Massachusetts House of Representatives on the Governor’s Salary

September 11, 1728

The colonial assemblies, following the example of parliament in its struggles with Charles I and his Stuart successors, used control of spending, including monies for the governors' salaries, as means of encouraging the governors and their subordinates to support policies favored by the majority of legislators. To counter this mechanism, the Crown instructed the governors to request the establishment of a permanent revenue by the respective colonial legislatures to pay the governors' salaries. The negative response of the Massachusetts House of Representatives is typical of the reaction of most of the colonial legislatures. In support of its position the Massachusetts body cites the provisions of the colonial charter, the validity of colonial experience, and the precedents set in British constitutional history.

Whereas His Excellency the Governour at the opening of this present Session laid before this Court His Majesties 23d Instruction which relates to a stated Salary instead of the ordinary Allowances which by the former Method and Practice of this Court has been from time to time made for the Support of the Governour (which Instruction is entered at large in the Journal of this House, p. 2).

The House after Consideration had thereon proceeded in their usual way of an Allowance, and granted the Sum of Seventeen Hundred Pounds to His Excellency the Governour to enable Him to manage the publick Affairs of the Government, and defrey his Charge in coming here, assur ing His Excellency that although the House had not fixed a stated Salary for His Excellency, yet that an ample and honourable Allowance would from time to time be made to enable Him to manage the publick Affairs, and that the said Grant was made as an earnest thereof. His Excellency in His Message to the House informed them that He was utterly disabled from consenting to the Resolve for that Grant, it being contrary to His Majesties Instruction: Whereupon the House chose a Committee to join with a Committee of the Honourable Board to prepare a proper Answer to the said Message; and pursuant to a Message from the Board, as entered (p. 18) purporting that they had not yet passed upon the Report of the Committee in answer to His Excellency's Message, apprehending it necessary even from the tenour of the said Report for this Court to make a new Grant, the former Grant not having been accepted, The House proceeded to resolve, That the Sum of Fourteen Hundred Pounds be paid to His Excellency the Governour to enable him to manage the Affairs of the Government, and the Sum of Three Hundred Pounds to defrey his Charges in coming, and chose a Committee to consider the Report of the Committee on His Excellency's Message to both Houses, with the Vote of the Honourable Board who reported thereon, as entered (p. 23) assuring His Excellency of the readiness of this Court improve the Powers vested in them by the Royal CHARTER of imposing and levying proportionable and reason able Rates and Taxes, and disposing of the same in providing for His ample and honourable Support, and praying His Excellency's Acceptance of the Grant then made and therewith presented, which Report was accepted by the House, and together with the two Votes, viz., Fourteen Hundred and Three Hundred Pounds was sent up for Concurrence; His Excellency returned an Answer declaring that a Support given in such a precarious manner as has been usual here could not possibly be Honourable because it implied no sort of Confidence in the Government, and made the Support of it visibly depend on an entire Compliance with every thing demanded by the other Branches of the Legislature etc., and that he could never accept of a Grant of this kind.

Upon which a Committee of both Houses was appointed to consider and report on His Excellency's Message, who reported thereon (as entered p. 31, 32, 33) therein alledging that the CHARTER impowers the General Assembly to raise Money for the Support of the Government according to such wholesome and reasonable Laws as they should judge to be for the good and welfare of the Province, and that it was against the Design of the Power so vested in them for the Court to pass any Acts pursuant to that Instruction, apprehending that the passing of such Acts had a direct tendency to weaken if not destroy our happy Constitution, by our giving away the great and almost only Priviledge that gives Weight to the House of Representatives, which is the making Grants of Money as the exigence of Affairs requires; which Report was accepted by the House but not by the Board, The Vote of the Board for Non-Acceptance of the said Report was accompanied with a Draft of an Answer to His Excellency's Message, sent down for Concurrence, which Draft altho' t recites the Opinion of the Board that the great End proposed in the Power granted by the Royal CHARTER would be best answered without establishing a fixed Salary, yet the House apprehending that the said Draft was in many respects deficient did non-concur the same, and then proceeded to put the Question with a Preamble, Whether passing an Act for fixing a Salary on the Governour or Commander in Chief for the time being would not be hurt ful to the Inhabitants of this Province, and therefore contrary to the plain End and Design of the Power vested in them by the Royal CHARTER which is to make whole some and reasonable Orders and Laws as they shall judge to be for the good and welfare of the Province? Which was Resolved in the Affirmative, and sent up for Concurrence, and was sent down again with a Message from the Board that they thought it improper and unsafe to pass on the Question, for that it was not only expressed in doubtful terms, but the method of Resolving matters of such a Nature by answering Questions is inconvenient and altogether new and without precedent.

The House then passed it into a Vote viz., That passing such an Act will be dangerous to the Inhabitants of this Province etc., which they sent up for Concurrence; The Board Non-Concurred the Vote, adding that they apprehended that a Salary might be granted for a certain time to His Excellency our present Governour without danger to the Province. The House ordered that a Conference should be had with the Honourable Board on the subject matter of the said Vote which was attended, and the House observing that it was alledged by the Board that they could not concur in said Vote, in as much as it was said in the Preamble thereof that the Council and Representatives had granted an ample and honourable Support for the Governour, which the Board could not say because it was not expressed for what time the Sum was granted; there upon being returned to their own Chamber, the House sent up the Vote for Concurrence leaving out the Preamble. The Board sent down the Vote concurred with the Amendment which with the said Ainendment stands thus, Voted, That the passing an Act for fixing a Salary on the Governour or Commander in Chief without Limitation of time may prove of ill Consequence to this Province: Which was read and non-concurred, and the House adhered to their own Vote, and sent it up for Concurrence. The Board Non Concurred the Vote of the House and insisted on their own Vote. The House having passed a Resolve for the Supply of the Treasury sent a Message to His Excellency desiring they might rise. His Excellency signified in Answer the that He could not agree to a Recess `till His Majesties 23d Instruction was complied with. The House made Reply renewing their desire to Rise; His Excellency sent a Message urging a Compliance. The House sent a Message to His Excellency expressing the Reasons why they could not in Faithfulness to their Country come into a fixed Salary, ardently moving that they might be permitted to return to their several homes.

His Excellency sent a Message in Reply in the Conclusion whereof he put the House upon considering what advances they could make towards a Compliance; His Excellency's Message being read and debated on, The Question was put, Whether the House would take under Consideration the setling a temporary Salary? and it passed in the Negative. And then the Question was put, Whether the House with Safety to the People they represent could come into any other Method for Supporting the Governour than what had been heretofore practiced? It passed in the Negative. The House renewed their Desire to Rise, and received His Excellency's Answer, assuring them that unless His Majesties Pleasure had its due Weight with them, their Desires would have very little with Him. On Saturday the Honourable Board sent down for Concurrence a Vote of Council that it was expedient for this Court now to ascertain a Sum as a Salary for His Excellency's Support, as also the term of Time for the Continuance of the same which was Non-Concurred.

Now although we have after the best manner we are capable of thinking or acting for the publick Good come into the many Votes and Resolutions beforementioned, and with a pure and sincere desire aimed at the Weal and Prosperity of this Province, and are still fully of the same mind, yet whereas several Members have desired to know the Minds of their Principals, therefore this House to prevent any Misrepresentations that may be made to the several Towns in this Province have concluded upon this Account of the Proceedings in this Affair and the Reasons and Grounds thereof to be transmitted to the several Towns by their Representatives, if they see cause, from whence it may plainly appear that we dare neither come into an Act for fixing a Salary on the Governour for ever, nor for a limited time, viz.

  • Because it is an untrodden path which neither we nor our Predecessors have gone in, and we cannot certainly foresee the many Dangers there may be in it, and we must depart from that way which has been found safe and comfortable.

  • Because it is the undoubted Right of all English men by Magna Charta to raise and dispose of Moneys for the publick Service of their own free accord without any Compulsion. [q.v.]

  • Because this must necessarily lessen the Dignity and Freedom of the House of Representatives in making Acts and raising and applying Taxes etc., and consequently cannot be thought a proper method to preserve that Ballance in the three Branches of the Legislature, which seems necessary to form maintain and uphold our Constitution.

  • Because the CHARTER fully impowers the General Assembly to make such Laws and Orders as they judge for the good and welfare of the Inhabitants; and if they or any part of them judge this not to be for their good, they neither ought nor can come into it, for, as to act beyond, or without the Powers granted in the CHARTER, might justly incur the Kings Displeasure; so not to act up and agreable to those Powers might justly be deemed a betraying the Rights and Priviledges therein granted: Moreover if we should now give up this Right, we shall open a Door to many other Inconveniencies.

Updated 3 July 2023