Celebrating 200 Years in 1998

Tomorrow, January 11th, you can see the same parade you saw in Boston in 1798.

State dignitaries will march from the Old State House to the current State House, the building your legislature has occupied for 200 years. We'll follow the same route our ancestors did two centuries ago...and the parade begins exactly at noon, just as it did then.

We're starting a year-long celebration of the big anniversary.

The sacred cod--which has hung over the House Chamber in both state houses--has been restored, as has the golden dome and the House Chamber, and a lot of the stained glass in the Hall of Flags. (A lot of the plumbing and the handicapped access have been improved, too.)

In case you didn't know, your state has the oldest, continuous House of Representatives in the country. We've been there since 1630.

The coat-of-arms, on our state flag, has been around almost as long as the current State House. It was adopted by the legislature in June 1898.

You're probably familiar with the State flag. I've heard that the Indian on it has a name, but others deny it. At any rate, there is an Indian on a blue shield. Dressed in shirt and moccasins, the Indian is holding a bow in the right hand, arrow in the left. There's a five-pointed silver star above his right arm.

The motto, "ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem," freely translated, means "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty." It's attributed to English soldier Algernon Sidney who lived 1622-1683.

Since the beginning, some things haven't changed much. For example, from the first, only the General Court had the power to enact laws and impose taxes. We still do. But a system of checks and balances was gradually created, with separate judicial, legislative and executive departments that still exist today.

Most importantly, in the Bill of Rights, the people of Massachusetts retained the right to petition the legislature to address grievances. You can ask us to correct mistakes that you think are made, and you can ask us to file legislation. The legislators--your senators and representatives--are elected to represent your power.

Each one of us in the House represents about 38,000 people--Senators four times that.

Today, there are 160 House members, 40 Senators. Sometimes, when people were elected from every city and town, there were as many as 700 members in the House. And, I'm told, they were a rather unruly lot at times.

The Senate has always been more sedate. In fact, members who have gone from House to Senate in recent years tell us that they did, indeed, enjoy the House more than the upper chamber.

Originally, the Senate represented power derived from property, while the House represented the common man. This changed about 150 years ago, with a change in the constitution. But, today, one chamber can still, in effect, veto whatever the other chamber does.

Of course, there's a little problem today with the makeup of the House and Senate, whose members are supposed to be "an exact portrait of the people at large."

For starters, almost half of the Senate and a quarter of the House members are attorneys. And only a quarter of the House, and 18 percent of the Senate, are women.

But, we do come from all walks of life--people who run diners, wealthy aristocrats, insurance representatives, nurses, teachers, designers, police officers, jewelry manufacturers. Almost every occupation has been represented in the legislature over the centuries.

Quite a few famous people have roamed our halls as legislators--John Hancock, Noah Webster, Horace Mann, Daniel Webster and Samuel Adams, for example. Three Massachusetts legislators have gone on to become president--John Adams, John Quincy Adams and Calvin Coolidge.

I wonder what they would think if they could come back tomorrow. What would they tell us? And, what would you like to ask them?

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