Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO WILLIAM TUDOR. - The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO WILLIAM TUDOR. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 10.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 18 December, 1816.
Your kind letter of the 13th contains much truth, and nothing but the truth. I may return to it hereafter, but at present, with your leave, I will continue a few hints on the judicial character of Chief Justice Hutchinson. I pass over that scenery, which he introduced, so showy and so shallow, so theatrical and so ecclesiastical, of scarlet and sable robes, of broad bands, and enormous tie wigs, more resembling fleeces of painted merino wool than any thing natural to man and that could breathe with him. I pass over, also, the question, whether he or his court had legal authority to establish a distinction between barristers and attorneys. Innovations, though often necessary, are always dangerous.
But to return to writs of assistance. In February term, 1761, the new Chief Justice and his court ordered Chief Justice Sewall’s question to be argued in the council chamber, and that argument produced the American Revolution. Otis demonstrated the illegality, the unconstitutionality, the iniquity and inhumanity of that writ in so clear a manner, that every man appeared to me to go away ready to take arms against it. No harangue of Demosthenes or Cicero ever had such effects upon this globe as that speech. Such was the impression, that the court dared not give judgment in favor of it.1Curia advisare voluit. After many days, the Chief Justice arose, and, with that gravity and subtilty, that artless design of face, which will never fade in my memory, said, “the Court could not, at present, see any foundation for the writ of assistance, but thought proper to continue the consideration of it till next term, and, in the mean time, to write to England, and inquire what was the practice and what were the grounds of it there.”
The public never was informed, what was the correspondence with England, what was the practice or the grounds of it there. The public never was informed of the judgment of the Court. No judge ever gave his opinion, or discussed the question in public. After six or nine months, we heard enough of custom-house officers breaking houses, cellars, shops, ships, casks, and bales, in search of prohibited and uncustomed goods, by virtue of writs of assistance. Is this the conduct of “a good, judicial character” in a free country, and under a government of laws? Jeffreys himself was never more Jesuitical nor more arbitrary.
In my next, I may give you more proofs of his “good judicial character,” in the trial of Michael Corbet and his three messmates, for killing Lieutenant Panton, the commander of a pressgang from the Rose frigate.1 When courts of justice dare not speak in open air, nor see the daylight, where is life, liberty, or property?
Were I writing history, I should not write in this style. I should study a language of more philosophical moderation and dignity. But I now express to you the feelings of my friends and myself at those times, and our opinions too.
[1 ] Hutchinson himself admits that, “if judgment had then been given, it is uncertain on which side it would have been.” History of Massachusetts, vol. iii. p. 94.
[1 ] This letter is printed in vol. ii. p. 224, note.