The war-time activities and emergency powers of the governors of Massachusetts from 1780-1943
Costello, Thomas Gerard
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The Revolutionary War saw the establishment of committees of safety and correspondence in the colonies for the purpose of organizing the citizens against the British. This, the committees did very effectively, and some of them went further. In Massachusetts, the Committee on Safety became the administrative arm of the Provincial Congress in carrying on the war and exercising the powers of government. Under the Constitution of 1750, the governor was given considerable power to take action for the defense of the state in times of trouble caused by war. The General Court, however, decided to give the governor extraordinary power to act, when it was not in session, for the defense of the eastern part of the state. As the war had swung to the south, it was never necessary for the governor to exercise authority under this law. The Civil War brought about an emergency which was met by the governor in a very vigorous manner. He took very positive steps in calling up and organizing the militia and sending it to Washington and other points. Although, he still had the constitutional power of his predecessor of revolutionary days, the General Court decided to give him an approval for the action he had taken. It also gave him the authority to organize, equip, transport and render subsistence for any part of the state military. The governor was authorized to issue a state currency on the credit of the state and to pay state soldiers in Federal service. World War I caused the governor to organize a Committee on Public Safety to which many tasks were entrusted. It organized many of the civilian functions of the state for the purpose of bettering the national defense. Believing that he did not have enough power to completely organize the state for an all-out-defense, the governor requested the General Court to give him emergency power. The legislature answered this request by passing the "Commonwealth Defense Act". By this act, he was empowered, with the consent of his council, to seize property, fuel, food and other things. It almost gave him supreme military powers for the duration of the war. Courts were allowed to refuse bails. In certain cases, the governor also had the power to control food as to distribution, price and making land available for production. Labor was also brought under control. The war with the axis powers in 1941 found the Commonwealth with a Committee on Public Safety already established. According to the governor, it was to function along the same lines as that of 1917, and like its predecessor, it organized the civilian population of the state. This Committee was entrusted with the added tasks of providing a civilian defense against air attack. The General Court had also responded. It had given the governor, by statute, great power to control the state and its resources in tines of an emergency. Parts of it were copied from the 1917 statute. It did not, like the former statute, give the governor power to control foods as to distribution and price. It was after the declaration of war that the General Court passed an additional law which gave to the governor, as supreme executive magistrate and commander-in-chief, all the power that it could possibly do over persons and property within the state. The governor has carried out his authority under these statutes through the issuing of "Executive Orders". From December, 1941, to March, 1943, there were fifty-three such orders promulgated covering a variety of subjects. These orders, as provided for by the emergency statutes, set aside any law of the General Laws, City Ordinances, Rules, Regulations and the like that are inconsistent with then.
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