The Eve of the Revolution,
Carl Becker

Part 2 out of 3

managed by hook or crook to get into their own hands or into the
hands of their families nearly all the lucrative offices in the
province, now sought to curry favor with ministers in order to
maintain their amazing ascendancy!

When the Stamp Act was passed, all men in America had professed
themselves, and were thought to be, Sons of Liberty. Even Mr.
Hutchinson had declared himself against ministerial measures. But
scarce a month had elapsed since the law was to have gone into
effect before it was clear to the discerning that, for all their
professions, most of the "better sort" were not genuine Sons of
Liberty at all, but timid sycophants, pliant instruments of
despotism, far more intent upon the ruin of Mr. Adams and of
America in general than any minister could be shown to be. For
the policy of dispensing with activities requiring stamped
papers, much lauded by these gentry as an effective and
constitutional means of defeating the law, was after all nothing
but "a sort of admittance of the legality of the Stamp Act, and
had a tendency to enforce it, since there was just reason to
apprehend that the secret enemies of liberty had actually a
design to introduce it by the necessity to which the people would
be reduced by the cessation of business." It was well, therefore,
in view of such insidious designs of secret enemies, that the
people, even to the lowest ranks, should become "more attentive
to their liberties, and more inquisitive about them, and more
determined to defend them, than they were ever before known or
had occasion to be."

To defend their liberties, not against ministers but against
ministerial tools, who were secret betrayers of America, true
patriots accordingly banded themselves in societies which took to
themselves the name of Sons of Liberty and of which the object
was, by "putting business in motion again, in the usual channels,
without stamps," to prevent the Stamp Act ever being enforced.
Such a society composed mainly of the lower orders of people and
led by rising young lawyers, was formed in New York. On January
7, at Mr. Howard's coffee house, abandoning the secrecy which had
hitherto veiled their activities, its members declared to the
world their principles and the motives that would determine their
action in the future:

"Resolved: That we will go to the last extremity and venture our
lives and fortunes effectively to prevent the said Stamp Act from
ever taking place in this city and province; Resolved: That any
person who shall deliver out or receive any instrument of writing
upon stamped paper...shall incur the highest resentment of
this society, and be branded with everlasting infamy; Resolved:
That the people who carry on business as formerly on unstamped
Paper...shall be protected to the utmost power of this society."

Malicious men said that the Sons of Liberty were "much concerned
that the gentlemen of fortune don't publically join them," for
which reason the society "formed a committee of correspondence
with the Liberty Boys in the neighboring provinces." In February,
the society did in fact appoint such a committee, which sent out
letters to all the counties of New York and to all the colonies
except Georgia, proposing the formation of an intercolonial
association of the true Sons of Liberty; to which letters many
replies were received, some of which are still preserved among
the papers of the secretary, Mr. John Lamb. The general sense of
these letters was that an intercolonial association and close
correspondence were highly necessary in view of the presence, in
nearly every colony, of many "secret and inveterate enemies of
liberty," and of the desirability of keeping "a watchful eye over
all those who, from the nature of their offices, vocations, or
dispositions, may be the most likely to introduce the use of
stamped paper, to the total subversion of the British

No doubt the society kept its watchful eye on every unusual
activity and all suspicious characters, but to what extent it
succeeded in "putting business in motion again, in the usual
channels, without stamps," cannot be said. Both before and after
the society was founded, much business was carried on in
violation of the law: newspapers and pamphlets continued to
flourish in the land; the inferior courts at least were sooner or
later opened in nearly every colony; and not infrequently
unstamped clearance papers were issued to shipmasters willing to
take the risk of seizure in London or elsewhere. Mr. John
Hancock, easily persuading himself that there should be no risk,
shipped a cargo of oil with the Boston packet in December. "I am
under no apprehensions," he wrote his London agent. "Should there
be any Difficulty in London as to Marshall's clearance, You will
please to represent the circumstances that no stamps could be
obtained, which case I think I am to be justified, & am
not liable to a seizure, or even run any risque at all, as I have
taken the Step of the Law, and made application for clearance, &
can get no other."

Notwithstanding such practices, which were frequent enough, it
was a dull winter, with little profit flowing into the coffers of
Mr. Hancock, with low wages or none at all for worthy artisans
and laborers; so that it must often have seemed, as Governor
Moore said, "morally impossible that the people here can subsist
any time under such inconveniences as they have brought on
themselves." Such inconveniences became more irksome as time
passed, with the result that, during the cold and dreary months
of February and March, it became every day a more pressing
question, particularly for the poor, to know whether the bad
times would end at last in the repeal or the admission of the
tyrannical act.

Confronted with this difficult dilemma, the faithful Sons of
Liberty were preparing in April to assemble a continental
congress as a last resort, when rumors began to spread that
Parliament was on the point of carrying the repeal. The project
of a congress was accordingly abandoned, and everywhere
recrimination gave place to rejoicing. On April 21, 1766, the
vigilant Boston Sons voted that when the rumors should be
confirmed they would celebrate the momentous event in a befitting
manner--would celebrate it "Under the deepest Sense of Duty and
Loyalty to our Most Gracious Sovereign King George, and in
respect and Gratitude to the Patriotic Ministry, Mr. Pitt, and
the Glorious Majority of both Houses of Parliament, by whose
Influence, under Divine Providence, against a most strenuous
Opposition, a happy Repeal of the Stamp Act, so unconstitutional
as well as Grievous to His Majesty's good Subjects of America, is
attained; whereby our incontestible Right of Internal Taxation
remains to us inviolate."

CHAPTER IV. Defining The Issue

A pepper-corn, in acknowledgement of the right, is of more value
than millions without it.--George Grenville.

A perpetual jealousy respecting liberty, is absolutely requisite
in all free states.--John Dickinson.

Good Americans everywhere celebrated the repeal of the Stamp Act
with much festivity and joyful noises in the streets, and with
"genteel entertainments" in taverns, where innumerable toasts
were drunk to Liberty and to its English defenders. Before his
house on Beacon Hill, Mr. John Hancock, on occasion a generous
man, erected a platform and placed there a pipe of Madeira which
was broached for all comers. At Colonel Ingersoll's, where
twenty-eight gentlemen attended to take dinner, fifteen toasts
were drunk, "and very loyal they were, and suited to the
occasion"; upon which occasion, we are told, Mr. Hancock again
"treated every person with cheerfulness." Throughout the land men
with literary gifts, or instincts, delivered themselves of
vigorous free verse, founded upon the antithesis of Freedom and
Tyranny, and enforcing the universal truth that "in the unequal
war Oppressors fall, the hate, contempt, and endless curse of
all." In New York, on the occasion of the King's birthday, an ox
was roasted whole in the Fields, and twenty kegs of beer were
opened for a great dinner at the King's Arms; and afterwards,
through the generosity of the Assembly of that province, there
was erected on the Bowling Green a mounted statue--made of lead
but without present intention of being turned into bullets
representing His Majesty King George the Third, of ever glorious
memory, the Restorer of Liberty.

The joyful Americans could not know how little King George
aspired to be thought the Restorer of Liberty. In reality he was
extremely sulky in his silent, stubborn way over the repeal of
the Stamp Act, and vexed most particularly at the part which he
himself had been forced to play in it. The idea of a Patriot
King, conceived by Lord Bolingbroke (one-time Jacobite exile) and
instilled into the mind of the young Hanoverian monarch by an
ambitious mother, had little to do with liberty, either British
or colonial, but had much to do with authority. The Patriot King
was to be a king indeed, seeking advice of all virtuous men of
whatever connections, without being bound by any man or faction
of men. It was not to restore liberty, nor yet to destroy it, but
to destroy factions, that the King was ambitious; and for this
purpose he desired a ministry that would do his bidding without
too much question. If Mr. Grenville did not satisfy His Majesty,
it was not on account of the Stamp Act, in respect to which the
King was wholly of Mr. Grenville's opinion that it was a just law
and ought to be enforced. In July, 1765, when Mr. Grenville was
dismissed, there had indeed as yet been no open resistance in
America; and if the King had been somewhat annoyed by the high
talk of his loyal subjects in Virginia, he had been annoyed much
more by Mr. Grenville, who was disposed, in spite of his outward
air of humility and solemn protestations of respect, to be very
firm with His Majesty in the matter of ministerial prerogative,
reading him from time to time carefully prepared pedantic little
curtain lectures on the customs of the Constitution and the
duties of kings under particular circumstances.

Unable to endure Mr. Grenville longer, the King turned to Mr.
Pitt. This statesman, although extremely domineering in the
House, was much subdued in the presence of his sovereign, and
along with many defects had one great virtue in his Majesty's
eyes, which was that he shared the King's desire to destroy the
factions. The King was accordingly ready to receive the Great
Commoner, even though he insisted on bringing "the Constitution,"
and Earl Temple into the bargain, with him to St. James's Palace.
But when it appeared that Earl Temple was opposed to the repeal
of the Stamp Act, Mr. Pitt declined after all to come to St.
James's on any terms, even with his beloved Constitution;
whereupon the harassed young King, rather than submit again to
Mr. Grenville's lectures, surrendered himself, temporarily, to
the old-line Whigs under the lead of the Marquis of Rockingham.
In all the negotiations which ended in this unpromising
arrangement of the King's business, the Stamp Act had apparently
not been once mentioned; except that Mr. Grenville, upon
retiring, had ventured to say to His Majesty, as a kind of
abbreviated parting homily, that if "any man ventured to defeat
the regulations laid down for the colonies, by a slackness in the
execution, he [Mr. Grenville] should look upon him as a criminal
and the betrayer of his country."

The Marquis of Rockingham and his friends had no intention of
betraying their country. They had, perhaps, when they were thus
accidentally lifted to power, no very definite intentions of any
sort. Respecting the Stamp Act, as most alarming reports began to
come in from America, His Majesty's Opposition, backed by the
landed interest and led by Mr. Grenville and the Duke of Bedford,
knew its mind much sooner than ministers knew theirs. America was
in open rebellion, they said, and so far from doing anything
about it ministers were not even prepared, four months after
disturbances began, to lay necessary information before the
House. Under pressure of such talk, the Marquis of Rockingham had
to make up his mind. It would be odd and contrary to
well-established precedent for ministers to adopt a policy already
outlined by Opposition; and in view of the facts that good Whig
tradition, even if somewhat obscured in latter days, committed
them to some kind of liberalism, that the City and the mercantile
interest thought Mr. Grenville's measures disastrous to trade,
and that they were much in need of Mr. Pitt's eloquence to carry
them through, ministers at last, in January, 1766, declared for
the repeal.

Now that it was a question of repealing Mr. Grenville's measures,
serious attention was given to them; and honorable members, in
the notable debate of 1766, learned much about America and the
rights of Englishmen which they had not known before. Lord
Mansfield, the most eminent legal authority in England, argued
that the Stamp Act was clearly within the power of Parliament,
while Lord Camden, whose opinion was by no means to be despised,
staked his reputation that the law was unconstitutional. Mr.
Grenville, in his precise way, laid it down as axiomatic that
since "Great Britain protects America, America is therefore bound
to yield obedience"; if not; he desired to know when Americans
were emancipated. Whereupon Mr. Pitt, springing up, desired to
know when they were made slaves. The Great Commoner rejoiced that
America had resisted, and expressed the belief that three
millions of people so dead to all the feelings of liberty as
voluntarily to submit to be made slaves would be very fit
instruments to make slaves of all Englishmen.

Honorable members were more disposed to listen to Mr. Pitt than
to vote with him; and were doubtless less influenced by his hot
eloquence than by the representations of English merchants to the
effect that trade was being ruined by Mr. Grenville's measures.
Sir George Seville, honorable member for Yorkshire, spoke the
practical mind of business men when he wrote to Lord Rockingham:
"Our trade is hurt; what the devil have you been doing? For our
part, we don't pretend to understand your politics and American
matters, but our trade is hurt: pray remedy it, and a plague of
you if you won't." This was not so eloquent as Mr. Pitt's speech,
but still very eloquent in its way and more easily followed than
Mr. Pitt's theory that "taxation is no part of the governing or
legislative power."

Constitutional arguments, evenly balanced pro and con, were not
certain to change many minds, while such brief statements as that
of Sir George Seville, although clearly revealing the opinion of
that gentleman, did little to enlighten the House on the merits
of the question. That members might have every opportunity to
inform themselves about America, the ministers thought it worth
while to have Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia, printer and
Friend of the Human Race, brought before the bar of the House to
make such statements of fact or opinion as might be desired of
him. The examination was a long one; the questions very much to
the point; the replies very ready and often more to the point
than the questions. With much exact information the provincial
printer maintained that the colonists, having taxed themselves
heavily in support of the last war, were not well able to pay
more taxes, and that, even if they were abundantly able, the
sugar duties and the stamp tax were improper measures. The
stamps, in remote districts, would frequently require more in
postage to obtain than the value of the tax. The sugar duties had
already greatly diminished the volume of colonial trade, while
both the duties and the tax, having to be paid in silver, were
draining America of its specie and thus making it impossible for
merchants to import from England to the same extent as formerly.
It was well known that at the moment Americans were indebted to
English merchants to the amount of several million pounds
sterling, which they were indeed willing, as English merchants
themselves said, but unable to pay. Necessarily, therefore,
Americans were beginning to manufacture their own cloth, which
they could very well do. Before their old clothes were worn out
they "would have new ones of their own making."

Against the Stamp Act, honorable members were reminded, there was
a special objection to be urged. It was thought with good reason
to be unconstitutional, which would make its application
difficult, if not impossible. Troops might no doubt be sent to
enforce it, but troops would find no enemy to contend with, no
men in arms; they would find no rebellion in America, although
they might indeed create one. Pressed by Mr. Townshend to say
whether the colonies might not, on the ground of Magna Carta, as
well deny the validity of external as internal taxes, the Doctor
was not ready to commit himself on that point. It was true many
arguments had lately been used in England to show Americans that,
if Parliament has no right to tax them internally, it has none to
tax them externally, or to make any other law to bind them; in
reply to which, he could only say that "at present they do not
reason so, but in time they may possibly be convinced by these,

Whether the Parliament was truly enlightened and resolved by
statistical information and lofty constitutional argument is not
certainly known; but it is known that the King, whose steady mind
did not readily change, was still opposed to the repeal, a fact
supposed to be not without influence in unsettling the opinions
of some honorable members. Lord Mansfield had discreetly advised
His Majesty that although it was contrary to the spirit of the
constitution to "endeavour by His Majesty's name to carry
questions in Parliament, yet where the lawful rights of the King
and Parliament were to be asserted and maintained, he thought the
making His Majesty's opinion in support of those rights to be
known, was very fit and becoming."

The distinction was subtle, but perhaps not too subtle for a
great lawyer. It was apparently not too subtle for a Patriot
King, since certain noble lords who could be counted on to know
the King's wishes conveyed information to the proper persons that
those who found it against their conscience to vote for the
repeal would not for that reason be received coldly at St.
James's Palace. In order to preserve the constitution as well as
to settle the question of the repeal on its merits, Lord
Rockingham and the Earl of Shelburne obtained an interview with
the King at which they pointed out to him the manifest
irregularity of such a procedure, and in addition expressed their
conviction that, on account of the high excitement in the City,
failure to repeal the Stamp Act would be attended with very
serious consequences. Whether to preserve the Constitution, or to
allow the repeal to be determined on its merits, or for some
other reason, the King at last gave in writing his consent to the
ministers' measure. On February 22, by a vote of 275 to 167, Mr.
Conway was given leave to bring in the bill for a total repeal of
the Stamp Act. The bill was accordingly brought in, passed by
both houses, and on March 18 assented to by the King.

In the colonies the repeal was thought to be a victory for true
principles of government, at least a tacit admission by the
mother country that the American interpretation of the
Constitution was the correct one. No Englishman denied that the
repeal was an American victory; and there were some, like Pitt
and Camden, who preferred the constitutional theories of Daniel
Dulaney* to those of George Grenville. But most Englishmen who
took the trouble to have any views on such recondite matters,
having in general a poor opinion of provincial logic, easily
dismissed the whole matter with the convincing phrase of Charles
Townshend that the distinction between internal and external
taxes was "perfect nonsense." The average Briton, taking it for
granted that all the subtle legal aspects of the question had
been thoroughly gone into by Lord Mansfield, was content to read
Mr. Soame Jenyns, a writer of verse and member of the Board of
Trade, who in a leisure hour had recently turned his versatile
mind to the consideration of colonial rights with the happiest
results. In twenty-three very small pages he had disposed of the
"Objections to the Taxation of Our American Colonies" in a manner
highly satisfactory to himself and doubtless also to the average
reading Briton, who understood constitutional questions best when
they were "briefly considered," and when they were humorously
expounded in pamphlets that could be had for sixpence.

*Daniel Dulaney, of Maryland, was the author of a pamphlet
entitled "Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes on
the British Colonies." Pitt, in his speech on the repeal of the
Stamp Act, referred to in this pamphlet as a masterly

Having a logical mind, Mr. Jenyns easily perceived that taxes
could be objected to on two grounds: the ground of right and the
ground of expediency. In his opinion the right of Parliament to
lay taxes on America and the expediency of doing so at the
present moment were propositions so clear that any man, in order
not to bring his intelligence in question, needed to apologize
for undertaking to defend them. Mr. Jenyns wished it known that
he was not the man to carry owls to Athens, and that he would
never have thought it necessary to prove either the right or the
expediency of taxing our American colonies, "had not many
arguments been lately flung out...which with insolence equal
to their absurdity deny them both." With this conciliatory
preliminary disclaimer of any lack of intelligence on his own
part, Mr. Jenyns proceeded to point out, in his most happy vein,
how unsubstantial American reasoning really appeared when,
brushing aside befogging irrelevancies, you once got to the heart
of the question.

The heart of the question was the proposition that there should
be no taxation without representation; upon which principle it
was necessary to observe only that many individuals in England,
such as copyholders and leaseholders, and many communities, such
as Manchester and Birmingham, were taxed in Parliament without
being represented there. If Americans quoted you "Lock, Sidney,
Selden, and many other great names to prove that every Englishman still represented in Parliament," he would only ask why,
since Englishmen are all represented in Parliament, are not all
Americans represented in exactly the same way? Either Manchester
is not represented or Massachusetts is. "Are Americans not
British subjects? Are they not Englishmen? Or are they only
Englishmen when they solicit protection, but not Englishmen when
taxes are required to enable this country to protect them?"
Americans said they had Assemblies of their own to tax them,
which was a privilege granted them by charter, without which
"that liberty which every Englishman has a right to is torn from
them, they are all slaves, and all is lost." Colonial charters
were, however, "undoubtedly no more than those of all
corporations, which empower them to make bye-laws." As for
"liberty," the word had so many meanings," having within a few
years been used as a synonymous term for Blasphemy, Bawdy,
Treason, Libels, Strong Beer, and Cyder," that Mr. Jenyns could
not presume to say what it meant.

Against the expediency of the taxes, Mr. Jenyns found that two
objections had been raised: that the time was improper and the
manner wrong as to the manner, the colonies themselves had in a
way prescribed it, since they had not been able at the request of
ministers to suggest any other. The time Mr. Jenyns thought most
propitious, a point upon which he grew warm and almost serious.

"Can any time be more proper to require some assistance from our
colonies, to preserve to themselves their present safety, than
when this country is almost undone by procuring it? Can any time
be more proper to impose some tax upon their trade, than when
they are enabled to rival us in their manufactures by the
encouragement and protection which we have given them? Can any
time be more proper to oblige them to settle handsome incomes on
their governors, than when we find them unable to procure a
subsistence on any other terms than those of breaking all their
instructions, and betraying the rights of their Sovereign?...
Can there be a more proper time to force them to maintain an army
at their expence, than when that army is necessary for their own
protection, and we are utterly unable to support it? Lastly, can
there be a more proper time for this mother country to leave off
feeding out of her own vitals these children whom she has nursed
up, than when they are arrived at such strength and maturity as
to be well able to provide for themselves, and ought rather with
filial duty to give some assistance to her distresses?"

Americans, after all, were not the only ones who might claim to
have a grievance!

It was upon a lighter note, not to end in anticlimax, that Mr.
Jenyns concluded his able pamphlet. He had heard it hinted that
allowing the colonies representation in Parliament would be a
simple plan for making taxes legal. The impracticability of this
plan, he would not go into, since the plan itself had nowhere
been seriously pressed, but he would, upon that head, offer the
following consideration:

"I have lately seen so many specimens of the great powers of
speech of which these American gentlemen are possessed, that I
should be much afraid that the sudden importation of so much
eloquence at once would greatly endanger the safety of the
government of this country.... If we can avail ourselves of
these taxes on no other condition, I shall never look upon it as
a measure of frugality, being perfectly satisfied that in the
end, it will be much cheaper for us to pay their army than their

Mr. Jenyns's pamphlet, which could be had for sixpence, was
widely read, with much appreciation for its capital wit and
extraordinary common sense; more widely read in England than Mr.
James Otis's "Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved"
or Daniel Dulaney's "Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing
Taxes on the British Colonies"; and it therefore did much more
than these able pamphlets to clarify English opinion on the
rights of Parliament and the expediency of taxing America. No one
could deny that Government had yielded in the face of noisy
clamor and forcible resistance. To yield under the circumstances
may have been wise or not; but Government had not yielded on any
ground of right, but had on the contrary most expressly affirmed,
in the Declaratory Act, that "the King's Majesty, by and with the
advice of the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons of Great
Britain, in Parliament assembled, had, hath, and of right ought
to have, full power and authority to make such laws and statutes
of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people
of America, subjects of the Crown of Great Britain, in all cases
whatsoever." Government had not even denied the expediency of
taxing America, the total repeal of the Stamp Act and the
modification of the Sugar Act having been carried on a
consideration of the inexpediency of these particular taxes only.
Taxes not open to the same objection might in future be found,
and doubtless must be found, inasmuch as the troops were still
retained in America and the Quartering Act continued in force
there. For new taxes, however, it would doubtless be necessary to
await the formation of a new ministry.

The formation of a new ministry was not an unusual occurrence in
the early years of King George the Third. No one supposed that
Lord Rockingham could hold on many months; and as early as July,
1766, all London knew that Mr. Pitt had been sent for. The coming
and going of great men in times of ministerial crisis was always
a matter of interest; but the formation of that ministry of all
the factions which the Patriot King had long desired was
something out of the ordinary, the point of greatest speculation
being how many irreconcilables Mr. Pitt (the Earl of Chatham he
was now) could manage to get seated about a single table. From
the point of view of irreconcilability, no one was more eligible
than Mr. Charles Townshend, at that moment Paymaster of the
Forces, a kind of enfant terrible of English politics, of whom
Horace Walpole could say, with every likelihood of being
believed, that "his speech of last Friday, made while half drunk,
was all wit and indiscretion; nobody but he could have made it,
nobody but he would have made it if he could. He beat Lord
Chatham in language, Burke in metaphors, Grenville in
presumption, Rigby in impudence, himself in folly, and everybody
in good humour."

This gentleman, much to his astonishment, one day received the
following note from Lord Chatham: "Sir: You are too great a
magnitude not to be in a responsible place; I intend to propose
you for Chancellor of the Exchequer, and must desire to have your
answer by nine o'clock tonight." Mr. Townshend was dismayed as
well as astonished, his dismay arising from the fact that the
office of Chancellor of the Exchequer was worth but 2700 pounds,
which was precisely 4300 pounds less than he was then receiving
as Paymaster of the Forces. To be a great magnitude on small pay
had its disadvantages, and Mr. Townshend, after remaining home
all day in great distress of mind, begged Mr. Pitt to be allowed
to retain the office of Paymaster; which was no sooner granted
than he changed his mind and begged Mr. Pitt to be allowed to
accept the Exchequer place, which Mr. Pitt at first refused and
was only persuaded to grant finally upon the intercession of the
Duke of Grafton. The day following, Mr. Townshend accordingly
informed the King that he had decided, in view of the urgent
representations of the Earl of Chatham, to accept the office of
Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Majesty's new ministry.

No one supposed, least of all himself, that this delightful man
would have any influence in formulating the policies of the
Chatham ministry. Lord Chatham's policies were likely to be his
own; and in the present case, so far as America was concerned,
they were not such as could be readily associated with Mr.
Townshend's views, so far as those views were known or were not
inconsistent. For dealing with America, the Earl of Shelburne,
because of his sympathetic understanding of colonial matters, had
been brought into the ministry to formulate a comprehensive and
conciliatory plan; as for the revenue, always the least part of
Lord Chatham's difficulties as it was the chief of Mr.
Grenville's, it was thought that the possessions of the East
India Company, if taken over by the Government, would bring into
the Treasury sums quite sufficient to pay the debt as well as to
relieve the people, in England and America at least, of those
heavy taxes which Mr. Grenville and his party had thought
necessarily involved in the extension of empire. It was a curious
chapter of accidents that brought all these welllaid plans to
nought. Scarcely was the ministry formed when the Earl of
Chatham, incapacitated by the gout, retired into a seclusion that
soon became impenetrable; and "even before this resplendent orb
was entirely set, and while the western horizon was in a blaze
with his descending glory, on the opposite quarter of the heavens
arose another luminary, and, for his hour, became lord of the
ascendant." This luminary was Mr. Charles Townshend.

Mr. Townshend was the "delight and ornament" of the House, as
Edmund Burke said. Never was a man in any country of "more
pointed and finished wit, or (where his passions were not
concerned) of a more refined, exquisite, and penetrating
judgment"; never a man to excel him in "luminous explanation and
display of his subject," nor ever one less tedious or better able
to conform himself exactly to the temper of the House which he
seemed to guide because he was always sure to follow it. In 1765
Mr. Townshend had voted for the Stamp Act, but in 1766, when the
Stamp Act began to be no favorite, he voted for the repeal, and
would have spoken for it too, if an illness had not prevented
him. And now, in 1767, Mr. Townshend was Chancellor of the
Exchequer, and as such responsible for the revenue; a man without
any of that temperamental obstinacy which persists in opinions
once formed, and without any fixed opinions to persist in; but
quite disposed, according to habit, to "hit the House just
between wind and water," and to win its applause by speaking for
the majority, or by "haranguing inimitably on both sides" when
the majority was somewhat uncertain.

In January, 1767, when Lord Chatham was absent and the majority
was very uncertain, Mr. Grenville took occasion, in the debate
upon the extraordinaries for the army in England and America, to
move that America, like Ireland, should support its own
establishment. The opportunity was one which Mr. Townshend could
not let pass. Much to the astonishment of every one and most of
all to that of his colleagues in the ministry, he supported Mr.
Grenville's resolution, declaring himself now in favor of the
Stamp Act which he had voted to repeal, treating "Lord Chatham's
distinction between internal and external taxation as
contemptuously as Mr. Grenville had done," and pledging himself
able, if necessary, to find a revenue in America nearly adequate
to the proposed project. The Earl of Shelburne, in great distress
of mind, at once wrote to Lord Chatham, relating the strange if
characteristic conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and
declaring himself entirely ignorant of the intentions of his
colleagues. It was indeed an anomalous situation. If Lord
Chatham's policies were still to be considered those of the
ministry, Mr. Townshend might be said to be in opposition, a
circumstance which made "many people think Lord Chatham ill at
St. James's" only.

Lord Chatham was not ill at St. James's. He was most likely very
well at St. James's, being unable to appear there, thus leaving
the divided ministry amenable to the King's management or
helpless before a factious Opposition. The opportunity of the
Opposition came when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in
February, proposed to continue the land tax at four shillings for
one year more, after which time, he thought, it might be reduced
to three shillings in view of additional revenues to be obtained
from the East India Company. But Opposition saw no reason why, in
view of the revenue which Mr. Townshend had pledged himself to
find in America, a shilling might not be taken from the land at
once, a proposal which Mr. Dowdeswell moved should be done, and
which was accordingly voted through the influence of Mr.
Grenville and the Duke of Bedford, who had formerly carried the
Stamp Act, aided by the Rockingham Whigs who had formerly
repealed it. If Lord Chatham was ill at St. James's, this was a
proper time to resign. It was doubtless a proper time to resign
in any case. But Lord Chatham did not resign: In March he came to
London, endeavored to replace Mr. Townshend by Lord North, which
he failed to do, and then retired to Bath to be seen no more,
leaving Mr. Townshend more than ever "master of the revels."

Mr. Townshend did not resign either, but continued in office,
quite undisturbed by the fact that a cardinal measure of the
ministry had been decisively voted down. Mr. Townshend reasoned
that if Opposition would not support the ministry, all
difficulties would be straightened out by the ministry's
supporting the Opposition. This was the more reasonable since
Opposition had perhaps been right after all, so far as the
colonies were concerned. Late reports from that quarter seemed to
indicate that the repeal of the Stamp Act, far from satisfying
the Americans, had only confirmed that umbrageous people in a
spirit of licentiousness, which was precisely what Opposition had
predicted as the sure result of any weak concession. The New York
Assembly, it now appeared, refused to make provision for the
troops according to the terms of the Quartering Act; New York
merchants were petitioning for a further modification of the
trade acts; the precious Bostonians, wrangling refined
doctrinaire points with Governor Bernard, were making
interminable difficulties about compensating the sufferers from
the Stamp Act riots. If Lord Chatham, in February, 1767, could go
so far as to say that the colonies had "drunk deep of the baneful
cup of infatuation," Mr. Townshend, having voted for the Stamp
Act and for its repeal, might well think, in May, that the time
was ripe for a return to rigorous measures.

On May 13, in a speech which charmed the House, Mr. Townshend
opened his plan for settling the colonial question. The growing
spirit of insubordination, which must be patent to all, he
thought could be most effectively checked by making an example of
New York, where defiance was at present most open; for which
purpose it was proposed that the meetings of the Assembly of that
province be totally suspended until it should have complied with
the terms of the Mutiny Act. As one chief source of power in
colonial assemblies which contributed greatly to make them
insubordinate was the dependence of executive officials upon them
for salaries, Mr. Townshend now renewed the proposal, which he
had formerly brought forward in 1763, to create an independent
civil list for the payment of governors and judges from England.
The revenue fox such a civil list would naturally be raised in
America. Mr. Townshend would not, however, venture to renew the
Stamp Act, which had been so opposed on the ground of its being
an internal tax. He was free to say that the distinction between
internal and external taxes was perfect nonsense; but; since the
logical Americans thought otherwise, he would concede the point
and would accordingly humor them by laying only external duties,
which he thought might well be on various kinds of glass and
paper, on red and white lead, and upon teas, the duties to be
collected in colonial ports upon the importation of these
commodities from England. It was estimated that the duties might
altogether make about 40,000 pounds, if the collection were
properly attended to; and in order that the collection might be
properly attended to, and for the more efficient administration
of the American customs in general, Mr. Townshend further
recommended that a Board of Customs Commissioners be created and
established in Massachusetts Bay. With slight opposition, all
these recommendations were enacted into law; and the
Commissioners of the Customs, shortly afterward appointed by the
King, arrived in Boston in November, 1767.

At Boston, the Commissioners found much to be done in the way of
collecting the customs, particularly in the matter of Madeira
wines. Madeira wines were much drunk in the old Bay colony, being
commonly imported directly from the islands, without too much
attention to the duty of 7 pounds per ton lawfully required in
that case. Mr. John Hancock, a popular Boston merchant, did a
thriving business in this way; and his sloop Liberty, in the
ordinary course of trade, carrying six pipes of "good saleable
Madeira" for the coffeehouse retailers, four pipes of the "very
best" for his own table, and "two pipes more of the best...for
the Treasurer of the province," entered the harbor on May 9,
1768. In the evening Mr. Thomas Kirk, tide-waiter, acting for the
Commissioners, boarded the sloop, where he found the captain, Nat
Bernard, and also, by some chance, another of Mr. Hancock's
skippers, young James Marshall, together with half a dozen of his
friends. They sat with punch served by the captain all round
until nine o'clock, when young James Marshall casually asked if a
few casks might not as well be set on shore that evening. Mr.
Kirk replied that it could not be done with his leave; whereupon
he found himself "hoved down" into the cabin and confined there
for three hours, from which point of disadvantage he could
distinctly hear overhead "a noise of many people at work,
a-hoisting out of goods." In due time Mr. Kirk was released,
having suffered no injury, except perhaps a little in his
official character. Next day Mr. Hancock's cargo was duly
entered, no pipes of Madeira listed; and to all appearance the
only serious aspect of the affair was that young James Marshall
died before morning, it was thought from overexertion and

Very likely few people in Boston knew anything about this
interesting episode; and a month later much excitement was
accordingly raised by the news that Mr. Hancock's sloop Liberty
had been ordered seized for nonpayment of customs. A crowd
watched the ship towed, for safe-keeping, under the guns of the
Romney in the harbor. When the Commissioners, who had come down
to see the thing done, left the wharf they were roughly handled
by the incensed people; and in the evening windows of some of
their houses were broken, and a boat belonging to a collector was
hauled on shore and burnt on the Common. Governor Bernard at last
informed the Commissioners that he could not protect them in
Boston, whereupon they retired with their families to the Romney,
and later to Castle William. There they continued, under
difficulties, the work of systematizing the American customs; and
not without success, inasmuch as the income from the duties
during the years from 1768 to 1774 averaged about 30,000 pounds
sterling, at an annual cost to the revenue of not more than
13,000 pounds. This saving was nevertheless not effected without
the establishment at Boston, on the recommendation of the
Commissioners, of two regiments of the line which arrived
September 28, 1768, and were landed under the guns of eight
men-of-war, without opposition. The cost of maintaining the two
regiments in Boston was doubtless not included in the 13,000
pounds charged to the revenue as the annual expense of collecting
30,000 pounds of customs.

In spite of the, two regiments of the line, with artillery,
Boston was not quiet in this year 1768. The soldiers acted
decently enough, no doubt; but their manners were very British
and their coats were red, and "their simple presence," conveying
every day the suggestion of compulsion, was "an intolerable
grievance." Every small matter was magnified. The people, says
Hutchinson, "had been used to answer to the call of the town
watch in the night, yet they did not like to answer to the
frequent calls of the centinels posted at the barracks; ...and
either a refusal to answer, or an answer accompanied with
irritating language, endangered the peace of the town." On
Sundays, especially, the Boston mind found something irreverent,
something at the very least irrelevant, in the presence of the
bright colored and highly secular coats; while the noise of fife
and drum, so disturbing to the sabbath calm, called forth from
the Selectmen a respectful petition to the general requesting him
to "dispense with the band."

These were but slight matters; but as time passed little
grievances accumulated on both sides until the relation between
the people and the soldiers was one of settled hostility, and at
last, after two years, the tense situation culminated in the
famous Boston Massacre. On the evening of March 5, 1770, there
was an alarm of fire, false as it turned out, which brought many
people into the streets, especially boys, whom one may easily
imagine catching up, as they ran, handfuls of damp snow to make
snowballs. For snowballs, there could be no better target than
red-coated sentinels standing erect and motionless at the post of
duty; and it chanced that one of these individuals, stationed
before the Customs House door, was pelted with the close-packed
missiles. Being several times struck, he called for aid, the
guard turned out, and a crowd gathered. One of the soldiers was
presently knocked down, another was hit by a club, and at last
six or seven shots were fired, with or without orders, the result
of which was four citizens lying dead on the snow-covered streets
of Boston.

The Boston Massacre was not as serious as the Massacre of Saint
Bartholomew or the Sicilian Vespers; but it served to raise
passion to a white heat in the little provincial town. On the
next day there was assembled, under the skillful leadership of
Samuel Adams, a great town meeting which demanded in no uncertain
terms the removal of the troops from Boston. Under the
circumstances, six hundred British soldiers would have fared
badly in Boston; and in order to prevent further bloodshed,
acting Governor Hutchinson finally gave the order. Within a
fortnight, the two small regiments retired to Castle William.
Seven months later Captain Preston and other soldiers implicated
in the riot were tried before a Boston jury. Ably defended by
John Adams and Josiah Quincy, they were all acquitted on the
evidence, except two who were convicted and lightly punished for

As it happened, the Boston Massacre occurred on the 5th of March,
1770, which was the very day that Lord North rose in the House of
Commons to propose the partial repeal of the Townshend duties.
This outcome was not unconnected with events that had occurred in
America during the eighteen months since the landing of the
troops in Boston in September, 1768. In 1768, John Adams could
not have foretold the Boston Massacre, or have foreseen that he
would himself incur popular displeasure for having defended the
soldiers. But he could, even at that early date, divine the
motives of the British government in sending the troops to
Boston. To his mind, "the very appearance of the troops in Boston
was a strong proof that the determination of Great Britain to
subjugate us was too deep and inveterate to be altered." All the
measures of ministry seemed indeed to confirm that view. Mr.
Townshend's condescension in accepting the colonial distinction
between internal and external taxes was clearly only a subtle
maneuver designed to conceal an attack upon liberty far more
dangerous than the former attempts of Mr. Grenville. After all,
Mr. Townshend was probably right in thinking the distinction of
no importance, the main point being whether, as Lord Chatham had
said, the Parliament could by any kind of taxes "take money out
of their pockets without their consent."

Duties on glass and tea certainly would take money out of their
pockets without their consent, and therefore it must be true that
taxes could be rightly laid only by colonial assemblies, in which
alone Americans could be represented. But of what value was it to
preserve the abstract right of taxation by colonial assemblies if
meanwhile the assemblies themselves might, by act of Parliament,
be abolished? And had not the New York Assembly been suspended by
act of Parliament? And were not the new duties to be used to pay
governors and judges, thus by subtle indirection undermining the
very basis of legislative independence? And now, in the year
1768, the Massachusetts Assembly, having sent a circular letter
to the other colonies requesting concerted action in defense of
their liberties, was directed by Lord Hillsborough, speaking in
his Majesty's name, "to rescind the resolution which gave birth
to the circular letter from the Speaker, and to declare their
disapprobation of, and dissent to, that rash and hasty
proceeding." Clearly, it was no mere question of taxation but the
larger question of legislative independence that now confronted

A more skillful dialectic was required to defend American rights
against the Townshend duties than against the Stamp Act. It was a
somewhat stubborn fact that Parliament had for more than a
hundred years passed laws effectively regulating colonial trade,
and for regulating trade had imposed duties, some of which had
brought into the Exchequer a certain revenue. Americans, wishing
to be thought logical as well as loyal, could not well say at
this late date that Parliament had no right to lay duties in
regulation of trade. Must they then submit to the Townshend
duties? Or was it possible to draw a line, making a distinction,
rather more subtle than the old one between internal and external
taxes, between duties for regulation and duties for revenue? This
latter feat was undertaken by Mr. John Dickinson of Pennsylvania,
anonymously, under the guise of a simple but intelligent and
virtuous farmer whose arcadian existence had confirmed in him an
instinctive love of liberty and had supplied him with the leisure
to meditate at large upon human welfare and the excellent British

Mr. Dickinson readily granted America to be dependent upon Great
Britain, "as much dependent upon Great Britain as one perfectly
free people can be on another." But it appeared axiomatic to the
unsophisticated mind of a simple farmer that no people could be
free if taxed without its consent, and that Parliament had
accordingly no right to lay any taxes upon the colonies; from
which it followed that the sole question in respect to duties
laid on trade was whether they were intended for revenue or for
regulation. Intention in such matters was of primary importance,
since all duties were likely to be regulative to some extent. It
might be objected that "it will be difficult for any persons but
the makers of the laws to determine which of them are made for
regulation of trade, and which for raising a revenue." This was
true enough but at present of academic importance only, inasmuch
as the makers of the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, and the Townshend
duties had conveniently and very clearly proclaimed their
intention to be the raising of a revenue. Yet this question,
academic now, might soon become extremely practical. The makers
of laws might not always express their intention so explicitly;
they might, with intention to raise a revenue, pass acts
professing to be for regulation only; and therefore, since "names
will not change the nature of things," Americans ought "firmly to
believe...that unless the most watchful attention be exerted,
a new servitude may be slipped upon us under the sanction of
usual and respectable terms." In such case the intention should
be inferred from the nature of the act; and the Farmer, for his
part, sincerely hoped that his countrymen "would never, to their
latest existence, want understanding sufficient to discover the
intentions of those who rule over them."

Mr. Dickinson's "Farmer's Letters" were widely read and highly
commended. The argument, subtle but clear, deriving the nature of
an act from the intention of its makers, and the intention of its
makers from the nature of the act, contributed more than any
other exposition to convince Americans that they "have the same
right that all states have, of judging when their privileges are

"As much dependent on Great Britain as one perfectly free people
can be on another," the Farmer said. Englishmen might be excused
for desiring a more precise delimitation of parliamentary
jurisdiction than could be found in this phrase, as well as for
asking what clear legal ground there was for making any
delimitation at all. To the first point, Mr. Dickinson said in
effect that Parliament had not the right to tax the colonies and
that it had not the right to abolish their assemblies through
which they alone could tax themselves. The second point Mr.
Dickinson did not clearly answer, although it was undoubtedly
most fundamental. To this point Mr. Samuel Adams had given much
thought; and in letters which he drafted for the Massachusetts
Assembly, in the famous circular letter particularly, and in the
letter of January 12,1769, sent to the Assembly's agent in
England, Mr. Dennys De Berdt, Mr. Adams formulated a theory
designed to show that the colonies were "subordinate" but not
subject to the British Parliament. The delimitation of colonial
and parliamentary jurisdictions Mr. Adams achieved by
subordinating all legislative authority to an authority higher
than any positive law, an authority deriving its sanction from
the fixed and universal law of nature. This higher authority,
which no legislature could "overleap without destroying its own
foundation," was the British Constitution.

Mr. Adams spoke of the British Constitution with immense
confidence, as something singularly definite and well known, the
provisions of which were clearly ascertainable; which singular
effect doubtless came from the fact that he thought of it, not
indeed as something written down on paper and deposited in
archives of state, but as a series of propositions which, as they
were saying in France, were indelibly "written in the hearts of
all men." The British Constitution, he said, like the
constitution of every free state, "is fixed," having its
foundation not in positive law, which would indeed give
Parliament an ultimate and therefore a despotic authority, but in
"the law of God and nature." There were in the British Empire
many legislatures, all deriving their authority from, and all
finding their limitations in, the Constitution. Parliament had
certainly a supreme or superintending legislative authority in
the Empire, as the colonial assemblies had a "subordinate," in
the sense of a local, legislative authority; but neither the
Parliament nor any colonial assembly could "overleap the
Constitution without destroying its own foundation." And
therefore, since the Constitution is founded "in the law of God
and nature," and since "it is an essential natural right that a
man shall quietly enjoy and have the sole disposal of his
property," the Americans must enjoy this right equally with
Englishmen, and Parliament must be bound to respect this right in
the colonies as well as in England; from which it followed
irresistibly that the consent of the colonies to any taxation
must be sought exclusively in their own assemblies, it being
manifestly impossible for that consent to be "constitutionally
had in Parliament."

It was commonly thought in America that Mr. Adams, although not a
judge, had a singular gift for constitutional interpretation.
Far-sighted men could nevertheless believe that a powerful party
in England, inspired by inveterate hatred of America and
irretrievably bent upon her ruin, would pronounce all his careful
distinctions ridiculous and would still reply to every argument
by the mere assertion, as a fact behind which one could not go,
that Parliament had always had and must therefore still have full
power to bind the colonies in all cases whatsoever. If Britain
would not budge from this position, Americans would soon be
confronted with the alternative of admitting Parliament to have
full power or denying it to have any.

With that sharp-set alternative in prospect, it would be well to
keep in mind the fact that arguments lost carrying power in
proportion to their subtlety; and in the opinion of so good a
judge as Benjamin Franklin the reasoning of Mr. Adams and Mr.
Dickinson was perhaps not free from this grave disadvantage.

"I am not yet master [he was free to confess] of the idea
these...writers have of the relation between Britain and her
colonies. I know not what the Boston people mean by the
"subordination" they acknowledge in their Assembly to Parliament,
while they deny its power to make laws for them, nor what bounds
the Farmer sets to the power he acknowledges in Parliament to
"regulate the trade of the colonies," it being difficult to draw
lines between duties for regulation and those for revenue; and,
if the Parliament is to be the judge, it seems to me that
establishing such a principle of distinction will amount to
little. The more I have thought and read on the subject, the more
I find myself confirmed in opinion, that no middle ground can be
well maintained, I mean not clearly with intelligible arguments.
Something might be made of either of the extremes: that
Parliament has a power to make ALL LAWS for us, or that it has a
power to make NO LAWS for us; and I think the arguments for the
latter more numerous and weighty, than those for the former."

The good Doctor had apparently read and thought a great deal
about the matter since the day when Mr. Grenville had called him
in to learn if there were good objections to be urged against the
Stamp Act.

Practical men were meanwhile willing to allow the argument to
take whatever direction the exigencies of the situation might
require, being ready to believe that Mr. Dickinson counseled well
and that Mr. Franklin counseled well; being nevertheless firmly
convinced from past experience that an Englishman's ability to
see reason was never great except when his pocket was touched.
Practical men were therefore generally of the opinion that they
could best demonstrate their rights by exhibiting their power.
This happily, they could do by bringing pressure to bear upon
English merchants by taking money out of THEIR pockets--without
their consent to be sure but in a manner strictly legal--by means
of non-importation agreements voluntarily entered into.

As early as October, 1767, the Boston merchants entered into such
an agreement, which was however not very drastic and proved to be
of no effect, as it was at first unsupported by the merchants in
any other colony. In April, 1768, the merchants of New York,
seeing the necessity of concerted action, agreed not to import
"any goods [save a very few enumerated articles] which shall be
shipped from Great Britain after the first of October next;
provided Boston and Philadelphia adopt similar measures by the
first of June." Philadelphia merchants said they were not opposed
to the principle of nonimportation, but greatly feared the New
York plan would serve to create a monopoly by enabling men of
means to lay in a large stock of goods before the agreement went
into effect. This was very true; but the objection, if it was an
objection, proved not to be an insurmountable one. Before the
year was out, in the late summer for the most part, the merchants
in all the commercial towns had subscribed to agreements,
differing somewhat in detail, of which the substance was that
they would neither import from Great Britain any commodities, nor
buy or sell any which might inadvertently find their way in,
until the duties imposed by the Townshend act should have been

The merchants' agreements were, for whatever reason, much better
observed in some places than in others. Imports from Great
Britain to New York fell during the year 1769 from about 482,000
pounds to about 74,000 pounds. Imports into New England and into
Pennsylvania declined a little more than one half; whereas in the
southern colonies there was no decline at all, but on the
contrary an increase, slight in the case of Maryland and Virginia
and rather marked in the Carolinas. In spite of these defections,
the experiment was not without effect upon English merchants.
English merchants, but little interested in the decline or
increase of trade to particular colonies, were chiefly aware that
the total exportation to America was nearly a million pounds less
in 1769 than in 1768. Understanding little about colonial rights,
but knowing only, as in 1766, that their "trade was hurt," they
accordingly applied once more to Parliament for relief. The
commerce with America which was "so essential to afford
employment and subsistence to the manufactures of these kingdoms,
to augment the public revenue, to serve as a nursery for seamen,
and to increase our navigation and maritime strength"--this
commerce, said the Merchants and Traders of the City of London
Trading to America, "is at present in an alarming state of
suspension"; and the Merchants and Traders of the City of London
therefore humbly prayed Parliament to repeal the duties which
were the occasion of their inconveniences.

The petition of the London merchants came before the House on
March 5, 1770, that being the day fixed by Lord North for
proposing, on behalf of the ministry, certain measures for
America. No one, said the first minister, could be more free than
himself to recognize the importance of American trade or more
disposed to meet the wishes of the London merchants as far as
possible. The inconveniences under which that trade now labored
were manifest, but he could not think, with the petitioners, that
these inconveniences arose from "the nature of the duties" so
much as "through the medium of the dissatisfaction of the
Americans, and those combinations and associations of which we
have heard"--associations and combinations which had been called,
in an address to the House, "unwarrantable," but which he for his
part would go so far as to call illegal. These illegal
combinations in America were obviously what caused the
inconveniences of which the merchants complained. To the pressure
of illegal combinations alone Parliament ought never to yield;
and ministers wished it clearly understood that, if they were
about to propose a repeal of some of the duties, they were not
led to take this step from any consideration of the disturbances
in the colonies.

On the contrary, the duties which it was now proposed to
repeal--the duties on lead, glass, and paper--were to be repealed
strictly on the ground that they ought never to have been laid,
because duties on British manufactures were contrary to true
commercial principles. Last year, when ministers had expressed,
in a letter of Lord Hillsborough to the governors, their
intention to repeal these duties, some members had been in favor
of repealing all the duties and some were still in favor of doing
so. As to that, the first minister could only say that he had not
formerly been opposed to it and would not now be opposed to it,
had the Americans, in response to the Earl of Hillsborough's
letter, exhibited any disposition to cease their illegal
disturbances or renounce their combinations. But the fact was
that conditions in America had grown steadily worse since the
Earl of Hillsborough's letter, and never had been so bad as now;
in view of which fact ministers could not but think it wise to
maintain some tax as a matter of principle purely. They would
therefore recommend that the tax on tea, no burden certainly on
anyone, be continued as a concrete application of the right of
Parliament to tax the colonies.

In so far as they were designed to bring pressure to bear upon
the mother country, the merchants' agreements were clearly not
without a measure of success, having helped perhaps to bring
Parliament to the point of repealing the duties on lead, glass,
and paper, as well as to bring ministers to the point of keeping
the duty on tea. Americans generally were doubtless well pleased
with this effect; but not all Americans were able to regard the
experiment in non-importation with unqualified approval in other
respects. Non-importation, by diminishing the quantity and
increasing the price of commodities, involved a certain amount of
personal sacrifice. This sacrifice, however, fell chiefly on the
consumers, the non-importation not being under certain
circumstances altogether without advantage to merchants who
faithfully observed their pledges as well as to those who
observed them only occasionally. So long as their warehouses,
well stocked in advance, contained anything that could be sold at
a higher price than formerly, non-importation was no bad thing
even for those merchants who observed the agreement. For those
who did not observe the agreement, as well as for those who
engaged in the smuggling trade from Holland, it was no bad thing
at any time, and it promised to become an increasingly excellent
thing in exact proportion to the exhaustion of the fair trader's
stock and the consequent advance in prices. As time passed,
therefore, the fair trader became aware that the, non-importation
experiment, practically considered, was open to certain
objections; whereas the unfair trader was more in favor of the
experiment the longer it endured, being every day more convinced
that the non-importation agreement ought to be continued and
strictly adhered to as essential to the maintenance of American

The practical defects of non-importation were likely to be
understood, by those who could ever understand them, in
proportion to the decay of business; and in the spring of 1770
they were nowhere better understood than in New York, where the
decay of business was most marked. This decrease was greatest in
New York, so the merchants maintained, because that city had been
most faithful in observing the agreement, importation having
there fallen from 482,000 pounds to 74,000 pounds during the
year. It is possible, however, that the decay of business in New
York was due in part and perhaps primarily to the retirement, in
November, 1768, of the last issues of the old Bills of Credit,
according to the terms of the Paper Currency Act passed by
Parliament during Mr. Grenville's administration. As a result of
this retirement of all the paper money in the province, money of
any sort was exceedingly scarce during the years 1769 and 1770.
Lyon dollars were rarely seen; and the quantity of Spanish silver
brought into the colony through the trade with the foreign
islands, formerly considerable but now greatly diminished by,
they, stricter enforcement of the Townshend Trade Acts, was
hardly sufficient for local exchange alone, to say nothing of
settling heavy balances in London, although, fortunately perhaps,
there were in the year 1769 no heavy London balances to be
settled on account of the faithful observance of the
non-importation agreement by the merchants. The lack of money was
therefore doubtless a chief cause of the great decay of business
in New York; and some there were who maintained that the faithful
observance of the non-importation agreement by the merchants was
due to the decay of trade rather than the decay of trade being
due to the faithful observance of the non-importation agreement.

Whatever the true explanation of this academic point might be, it
was an undoubted fact that business was more nearly at a
standstill in New York than elsewhere. Accordingly, in the spring
of 1770, when money was rarely to be seen and debtors were
selling their property at one-half or one-third of its former
value in order to discharge obligations long overdue, the fair
trading merchants of New York were not disposed to continue an
experiment of which, as they said, they had borne the chief
burden to the advantage of others and to their own impending
ruin. Zealous Sons of Liberty, such as Alexander MacDougall and
John Lamb, popular leaders of the "Inhabitants" of the city, were
on the other hand determined that the non-importation agreement
should be maintained unimpaired. The hard times, they said, were
due chiefly to the monopoly prices exacted by the wealthy
merchants, who were not ruined at all, who had on the contrary
made a good thing out of the non-importation as long as they had
anything to sell, and whose patriotism (God save the mark!) had
now suddenly grown lukewarm only because they had disposed of all
their goods, including "old moth-eaten clothes that had been
rotting in the shops for years."

These aspersions the merchants knew how to ignore. Their
determination not to continue the non-importation was
nevertheless sufficiently indicated in connection with the annual
celebration, in March, of the repeal of the Stamp Act. On this
occasion the merchants refused to meet as formerly with the Sons
of Liberty, but made provision for a dinner of their own at
another place, where all the Friends of Liberty and Trade were
invited to be present. Both dinners were well attended, and at
both the repeal of the Stamp Act was celebrated with patriotic
enthusiasm, the main difference being that whereas the Sons of
Liberty drank a toast to Mr. MacDougall and to "a continuance of
the non-importation agreement until the revenue acts are
repealed," the Friends of Liberty and Trade ignored Mr.
MacDougall and drank to "trade and navigation and a speedy
removal of their embarrassments."

In the determination not to continue the old agreement, the
Friends of Liberty and Trade were meanwhile strongly confirmed
when it was learned that Britain was willing on her part to make
concessions. By the middle of May it was known that the Townshend
duties (except the duty on tea) had been repealed; and in June it
was learned that Parliament had at last, after many
representations from the Assembly, passed a special act
permitting New York to issue 120,000 pounds in Bills of Credit
receivable at the Treasury. It was thought that concession on the
part of Great Britain ought in justice to meet with concession on
the part of America. Accordingly, on the ground that other towns,
and Boston in particular, were more active "in resolving what
they ought to do than in doing what they had resolved," and on
the ground that the present non-importation agreement no longer
served "any other purpose than tying the hands of honest men, to
let rogues, smugglers, and men of no character plunder their
country," the New York merchants, on July 9, 1770, resolved that
for the future they would import from Great Britain all kinds of
commodities except such as might be subject to duties imposed by

The New York merchants were on every hand loudly denounced for
having betrayed the cause of liberty; but before the year was out
the old agreement was everywhere set aside. Yet everywhere, as at
New York, the merchants bound themselves not to import any
British teas. The duty on British teas was slight. Americans
might have paid the duty without increasing the price of their
much prized luxury; ministers might have collected the same duty
in England to the advantage of the Exchequer. That Britain should
have insisted on this peppercorn in acknowledgement of her right,
that America should have refused it in vindication of her
liberty, may be taken as a high tribute from two eminently,
practical peoples to the power of abstract ideas.

CHAPTER V. A Little Discreet Conduct

It has been his [Thomas Hutchinson's] principle from a boy that
mankind are to be governed by the discerning few, and it has been
ever since his ambition to be the hero of the few.--Samuel Adams.

We have not been so quiet these five years .... If it were not
for two or three Adamses, we should do well enough.--Thomas

In December, 1771, Horace Walpole, a persistent if not an
infallible political prophet, was of opinion that all the storms
that for a decade had distressed the Empire were at last happily
blown over; among which storms he included, as relatively of
minor importance, the disputes with the colonies. During two
years following, this prediction might well have appeared to
moderate minded men entirely justified. American affairs were
barely mentioned in Parliament, and a few paragraphs in the
"Annual Register" were thought sufficient to chronicle for
English readers events of interest occurring across the Atlantic.
In the colonies themselves an unwonted tranquillity prevailed.
Rioting, as an established social custom, disappeared in most of
the places where it had formerly been so much practised. The Sons
of Liberty, retaining the semblance of an organization, were
rarely in the public eye save at the annual celebrations of the
repeal of the Stamp Act, quite harmless occasions devoted to the
expression of patriotic sentiments. Merchants and landowners,
again prosperous, were content to fall back into accustomed
habits of life, conscious of duty done without too much stress,
readily believing their liberties finally vindicated against
encroachments from abroad and their privileges secure against
unwarranted and dangerous pretensions at home. "The people appear
to be weary of their altercations with the mother country," Mr.
Johnson, the Connecticut agent, wrote to Wedderburn, in October,
1771; "a little discreet conduct on both sides would perfectly
reestablish that warm affection and respect towards Great Britain
for which this country was once remarkable."

Discreet conduct was nowhere more necessary than in
Massachusetts, where the people, perhaps because they were much
accustomed to them, grew weary of altercations less easily than
in most colonies. Yet even in Massachusetts there was a marked
waning of enthusiasm after the high excitement occasioned by the
Boston Massacre, a certain disintegration of the patriot party.
James Otis recovered from a temporary fit of insanity only to
grow strangely suspicious of Samuel Adams. Mr. Hancock,
discreetly holding his peace, attended to his many thriving and
very profitable business ventures. John Adams, somewhat unpopular
for having defended and procured the acquittal of the soldiers
implicated in the Massacre, retired in high dudgeon from public
affairs to the practice of his profession; in high dudgeon with
everyone concerned--with himself first of all, and with the
people who so easily forgot their interests and those who had,
served them, and with the British Government and all fawning
tools of ministers, of whom Mr. Thomas Hutchinson was chief.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hutchinson, so roughly handled in the secret diary
of the rising young lawyer, was the recipient of new honors,
having been made Governor of the province to succeed Francis
Bernard. For once finding himself almost popular, he thought he
perceived a disposition in all the colonies, and even in
Massachusetts, to let the controversy subside. "Though there are
a small majority sour enough, yet when they seek matter for
protests, remonstrances, they are puzzled where to charge the
grievances which they look for." The new Governor looked forward
to happier days and an easy administration. "Hancock and most of
the party are quiet," he said, "and all of them, except Adams,
abate of their virulence. Adams would push the Continent into a
rebellion tomorrow, if it was in his power."

No one, in the year 1770, was better fitted than Samuel Adams,
either by talent and temperament or the circumstances of his
position, to push the continent into a rebellion. Unlike most of
his patriot friends, he had neither private business nor private
profession to fall back upon when public affairs grew tame, his
only business being, as one might say, the public business, his
only profession the definition and defense of popular rights. In
this profession, by dint of single-minded devotion to it through
a course of years, he had indeed become wonderfully expert and
had already achieved for himself the enviable position of known
and named leader in every movement of opposition to royal or
magisterial prerogative. In this connection no exploit had
brought him so much distinction as his skillful management of the
popular uprising which had recently forced Governor Hutchinson to
withdraw the troops from Boston. The event was no by-play in the
life of Samuel Adams, no amateur achievement accomplished on the
side, but the serious business of a man who during ten years had
abandoned all private pursuits and had embraced poverty to become
a tribune of the people.

Samuel Adams had not inherited poverty nor had he, after all,
exactly embraced it, but had as it were naturally drifted into it
through indifference to worldly gain, the indifference which men
of single and fixed purpose have for all irrelevant matters. The
elder Samuel Adams was a merchant of substance and of such
consequence in the town of Boston that in Harvard College, where
students were named according to the prominence of their
families, his son's name was fifth in a class of twenty-two. In
1748, upon the death of his father, Samuel Junior accordingly
inherited a very decent property, considered so at least in that
day--a spacious old house in Purchase Street together with a
well-established malt business. For business, however, the young
man, and not so young either, was without any aptitude whatever,
being entirely devoid of the acquisitive instinct and neither
possessing nor ever being able to acquire any skill in the fine
art of inducing people to give for things more than it cost to
make them. These deficiencies the younger Adams had already
exhibited before the death of his father, from whom he received
on one occasion a thousand pounds, half of which he promptly
loaned to an impecunious friend, and which he would in any case
doubtless have lost, as he soon did the other half, on his own
account. In such incompetent hands the malt business soon fell to
be a liability rather than an asset. Other liabilities
accumulated, notably one incurred by the tax collectors of the
town of Boston, of whom Samuel Adams was one during the years
from 1756 to 1764. For one reason or another, on Adams's part
certainly on account of his humane feelings and general business
inefficiency, the collectors fell every year a little behind in
the collections, and one day found themselves declared on the
official records to be indebted to the town in the sum of 9,878
pounds. This indebtedness Mr. Hutchinson and other gentlemen not
well disposed towards Samuel Adams conveniently and frequently
referred to in later years as a "defalcation."

In this year of 1764, when he had lost his entire patrimony
except the old house in Purchase Street, now somewhat rusty for
want of repair, Samuel Adams was married to Elizabeth Wells. It
was his second marriage, the first having taken place in 1749, of
which the fruit was a son and a daughter. Samuel Adams was
then--it was the year of the Sugar Act--forty-two years old; that
is to say, at the age when a man's hair begins to turn gray, when
his character is fixed, when his powers, such as they are, are
fully matured; well known as a "poor provider," an improvident
man who had lost a fair estate, had failed in business, and was
barely able, and sometimes not able, to support his small family.
These mundane matters concerned Samuel Adams but little. To John
Adams he said on one occasion that "he never looked forward in
life; never planned, laid a scheme, or formed a design for laying
up anything for himself or others after him." This was the truth,
inexplicable as it must have seemed to his more provident cousin.
It was even less than the truth: during the years following 1764,
Samuel Adams renounced all pretense of private business, giving
himself wholly to public affairs, while his good wife, with
excellent management, made his stipend as clerk of the Assembly
serve for food, and obtained, through the generosity of friends
or her own ingenious labors, indispensable clothes for the
family. Frugality, that much lauded virtue in the eighteenth
century, needed not to be preached in the old Purchase Street
home; but life went on there, somehow or other, decently enough,
not without geniality yet with evident piety. The old Bible is
still preserved from which each evening some member of the family
read a chapter, and at every meal the head of the house said
grace, returning thanks for God's benefits.

If Samuel Adams at the age of forty-two was known for a man who
could not successfully manage his own affairs, he was also known,
and very well known, for a man with a singular talent for
managing the affairs of the community; he could manage
successfully, for example, town meetings and every sort of
business, great or small, incidental to local politics. This
talent he may have inherited from his father, who was himself a
notable of the neighborhood,--one of the organizers of the "New
South" church, and prominent about 1724 in a club popularly known
as the "Caulkers' Club," formed for the purpose of laying "plans
for introducing certain persons into places of trust and power,"
and was himself from time to time introduced into such places of
trust and power as justice of the peace, deacon, selectman, and
member of the provincial assembly. From an early age, the younger
Samuel exhibited a marked aptitude for this sort of activity, and
was less likely to be found "in his countinghouse a-counting of
his money" than in some hospitable tavern or back shop discussing
town topics with local worthies. Samuel Adams was born to serve
on committees. He had the innate slant of mind that properly
belongs to a moderator of mass meetings called to aggravate a
crisis. With the soul of a Jacobin, he was most at home in clubs,
secret clubs of which everyone had heard and few were members,
designed at best to accomplish some particular good for the
people, at all events meeting regularly to sniff the approach of
tyranny in the abstract, academically safeguarding the
commonwealth by discussing the first principles of government.

>From the days of Anne Hutchinson, Boston never lacked clubs; and
the Caulkers' Club was the prototype of many, rather more secular
and political than religious or transcendental, which flourished
in the years preceding the Revolution. John Adams, in that Diary
which tells us so much that we wish to know, gives us a peep
inside one of these clubs, the "Caucus Club," which met regularly
at one period in the garret of Tom Dawes's house. "There they
smoke tobacco till you cannot see from one end of the garret to
the other. There they drink flip, I suppose, and there they
choose a moderator who puts questions to the vote regularly; and
selectmen, assessors, collectors, wardens, fire-wards, and
representatives are regularly chosen before they are chosen in
the town. Uncle Fairfield, Story, Ruddock, Adams, Cooper, and a
rudis indigestaque moles of others are members. They send
committees to wait on the merchants' club, and to propose and
join in the choice of men and measures." The artist Copley, in
the familiar portrait by which posterity knows Samuel Adams,
chose to represent him in conventional garb, on a public and
dramatic occasion, standing erect, eyes flashing and mouth
firmset, pointing with admonitory finger to the Charter of
Massachusetts Bay--a portrait well suited to hang in the Art
Museum or in the meeting place of the Daughters of the
Revolution. A different effect would have been produced if the
man had been placed in Tom Dawes's garret, dimly seen through
tobacco smoke, sitting, with coat off, drinking flip, in the
midst of Uncle Fairfield, Story, Cooper, and a rudis indigestaque
moles. This was his native habitat, an environment precisely
suited to his peculiar talent.

Samuel Adams had a peculiar talent, that indispensable
combination of qualities possessed by all great revolutionists of
the crusading type, such as Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Brown, or
Mazzini. When a man abandons his business or job and complacently
leaves the clothing of his children to wife or neighbors in order
to drink flip and talk politics, ordinary folk are content to
call him a lazy lout, ne'er-do-well, worthless fellow, or scamp.
Samuel Adams was not a scamp. He might have been no more than a
ne'er-do-well, perhaps, if cosmic forces had not opportunely
provided him with an occupation which his contemporaries and
posterity could regard as a high service to humanity. In his own
eyes, this was the view of the situation which justified his
conduct. When he was about to depart for the first Continental
Congress, a number of friends contributed funds to furnish him
forthwith presentable apparel: a suit of clothes, new wig, new
hat, "six pair of the best silk hose, six pair of fine thread
ditto, ....six pair of shoes"; and, it being "modestly
inquired of him whether his finances were not rather low than
otherwise, he replied it was true that was the case, but HE WAS
WERE OF ANY SERVICE TO THE PUBLIC; upon which the gentleman
obliged him to accept a purse containing about fifteen or twenty
Johannes." To accept so much and still preserve one's self-respect
would be impossible to ordinary men under ordinary circumstances.
Fate had so ordered the affairs of Samuel Adams that integrity of
character required him to be an extraordinary man acting under
extraordinary circumstances.

The character of his mind, as well as the outward circumstances
of his life, predisposed Samuel Adams to think that a great
crisis in the history of America and of the world confronted the
men of Boston. There was in him some innate scholastic quality,
some strain of doctrinaire Puritan inheritance diverted to
secular interests, that gave direction to all his thinking. In
1743, upon receiving the degree of Master of Arts from Harvard
College, he argued the thesis, "Whether it be lawful to resist
the Supreme Magistrate, if the Commonwealth cannot otherwise be
preserved." We may suppose that the young man acquitted himself
well, reasoning with great nicety in favor of the legality of an
illegal action, doubtless to the edification of Governor Shirley,
who was present and who perhaps felt sufficiently remote from the
performance, being himself only an actual supreme magistrate
presiding over a real commonwealth. And indeed for most young men
a college thesis is but an exercise for sharpening the wits,
rarely dangerous in its later effects. But in the case of Samuel
Adams, the ability to distinguish the speculative from the actual
reality seemed to diminish as the years passed. After 1764,
relieved of the pressure of life's anxieties and daily nourishing
his mind on premises and conclusions reasonably abstracted from
the relative and the conditioned circumstance, he acquired in a
high degree the faculty of identifying reality with propositions
about it; so that, for example, Liberty seemed threatened if
improperly defined, and a false inference from an axiom of
politics appeared the same as evil intent to take away a people's
rights. Thus it was that from an early date, in respect to the
controversy between the colonies and the mother country, Samuel
Adams became possessed of settled convictions that were capable
of clear and concise presentation and that were at once
impersonal and highly subjective, for which outward events--the
Stamp Act, the Townshend duties, the appointment of Thomas
Hutchinson as Governor, or whatever--furnished as it were the
suggestion only, the convictions themselves being largely the
result of inward brooding, the finespun product of his own
ratiocinative mind.

The crisis which thus threatened--in the mind of Samuel
Adams--was not an ordinary one: no mere complication of affairs,
or creaking of wornout institutions, or honest difference of
opinion about the expediency or the legality of measures. It was
a crisis engendered deliberately by men of evil purpose, public
enemies well known and often named. Samuel Adams, who had perhaps
not heard of even one of the many materialistic interpretations
of history, thought of the past as chiefly instructive in
connection with certain great epochal conflicts between Liberty
and Tyranny--a political Manicheanism, in which the principle of
Liberty was embodied in the virtuous many and the principle of
Tyranny in the wicked few. Those who read history must know it
for a notorious fact that ancient peoples had lost their
liberties at the hands of designing men, leagued and
self-conscious conspirators against the welfare of the human
race. Thus the yoke was fastened upon the Romans, "millions...
enslaved by a few." Now, in the year 1771, another of these
epochal conflicts was come upon the world, and Samuel Adams,
living in heroic days, was bound to stand in the forefront of the
virtuous against "restless Adversaries...forming the most
dangerous Plans for the Ruin of the Reputation of the People, in
order to build their own Greatness upon the Destruction of their

A superficial observer might easily fall into the error of
supposing that the restless adversaries and designing
conspirators against whom patriots had to contend were all in
England; on the contrary, the most persistent enemies of Liberty
were Americans residing in the midst of the people whom they
sought to despoil. One might believe that in England "the general
inclination is to wish that we may preserve our liberties; and
perhaps even the ministry could for some reasons find it in their
hearts to be willing that we should be restored to the state we
were in before the passing of the Stamp Act." Even Lord
Hillsborough, richly meriting the "curses of the disinterested
and better part of the colonists," was by no means "to be
reckoned the most inveterate and active of all the Conspirators
against our rights. There are others on this side of the
Atlantick who have been more insidious in plotting the Ruin of
our Liberties than even he, and they are the more infamous,
because the country they would enslave, is that very Country in
which (to use the words of their Adulators and Expectants) they
were 'born and educated.'" Of all these restless adversaries and
infamous plotters of ruin, the chief, in the mind of Samuel
Adams, was probably Mr. Thomas Hutchinson.

Judged only by what he did and said and by such other sources of
information as are open to the historian, Thomas Hutchinson does
not appear to have been, prior to 1771, an Enemy of the Human
Race. One of his ancestors, Mistress Anne Hutchinson, poor woman,
had indeed been--it was as far back as 1637--an enemy of the
Boston Church; but as a family the Hutchinsons appear to have
kept themselves singularly free from notoriety or other grave
reproach. Thomas Hutchinson himself was born in 1711 in Garden
Court Street, Boston, of rich but honest parents, a difficult
character which he managed for many years to maintain with
reasonable credit. In 1771, he was a grave, elderly man of sixty
years, more distinguished than any of his forebears had been,
having since the age of twenty-six been honored with every
important elective and appointive office in the province,
including that of governor, which he had with seeming reluctance
just accepted. It may be that Thomas Hutchinson was ambitious;
but if he elbowed his way into office by solicitation or by the
mean arts of an intriguer the fact was well concealed. He was not
a member of the "Caulkers' Club." So far as is known, he was not
a member of any club designed "to introduce certain persons into
places of trust and power"; except indeed of the club, if one may
call it such, composed of the "best families," closely
interrelated by marriage and social intercourse, mostly wealthy,
enjoying the leisure and the disposition to occupy themselves
with affairs, and commonly regarding themselves as forming a kind
of natural aristocracy whose vested duty it was to manage the
commonwealth. To this club Mr. Hutchinson belonged; and it was no
doubt partly through its influence, without any need of
solicitation on his part, that offices were thrust upon him.

One morning in September, 1760--it was the day following the
death of Chief Justice Sewall--Mr. Hutchinson was stopped in the
street by the first lawyer in the province, Jeremiah Gridley, who
assured him that he, Mr. Hutchinson, must be Mr. Sewall's
successor; and it soon appeared that other principal lawyers,
together with the surviving judge of the Superior Court, were of
the same opinion as Mr. Gridley. Although the place was an
attractive one, Mr. Hutchinson distrusted his ability to
discharge competently the duties of a Chief Justice, since he had
never had any systematic training as a lawyer. Besides, as he was
aware, James Otis, Sr., who desired the place and made no secret
of the fact that he had formerly been promised it by Governor
Shirley, at once became active in pressing his claims upon the
attention of Governor Bernard. In this solicitation he was joined
by his son, James Otis, Jr. Mr. Hutchinson, on the contrary,
refrained from all solicitation, so he tells us at least, and
even warned Governor Bernard that it would perhaps be wiser to
avoid any trouble which the Otises might be disposed to make in
case they were disappointed. This line of conduct may have been
only a shrewder form of solicitation, the proof of which, to some
minds, would be that Mr. Hutchinson was in fact appointed to be
Chief Justice. This appointment was afterwards recalled as one of
Mr. Hutchinson's many offenses, although at the time it seems to
have given general satisfaction, especially to the lawyers.

The lawyers may well have been pleased, for the new Chief Justice
was a man whose outstanding abilities, even more than his place
in society, marked him for responsible position. Thomas
Hutchinson possessed the efficient mind. No one surpassed him in
wide and exact knowledge, always at command, of the history of
the province, of its laws and customs, of past and present
practice in respect to the procedure of administration.
Industrious and systematic in his habits of work, conscientious
in the performance of his duties down to the last jot and tittle
of the law, he was preeminently fitted for the neat and
expeditious dispatch of official business; and his sane and
trenchant mind, habituated by long practice to the easy mastery
of details, was prompt to pass upon any practical matter, however
complicated, an intelligent and just judgment. It was doubtless
thought, in an age when the law was not too highly specialized to
be understood by any but the indoctrinated, that these traits
would make him a good judge, as they had made him a good
councilor. Not all people, it is true, are attracted by the
efficient mind; and Mr. Hutchinson in the course of years had
made enemies, among whom were many who still thought of him as
the man chiefly responsible for the abolition, some eleven years
before, of what was probably the most vicious system of currency
known to colonial America. Nevertheless, in the days before the
passing of the Stamp Act, Mr. Hutchinson was commonly well
thought of, both for character and ability, and might still
without offense be mentioned as a useful and honored public

Mr. Hutchinson did not, at any time in his life, regard himself
as an Enemy of the Human Race, or of America, or even of liberty
rightly considered. Perhaps he had not the fine enthusiasm for
the Human Race that Herder or Jean Jacques Rousseau had; but at
least he wished it well; and to America, the country in which he
was born and educated and in which he had always lived, he was
profoundly attached. Of America he was as proud as a cultivated
and unbigoted man well could be, extremely jealous of her good
name abroad and prompt to stand, in any way that was appropriate
and customary, in defense of her rights and liberties. To rights
and liberties in general, and to those of America in particular,
he had given long and careful thought. It was perhaps
characteristic of his practical mind to distinguish the word
liberty from the various things which it might conceivably
represent, and to think that of these various things some were
worth more than others, what any of them was worth being a
relative matter depending largely upon circumstances. Speaking
generally, liberty in the abstract, apart from particular and
known conditions, was only a phrase, a brassy tinkle in Mr.
Hutchinson's ear, meaning nothing unless it meant mere absence of
all constraint. The liberty which Mr. Hutchinson prized was not
the same as freedom from constraint. Not liberty in this sense,
or in any sense, but the welfare of a people neatly ordered for
them by good government, was what he took to be the chief end of
politics; and from this conception it followed that "in a remove
from a state of nature to the most perfect state of government
there must be a great restraint of natural liberty."

The limitations proper to be placed upon natural liberty could
scarcely be determined by abstract speculation or with
mathematical precision, but would obviously vary according to the
character and circumstances of a people, always keeping in mind
the "peace and good order" of the particular community as the
prime object. In all such matters reasonable men would seek
enlightenment not in the Utopias of philosophers but in the
history of nations; and, taking a large view of history, the
history more particularly of the British Empire and of
Massachusetts Bay, it seemed to Mr. Hutchinson, as it seemed to
John Locke and to Baron Montesquieu, that a proper balance
between liberty and authority had been very nearly attained in
the British Constitution, as nearly perhaps as common human
frailty would permit. The prevailing "thirst for liberty," which
seemed to be "the ruling passion of the age," Mr. Hutchinson was
therefore able to contemplate with much sanity and detachment.
"In governments under arbitrary rule" such a passion for liberty
might, he admitted, "have a salutary effect; but in governments
in which as much freedom is enjoyed as can consist with the ends
of government, as was the case in this Province, it must work
anarchy and confusion unless there be some external power to
restrain it."

In 1771, Thomas Hutchinson was perfectly convinced that this
passion for liberty, during several years rising steadily in the
heads of the most unstable part of the population, the most
unstable "both for character and estates," had brought
Massachusetts Bay to a state not far removed from anarchy. Not
that he was unaware of the mistakes of ministers. The measures of
Mr. Grenville he had regarded as unwise from every point of view.
In behalf of the traditional privileges of the
colonies--privileges which their conduct had well justified--and
in behalf of the welfare of the Empire, he had protested against
these measures, as also later against the measures of Mr.
Townshend; and of all these measures he still held the same
opinion, that they were unwise measures. Nevertheless, Parliament
had undoubtedly a legal right other rights in the political
sense, Mr. Hutchinson knew nothing of to pass them; and the
passing of legal measures, however unwise, was not to his mind
clear evidence of a conspiracy to establish absolute despotism on
the ruins of English liberty. Mr. Hutchinson was doubtless
temperamentally less inclined to fear tyranny than anarchy. Of
the two evils, he doubtless preferred such oppression as might
result from parliamentary taxation to any sort of liberty the
attainment of which might seem to require the looting of his
ancestral mansion by a Boston mob. In 1771, at the time of his
accession to the governorship, Mr. Hutchinson was therefore of
opinion that "there must be an abridgment of WHAT IS CALLED
English liberty."

The liberty Thomas Hutchinson enjoyed least and desired most to
have abridged was the liberty of being governed, in that province
where he had formerly been happy in the competent discharge of
official duties, by a self-constituted and illegal popular
government intrenched in the town of Boston. In a letter which he
wrote in 1765 but did not send, he said:

"It will be some amusement to you to have a more circumstantial
account of the model of government among us. I will begin with
the lowest branch, partly legislative, partly executive. This
consists of the rabble of the town of Boston, headed by one
Mackintosh, who, I, imagine, you never heard of. He is a bold
fellow, and as likely for a Masaniello as you can well conceive.
When there is occasion to burn or hang effigies or pull down
houses, these are employed; but since government has been brought
to a system, they are somewhat controlled by a superior set
consisting of the mastermasons, and carpenters, etc., of the town
of Boston. When anything of more importance is to be determined,
as opening the custom-house on any matter of trade, these are
under the direction of a committee of the merchants, Mr. Rowe at
their head, then Molyneaux, Soloman Davis, etc.: but all affairs
of a general nature, opening of the courts of law, etc., this is
proper for a general meeting of the inhabitants of Boston, where
Otis, with his mob-high eloquence, prevails in every motion, and
the town first determine what is necessary to be done, and then
apply either to the Governor or Council, or resolve that it is
necessary for the General Court to correct it; and it would be a
very extraordinary resolve indeed that is not carried into

This was in 1765. In 1770, the matter had ceased to be amusing,
for every year the model government was brought to a greater
perfection, so that at last the Town Meeting, prescriptively
composed of certain qualified voters and confined to the
determination of strictly local matters, had not only usurped all
the functions of government in the province, which was bad
enough, but was completely under the thumb of every Tom, Dick,
and Harry who might wish to attend, which was manifestly still
worse. "There is a Town Meeting, no sort of regard being had to
any qualification of voters, but all the inferior people meet
together; and at a late meeting the inhabitants of other towns
who happened to be in town, mixed with them, and made, they say
themselves, near 3000,--their newspapers say 4000, when it is not
likely there are 1500 legal voters in the town. It is in other
words being under the government of a mob. This has given the
lower part of the people such a sense of their importance that a
gentleman does not meet with what used to be common civility, and
we are sinking into perfect barbarism.... The spirit of
anarchy which prevails in Boston is more than I am able to cope
with." The instigators of the mob, it was well known, were
certain artful and self-seeking demagogues, of whom the chief had
formerly been dames Otis; but in late years Mr. Otis, "with his
mob-high eloquence," had given way to an abler man, Samuel Adams,
than whom, Mr. Hutchinson thought, there was not "a greater
incendiary in the King's dominion, or a man of greater malignity
of heart, [or one] who less scruples any measure however criminal
to accomplish his purposes."

The letter, undated and undirected, in which Thomas Hutchinson
pronounced this deliberate judgment on Samuel Adams, was probably
written about the time of his accession to the Governorship; that
is to say, about the time when Mr. Johnson, the Connecticut
Agent, was writing to Wedderburn that "the people seem to grow
weary of altercations," and that "a little discreet conduct on
both sides" would perfectly restore cordial relations between
Britain and her colonies. In the way of "a little discreet
conduct," even a very little, not much was to be hoped for from
either Governor Hutchinson or Samuel Adams in their dealings with
each other. Unfortunately, they HAD dealings with each other: in
the performance of official functions, their incommensurable and
repellent minds were necessarily brought to bear upon the same
matters of public concern. Both, unfortunately, lived in Boston
and were likely any day to come face to face round the corner of
some or other narrow street of that small town. That reciprocal
exasperation engendered by reasonable propinquity, so essential
to the life of altercations, was therefore a perpetual stimulus
to both men, confirming each in his obstinate opinion of the
other as a malicious and dangerous enemy of all that men hold
dear. Thus it was that during the years 1771 and 1772, when if
ever it appeared that others were "growing weary of
altercations," these honorable men and trusted leaders did what
they could to perpetuate the controversy. By giving or taking
occasion to recall ancient grudges or revive fruitless disputes,
wittingly or unwittingly they together managed during this time
of calm to keep the dying embers alive against the day when some
rising wind might blow them into devouring flames.

With Samuel Adams it was a point of principle to avoid discreet
conduct as much as possible. In his opinion, the great crisis
which was his soul's abiding place, wherein he nourished his mind
and fortified his will, admitted of no compromise. Good will was
of no avail in dealing with the "Conspirators against our
Liberties," the very essence of whose tactics it was to assume
the mask of benevolence, and so divide, and by dividing disarm,
the people; "flattering those who are pleased with flattery;
forming connections with them, introducing Levity, Luxury, and
Indolence, and assuring them that if they are quiet the Ministry
will alter their Measures." During these years there was no power
in the course of events or in the tongue of man to move him in
the conviction that "if the Liberties of America are ever
completely ruined, it will in all probability be the consequence
of a mistaken notion of prudence, which leads men to acquiesce in
measures of the most destructive tendency for the sake of present
ease." Never, therefore, were "the political affairs of America
in a more dangerous state" than when the people had seemingly
grown weary of altercations and Parliament could endure an entire
session "without one offensive measure." The chief danger of all
was that the people would think there was no danger. Millions
could never be enslaved by a few "if all possessed the
independent spirit of BRUTUS who to his immortal honor expelled
the proud Tyrant of Rome." During the years of apathy and
indifference Samuel Adams accordingly gave his days and nights,
with undiminished enthusiasm and a more trenchant acerbity, to
the task of making Brutuses of the men of Boston that the fate of
Rome might not befall America.

They were assured in many an essay by this new Candidus that

"The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil
constitution, are worth defending at all hazards: and it is our
duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as
a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors. They purchased them
for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood;
and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring
an everlasting mark of infamy upon the present generation,
enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from
us by violence without a struggle; or be cheated out of them by
the artifices of false and designing men. Of the latter we are in
most danger at present. Let us therefore be aware of it. Let us
contemplate our forefathers and posterity; and resolve to
maintain the rights bequeathed to us from the former, for the
sake of the latter. Instead of sitting down satisfied with the
efforts we have already made, WHICH IS THE WISH OF OUR ENEMIES,
the necessity of the times, more than ever, calls for our utmost
circumspection, deliberation, fortitude and perseverance. Let us
remember that "if we suffer tamely a lawless attack upon our
liberty, we encourage it, and involve others in our doom!" It is
a very serious consideration, which should deeply impress our

These were days when many a former Brutus seemed ready to betray
the cause. Deserted by James Otis, whom he had supplanted, and by
John Hancock, whose great influence he had formerly exploited and
whom he had "led about like an ape," as was currently reported,
Samuel Adams suffered a measure of eclipse. The Assembly would no
longer do his bidding in respect to the vital question of whether
the General Court might be called by the Governor to meet outside
of Boston; and it even imposed upon him, as one of a committee,
the humiliating task of presenting an address to Mr. Hutchinson,
acknowledging his right to remove the legislature to any place he
liked--"to Housatonic, in the western extreme of the province,"
if he thought fit. There was even grave danger that the Governor
would be satisfied with this concession and would recall the
Court to sit in Boston. Boston was indeed the very place where
Samuel Adams wished to have it sit; but to attain a right end in
a wrong manner would be to suffer a double defeat, losing at once
the point of principle and the grievance necessary for
maintaining the contention. Friends of the Government were much
elated at the waning influence of the Chief Incendiary; and Mr.
Sparhawk condescended to express a certain sympathy for their
common enemy, now that he was so much diminished, "harassed,
dependent, in their power." It was indeed under great
difficulties, during these years when Massachusetts was almost
without annals, that Samuel Adams labored to make Brutuses of the
men of Boston.

So far deserted by his friends, Samuel Adams might never have
succeeded in overcoming these difficulties without the assistance
presently rendered by his enemies. Of those who were of
invaluable aid to him in this way, Thomas Hutchinson was one. The
good Governor, having read his instructions, knew what his duties
were. One of them manifestly was to stand in defense of
Government; and, when Government was every day being
argumentatively attacked, to provide, as a counter-irritant,
arguments in defense of Government. Imagining that facts
determined conclusions and conclusions directed conduct, Mr.
Hutchinson hoped to diminish the influence of Samuel Adams by
showing that the latter's facts were wrong, and that his
inferences, however logically deduced, were therefore not to be
taken seriously. "I have taken much pains," he says, "to procure
writers to answer the pieces in the newspapers which do so much
mischief among the people, and have two or three engaged with
Draper, besides a new press, and a young printer who says he will
not be frightened, and I hope for some good effect."

The Governor had read his instructions, but not the mind of
Samuel Adams or the minds of the many men who, like the Chief
Incendiary, Were prepared "to cultivate the sensations of
freedom." Perhaps the only "good effect" of his "pieces" was to
furnish excellent theses for Samuel Adams to dispute upon, which
he did with unrivaled shrewdness each week in the "Boston
Gazette" under the thin disguise of Candidus, Valerius Poplicola,
or Vindex. To this last name, Vindex, Mr. Hutchinson thought
there might appropriately have been added another, such as
Malignus or Invidus. And indeed of all these disputative essays,
in the Boston Gazette or in Mr. Draper's paper, one may say that
the apparent aim was to win a dialectic victory and the obvious
result to prove that ill will existed by exhibiting it.

Thomas Hutchinson's faith in the value of disputation was not
easily disturbed; and after two years, when it appeared that his
able lieutenants writing in Mr. Draper's newspaper were still as
far as ever from bringing the controversy to a conclusion, he
could no longer refrain from trying his own practiced hand at an
argument--which he did in a carefully prepared address to the
General Court, delivered January 6, 1773. "I have pleased myself
for several years," he said, "with hopes that the cause [of the
"present disturbed and disordered state" of government] would
cease of itself, and the effect with it, but I am disappointed;
and I may not any longer, consistent with my duty to the King,
and my regard to the interests of the province, delay
communicating my sentiments to you upon a matter of so great
importance." The cause of their present difficulties Mr.
Hutchinson thought as evident as the fact itself: a disturbed
state of government having always followed, must have been caused
by the denial of the authority of Parliament to make laws binding
the province. Upon a right resolution of this question everything

The Governor accordingly confined himself to presenting, all in
good temper, a concise and remarkably well-articulated argument
to prove that "no line can be drawn between the supreme authority
of Parliament and the total independence of the colonies"; of
which argument the conclusion must be, inasmuch as the total
independence of the colonies was not conceivably any one's
thought, that supreme authority rested with Parliament. This
conclusion once admitted, it was reasonable to suppose that
disturbances would cease; for "if the supremacy of Parliament
shall no longer be denied, it will follow that the mere exercise
of its authority can be no matter of grievance." In closing, his
Excellency expressed the desire, in case the two Houses did not
agree with his exposition of the Constitution, to know their
objections. "They may be convincing to me, or I may be able to
satisfy you of the insufficiency of them. In either case, I hope
we shall put an end to those irregularities which ever will be
the portion of a government where the supreme authority is
controverted." In this roundabout way, Governor Hutchinson
finally reached as a conclusion the prepossession with which he
began; namely, that whereas a disturbed state of government is,
ex hypothesi, a vital evil, assertions or denials which tend to
cause the evil must be unfounded.

It happened that both Houses, the lower House especially,
remained unconvinced by the Governor's exposition of the
Constitution; and both Houses took advantage of his invitation to
present their objections. The committee which the lower House
appointed to formulate a reply found their task no slight one,
not from any doubt that Mr. Hutchinson was in error, but from the
difficulty of constructing an argument that might be regarded as
polemically adequate. At the request of Major Hawley, John Adams
was accordingly "invited, requested, and urged to meet the
committee, which he did every evening till the report was
finished." When the first draft of a reply, probably drawn by Dr.
Joseph Warren, was presented to Mr. Adams for his criticism, he
"modestly suggested to them the expediency of leaving out many
popular and eloquent periods, and of discussing the question with
the Governor upon principles more especially legal and
constitutional," there being in this first draft, so Mr. Adams
thought, "no answer, nor any attempt to answer the Governor's
legal and constitutional arguments, such as they were." And so,
being "very civilly requested" by the committee to make such
changes in the draft as seemed to him desirable, Mr. Adams "drew
a line over the most eloquent parts of the oration they had
before them, and introduced those legal and historical
authorities which appear on the record."

The reply, prepared in this way and finally adopted by the
Assembly, was longer and more erudite than Mr. Hutchinson's
address. To meet the Governor's major premise and thus undermine
his entire argument, legal precedents and the facts of history
were freely drawn upon to prove that the colonies were properly
"outside of the Realm," and therefore, although parts of the
Empire by virtue of being under the special jurisdiction of the
Crown, not subject in all matters to parliamentary legislation.
Law and history thus supported the contention, contrary to the
Governor's assertion, that a line not only could be but always
had been "drawn between the supreme authority of Parliament and
the total independence of the colonies." Apart from any question
of law or fact, the Assembly thought it of high practical
importance that this line should be maintained in the future as
in the past; for, "if there be no such line," none could deny the
Governor's inference that "either the colonies are vassals of the
Parliament, or they are totally independent"; upon which the
Assembly would observe only that, "as it cannot be supposed to
have been the intention of the parties in the compact that we
should be reduced to a state of vassalage, the conclusion is that
it was their sense that we were thus independent." With very few
exceptions, everyone who was of the patriot way of thinking
regarded the Assembly's reply as a complete refutation of the
argument presented in Governor Hutchinson's address.

In the Governor's opinion, the disturbed state of government to
which he had referred in his address was at this time brought to
the highest pitch by the committees of correspondence recently
established throughout the province--an event long desired and
now brought to pass by Samuel Adams. That something might be done
by a coordinated system of local committees was an "undigested
thought" that dropped from Adams's mind while writing a letter to
Arthur Lee in September, 1771. At that time, such was the general


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