University of Wisconsin–Madison

The Alleged Bribery of the Massachusetts Delegates

On Monday morning, 21 January 1788, the Antifederalist Boston Gazette printed an article entitled “BRIBERY and CORRUPTION!!!” The author “Centinel” asserted that “large sums of money” came from “a neighbouring State” to bribe Antifederalists in the Massachusetts Convention. The same morning that “Centinel’s” claim appeared in the Boston Gazette, James Bowdoin, former governor and Boston Convention delegate, moved that the charge be investigated. The Convention resolved to inquire into the matter and sent its messenger to the printers of the Boston Gazette, requesting that they appear before the Convention to give information about “Centinel’s” allegation. The printers responded by stating that “Centinel” possessed “good foundation” for his assertion, but they refused to identify him.

“Centinel” explained in the Boston Gazette on 28 January that he was impelled to make his earlier statement because he had overheard one Bostonian say to another that “A plan is on foot to silence” Samuel Nasson, an Antifederalist delegate from Sanford, Maine. Moreover, “Centinel” was also moved to action because he learned from “a credible person,” who had been in Providence, R.I., a week before “Centinel” printed his charge, that “a bag of money had been sent down to Boston to quiet the members of convention in opposition to the new constitution.” This was the first time Rhode Island was identified in print as the source of the money, although privately this allegation was already known.