The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Massachusetts (officially, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts) is a state in the New England region of the United States of America. Its nickame is the Bay State. Other nicknames are the Old Colony State, and less commonly the Puritan state and the Baked Bean state. On December 18, 1990, the Legislature decided that the people of the Commonwealth would be designated as Bay Staters.

The United States Postal Service abbreviation for Massachusetts is MA and its traditional abbreviation is Mass.

Seven ships of the United States Navy have been named USS Massachusetts in honor of this state.



Early settlement

The colony was named after the indigenous population, the Massachusett, whose name means "a large hill place" in reference to a small mountain known today as "Blue Hill" (located in Milton, just south of Boston). The Pilgrims established their settlement at Plymouth in 1620, arriving on the Mayflower.

Massachusetts Bay Colony period (1629–1686)

They were soon followed by the Puritans, who established the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Although the Puritans came to Massachusetts for religious freedom, they were not tolerant of any other religion than theirs. People such as Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams, and Thomas Hooker left Massachusetts and went South because of the Puritans' lack of religious tolerance. Williams ended up founding the colony of Rhode Island and Hooker founded Connecticut.

Province of New England (1686–1692)

In May of 1686, the Massachusetts Bay Colony came to an end, as Joseph Dudley became President of New England under a commission of King James II. He established his authority later in New Hampshire and the King's Province (part of today's Rhode Island), maintaining this position until Sir Edmund Andros arrived to become the Royal Governor of the New England Dominion . Dudley continued on as a member of Governor Andros' council.

At the news of the accession of William and Mary, the Boston colonials rebelled. Andros and his officials were held on Castle Island and then sent back to England as prisoners. Andros was exonerated and went on to become Governor of Virginia (1692–98).

Royal Colony of Massachusetts (1692–1774)

Notable governors during this period were Thomas Hutchinson, Sir Francis Bernard , and Thomas Gage. Gage was the last British governor of Massachusetts.

Beginning of the Revolution

Massachusetts was one of the thirteen colonies that revolted against British rule in the American Revolution. On February 9, 1775 the British Parliament declared Massachusetts to be in rebellion and sent additional troops to restore order.

An African-American named Crispus Attucks from Framingham was one of the first Americans killed during the American Revolution, in Boston on March 5, 1770, at an event that has come to be called the Boston Massacre.

Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1780–present)

A Constitutional Convention drew up a Constitution drafted in the main by John Adams, and the people ratified it on June 15, 1780. At that time, Adams along with Samuel Adams, and James Bowdoin wrote in the Preamble to the Constitution of the Commonwealth, 1780:

"We, therefore, the people of Massachusetts, acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the goodness of the Great Legislator of the Universe, in affording us, in the course of His Providence, an opportunity, deliberately and peaceably, without fraud, violence or surprize, on entering into an Original, explicit, and Solemn Compact with each other; and of forming a new Constitution of Civil Government, for Ourselves and Posterity, and devoutly imploring His direction in so interesting a design, Do agree upon, ordain and establish, the following Declaration of Rights, and Frame of Government, as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

Today, it is the oldest functioning written constitution in the world.

John Hancock was the first governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

On February 6, 1788 Massachusetts became the sixth state to ratify the United States Constitution.

According to a 1790 census, Massachusetts had a zero population of slaves.

On March 15, 1820 the area of Maine was separated from Massachusetts, of which it had been a non-contiguous part, and entered the Union as a State in its own right.

Massachusetts contains many historic houses (See Historic houses in Massachusetts for more details).

See also: Basketball, Battle of Lexington and Concord, Battle of Bunker Hill, Christian Science, Moxie, Patriot's Day, Puritanism, Salem Witch Trials, Shays' Rebellion, Siege of Boston, Thanksgiving, Transcendentalism, Volleyball, and Western Massachusetts.

Law and government

See: Massachusetts Constitution, List of Massachusetts Governors

The capital of Massachusetts is Boston and the governor of the state is Mitt Romney (Republican). The state does not maintain an official governor's residence. Massachusetts's two U.S. senators are Edward Kennedy (Democrat) and John Kerry (Democrat); as of the 2001 redistricting, Massachusetts has ten seats in the United States House of Representatives (all Democratic). The state legislature is formally styled the "Great and General Court of the Commonwealth"; the highest court is the "Supreme Judicial Court".

The laws of Massachusetts are created by the Great and General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Commonwealth's elected bicameral legislative body, and are interpreted by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. They are made up of 282 chapters.

In Massachusetts, contrary to most states, a felon is any person serving prison time, and a felony is any crime whose convinction carries with it a prison sentence. Most states distinguish between felonies and misdemeanors.

Legal holidays observed in Massachusetts

Whenever a holiday falls on a Sunday it is observed on the following Monday.

Date Holiday
January 1 New Year's Day
3rd Monday in January Martin Luther King Day
3rd Monday in February Washington's Birthday
March 17 Evacuation Day*
3rd Monday in April Patriot's Day
Last Monday in May Memorial Day
June 17 Bunker Hill Day*
July 4 Independence Day
1st Monday in September Labor Day
2nd Monday in October Columbus Day
November 11 Veteran's Day
4 Thursday in November Thanksgiving Day
December 25 Christmas

(Galvin, William F., (2005). Secretary of the Commonwealth Massachusetts web page. Retrieved March 24, 2005)
* Celebrated only in Suffolk County (Boston, Chelsea, Revere, Winthrop)

Commonwealth or state?

Massachusetts is officially termed "the Commonwealth of Massachusetts" (rather than "State") by its constitution. It is one of four U.S. states that use the name "Commonwealth"; the others are Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Kentucky; this is distinct from the U.S. federal government's use of the term "commonwealth" to refer to the status of certain insular areas such as Puerto Rico. In the era leading up to 1780, when the state Constitution was ratified, the word Commonwealth was the preferred term among political writers for a whole body of people constituting a nation or state. There may have been some anti-monarchic sentiment informing the use of the word Commonwealth, which was also used to mean 'republic'.

The name "Commonwealth" for Massachusetts can be traced to the second draft of the state Constitution, written by John Adams and accepted by the people in 1780. In this draft, Part Two of the Constitution, under the heading "Frame of Government", states, "that the people...form themselves into a free, sovereign, and independent body politic, or state by the name of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts." The first draft of the Constitution, and all acts and resolves up to 1780, had used the name "State of Massachusetts Bay"; but since the adoption of the second draft of the Constitution the state has always been referred to as The Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In his "Life and Works", Adams wrote: "There is, however, a peculiar sense in which the words republic, commonwealth, popular state, are used by English and French writers, who mean by them a democracy, a government in one centre, and that centre a single assembly, chosen at stated periods by the people and invested with the whole sovereignty, the whole legislative, executive and judicial power to be included in a body or by committees as they shall think proper." Source: [1]

Massachusetts is commonly referred to by residents both as "the state" and as "the Commonwealth." For example, on March 22, 2005, one Boston Globe story said that opponents of a proposal saw it as "burdening the state with more law schools than it needs," while another published the same day noted that "the Commonwealth faces difficult spending choices."


Massachusetts is bordered on the north by New Hampshire and Vermont, on the west by New York, on the south by Connecticut and Rhode Island, and on the east by the Atlantic Ocean. At the southeastern corner of the state is a large, sandy, arm-shaped peninsula called Cape Cod. The islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket lie to the south of Cape Cod.

Massachusetts is known as the Bay State because of the several large bays that give its coastline its distinctive shape: Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod Bay on the state's east coast, and Buzzards Bay to the south. A few cities and towns on the Massachusetts–Rhode Island border are also adjacent to Narragansett Bay.

Boston is the largest city, located at the inmost point of Massachusetts Bay, at the mouth of the Charles River, the longest river entirely within Massachusetts. Most of the population of the Boston metropolitan area (approximately 5,800,000) does not live in the city; eastern Massachusetts on the whole is fairly densely populated and largely suburban. Western Massachusetts is more rural and sparsely populated, especially in the Berkshires, the branch of the Appalachian Mountains which forms the western border of the state. The most populated part of western Massachusetts is the "Pioneer Valley", alongside the Connecticut River, which flows across Western Massachusetts from north to south.


Massachusetts has a reputation as being a politically liberal state, and is often used as an archetype of liberalism in the U.S. It is the home of the Kennedy family of political fame, and routinely votes for the Democratic Party in federal elections. As of 2004, it is by far the largest U.S. state to be represented by only one political party in U.S. Congress. Although Republicans have held the governor's office continously from 1991 to the present, many of these (especially William Weld, the first of the recent lineage of Republican governors) are considered among the most moderate or progressive Republicans in the nation. Two of these governors, Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift took office when their predecessors resigned to take other positions.

During the 2004 Presidential Election, Massachusetts was the target of many GOP regionalist attacks along the campaign trail. When informed that the Democratic National Convention would be in Boston, House Majority Leader Dick Armey remarked, "If I were a Democrat, I suspect I'd feel a heck of a lot more comfortable in Boston than, say, America." While campaigning in the western part of the country, President Bush would often jab, "My opponent says he's in touch with the West, but sometimes I think he means Western Massachusetts." The stump speech that he used at many of his campaign stops included many such disparaging remarks directed at Massachusetts and New England in general.

Following a November 2003 decision of the state's Supreme Court, Massachusetts became the first state to issue same-sex marriage licenses on May 17, 2004. See the articles on same-sex marriage in the United States and same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

Famous politicians and public figures from Massachusetts


Massachusetts total gross state product for 1999 was $262 billion, placing it 11th in the nation. As of 2002, its Per Capita Personal Income was $39,244 or third in the nation. [2]

Its agricultural outputs are seafood, nursery stock, dairy products, cranberries, and vegetables. Its industrial outputs are machinery, electric equipment, scientific instruments, printing, and publishing. Massachusetts produces most of the cranberries sold in the U.S. Other sectors vital to the Massachusetts economy include higher education, health care, financial services and tourism.

See the list of Massachusetts places by per capita income



The population of Massachusetts (According to 2003 Census Bureau estimates) is: 6,433,422.

Racial and ethnic makeup

The five largest ancestries in Massachusetts are Irish (22.5%), Italian (13.5%), English (11.4%), French (8%), German (5.9%).


The religious affiliations of the people of Massachusetts are:

  • Roman Catholic – 54%
  • Protestant – 27%
  • Other Christian – 1%
  • Other Religions – 5% (Mostly Jewish)
  • Non-Religious – 8%

The three largest Protestant denominations in Massachusetts are: Baptist (4% of total state population), Episcopalian (3%), Methodist & Congregationalist (tied 2%).

Massachusetts cities, towns and counties

Massachusetts shares with the six New England states, plus New York and New Jersey, a governmental structure known as the "New England town."

Massachusetts law maintains a distinction between "cities" and "towns"; the largest town in population is Framingham. Politically, the only difference between a town and a city is that a town is governed under the Town Meeting or Representative Town Meeting form of government, whereas a city has a city council (and may or may not have a mayor, a city manager, or both). This distinction dates to the 1820s; prior to that, all municipalities were governed by Town Meeting. There are now a number of municipalities which are legally cities and thus have city councils, but retained the word "town" in their names, including Agawam, Methuen, Watertown, Weymouth, and Westfield. These cities are legally styled "the City Known as the Town of X". Massachusetts has a very limited home rule mechanism; in order to exercise jurisdiction outside of these bounds, a municipality must petition the General Court for special legislation giving it that authority.

Massachusetts municipalities are subject to a budgetary law known as "Proposition 2½", by which they may not increase expenditures by more than 2½% per annum without the approval of the voters in a plebiscite.

In many states, a town is a compact incorporated area. Between the towns are unincorporated areas, usually quite large, which do not belong to any town. In contrast, the state is completely apportioned into counties. County governments have significant importance, particularly to those living outside towns, and often perform major functions such as operating airports.

In contrast, the cities and towns of Massachusetts divide up all of the land between them and there are no "unincorporated" areas or population centers. This complicates comparisons with other states, as most residents identify strongly with the town or city in which they reside, and not with the "populated places" as defined and used in the U.S. Census Bureau, which in most data products considers towns to be minor civil divisions, equivalent to townships in other states (usually with much weaker forms of government). However, many residents also identify with neighborhoods, villages, or other districts of their towns.

By the 1990s, most functions of county governments (including operation of courts and road maintenance) had been taken over by the state, and most county governments were seen as inefficient and outmoded. The government of Suffolk County was substantially integrated with the city government of Boston more than one hundred years ago, to the extent that the members of the Boston city council are ex officio the Suffolk County Commissioners, and Boston's treasurer and auditor fulfill the same offices for the county. Thus, residents of the other three Suffolk County communities do not have a voice on the county commission, but all the county expenses are paid by the city of Boston.

The government of Nantucket County, which is geographically coterminous with the Town of Nantucket, is operated along similar lines- the town selectmen (executive branch) act as the county commissioners.

Mismanagement of Middlesex County's public hospital in the mid 1990s left that county on the brink of insolvency, and in 1997 the legislature stepped in by assuming all assets and obligations of the county. The government of Middlesex County was officially abolished on July 11, 1997. Later that year, the Franklin County Commission voted itself out of existence. The law abolishing Middlesex County also provided for the elimination of Hampden County and Worcester County on July 1, 1998. This law was later amended to abolish Hampshire County on January 1, 1999; Essex County on July 1 of that same year; and Berkshire County on July 1, 2000. Chapter 34B of the Massachusetts General Laws provides that other counties may also vote to abolish themselves, or to reorganize as a "regional council of governments", as Hampshire and Franklin Counties have done. The governments of Bristol, Plymouth, and Norfolk Counties remain substantially unchanged. Barnstable and Dukes Counties have adopted modern county charters, enabling them to act as efficient regional governments.

See also: List of Massachusetts counties; List of cities in Massachusetts

Important cities and towns


The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a total of 50 cities and 301 towns, grouped into 14 counties. Massachusetts cities and towns of historical or cultural importance include

Education and research

Massachusetts contains only 2.5% of the U.S. population, but is home to many of its most renowned preparatory schools, colleges, and universities[3] (see full list of colleges and universities in Massachusetts). Eight Boston-area institutions (Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis, Harvard, MIT, Northeastern, Tufts, and UMass/Boston) call themselves "research universities;" they became, according to them, "engines of economic growth" following World War II, and currently contribute $7 billion annually to the local economy [4]. The population of metropolitan Boston surges noticeably during the school year due to the concentration of colleges and universities in the area (see list of colleges and universities in metropolitan Boston).

Massachusetts is home to one Ivy League university, Harvard; and three of the Seven Sisters: Mount Holyoke, Smith, and Wellesley. Technology-oriented universities include MIT, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and University of Massachusetts Lowell, which includes the former Lowell Institute of Technology ("Lowell Tech"). Notable Massachusetts colleges that are outside the eastern Massachusetts area include the Five Colleges of the Pioneer Valley (Mount Holyoke, Smith, Amherst, Hampshire and the flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts) and Williams, along with Worcester State College. Music schools include Berklee and the New England Conservatory. Massachusetts also is home to well-known independent research institutions, including Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the Marine Biological Laboratory.

Massachusetts is known for having one of the best public school systems in the nation. It has one of the lowest high-school dropout rates in the nation and is tied with New Jersey for having the 2nd highest percentage of students who go on to college after high-school. It is also one of the highest scoring states on advanced placement tests.

Professional sports teams

State songs

Massachusetts recognizes three official state songs:

  • Official Song: "All Hail to Massachusetts" (Arthur J. Marsh);
  • Official Folk Song: "Massachusetts" (Arlo Guthrie)
  • Official Patriotic Song: "My Massachusetts, Because of You Our Land is Free" (Bernard Davidson)

External links

Last updated: 10-11-2005 18:22:01
The contents of this article are licensed from under the GNU Free Documentation License. How to see transparent copy