the editor compiled from a bound volume of these constitutions formerly belonging to Gov. William Plumer.
*The seeming apathy of many of the towns in the important matter of electing delegates to the convention is corroborated by a notice published by the convention in the N. H. Gazette, of March 2, 1782, where the following words appear: “And whereas the major part of the towns thro' the state have hitherto neglected the choosing and sending Delegates to said Convention, agreeably to the Precepts issued by the General Assembly of said State And Whereas it is of the highest importance that there should be a full and free representation of the people in said Convention, to advise, deliberate, and determine on a matter of such moment to themselves and posterity; and it having been also recommended by the General Assembly - The Convention therefore earnestly request all such towns as have bitherto neglected, to neg. lect no longer, but to proceed to choose and send to said Convention, one or more members as they shall judge best, and those towns that have already sent, to add other members if they shall think it expedient, or promotive of the general advantage."
It appears that the convention after having been in session a few days appointed a committee to draft a constitution, and then adjourned until September 14. On this date it met according to adjournment, agreed upon a form for a constitution, and ordered 700 copies printed and distributed throughout the state. A two-thirds vote was required for acceptance of the constitution; and in case of rejection, either entire or in part, towns were requested to state their reasons for such action." In many instances committees were chosen by the towns to draft their reasons, and a member of the committee was appointed to present them to the convention. This session was adjourned till the fourth Wednesday of January, 1782.
Upon the convening of the third session according to adjournment it was found that the proposed constitution had been rejected. The convention then adjourned until the third Wednesday, the 21st, of August following, when a new form of constitution, of which 800 copies were printed, was submitted to the people. This was again accompanied by a request that towns voting to reject the whole or any part of the constitution should definitely state their reasons therefor. It was then voted to adjourn till the last Tuesday of December, 1782. At the convening of this session it was found that the second proposed form of constitution had been rejected. An adjournment was therefore made until the first Tuesday of June, 1783. At this session a third form of constitution was proposed, and, as previously described, in case of rejection, reasons therefor were requested. The convention thereupon adjourned until October 31, 1783, and being duly convened on this day found that the constitution had been accepted.
* In a notice published March 2, 1782, in the N. H. Gazette, pursuant to a res. olution of the convention, and signed by President Atkinson, and Secretary Sewall, towns were requested: "to send their votes respecting the Plan of Government lately sent out for their inspection and revision, to the President or Secretary of said Convention, specifying all their objections and proposed amendments, with the number of votes for and ainst each article."
The above facts, gleaned from Governor Plumer's volume, seem to show that seven sessions were held. Dr. Belknap in his History of New Hampshire, however, states that there were « no less than nine sessions." The whole time from the beginning of the first session until the constitution was declared accepted, was two years, four months, and twenty-six days.
The form of constitution finally adopted was modeled very closely after the Massachusetts constitution of 1780, of which Dr. Belknap remarks that it "was supposed to be an improvement on all which had been framed in America." Massachusetts was undoubtedly regarded as a leader among the colonies, and her constitution had the added recommendation of coming from the pen of John Adams. The New Hampshire constitution provided for a smaller council