Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1818:TO WILLIAM WIRT. - 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:
1818:TO WILLIAM WIRT. - 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 WIRT.
Quincy, 5 January, 1818.
Your sketches of the life of Mr. Henry have given me a rich entertainment. I will not compare them to the Sybil conducting Æneas to see the ghosts of departed sages and heroes in the region below, but to an angel conveying me to the abodes of the blessed on high, to converse with the spirits of just men made perfect. The names of Henry, Lee, Bland, Pendleton, Washington, Rutledge, Dickinson, Wythe, and many others, will ever thrill through my veins with an agreeable sensation. I am not about to make any critical remarks upon your work, at present. But, Sir,
Erant heroes ante Agamemnona multi.
Or, not to garble Horace,
If I could go back to the age of thirty-five, Mr. Wirt, I would endeavor to become your rival; not in elegance of composition, but in a simple narration of facts, supported by records, histories, and testimonies, of irrefragable authority. I would adopt, in all its modesty, your title, “Sketches of the Life and Writings of James Otis, of Boston,” and, in imitation of your example, I would introduce portraits of a long catalogue of illustrious men, who were agents in the Revolution, in favor of it or against it.
Jeremiah Gridley, the father of the Bar in Boston, and the preceptor of Pratt, Otis, Thacher, Cushing, and many others; Benjamin Pratt, Chief Justice of New York; Colonel John Tyng, James Otis, of Boston, the hero of the biography; Oxenbridge Thacher, Jonathan Sewall, Attorney-General and Judge of Admiralty; Samuel Quincy, Solicitor-General; Daniel Leonard, now Chief Justice of Bermuda; Josiah Quincy, the Boston Cicero; Richard Dana, and Francis Dana, his son, first minister to Russia, and afterwards Chief Justice; Jonathan Mayhew, D. D., Samuel Cooper, D. D., Charles Chauncy, D. D., James Warren and his wife; Joseph Warren, of Banker’s Hill; John Winthrop, Professor at Harvard College, and a member of council; Samuel Dexter, the father; John Worthington, of Springfield; Joseph Hawley, of Northampton, and James Lovell, of Boston; Governors Shirley, Pownall, Bernard, Hutchinson, Hancock, Bowdoin, Adams, Sullivan, and Gerry; Lieutenant-Governor Oliver, Chief Justice Oliver, Judge Edmund Trowbridge, Judge William Cushing, and Timothy Ruggles, ought not to be omitted. The military characters, Ward, Lincoln, Warren, Knox, Brooks, Heath, &c., must come in, of course. Nor should Benjamin Kent, Samuel Swift, or John Read, be forgotten.
I envy none of the well-merited glories of Virginia, or any of her sages or heroes. But, Sir, I am jealous, very jealous, of the honor of Massachusetts.
The resistance to the British system for subjugating the colonies, began in 1760, and in the month of February, 1761, James Otis electrified the town of Boston, the province of Massachusetts Bay, and the whole continent, more than Patrick Henry ever did in the whole course of his life. If we must have panegyric and hyperbole, I must say, that if Mr. Henry was Demosthenes and Mr. Richard Henry Lee, Cicero, James Otis was Isaiah and Ezekiel united.
I hope, Sir, that some young gentleman of the ancient and honorable family of the “Searches,” will hereafter do impartial justice both to Virginia and Massachusetts.
After all this freedom, I assure you, Sir, it is no flattery, when I congratulate the nation on the acquisition of an Attorney-General of such talents and industry as your “Sketches” demonstrate.
TO JOHN JAY.
Quincy, 9 January, 1818.
“Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry,” by William Wirt, of Richmond, Virginia, has been sent to me by Mr. Shaw, of the Athenæum. My family are reading it to me, every evening, and though we have not finished it, we have proceeded far enough to excite an earnest desire to know your opinion about it.
There is, in section fourth, page 108, a passage which no man now living but yourself can explain. I hope you have read the volume; but as it is possible you may not have seen it, the paragraph is this.
“A petition to the king, an address to the people of Great Britain, and a memorial to the people of British America, were agreed to be drawn. Mr. Lee, Mr. Henry, and others were appointed for the first; Mr. Lee, Mr. Livingston, and Mr. Jay for the two last. The splendor of their début occasioned Mr. Henry to be designated by his committee to draw the petition to the king, with which they were charged; and Mr. Lee was charged with the address to the people of England. The last was first reported. On reading it, great disappointment was expressed in every countenance, and a dead silence ensued for some minutes. At length it was laid on the table for perusal and consideration till the next day; when first one member, and then another, arose, and, paying some faint compliment to the composition, observed, that there were still certain considerations not expressed, which should properly find a place in it. The address was, therefore, committed for amendment; and one prepared by Mr. Jay, and offered by Governor Livingston, was reported and adopted, with scarcely an alteration. These facts are stated by a gentleman, to whom they were communicated by Mr. Pendleton and Mr. Harrison, of the Virginia delegation (except that Mr. Harrison erroneously ascribed the draught to Governor Livingston), and to whom they were afterwards confirmed by Governor Livingston himself. Mr. Henry’s draught of a petition to the king was equally unsuccessful, and was recommitted for amendment. Mr. John Dickinson (the author of the Farmer’s Letters) was added to the committee, and a new draught, prepared by him, was adopted.”
This passage is not so luminous as many parts of the book; but, as I understand it, I think it is not correct. There is no man now living who is able perfectly to correct it but yourself, and, in my opinion, it is your conscientious duty to do it.
The question, who was the draughtsman of the address to the people of England, however unimportant to the public it may appear at this day, certainly excited a sensation, a fermentation, and a schism in Congress, at the time, and serious consequences afterwards, which have lasted to this hour, and are not yet spent. I fear, but I do not know, that this animosity was occasioned by indiscretions of R. H. Lee, Mr. Samuel Adams, and some others of the Virginia delegates, by whom Adams was led into error. I never had a doubt that you were the author of that manly and noble address. But, as the subject is now brought before the public by Mr. Wirt, and will excite speculation, you, who alone are capable of it, ought to explain it, and, as I know you will, if at all, without favor or affection.1
TO H. NILES.
Quincy, 14 January, 1818.
In a former letter I hazarded an opinion, that the true history of the American Revolution could not be recovered. I had many reasons for that apprehension, one of which I will attempt to explain.
Of the determination of the British cabinet to assert and maintain the sovereign authority of Parliament over the Colonies, in all cases of taxation and internal policy, the first demonstration which arrived in America was an order in council to the officers of the customs in Massachusetts Bay, to carry into execution the acts of trade, and to apply to the Supreme Judicature of the province for writs of assistance, to authorize them to break and enter all houses, cellars, stores, shops, ships, bales, casks, &c., to search and seize all goods, wares, and merchandises, on which the taxes imposed by those acts had not been paid.
Mr. Cockle, of Salem, a deputy under Mr. Paxton, of Boston, the collector of the customs, petitioned the Superior Court in Salem, in November, 1760, for such a writ. The Court doubted its constitutionality, and consequently its legality; but as the king’s order ought to be considered, they ordered the question to be argued before them, by counsel, at the next February term in Boston.
The community was greatly alarmed. The merchants of Salem and of Boston applied to Mr. Otis to defend them and their country against that formidable instrument of arbitrary power. They tendered him rich fees; he engaged in their cause, but would accept no fees.
James Otis, of Boston, sprang from families among the earliest of the planters of the Colonies, and the most respectable in rank, while the word rank, and the idea annexed to it, were tolerated in America. He was a gentleman of general science and extensive literature. He had been an indefatigable student during the whole course of his education in college and at the bar. He was well versed in Greek and Roman history, philosophy, oratory, poetry, and mythology. His classical studies had been unusually ardent, and his acquisitions uncommonly great. He had composed a treatise on Latin prosody, which he lent to me, and I urged him to print. He consented. It is extant, and may speak for itself. It has been lately reviewed in the Anthology by one of our best scholars, at a mature age, and in a respectable station. He had also composed, with equal skill and great labor, a treatise on Greek prosody. This he also lent me, and, by his indulgence, I had it in my possession six months. When I returned it, I begged him to print it, He said there were no Greek types in the country, or, if there were, there was no printer who knew how to use them. He was a passionate admirer of the Greek poets, especially of Homer; and he said it was in vain to attempt to read the poets in any language, without being master of their prosody. This classic scholar was also a great master of the laws of nature and nations. He had read Pufendorf, Grotius, Barbeyrac, Burlamaqui, Vattel, Heineccius; and, in the civil law, Domat, Justinian, and, upon occasions, consulted the Corpus Juris at large. It was a maxim which he inculcated on his pupils, as his patron in profession, Mr. Gridley, had done before him, “that a lawyer ought never to be without a volume of natural or public law, or moral philosophy, on his table or in his pocket.” In the history, the common law, and statute laws of England, he had no superior, at least in Boston.
Thus qualified to resist the system of usurpation and despotism, meditated by the British ministry, under the auspices of the Earl of Bute, Mr. Otis resigned his commission from the crown, as Advocate-General, an office very lucrative at that time, and a sure road to the highest favors of government in America, and engaged in the cause of his country without fee or reward. His argument, speech, discourse, oration, harangue—call it by which name you will, was the most impressive upon his crowded audience of any that I ever heard before or since, excepting only many speeches by himself in Faneuil Hall and in the House of Representatives, which he made from time to time for ten years afterwards. There were no stenographers in those days. Speeches were not printed; and all that was not remembered, like the harangues of Indian orators, was lost in air. Who, at the distance of fifty-seven years, would attempt, upon memory, to give even a sketch of it? Some of the heads are remembered, out of which Livy or Sallust would not scruple to compose an oration for history. I shall not essay an analysis or a sketch of it at present. I shall only say, and I do say in the most solemn manner, that Mr. Otis’s oration against writs of assistance breathed into this nation the breath of life.
Although Mr. Otis had never before interfered in public affairs, his exertions, on this single occasion, secured him a commanding popularity with the friends of their country, and the terror and vengeance of her enemies, neither of which ever deserted him.
At the next election, in May, 1761, he was elected, by a vast majority, a representative in the legislature, of the town of Boston, and continued to be so elected annually for nine years. Here, at the head of the country interest, he conducted her cause with a fortitude, prudence, ability, and perseverance, which has never been exceeded in America, at every sacrifice of health, pleasure, profit, and reputation, and against all the powers of government, and all the talents, learning, wit, scurrility, and insolence of its prostitutes.
Hampden was shot in open field of battle. Otis was basely assassinated in a coffee-house, in the night, by a well-dressed banditti, with a commissioner of the customs at their head.
During the period of nine years, that Mr. Otis was at the head of the cause of his country, he held correspondence with gentlemen, in England, Scotland, and various colonies in America. He must have written and received many letters, collected many pamphlets, and, probably, composed manuscripts, which might have illustrated the rising dawn of the revolution.
After my return from Europe, I asked his daughter whether she had found among her father’s manuscripts a treatise on Greek prosody. With hands and eyes uplifted, in a paroxysm of grief, she cried, “Oh! Sir, I have not a line from my father’s pen. I have not even his name in his own handwriting.” When she was a little calmed, I asked her, “Who has his papers? Where are they?” She answered, “They are no more. In one of those unhappy dispositions of mind, which distressed him after his great misfortune, and a little before his death, he collected all his papers and pamphlets, and committed them to the flames. He was several days employed in it.”
TO WILLIAM WIRT.
Quincy, 23 January, 1818.
I thank you for your kind letter of the 12th of this month. As I esteem the character of Mr. Henry an honor to our country, and your volume a masterly delineation of it, I gave orders to purchase it as soon as I heard of it, but was told it was not to be had in Boston. I have seen it only by great favor on a short loan. A copy from the author would be worth many by purchase. It may be sent to me by the mail.
From a personal acquaintance, perhaps I might say a friendship, with Mr. Henry of more than forty years, and from all that I have heard or read of him, I have always considered him as a gentleman of deep reflection, keen sagacity, clear foresight, daring enterprise, inflexible intrepidity, and untainted integrity; with an ardent zeal for the liberties, the honor, and felicity of his country, and his species. All this you justly, as I believe, represent him to have been. There are, however, remarks to be made upon your work, which, if I had the eyes and hands, I would, in the spirit of friendship, attempt. But my hands and eyes and life are but for a moment.
When Congress had finished their business, as they thought, in the autumn of 1774, I had, with Mr. Henry, before we took leave of each other, some familiar conversation, in which I expressed a full conviction, that our resolves, declarations of rights, enumeration of wrongs, petitions, remonstrances, and addresses, associations, and non-importation agreements, however they might be expected by the people in America, and however necessary to cement the union of the Colonies, would be but waste paper in England. Mr. Henry said, they might make some impression among the people of England, but agreed with me that they would be totally lost upon the government. I had but just received a short and hasty letter, written to me by Major Joseph Hawley, of Northampton, containing “a few broken hints,” as he called them, of what he thought was proper to be done, and concluding with these words, “after all, we must fight.”1 This letter I read to Mr. Henry, who listened with great attention; and as soon as I had pronounced the words, “after all, we must fight,” he raised his head, and with an energy and vehemence, that I can never forget, broke out with “By G—d, I am of that man’s mind.” I put the letter into his hand, and, when he had read it, he returned it to me with an equally solemn asseveration, that he agreed entirely in opinion with the writer. I considered this as a sacred oath, upon a very great occasion, and could have sworn it as religiously as he did, and by no means inconsistent with what you say, in some part of your book, that he never took the sacred name in vain.
As I knew the sentiments with which Mr. Henry left Congress, in the autumn of 1774, and knew the chapter and verse from which he had borrowed the sublime expression, “we must fight,” I was not at all surprised at your history, in the 122d page, in the note, and in some of the preceding and following pages. Mr. Henry only pursued, in March, 1775, the views and vows of November, 1774.
The other delegates from Virginia returned to their State, in full confidence that all our grievances would be redressed. The last words that Mr. Richard Henry Lee said to me, when we parted, were, “We shall infallibly carry all our points. You will be completely relieved; all the offensive acts will be repealed;the army and fleet will be recalled, and Britain will give up her foolish project.”
Washington only was in doubt. He never spoke in public. In private he joined with those who advocated a non-exportation, as well as a non-importation agreement. With both, he thought we should prevail; without either, he thought it doubtful. Henry was clear in one opinion, Richard Henry Lee in an opposite opinion, and Washington doubted between the two. Henry, however, appeared in the end to be exactly in the right.
Oratory, Mr. Wirt, as it consists in expressions of the countenance, graces of attitude and motion, and intonation of voice, although it is altogether superficial and ornamental, will always command admiration; yet it deserves little veneration. Flashes of wit, corruscations of imagination, and gay pictures, what are they? Strict truth, rapid reason, and pure integrity are the only essential ingredients in sound oratory. I flatter myself that Demosthenes, by his “action! action! action!” meant to express the same opinion. To speak of American oratory, ancient or modern, would lead me too far, and beyond my depth.
I must conclude with fresh assurances of the high esteem of your humble servant.
TO BENJAMIN WATERHOUSE.
Quincy, 30 January, 1818.
As “the accurate Jefferson” has made the Revolution a game of billiards, I will make it a game of shuttle-cock. Henry might give the first impulse to the ball in Virginia, but Otis’s battle-dore had struck the shuttle-cock up in air in Massachusetts, and continued to keep it up for several years before Henry’s ball was touched. Jefferson was but a boy at college, of fifteen or sixteen years of age at most, and too intent on his classics and sciences to know, think, or care about any thing in Boston. When Otis first fulminated against British usurpation, I was but twenty-five years and three months old. Jefferson is, at least, nine, I believe ten years younger than I, and, consequently, could not be more than fifteen or sixteen. He knew more of the eclipses of Jupiter’s satellites than he did of what was passing in Boston.
You presume that I “am certain as to the date.” You need not take my word. Look into Judge Minot’s History of Massachusetts Bay, anno 1761; search the records of the Superior Court of Judicature, Court of Assize and General Gaol Delivery, at Salem term, 1760, and Boston term, 1761; look up the newspapers of 1761; ascertain the time when Chief Justice Stephen Sewall died; call for Dr. Mayhew’s printed sermon on his death; search the date of Chief Justice Thomas Hutchinson’s commission as Chief Justice; ascertain the time when the bench and the bar assumed their scarlet and sable robes, and you will not find much reason to call in question my veracity or memory. If ever human beings had a right to say,
they were James Otis and Samuel Adams; and to them ought statues to be erected, and not to
TO BENJAMIN WATERHOUSE.
Quincy, 6 February, 1818.
You ought to tell me the name of that animal who “faced you down” against dates and Otis; he must have been an inveterate, indurated old tory, with an iron heart, and a brazen face, or, at least, a son or grandson of such a one, who has inherited all his ancestor’s envy, malice, hatred, mortified pride, and demoniacal revenge.
“James Otis had no patriotism!!!” Had the adored Hutchinson patriotism, when he mounted to the head of the supreme judicature, on purpose to sanctify the most odious chain that ever was forged to fetter the hands and feet of a free people, as the writs of assistance would have been, in the hands of an executive power and a supreme, sovereign, unlimited, uncontrollable legislative authority, three thousand miles distant? Had any of his idolaters patriotism, when they excited a bloody war of eight years against their country, to enslave it to a foreign sovereignty?
Would Mr. Otis, because his father had been disappointed of an office, which had been promised him by two successive governors, worth one hundred and twenty pounds sterling, at most, have resigned an office, which he held himself, worth two or three hundred pounds sterling, at least? If he had no patriotic feelings, his filial affection must have been very strong!
It has been, in all times, the artifice of despotism and superstition to nip liberty, truth, virtue, and religion, in the bud, by cutting off the heads of all who dared to show a regard to either. But when a process so summary could not be effected, the next trick was to blast the character of every rising genius, who excited their jealousy, by propagating lies and slanders to destroy his influence.
Jews and Pagans imputed the conversion of St. Paul to disappointment in love. They said that he courted the daughter of his master, Gamaliel, but the learned Pharisee thought him too mean in person and fortune for a match with the beautiful and accomplished young lady, and forbade his addresses. Revenge for this affront excited a mortal hatred against all Pharisees, and Paul became an apostate from Judaism, and a convert to Christianity, from spite. And this calumny has lasted more than seventeen hundred years; and, I hope, the defamation of Otis will last as long, because it will be an immortal proof of the malice and revenge of the scurrilous, persecuting tyrants, against whom he had to contend.
The Romans, and all of their communion, say that “the Reformation owed its origin, in Germany, to interest, in England, to love, and in France, to novelty; that all the kings and princes who favored it, were seduced by the temptation of the confiscation of lands, and gold, and diamonds of the churches, monasteries, and convents.”
Is Christianity the less divine, is the Reformation less glorious, is the American Revolution less beneficial, for these envenomed slanders?
I must know who that ugly fellow is, whom you quote with so little disapprobation. Do you not abhor him? If you had loved James Otis in your youth, as much as I did in mine, and if you had smarted as often as I have, under the hornet stings, the chew-balls, the serpent’s teeth, and the poisoned arrows of these old tories, you would hate him with a perfect hatred.
TO H. NILES.
Quincy, 13 February, 1818.
The American Revolution was not a common event. Its effects and consequences have already been awful over a great part of the globe. And when and where are they to cease?
But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. While the king, and all in authority under him, were believed to govern in justice and mercy, according to the laws and constitution derived to them from the God of nature and transmitted to them by their ancestors, they thought themselves bound to pray for the king and queen and all the royal family, and all in authority under them, as ministers ordained of God for their good; but when they saw those powers renouncing all the principles of authority, and bent upon the destruction of all the securities of their lives, liberties, and properties, they thought it their duty to pray for the continental congress and all the thirteen State congresses, &c.
There might be, and there were others who thought less about religion and conscience, but had certain habitual sentiments of allegiance and loyalty derived from their education; but believing allegiance and protection to be reciprocal, when protection was withdrawn, they thought allegiance was dissolved.
Another alteration was common to all. The people of America had been educated in an habitual affection for England, as their mother country; and while they thought her a kind and tender parent, (erroneously enough, however, for she never was such a mother), no affection could be more sincere. But when they found her a cruel beldam, willing like Lady Macbeth, to “dash their brains out,” it is no wonder if their filial affections ceased, and were changed into indignation and horror.
This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.
By what means this great and important alteration in the religious, moral, political, and social character of the people of thirteen colonies, all distinct, unconnected, and independent of each other, was begun, pursued, and accomplished, it is surely interesting to humanity to investigate, and perpetuate to posterity.
To this end, it is greatly to be desired, that young men of letters in all the States, especially in the thirteen original States, would undertake the laborious, but certainly interesting and amusing task, of searching and collecting all the records, pamphlets, newspapers, and even handbills, which in any way contributed to change the temper and views of the people, and compose them into an independent nation.
The colonies had grown up under constitutions of government so different, there was so great a variety of religions, they were composed of so many different nations, their customs, manners, and habits had so little resemblance, and their intercourse had been so rare, and their knowledge of each other so imperfect, that to unite them in the same principles in theory and the same system of action, was certainly a very difficult enterprise. The complete accomplishment of it, in so short a time and by such simple means, was perhaps a singular example in the history of mankind. Thirteen clocks were made to strike together—a perfection of mechanism, which no artist had ever before effected.
In this research, the gloriole of individual gentlemen, and of separate States, is of little consequence. The means and the measures are the proper objects of investigation. These may be of use to posterity, not only in this nation, but in South America and all other countries. They may teach mankind that revolutions are no trifles; that they ought never to be undertaken rashly; nor without deliberate consideration and sober reflection; nor without a solid, immutable, eternal foundation of justice and humanity; nor without a people possessed of intelligence, fortitude, and integrity sufficient to carry them with steadiness, patience, and perseverance, through all the vicissitudes of fortune, the fiery trials and melancholy disasters they may have to encounter.
The town of Boston early instituted an annual oration on the 4th of July, in commemoration of the principles and feelings which contributed to produce the revolution. Many of those orations I have heard, and all that I could obtain, I have read. Much ingenuity and eloquence appears upon every subject, except those principles and feelings. That of my honest and amiable neighbor, Josiah Quincy, appeared to me the most directly to the purpose of the institution. Those principles and feelings ought to be traced back for two hundred years, and sought in the history of the country from the first plantations in America. Nor should the principles and feelings of the English and Scotch towards the colonies, through that whole period, ever be forgotten. The perpetual discordance between British principles and feelings and of those of America, the next year after the suppression of the French power in America, came to a crisis, and produced an explosion.
It was not until after the annihilation of the French dominion in America that any British ministry had dared to gratify their own wishes, and the desire of the nation, by projecting a formal plan for raising a national revenue from America, by parliamentary taxation. The first great manifestation of this design was by the order to carry into strict executions those acts of parliament, which were well known by the appellation of the acts of trade, which had lain a dead letter, unexecuted for half a century, and some of them, I believe, for nearly a whole one.
This produced, in 1760 and 1761, an awakening and a revival of American principles and feelings, with an enthusiasm which went on increasing till, in 1775, it burst out in open violence, hostility, and fury.
The characters the most conspicuous, the most ardent and influential in this revival, from 1760 to 1766, were, first and foremost, before all and above all, James Otis; next to him was Oxenbridge Thacher; next to him, Samuel Adams; next to him, John Hancock; then Dr. Mayhew; then Dr. Cooper and his brother. Of Mr. Hancock’s life, character, generous nature, great and disinterested sacrifices, and important services, if I had forces, I should be glad to write a volume. But this, I hope, will be done by some younger and abler hand. Mr. Thacher, because his name and merits are less known, must not be wholly omitted. This gentleman was an eminent barrister at law, in as large practice as any one in Boston. There was not a citizen of that town more universally beloved for his learning, ingenuity, every domestic and social virtue, and conscientious conduct in every relation of life. His patriotism was as ardent as his progenitors had been ancient and illustrious in this country. Hutchinson often said, “Thacher was not born a plebeian, but he was determined to die one.” In May, 1763, I believe, he was chosen by the town of Boston one of their representatives in the legislature, a colleague with Mr. Otis, who had been a member from May, 1761, and he continued to be reëlected annually till his death in 1765, when Mr. Samuel Adams was elected to fill his place, in the absence of Mr. Otis, then attending the Congress at New York. Thacher had long been jealous of the unbounded ambition of Mr. Hutchinson, but when he found him not content with the office of Lieutenant-Governor, the command of the castle and its emoluments, of Judge of Probate for the county of Suffolk, a seat in his Majesty’s Council in the Legislature, his brother-in-law Secretary of State by the king’s commission, a brother of that Secretary of State, a Judge of the Supreme Court and a member of Council, now in 1760 and 1761, soliciting and accepting the office of Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Judicature, he concluded, as Mr. Otis did, and as every other enlightened friend of his country did, that he sought that office with the determined purpose of determining all causes in favor of the ministry at St. James’s, and their servile parliament.
His indignation against him henceforward, to 1765, when he died, knew no bounds but truth. I speak from personal knowledge. For, from 1758 to 1765, I attended every superior and inferior court in Boston, and recollect not one, in which he did not invite me home to spend evenings with him, when he made me converse with him as well as I could, on all subjects of religion, morals, law, politics, history, philosophy, belles lettres, theology, mythology, cosmogony, metaphysics,—Locke, Clark, Leibnitz, Bolingbroke, Berkeley,—the preestablished harmony of the universe, the nature of matter and of spirit, and the eternal establishment of coincidences between their operations; fate, foreknowledge absolute; and we reasoned on such unfathomable subjects as high as Milton’s gentry in pandemonium; and we understood them as well as they did, and no better. To such mighty mysteries he added the news of the day, and the tittle-tattle of the town. But his favorite subject was politics, and the impending, threatening system of parliamentary taxation and universal government over the colonies. On this subject he was so anxious and agitated that I have no doubt it occasioned his premature death. From the time when he argued the question of writs of assistance to his death, he considered the king, ministry, parliament, and nation of Great Britain as determined to new-model the colonies from the foundation, to annul all their charters, to constitute them all royal governments, to raise a revenue in America by parliamentary taxation, to apply that revenue to pay the salaries of governors, judges, and all other crown officers; and, after all this, to raise as large a revenue as they pleased, to be applied to national purposes at the exchequer in England; and further, to establish bishops and the whole system of the Church of England, tithes and all, throughout all British America. This system, he said, if it was suffered to prevail, would extinguish the flame of liberty all over the world; that America would be employed as an engine to batter down all the miserable remains of liberty in Great Britain and Ireland, where only any semblance of it was left in the world. To this system he considered Hutchinson, the Olivers, and all their connections, dependents, adherents, shoelickers, &c., entirely devoted. He asserted that they were all engaged with all the crown officers in America and the understrappers of the ministry in England, in a deep and treasonable conspiracy to betray the liberties of their country, for their own private, personal, and family aggrandizement. His philippics against the unprincipled ambition and avarice of all of them, but especially of Hutchinson, were unbridled; not only in private, confidential conversations, but in all companies and on all occasions. He gave Hutchinson the sobriquet of “Summa Potestatis,” and rarely mentioned him but by the name of “Summa.” His liberties of speech were no secrets to his enemies. I have sometimes wondered that they did not throw him over the bar, as they did soon afterwards Major Hawley. For they hated him worse than they did James Otis or Samuel Adams, and they feared him more, because they had no revenge for a father’s disappointment of a seat on the superior bench to impute to him, as they did to Otis; and Thacher’s character through life had been so modest, decent, unassuming; his morals so pure, and his religion so venerated, that they dared not attack him. In his office were educated to the bar two eminent characters, the late Judge Lowell and Josiah Quincy, aptly called the Boston Cicero. Mr. Thacher’s frame was slender, his constitution delicate; whether his physicians overstrained his vessels with mercury, when he had the smallpox by inoculation at the castle, or whether he was overplied by public anxieties and exertions, the smallpox left him in a decline from which he never recovered. Not long before his death he sent for me to commit to my care some of his business at the bar. I asked him whether he had seen the Virginia resolves: “Oh yes—they are men! they are noble spirits! It kills me to think of the lethargy and stupidity that prevails here. I long to be out. I will go out. I will go out. I will go into court, and make a speech, which shall be read after my death, as my dying testimony against this infernal tyranny which they are bringing upon us.” Seeing the violent agitation into which it threw him, I changed the subject as soon as possible, and retired. He had been confined for some time. Had he been abroad among the people, he would not have complained so pathetically of the “lethargy and stupidity that prevailed;” for town and country were all alive, and in August became active enough; and some of the people proceeded to unwarrantable excesses, which were more lamented by the patriots than by their enemies. Mr. Thacher soon died, deeply lamented by all the friends of their country.
Another gentleman, who had great influence in the commencement of the Revolution, was Doctor Jonathan Mayhew, a descendant of the ancient governor of Martha’s Vineyard. This divine had raised a great reputation both in Europe and America, by the publication of a volume of seven sermons in the reign of King George the Second, 1749, and by many other writings, particularly a sermon in 1750, on the 30th of January, on the subject of passive obedience and non-resistance, in which the saintship and martyrdom of King Charles the First are considered, seasoned with wit and satire superior to any in Swift or Franklin. It was read by everybody; celebrated by friends, and abused by enemies. During the reigns of King George the First and King George the Second, the reigns of the Stuarts, the two Jameses and the two Charleses were in general disgrace in England. In America they had always been held in abhorrence. The persecutions and cruelties suffered by their ancestors under those reigns, had been transmitted by history and tradition, and Mayhew seemed to be raised up to revive all their animosities against tyranny, in church and state, and at the same time to destroy their bigotry, fanaticism, and inconsistency. David Hume’s plausible, elegant, fascinating, and fallacious apology, in which he varnished over the crimes of the Stuarts, had not then appeared. To draw the character of Mayhew, would be to transcribe a dozen volumes. This transcendent genius threw all the weight of his great fame into the scale of his country in 1761, and maintained it there with zeal and ardor till his death, in 1766. In 1763 appeared the controversy between him and Mr. Apthorp, Mr. Caner, Dr. Johnson, and Archbishop Secker, on the charter and conduct of the Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts. To form a judgment of this debate, I beg leave to refer to a review of the whole, printed at the time and written by Samuel Adams, though by some, very absurdly and erroneously, ascribed to Mr. Apthorp. If I am not mistaken, it will be found a model of candor, sagacity, impartiality, and close, correct reasoning.
If any gentleman supposes this controversy to be nothing to the present purpose, he is grossly mistaken. It spread an universal alarm against the authority of Parliament. It excited a general and just apprehension, that bishops, and dioceses, and churches, and priests, and tithes, were to be imposed on us by Parliament. It was known that neither king, nor ministry, nor archbishops, could appoint bishops in America, without an act of Parliament; and if Parliament could tax us, they could establish the Church of England, with all its creeds, articles, tests, ceremonies, and tithes, and prohibit all other churches, as conventicles and schism shops.
Nor must Mr. Cushing be forgotten. His good sense and sound judgment, the urbanity of his manners, his universal good character, his numerous friends and connections, and his continual intercourse with all sorts of people, added to his constant attachment to the liberties of his country, gave him a great and salutary influence from the beginning in 1760.
Let me recommend these hints to the consideration of Mr. Wirt, whose Life of Mr. Henry I have read with great delight. I think that, after mature investigation, he will be convinced that Mr. Henry did not “give the first impulse to the ball of independence,” and that Otis, Thacher, Samuel Adams, Mayhew, Hancock, Cushing, and thousands of others, were laboring for several years at the wheel before the name of Henry was heard beyond the limits of Virginia.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 25 February, 1818.
As Mr. Wirt has filled my head with James Otis, and as I am well informed, that the honorable Mr. Benjamin Austin, alias Honestus, alias Old South,1 &c., roundly asserts, that Mr. Otis had no patriotism, and that “he acted only from revenge of his father’s disappointment of a seat on the Superior Bench,” I will tell you a story which may make you laugh, if it should not happen to melt you into tears.
Otis belonged to a club, who met on evenings, of which club William Molineux, whose character you know very well, was a member. Molineux had a petition before the legislature, which did not succeed to his wishes, and he became, for several evenings, sour, and wearied the company with his complaints of services, losses, sacrifices, &c., and said, “That a man who has behaved as I have, should be treated as I am, is intolerable,” &c. Otis had said nothing, but the company were disgusted and out of patience, when Otis rose from his seat, and said, “Come, come, Will, quit this subject, and let us enjoy ourselves. I also have a list of grievances; will you hear it?” The club expected some fun, and all cried out, “Aye! aye! let us hear your list.”
“Well, then, Will; in the first place I resigned the office of Advocate-General, which I held from the crown, which produced me—how much do you think?” “A great deal, no doubt,” said Molineux. “Shall we say two hundred sterling a year?” “Aye, more, I believe,” said Molineux. “Well, let it be two hundred; that for ten years is two thousand. In the next place, I have been obliged to relinquish the greatest part of my business at the bar. Will you set that at two hundred more?” “Oh! I believe it much more than that.” “Well, let it be two hundred. This, for ten years, makes two thousand. You allow, then, I have lost four thousand pounds sterling.” “Aye, and more too,” said Molineux.
“In the next place, I have lost a hundred friends, among whom were the men of the first rank, fortune, and power in the province. At what price will you estimate them?” “Damn them,” said Molineux, “at nothing. You are better without them than with them.” A loud laugh. “Be it so,” said Otis.
“In the next place, I have made a thousand enemies, amongst whom are the government of the province and the nation. What do you think of this item?” “That is as it may happen,” said Molineux.
“In the next place, you know I love pleasure. But I have renounced all amusement for ten years. What is that worth to a man of pleasure?” “No great matter,” said Molineux, “you have made politics your amusement.” A hearty laugh.
“In the next place, I have ruined as fine health and as good a constitution of body as nature ever gave to man.” “That is melancholy indeed,” said Molineux. “There is nothing to be said upon that point.”
“Once more,” said Otis, holding his head down before Molineux, “Look upon this head!” (where was a scar in which a man might bury his finger.) “What do you think of this? And what is worse, my friends think I have a monstrous crack in my skull.” This made all the company very grave, and look very solemn. But Otis, setting up a laugh, and with a gay countenance, said to Molineux, “Now, Willy, my advice to you is, to say no more about your grievances; for you and I had better put up our accounts of profit and loss in our pockets, and say no more about them, lest the world should laugh at us.”
This whimsical dialogue put all the company, and Molineux himself, into good humor, and they passed the rest of the evening in joyous conviviality.
It is provoking, it is astonishing, and it is mortifying, and it is humiliating, to see how calumny sticks, and is transmitted from age to age. Mr. Austin is one of the last men I should have expected to have swallowed that execrable lie, that Otis had no patriotism. The father was refused an office worth twelve hundred pounds old tenor, or about one hundred and twenty pounds sterling; and the refusal was no loss, for his practice at the bar was worth much more, for Colonel Otis was a lawyer in profitable practice, and his seat in the legislature gave him more power and more honor; for this refusal the son resigned an office which he held from the crown, worth twice the sum. The son must have been a most dutiful and affectionate child to the father; or rather, the most enthusiastically and frenzically affectionate.
I have been young, and now am old, and I solemnly say, I have never known a man whose love of his country was more ardent or sincere; never one, who suffered so much; never one, whose services for any ten years of his life were so important and essential to the cause of his country, as those of Mr. Otis from 1760 to 1770.
The truth is, he was an honest man, and a thorough taught lawyer. He was called upon in his official capacity as Advocate-General by the custom-house officers, to argue their cause in favor of writs of assistance. These writs he knew to be illegal, unconstitutional, destructive of the liberties of his country, a base instrument of arbitrary power, and intended as an entering wedge to introduce unlimited taxation and legislation by authority of Parliament. He therefore scorned to prostitute his honor and his conscience, by becoming a tool. And he scorned to hold an office which could compel him or tempt him to be one. He therefore resigned it. He foresaw, as every other enlightened man foresaw, a tremendous storm coming upon his country, and determined to run all risks, and share the fate of the ship, after exerting all his energies to save her, if possible. At the solicitation of Boston and Salem, he accordingly embarked, and accepted the command. To attribute to such a character sinister or trivial motives, is ridiculous.
You and Mr. Wirt have “brought the old man out,” and, I fear, he will never be driven in again till he falls into the grave.
TO WILLIAM WIRT.
Quincy, 7 March, 1818.
Be pleased to accept my cordial thanks for the present of an elegant copy of your Sketches of Mr. Henry. I know not whether I shall ever have time to make you any other return than thanks; but, as I see you wish to investigate the sources of the American Revolution, if you will give me leave, I will give you such hints as my memory affords, to assist you.
In 1764 was published, in Boston, a pretty little pamphlet, “The Sentiments of a British American,” the motto of which ought to have warned Great Britain to desist from her tyrannical system of taxation.
Considering “An Act for granting certain duties in the British colonies and plantations in America,” of the 4 G. III., he says; “The first objection is, that a tax is laid on several commodities, to be raised and levied in the plantations, and to be remitted home to England. This is esteemed as a grievance, inasmuch as they are laid without the consent of the representatives of the colonists. It is esteemed an essential British right, that no person shall be subject to any tax, but what, in person or by his representative, he has a voice in laying.”
I am indebted to you, Sir, for the reperusal of this pretty little thing. I had never seen it for fifty-four years, and should never have seen it again; but your book has excited me, having no copy of it, to borrow it as a great favor for a short time. It was written by Oxenbridge Thacher, a barrister at law in Boston. There is so much resemblance between this pamphlet and Mr. Jay’s address to the people of England, written ten years afterwards, that, as Johnson said of his Rasselas and Voltaire’s Candide, one might be suspected to have given birth to the other.
In 1764 was published, in Boston, “The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved,” by James Otis, Esq. This work was read in the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, in manuscript, in 1764, and, though not ordered by them to be published, it was printed with their knowledge. In it these propositions are asserted as fundamental.
“1. That the supreme and subordinate powers of legislation should be free and sacred in the hands where the community have once rightfully placed them.
2. The supreme, national legislative cannot be altered justly till the commonwealth is dissolved, nor a subordinate legislative taken away without forfeiture or other good cause. Nor then can the subjects in the subordinate government be reduced to a state of slavery, and subject to the despotic rule of others.
3. No legislative, supreme or subordinate, has a right to make itself arbitrary.
4. The supreme legislative cannot justly assume a power of ruling by extempore arbitrary decrees, but is bound to dispense justice by known, settled rules, and by duly authorized, independent judges.
5. The supreme powercannot take from any man any part of his property,without his consent in person, or by representation.
6. The legislative cannot transfer the power of making laws to any other hands.
These are their bounds which, by God and nature, are fixed; hitherto have they a right to come, and no further.
1. To govern by stated laws.
2. Those laws should have no other end ultimately but the good of the people.
3. Taxes are not to be laid on the people, but by their consent in person, or by deputation.
4. Their whole power is not transferable.
These are the first principles of law and justice, and the great barriers of a free State, and of the British Constitution in particular. I ask, I want no more!”
This work, which in 1764 was as familiar to me as my alphabet, I had not seen for fifty-four years, and should never have seen it again, if your Sketches, for which I again thank you, had not aroused me. With some pains, and as a great favor, I have obtained the loan of it for a short time. In page 73 is an elaborate and learned demonstration, that all acts of Parliament, laying taxes on the Colonies, without their consent, are void.
In an appendix to this work is a copy of instructions, given by the city of Boston at their annual meeting, in May, 1764, to their representatives, Royal Tyler, James Otis, Thomas Cushing, and Oxenbridge Thacher, Esqrs. These instructions were drawn by Samuel Adams, who was one of those appointed by the town for that purpose. These instructions are a sample of that simplicity, purity, and harmony of style, which distinguished all the productions of Mr. Adams’s pen. I wish I could transcribe the whole; but the paragraph most directly to the present purpose is the following.
“But what still heightens our apprehensions is, that these unexpected proceedings may be preparatory to new taxations upon us. For, if our trade may be taxed, why not our lands? Why not the produce of our lands, and every thing we possess or make use of? This, we apprehend, annihilates our charter right to govern and tax ourselves. It strikes at our British privileges, which, as we have never forfeited them, we hold in common with our fellow-subjects, who are natives of Britain. If taxes are laid upon us in any shape, without our having a legal representation where they are laid, are we not reduced from the character of free subjects to the miserable state of tributary slaves?”
This whole work was published more than a year before Mr. Henry’s resolutions were moved. Excuse the trouble I give you, and believe, &c.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 11 March, 1818.
Your pupil, Mr. Minot, was a young gentleman of excellent character, pure, spotless in morals and manners, loving truth above all things. Agreed. But can you accuse me of prejudice or malignity, when I perceive a tang of the old cask of toryism in his History? He studies, he labors for impartiality; but does he always hit it?
In page 142, of his second volume, he says, “There was a pause in the opposition to the measures of the Crown and Parliament!” “A pause,” indeed, there was! A hiatus valde deflendus! I never could account for it, and I cannot, to this day, account for it, to my own entire satisfaction. There was an appearance of coalition between Otis and Hutchinson, which had wellnigh destroyed Otis’s popularity and influence forever. The rage against him in the town of Boston seemed to be without bounds. He was called a reprobate, an apostate, and a traitor, in every street in Boston. I have heard sober, substantial, independent householders lament, with tears in their eyes, the fall of Otis, and declare that they never had so high an opinion of any man before, and they never would have so much confidence in any man again. The indignation of all his political friends against him was universal. His colleague, Mr. Thacher, was, in private, as explicit as anybody in condemning him. If I may, without or with vanity, mention myself in such company, I must acknowledge that I was staggered and inflamed. I said, “What! is a controversy between two quarters of the globe become a dispute between two petty names of office and seat on the bench of Common Pleas at Barnstable, on the other?”1 A meeting of the bar was called, upon some critical point connected with politics.2 Otis did not appear. Though several messages were sent for him, he would not come. I suspected him of skulking, and was so provoked that I rashly said, and publicly to all the bar, young as I was, “Otis is a mastiff that will bark and roar like a lion one hour, and the next, if a sop is thrown in his way, will creep like a spaniel.” Horresco referens! I shall never forgive myself for this wild sally. Thacher beckoned me to come to him. He whispered in my ear, “Adams, you are too warm.” Happy would it have been for me, if I had always had so faithful a monitor! But I then suspected and believed that Otis was corrupted and bought off, and expected that Otis and Hutchinson would in future go hand in hand, in support of ministerial measures and parliamentary taxation, and that all the ministerial people would, at the next election, use all their influence to secure his reëlection into the legislature. And this was the general opinion. But, when the election drew near, it was found that all this was an artful stratagem to turn Otis out. The old calumnies were revived, that Otis’s sole motive had been vengeance for his father’s disappointed ambition; and, but a few days before the election, appeared an envenomed song,1 in which Otis was abused more virulently than the elder Pitt was, on his acceptance of a pension and a peerage. This convinced the people that Otis had not committed the unpardonable sin against them, and he was again elected, though by a small majority. I heard him afterwards, in the House, attempt a vindication of himself, but it was not to my entire satisfaction. He represented the clamor that had been raised against him; said that he had thought himself ruined; but he added, “the song of the drunkard saved me.” Samuel Waterhouse, an old scribbler for Hutchinson against Pownall, was supposed to be the author of the song, and Samuel Waterhouse was reported to be intemperate.
Mr. Otis cannot be exculpated from the charge of wavering in his opinions. In his “Rights of the Colonies Asserted and Proved,” though a noble monument to his fame, and an important document in the early history of the Revolution, there are, nevertheless, concessions in favor of authority in Parliament inconsistent with the ground he had taken, three years before, in his argument against the sugar act, the molasses act, and writs of assistance, and with many of his ardent speeches in the legislature, in the year 1761 and 1762. Otis had ploughed, harrowed, and manured a rich, strong soil, and sown the best seeds; but, as the worthy farmers in my neighborhood express themselves, “there was a slack after planting.” A light cloud passed over the province, which diminished its lustre; but not over the town of Boston, for that still glowed with light and heat. Who could account for this phenomenon? Otis, the son, had no conceivable object. Colonel Otis, the father, was the undisputed head of the bar in the three counties of Barnstable, Plymouth, and Bristol, besides occasional engagements in other counties. His profits must have been much greater than the pitiful emoluments of the office to which he was appointed. Besides, he was supposed to be rich, and he was rich for those times. Certainly, he was rich in connections, in popularity, in power, and in property.
But the strange, unaccountable election of Hutchinson to the agency was an astonishment and a cruel mortification to all the inflexibles. It was committing the tender kid to the custody and guardianship of the hungry lion. There was little confidence in any of the agents, De Berdt, Mauduit, or Jackson. They could know nothing with certainty of London characters, but it is certain they had better have appointed Will Molineux or Dr. Young than Hutchinson. The legislature was, indeed, to be pitied. They knew not whom to trust.
To account for Hutchinson’s election to the agency, look to your pupil’s second volume, pages 144, 145, 146, &c.
In page 146, Hutchinson is employed “in draughting instructions to Mr. Mauduit, against the several acts of Parliament so detrimental to the trade and fishery of the province.” But your pupil does not inform us who were united with Hutchinson in draughting these instructions. He ought to have given us the instructions, word for word. No historian ought to be trusted in abridging state papers so critical as this. The only construction I can put upon this whole transaction is, and was, that Hutchinson was intriguing with all his subtilty and simulation, to get himself elected agent; that he assumed so much the appearance of an angel of light as to deceive the very elect. There are moments when the firmest minds tremble, and the clearest understandings are clouded. Who would believe that Catharine de Medici could deceive the Admiral Coligni, the profoundest statesman, the honestest man in Europe, to his own destruction, and that of the Protestant religion in France?
In the Boston Gazette of the 4th of April, 1763, Mr. Otis published a vindication of himself, with his name. Where can you find a more manly morsel? Charles Paxton, the essence of customs, taxation, and revenue, appears to have been Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, Secretary, and Chief Justice. A more deliberate, cool, studied, corrupt appointment never was made than that of Hutchinson to be Chief Justice. It was done for the direct purpose of enslaving this whole continent, and, consequently, Britain and man; and, if Otis did say he would set the province in a flame, it was one of the sublimest expressions that ever was uttered, and he ought to have a statue of adamant erected in honor of it. But, I believe, he only said, “Hutchinson’s appointment will set the province in a flame.” But I care not a farthing for the difference; in either case it was a glorious prophecy, equal to any in Daniel, and as perfectly fulfilled.
It never was pretended that Otis voted for Hutchinson to be agent, and it soon appeared that he was no traitor. He again appeared the life and soul of the Revolution, and continued such to his assassination. Hutchinson was soon excused from his agency.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 5 April, 1818
In Mr. Wirt’s elegant and eloquent panegyric on Mr. Henry, I beg your attention to page 56 along to page 67, the end of the second section, where you will read a curious specimen of the agonies of patriotism in the early stages of the Revolution. “When Mr. Henry could carry his resolutions but by one vote, and that against the influence of Randolph, Bland, Pendleton, Wythe, and all the old members, whose influence in the House had till then been unbroken; and when Peyton Randolph, afterwards President of Congress, swore a round oath, he would have given five hundred guineas for a single vote; for one vote would have divided the House, and Robinson was in the chair, who he knew would have negatived the resolution.”
And you will also see the confused manner in which they were first recorded, and how they have since been garbled in history. My remarks, at present, will be confined to the anecdote in page 65. “ ‘Cæsar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third’—‘Treason,’ cried the speaker,—‘Treason, treason,’ echoed from every part of the House. Henry finished his sentence by the words, may profit by their example.’ If this be treason, make the most of it.”
In Judge Minot’s History of Massachusetts Bay, volume second, in pages 122 and 123, you will find another agony of patriotism. In 1762, three years before Mr. Henry’s, Mr. Otis suffered one of equal severity in the House of Representatives of Massachusetts. Judge Minot’s account of it is this.
“The remonstrance offered to the Governor was attended with aggravating circumstances. It was passed after a very warm speech by a member in the House; and at first contained the following offensive observation:
‘For it would be of little consequence to the people whether they were subject to George or Louis, the King of Great Britain or the French King, if both were arbitrary, as both would be, if both could levy taxes without Parliament.’ ”
Though Judge Minot does not say it, the warm speech was from the tongue, and the offensive observation from the pen of James Otis. When these words of the remonstrance were first read in the House, Timothy Paine, Esq., a member from Worcester, in his zeal for royalty, though a very worthy and very amiable man, cried out, “Treason! Treason!” The House, however, were not intimidated, but voted the remonstrance, with all the treason contained in it, by a large majority; and it was presented to the Governor by a committee, of which Mr. Otis was a member.
Judge Minot proceeds, “The Governor was so displeased at this passage, that he sent a letter to the speaker, returning the message of the House, in which, he said, the King’s name, dignity, and cause were so improperly treated, that he was obliged to desire the speaker to recommend earnestly to the House, that it might not be entered upon the minutes in the terms in which it then stood. For, if it should, he was satisfied they would again and again wish that some parts of it were expunged; especially if it should appear, as he doubted not it would, when he entered upon his vindication, that there was not the least ground for the insinuation, under color of which that sacred and well-beloved name was so disrespectfully brought into question.
Upon the reading of this letter, the exceptionable clause was struck out of the message.”
I have now before me a pamphlet, printed in 1762, by Edes & Gill, in Queen street, Boston, entitled “A Vindication of the Conduct of the House of Representatives of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, more particularly in the last Session of the General Assembly, by James Otis, Esq., a member of said House,” with this motto:—
I wish I could transcribe the whole of this pamphlet, because it is a document of importance in the early history of the Revolution, which ought never to be forgotten. It shows, in a strong light, the heaves and throes of the burning mountain, three years, at least, before the explosion of the volcano in Massachusetts or Virginia.
Had Judge Minot ever seen this pamphlet, could he have given so superficial an account of this year, 1762? There was more than one “warm speech” made in that session of the legislature. Mr. Otis himself made many. A dark cloud hung over the whole continent; but it was peculiarly black and threatening over Massachusetts and the town of Boston, against which devoted city the first thunderbolts of parliamentary omnipotence were intended and expected to be darted. Mr. Otis, from his first appearance in the House in 1761, had shown such a vast superiority of talents, information, and energy to every other member of the House, that in 1762 he took the lead, as it were, of course. He opened the session with a speech, a sketch of which he has given us himself. It depends upon no man’s memory. It is warm; it is true. But it is warm only with loyalty to his king, love to his country, and exultations in her exertions in the national cause.
This pamphlet ought to be reprinted and deposited in the cabinet of the curious. The preface is a frank, candid, and manly page, explaining the motive of the publication, namely, the clamors against the House for their proceedings, in which he truly says: “The world ever has been, and will be pretty equally divided between those two great parties, vulgarly called the winners and the losers; or, to speak more precisely, between those who are discontented that they have no power, and those who never think they can have enough. Now, it is absolutely impossible to please both sides either by temporizing, trimming, or retreating; the two former justly incur the censure of a wicked heart, the latter, that of cowardice; and fairly and manfully fighting the battle out, is in the opinion of many worse than either.”
On the 8th of September, ad 1762, the war still continuing in North America and the West Indies, Governor Bernard made his speech to both Houses, and presented a requisition of Sir Jeffery Amherst, that the Massachusetts troops should be continued in pay during the winter.
Mr. Otis made a speech, the outlines of which he has recorded in this pamphlet, urging a compliance with the Governor’s recommendation and General Amherst’s requisition; and concluding with a motion for a committee to consider of both.
A committee was appointed, of which Mr. Otis was one, and reported not only a continuance of the troops already in service, but an addition of nine hundred men, with an augmented bounty to encourage their enlistment.
If the orators on the 4th of July really wish to investigate the principles and feelings which produced the Revolution, they ought to study this pamphlet, and Dr. Mayhew’s sermon on passive obedience and non-resistance, and all the documents of those days. The celebrations of independence have departed from the object of their institution as much as the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts have from their charter. The institution had better be wholly abolished than continued an engine of the politics and feelings of the day, instead of a memorial of the principles and feelings of the Revolution half a century ago—I might have said for two centuries before.
This pamphlet of Mr. Otis exhibits the interesting spectacle of a great man glowing with loyalty to his sovereign, proud of his connection with the British empire, rejoicing in its prosperity, its triumphs, and its glory, exulting in the unexampled efforts of his own native province to promote them all; but at the same time grieving and complaining at the ungenerous treatment that province had received from its beginning from the mother country, and shuddering under the prospect of still greater ingratitude and cruelty from the same source. Hear a few of his words, and read all the rest.
“Mr. Speaker,—This province has upon all occasions been distinguished by its loyalty and readiness to contribute its most strenuous efforts for his Majesty’s service. I hope this spirit will ever remain as an indelible characteristic of this people.” &c. &c. “Our own immediate interest, therefore, as well as the general cause of our king and country, requires that we should contribute the last penny and the last drop of blood, rather than by any backwardness of ours his Majesty’s measures should be embarrassed, and thereby any of the enterprises that may be planned for the regular troops miscarry. Some of these considerations, I presume, induced the Assembly upon his Majesty’s requisition, signified last spring by Lord Egremont, so cheerfully and unanimously to raise thirty-three hundred men for the present campaign; and upon another requisition, signified by Sir Jeffery Amherst, to give a handsome bounty for enlisting about nine hundred more into the regular service. The colonies, we know, have often been blamed without cause; and we have had some share of it. Witness the miscarriage of the pretended expedition against Canada, in Queen Anne’s time, just before the infamous treaty of Utrecht. It is well known, by some now living in this metropolis, that every article, that was to be provided here, was in such readiness, that the officers, both of the army and navy, expressed their utmost surprise at it upon their arrival. To some of them, no doubt, it was a disappointment; for in order to shift the blame of this shameful affair from themselves, they endeavored to lay it upon the New England colonies. I am therefore clearly for raising the men,” &c. &c.
“This province has, since the year 1754, levied for his Majesty’s service, as soldiers and seamen, near thirty thousand men, besides what have been otherwise employed. One year, in particular, it was said that every fifth man was engaged in one shape or another. We have raised sums for the support of this war, that the last generation could hardly have formed any idea of. We are now deeply in debt,” &c. &c.
On the 14th of September, the House received a message from the Governor, containing a somewhat awkward confession of certain expenditures of public money with advice of council, which had not been appropriated by the House. He had fitted out the Massachusetts sloop-of-war, increased her establishment of men, &c. Five years before, perhaps, this irregularity might have been connived at or pardoned; but since the debate concerning writs of assistance, and since it was known that the acts of trade were to be enforced, and a revenue collected by authority of Parliament, Mr. Otis’s maxim, that “taxation without representation was tyranny,” and that “expenditures of public money, without appropriations by the representatives of the people, were unconstitutional, arbitrary, and therefore tyrannical,” had become popular proverbs. They were commonplace observations in the streets. It was impossible that Otis should not take fire upon this message of the Governor. He accordingly did take fire, and made that flaming speech, which Judge Minot calls a “a warm speech,” without informing us who made it or what it contained. I wish Mr. Otis had given us this warm speech, as he has the comparatively cool one, at the opening of the session. But this is lost forever. It concluded, however, with a motion for a committee to consider the Governor’s message and report. The committee was appointed, and Otis was the first after the speaker.
The committee reported the following answer and remonstrance, every syllable of which is Otis.
“May it please your Excellency,—
“The House have duly attended to your Excellency’s message of the eleventh instant relating to the Massachusetts sloop, and are humbly of opinion that there is not the least necessity for keeping up her present complement of men, and, therefore, desire that your Excellency would be pleased to reduce them to six, the old establishment made for said sloop by the General Court. Justice to ourselves and to our constituents obliges us to remonstrate against the method of making or increasing establishments by the Governor and Council.
“It is, in effect, taking from the House their most darling privilege, the right of originating all taxes.
“It is, in short, annihilating one branch of legislation. And when once the representatives of the people give up this privilege, the government will very soon become arbitrary.
“No necessity, therefore, can be sufficient to justify a House of Representatives in giving up such a privilege; for it would be of little consequence to the people, whether they were subject to George or Louis, the King of Great Britain or the French King, if both were arbitrary, as both would be, if both could levy taxes without parliament.
“Had this been the first instance of the kind, we might not have troubled your Excellency about it; but lest the matter should go into precedent, we earnestly beseech your Excellency, as you regard the peace and welfare of the province, that no measures of this nature be taken for the future, let the advice of the Council be what it may.”
This remonstrance being read, was accepted by a large majority, and sent up and presented to his Excellency by a committee, of whom Mr. Otis was one.
“The same day the above remonstrance was delivered, the town was alarmed with a report, that the House had sent a message to his Excellency, reflecting upon his Majesty’s person and government, and highly derogatory from his crown and dignity, and therein desired that his Excellency would in no case take the advice of his Majesty’s Council.”
The Governor’s letter to the Speaker is as Judge Minot represents it. Upon reading it, the same person who had before cried out, “treason! treason!” when he first read the offensive words, now cried out, “rase them! rase them!” They were accordingly expunged.
“In the course of the debate, a new and surprising doctrine was advanced. We have seen the times when the majority of a council, by their words and actions, have seemed to think themselves obliged to comply with every thing proposed by the chair, and to have no rule of conduct but a Governor’s will and pleasure. But now for the first time it was asserted that the Governor, in all cases, was obliged to act according to the advice of the council, and consequently would be deemed to have no judgment of his own.”
In page 17, Mr. Otis enters on his apology, excuse, or justification of the offensive words, which, as it is as facetious as it is edifying, I will transcribe at length in his own words, namely:
“In order to excuse, if not altogether justify the offensive passage, and clear it from ambiguity, I beg leave to premise two or three data. 1. God made all men naturally equal. 2. The ideas of earthly superiority, preeminence, and grandeur, are educational, at least acquired, not innate. 3. Kings were, and plantation governors should be, made for the good of the people, and not the people for them. 4. No government has a right to make hobby-horses, asses, and slaves of the subject; nature having made sufficient of the two former for all the lawful purposes of man, from the harmless peasant in the field to the most refined politician in the cabinet; but none of the last, which infallibly proves they are unnecessary. 5. Though most governments are de facto arbitrary, and, consequently, the curse and scandal of human nature, yet none are de jure arbitrary. 6. The British constitution of government, as now established in his Majesty’s person and family, is the wisest and best in the world. 7. The King of Great Britain is the best as well as most glorious monarch upon the globe, and his subjects the happiest in the universe. 8. It is most humbly presumed, the King would have all his plantation governors follow his royal example, in a wise and strict adherence to the principles of the British constitution, by which, in conjunction with his other royal virtues, he is enabled to reign in the hearts of a brave and generous, a free and loyal people. 9. This is the summit, the ne plus ultra of human glory and felicity. 10. The French King is a despotic, arbitrary prince, and, consequently, his subjects are very miserable.
“Let us now take a more careful review of this passage which by some out of doors has been represented as seditious, rebellious, and traitorous. I hope none, however, will be so wanting to the interests of their country, as to represent the matter in this light on the east side of the Atlantic, though recent instances of such a conduct might be quoted, wherein the province has, after its most strenuous efforts during this and other wars, been painted in all the odious colors that avarice, malice, and the worst passions could suggest.
“The House assert, that ‘it would be of little consequence to the people, whether they were subject to George or Louis, the King of Great Britain or the French King, if both were arbitrary; as both would be, if both could levy taxes without Parliament.’ Or, in the same words transposed, without the least alteration of the sense, ‘it would be of little consequence to the people, whether they were subject to George, the King of Great Britain, or Louis, the French King, if both were arbitrary, as both would be, if both could levy taxes without Parliament.’
“The first question that would occur to a philosopher, if any question could be made about it, would be, whether the position were true. But truth being of little importance with most modern politicians, we shall touch lightly upon that topic, and proceed to inquiries of a more interesting nature.
“That arbitrary government implies the worst of temporary evils, or, at least, the continual danger of them, is certain. That a man would be pretty equally subjected to these evils, under every arbitrary government, is clear. That I should die very soon after my head should be cut off, whether by a sabre or a broadsword, whether chopped off to gratify a tyrant, by the Christian name of Tom, Dick, or Harry, is evident. That the name of the tyrant would be of no more avail to save my life than the name of the executioner, needs no proof. It is, therefore, manifestly of no importance what a prince’s Christian name is, if he be arbitrary, any more, indeed, than if he were not arbitrary. So the whole amount of this dangerous proposition may, at least in one view, be reduced to this, namely: It is of little importance what a king’s Christian name is. It is, indeed, of importance, that a king, a governor, and all other good Christians, should have a Christian name, but whether Edward, Francis, or William, is of none, that I can discern. It being a rule to put the most mild and favorable construction upon words that they can possibly bear, it will follow that this proposition is a very harmless one, that cannot by any means tend to prejudice his Majesty’s person, crown, dignity, or cause, all which I deem equally sacred with his Excellency.
“If this proposition will bear a hundred different constructions, they must all be admitted before any that imports any bad meaning, much more a treasonable one.
“It is conceived, the House intended nothing disrespectful to his Majesty, his government, or governor, in those words. It would be very injurious to insinuate this of a House, that upon all occasions has distinguished itself by a truly loyal spirit, and which spirit possesses at least nine hundred and ninety-nine in a thousand of their constituents throughout the province. One good-natured construction, at least, seems to be implied in the assertion, and that pretty strongly, namely, that in the present situation of Great Britain and France; it is of vast importance to be a Briton rather than a Frenchman, as the French King is an arbitrary, despotic prince, but the King of Great Britain is not so de jure, de facto, nor by inclination. A greater difference on this side the grave cannot be found than that which subsists between British subjects and the slaves of tyranny.
“Perhaps it may be objected, that there is some difference even between arbitrary princes in this respect, at least, that some are more rigorous than others. It is granted; but, then, let it be remembered, that the life of man is a vapor that soon vanisheth away, and we know not who may come after him, a wise man or a fool; though the chances before and since Solomon have ever been in favor of the latter. Therefore, it is said, of little consequence. Had it been no instead of little, the clause, upon the most rigid stricture, might have been found barely exceptionable.
“Some fine gentlemen have charged the expression as indelicate. This is a capital impeachment in politics, and therefore demands our most serious attention. The idea of delicacy, in the creed of some politicians, implies, that an inferior should, at the peril of all that is near and dear to him, that is, his interest, avoid every the least trifle that can offend his superior. Does my superior want my estate? I must give it him, and that with a good grace; which is appearing, and, if possible, being really obliged to him, that he will condescend to take it. The reason is evident; it might give him some little pain or uneasiness to see me whimpering, much more openly complaining, at the loss of a little glittering dirt. I must, according to this system, not only endeavor to acquire myself, but impress upon all around me, a reverence and passive obedience to the sentiments of my superior, little short of adoration. Is the superior in contemplation a king? I must consider him as God’s vicegerent, clothed with unlimited power, his will the supreme law, and not accountable for his actions, let them be what they may, to any tribunal upon earth. Is the superior a plantation governor? He must be viewed, not only as the most excellent representation of majesty, but as a viceroy in his department, and quoad provincial administration, to all intents and purposes, vested with all the prerogatives that were ever exercised by the most absolute prince in Great Britain.
“The votaries of this sect are all monopolizers of offices, peculators, informers, and generally the seekers of all kinds. It is better, say they, to give up any thing and every thing quietly, than contend with a superior who, by his prerogative, can do, and, as the vulgar express it, right or wrong, will have whatever he pleases. For you must know, that, according to some of the most refined and fashionable systems of modern politics, the ideas of right and wrong, and all the moral virtues, are to be considered only as the vagaries of a weak or distempered imagination in the possessor, and of no use in the world, but for the skilful politician to convert, to his own purposes of power and profit. With these,
“It is well known that the least ‘patriotic spark’ unawares ‘catched’ and discovered, disqualifies a candidate from all further preferment in this famous and flourishing order of knights-errant. It must, however, be confessed that they are so Catholic as to admit all sorts, from the knights of the post to a garter and star, provided they are thoroughly divested of the fear of God and the love of mankind; and have concentrated all their views in dear self, with them the only ‘sacred and well-beloved name’ or thing in the universe. See Cardinal Richelieu’s Political Testament, and the greater Bible of the Sect, Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees. Richelieu expressly, in solemn earnest, without any sarcasm or irony, advises the discarding all honest men from the presence of a prince, and from even the purlieus of a court. According to Mandeville, ‘the moral virtues are the political offspring which flattery begot upon pride.’ The most darling principle of the great apostle of the order, who has done more than any mortal towards diffusing corruption, not only through the three kingdoms, but through the remotest dominions, is, that every man has his price, and that, if you bid high enough, you are sure of him.
“To those who have been taught to bow at the name of a king with as much ardor and devotion as a Papist at the sight of a crucifix, the assertion under examination may appear harsh; but there is an immense difference between the sentiments of a British House of Commons remonstrating, and those of a courtier cringing for a favor. A House of Representatives here, at least, bears an equal proportion to a Governor, with that of a House of Commons to the King. There is, indeed, one difference in favor of a House of Representatives. When a House of Commons addresses the King, they speak to their sovereign, who is truly the most august personage upon earth. When a House of Representatives remonstrate to a Governor, they speak to a fellow-subject, though a superior, who is undoubtedly entitled to decency and respect, but I hardly think to quite so much reverence as his master.
“It may not be amiss to observe, that a form of speech may be in no sort improper, when used arguendo, or for illustration, speaking of the king, which same form may be very harsh, indecent, and ridiculous, if spoken to the king.
“The expression under censure has had the approbation of divers gentlemen of sense, who are quite unprejudiced by any party. They have taken it to imply a compliment rather than any indecent reflection upon his Majesty’s wise and gracious administration. It seems strange, therefore, that the House should be so suddenly charged by his Excellency with impropriety, groundless insinuations, &c.
“What cause of so bitter repentance, ‘again and again,’ could possibly have taken place, if this clause had been printed in the journal, I cannot imagine. If the case be fairly represented, I guess the province can be in no danger from a House of Representatives, daring to speak plain English, when they are complaining of a grievance. I sincerely believe that the House had no disposition to enter into any contest with the Governor or Council. Sure I am, that the promoters of this address had no such view. On the contrary, there is the highest reason to presume that the House of Representatives will, at all times, rejoice in the prosperity of the Governor and Council, and contribute their utmost assistance in supporting those two branches of the legislature in all their just rights and preëminence. But the House is, and ought to be, jealous and tenacious of its own privileges; these are a sacred deposit, intrusted by the people, and the jealousy of them is a godly jealousy.”
Allow me now, Mr. Tudor, a few remarks.
1. Why has the sublime compliment of “treason! treason!” made to Mr. Henry, in 1765, been so celebrated, when that to Mr. Otis, in 1762, three years before, has been totally forgotten? Because the Virginia patriot has had many trumpeters, and very loud ones; but the Massachusetts patriot none, though false accusers and vile calumniators in abundance.
2. I know not whether Judge Minot was born in 1762. He certainly never saw, heard, felt, or understood any thing of the principles or feelings of that year. If he had, he could not have given so frosty an account of it. The “warm speech” he mentions, was an abridgment or second edition of Otis’s argument in 1761 against the execution of the acts of trade. It was a flaming declaration against taxation without representation. It was a warning voice against the calamities that were coming upon his country. It was an ardent effort to alarm and arouse his countrymen against the menacing system of parliamentary taxation.
3. Bernard was no great things, but he was not a fool. It is impossible to believe, that he thought the offensive passage treason, sedition, or of such danger and importance as he represented it. But his design was to destroy Otis. “There is your enemy,” said Bernard, (after a Scottish general,) “if ye do not kill him, he will kill you.”
4. How many volumes are concentrated in this little fugitive pamphlet, the production of a few hurried hours, amidst the continual solicitations of a crowd of clients. For his business at the bar, at that time, was very extensive and of the first importance, and amidst the host of politicians, suggesting their plans and schemes, claiming his advice and directions.
5. Look over the declaration of rights and wrongs issued by Congress in 1774. Look into the declaration of independence in 1776. Look into the writings of Dr. Price and Dr. Priestley. Look into all the French constitutions of government; and, to cap the climax, look into Mr. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, Crisis, and Rights of Man. What can you find that is not to be found in solid substance in this “Vindication of the House of Representatives?”
6. Is it not an affront to common sense, an insult to truth, virtue, and patriotism, to represent Patrick Henry, though he was my friend as much as Otis, as the father of the American Revolution and the founder of American independence? The gentleman who has done this, sincerely believed what he wrote, I doubt not; but he ought to be made sensible that he is of yesterday, and knows nothing of the real origin of the American Revolution.
7. If there is any bitterness of spirit discernible in Mr. Otis’s vindication, this was not natural to him. He was generous, candid, manly, social, friendly, agreeable, amiable, witty, and gay, by nature and by habit; honest almost to a proverb, though quick and passionate against meanness and deceit. But at this time he was agitated by anxiety for his country, and irritated by a torrent of slander and scurrility, constantly pouring upon him from all quarters.
Mr. Otis has fortified his vindication in a long and learned note, which, in mercy to my eyes and fingers, I must borrow another hand to transcribe in another sheet.1
“This other original, Mr. Locke has demonstrated to be the consent of a free people. It is possible there are a few, and I desire to thank God there is no reason to think there are many among us, that cannot bear the names of liberty and property, much less that the things signified by those terms should be enjoyed by the vulgar. These may be inclined to brand some of the principles advanced in the Vindication of the House, with the odious epithets, seditious and levelling. Had any thing to justify them been quoted from Colonel Algernon Sidney, or other British martyrs to the liberty of their country, an outcry of rebellion would not be surprising. The authority of Mr. Locke has therefore been preferred to all others, for these further reasons. 1. He was not only one of the most wise as well as most honest, but the most impartial man that ever lived. 2. He professedly wrote his discourses on government, as he himself expresses it, ‘to establish the throne of the great restorer, King William; to make good his title in the consent of the people, which being the only one of all lawful governments, he had more fully and clearly than any prince in Christendom, and to justify to the world the people of England, whose love of liberty, their just and natural rights, with their resolution to preserve them, saved the nation when it was on the brink of slavery and ruin.’ By this title, our illustrious sovereign, George 3d (whom God long preserve), now holds. 3. Mr. Locke was as great an ornament, under a crowned head, as the Church of England ever had to boast of. Had all her sons been of his wise, moderate, tolerant principles, we should probably never have heard of those civil dissensions that have so often brought the nation to the borders of perdition. Upon the score of his being a churchman, however, his sentiments are less liable to those invidious reflections and insinuations, that high-flyers, jacobites, and other stupid bigots, are apt, too liberally, to bestow, not only upon dissenters of all denominations, but upon the moderate, and, therefore, infinitely the most valuable part of the Church of England itself.”
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 29 May, 1818.
As Holly is a diamond of a superior water, it would be crushed to powder by mountainous oppression in any other country. Even in this he is a light shining in a dark place. His system is founded in the hopes of mankind, but they delight more in their fears. When will man have juster notions of the universal, eternal cause? Then will rational Christianity prevail. I regret Holly’s misfortune in not finding you, [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] account, to whom an interview with [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] a lasting gratification.
Waterhouse’s pen, [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] on with too much fluency. I have not [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] activity, memory, or promptitude and [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] which he ascribes to me. I can [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] of the letters I receive, and those only [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] pen.
I think, with you, that it is difficult to say at what moment the Revolution began. In my opinion, it began as early as the first plantation of the country. I dependence of Church and Parliament was a fixed principle of our predecessors in 1620, as it was of Samuel Adams and Christopher Gadsden in 1776; and independence of Church and Parliament was always kept in view in this part of the country, and, I believe, in most others. The hierarchy and parliamentary authority ever were dreaded and detested even by a majority of professed Episcopalians. I congratulate you upon your “canine appetite” for reading. I have been equally voracious for several years, and it has kept me alive. It is policy in me to despise and abhor the writing-table, for it is a bunch of grapes out of reach. Had I your eyes and fingers, I should scribble forever such poor stuff as I have been writing by fits and by starts for fifty or sixty years, without ever correcting or revising any thing.
[Editor: Illegible word] as I am, I hunger and thirst after what I shall never see,—Napoleon’s publication of the report of his Institute of Cairo. Denon’s volumes have excited an inextinguishable curiosity for an unattainable object.
Mr. Coffee1 has been mentioned to me by my son; he will be welcome. But though Robin’s alive, he is not alive like to be. Mr. Coffee must be very quick, or Robin may die in his hands. Mr. Binon, a French artist, from Lyons, who has studied eight years in Italy, has lately taken my bust. He appears to be an artist, and a man of letters. I let them do what they like with my old head. When we come to be cool in the future world, I think we cannot choose but smile at the gambols of ambition, avarice, pleasure, sport, and caprices here below. Perhaps we may laugh as the angels do in the French fable. At a convivial repast of a club of choice spirits, of whom Gabriel and Michael were the most illustrious, after nectar and ambrosia had set [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] at ease, they began to converse upon the [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] discussing the Zodiac, and the [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] system, they condescended to this speck [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] remarked some of its inhabitants, the [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] eagle, and even the fidelity, gratitude, and [Editor: Illegible word] of the [Editor: Illegible word] At last, one of them recollected man. What a fine countenance! What an elegant figure! What subtilty, ingenuity, versatility, agility, and, above all, a rational creature! At this, the whole board broke out into a broad ha! ha! ha! that resounded through the vault of heaven, exclaiming, “Man a rational creature! How could any rational being ever dream that man was a rational creature?”
After all, I hope to meet my wife, and friends, ancestors and posterity, sages, ancient and modern. I believe I could get over all my objections to meeting Alexander Hamilton and Tim Pick, if I could see a symptom of penitence in either.
My fatigued eyes and fingers command me, very reluctantly, to subscribe abruptly.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 1 June, 1818.
No man could have written from memory Mr. Otis’s argument of four or five hours, against the acts of trade, as revenue laws, and against writs of assistance, as a tyrannical engine to execute them, the next day after it was spoken. How awkward, then, would be an attempt to do it after a lapse of fifty-seven years! Nevertheless, some of the heads of his discourse are so indelibly imprinted on my mind, that I will endeavor to give you some very short hints of them.
1. He began with an exordium, containing an apology for his resignation of the office of Advocate-General in the Court of Admiralty; and for his appearance in that cause, in opposition to the Crown, and in favor of the town of Boston, and the merchants of Boston and Salem.
2. A dissertation on the rights of man in a state of nature. He asserted that every man, merely natural, was an independent sovereign, subject to no law, but the law written on his heart, and revealed to him by his Maker in the constitution of his nature and the inspiration of his understanding and his conscience. His right to his life, his liberty, no created being could rightfully contest. Nor was his right to his property less incontestable. The club that he had snapped from a tree, for a staff or for defence, was his own. His bow and arrow were his own; if by a pebble he had killed a partridge or a squirrel, it was his own. No creature, man or beast, had a right to take it from him. If he had taken an eel, or a smelt, or a sculpion, it was his property. In short, he sported upon this topic with so much wit and humor, and at the same time so much indisputable truth and reason, that he was not less entertaining than instructive. He asserted that these rights were inherent and inalienable. That they never could be surrendered or alienated but by idiots or madmen, and all the acts of idiots and lunatics were void, and not obligatory by all the laws of God and man. Nor were the poor negroes forgotten. Not a Quaker in Philadelphia, or Mr. Jefferson, of Virginia, ever asserted the rights of negroes in stronger terms. Young as I was, and ignorant as I was, I shuddered at the doctrine he taught; and I have all my lifetime shuddered, and still shudder, at the consequences that may be drawn from such premises. Shall we say, that the rights of masters and servants clash, and can be decided only by force? I adore the idea of gradual abolitions! But who shall decide how fast or how slowly these abolitions shall be made?
3. From individual independence he proceeded to association. If it was inconsistent with the dignity of human nature to say that men were gregarious animals, like wild horses and wild geese, it surely could offend no delicacy to say they were social animals by nature, that there were mutual sympathies, and, above all, the sweet attraction of the sexes, which must soon draw them together in little groups, and by degrees in larger congregations, for mutual assistance and defence. And this must have happened before any formal covenant, by express words or signs, was concluded. When general counsels and deliberations commenced, the objects could be no other than the mutual defence and security of every individual for his life, his liberty, and his property. To suppose them to have surrendered these in any other way than by equal rules and general consent was to suppose them idiots or madmen, whose acts were never binding. To suppose them surprised by fraud, or compelled by force, into any other compact, such fraud and such force could confer no obligation. Every man had a right to trample it under foot whenever he pleased. In short, he asserted these rights to be derived only from nature and the author of nature; that they were inherent, inalienable, and indefeasible by any laws, pacts, contracts, covenants, or stipulations, which man could devise.
4. These principles and these rights were wrought into the English constitution as fundamental laws. And under this head he went back to the old Saxon laws, and to Magna Charta and the fifty confirmations of it in Parliament, and the execrations ordained against the violators of it, and the national vengeance which had been taken on them from time to time, down to the Jameses and Charleses; and to the petition of rights and the bill of rights, and the Revolution. He asserted, that the security of these rights to life, liberty, and property, had been the object of all those struggles against arbitrary power, temporal and spiritual, civil and political, military and ecclesiastical, in every age. He asserted, that our ancestors, as British subjects, and we, their descendants, as British subjects, were entitled to all those rights, by the British constitution, as well as by the law of nature, and our provincial charter, as much as any inhabitant of London or Bristol, or any part of England; and were not to be cheated out of them by any phantom of “virtual representation,” or any other fiction of law or politics, or any monkish trick of deceit and hypocrisy.
5. He then examined the acts of trade, one by one, and demonstrated, that if they were considered as revenue laws, they destroyed all our security of property, liberty, and life, every right of nature, and the English constitution, and the charter of the province. Here he considered the distinction between “external and internal taxes,” at that time a popular and commonplace distinction. But he asserted there was no such distinction in theory, or upon any principle but “necessity.” The necessity that the commerce of the empire should be under one direction, was obvious. The Americans had been so sensible of this necessity, that they had connived at the distinction between external and internal taxes, and had submitted to the acts of trade as regulations of commerce, but never as taxations or revenue laws. Nor had the British government, till now, ever dared to attempt to enforce them as taxation or revenue laws. They had lain dormant in that character for a century almost. The navigation act he allowed to be binding upon us, because we had consented to it by our own legislature. Here he gave a history of the navigation act of the first of Charles II., a plagiarism from Oliver Cromwell. This act had lain dormant for fifteen years. In 1675, after repeated letters and orders from the king, Governor Winthrop very candidly informs his Majesty, that the law had not been executed, because it was thought unconstitutional, Parliament not having authority over us.
I shall pursue this subject in a short series of letters. Providence pursues its incomprehensible and inscrutable designs in its own way and by its own instruments. And as I sincerely believe Mr. Otis to have been the earliest and the principal founder of one of the greatest political revolutions that ever occurred among men, it seems to me of some importance that his name and character should not be forgotten. Young men should be taught to honor merit, but not to adore it. The greatest men have the greatest faults.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 9 June, 1818.
I have promised you hints of the heads of Mr. Otis’s oration, argument, speech, call it what you will, against the acts of trade, as revenue laws, and against writs of assistance, as tyrannical instruments to carry them into execution.
But I enter upon the performance of my promise to you not without fear and trembling, because I am in the situation of a lady, whom you knew first as my client, the widow of Dr. Ames, of Dedham, and afterwards as the mother of your pupil, the late brilliant orator, Fisher Ames, of Dedham. This lady died last year, at 95 or 96 years of age. In one of her last years she said, she “was in an awkward situation; for if she related any fact of an old date, anybody might contradict her, for she could find no witness to keep her in countenance.”
Mr. Otis, after rapidly running over the history of the continual terrors, vexations, and irritations, which our ancestors endured from the British government, from 1620, under James I. and Charles I.; and acknowledging the tranquillity under the parliament of Cromwell, from 1648, to the restoration, in 1660, produced the navigation act as the first fruit of the blessed restoration of a Stuart’s reign.
This act is in the twelth year of Charles II., chapter 18,
“An act for the encouraging and increasing of shipping and navigation.”
“For the increase of shipping and encouragement of the navigation of this nation, wherein, under the good Providence and protection of God, the wealth, safety, and strength of this kingdom, is so much concerned, be it enacted, that from and after the first day of December, 1660, and from thence forward, no goods or commodities, whatsoever, shall be imported into, or exported out of, any lands, islands, plantations, or territories, to his Majesty belonging or in his possession, or which may hereafter belong unto or be in the possession of his Majesty, his heirs and successors, in Asia, Africa, or America, in any other ship or ships, vessel or vessels, whatsoever, but in such ships or vessels, as do truly and without fraud, belong only to the people of England or Ireland, dominion of Wales, or town of Berwick upon Tweed, or are of the build of, and belonging to, any of the said lands, islands, plantations, or territories, as the proprietors and right owners thereof, and whereof the master, and three fourths of the mariners, at least, are English; under the penalty of the forfeiture and loss of all the goods and commodities which shall be imported into, or exported out of any of the aforesaid places, in any other ship or vessel, as also of the ship or vessel, with all its guns, furniture, tackle, ammunition, and apparel; one third part thereof to his majesty, his heirs and successors; one third part to the governor of such land, plantation, island, or territory, where such default shall be committed, in case the said ship or goods be there seized, or, otherwise, that third part also to his Majesty, his heirs and successors; and the other third part to him or them who shall seize, inform, or sue for the same in any court of record, by bill, information, plaint, or other action, wherein no essoin, protection, or wager of law shall be allowed. And all admirals and other commanders at sea, of any of the ships of war or other ships, having commission from his Majesty, or from his heirs or successors, are hereby authorized, and strictly required to seize and bring in as prize all such ships or vessels as shall have offended contrary hereunto, and deliver them to the Courts of Admiralty, there to be proceeded against; and in case of condemnation, one moiety of such forfeitures shall be to the use of such admirals or commanders, and their companies, to be divided and proportioned among them, according to the rules and orders of the sea, in case of ships taken prize; and the other moiety to the use of his Majesty, his heirs and successors.”
Section second enacts, all governors shall take a solemn oath to do their utmost, that every clause shall be punctually obeyed. See the statute at large.
See also section third of this statute, which I wish I could transcribe.
Section fourth enacts, that no goods of foreign growth, production, or manufacture shall be brought, even in English shipping, from any other countries, but only from those of the said growth, production, or manufacture, under all the foregoing penalties.
Mr. Otis commented on this statute in all its parts, especially on the foregoing section, with great severity. He expatiated on its narrow, contracted, selfish, and exclusive spirit. Yet he could not and would not deny its policy, or controvert the necessity of it, for England, in that age, surrounded as she was by France, Spain, Holland, and other jealous rivals; nor would he dispute the prudence of Governor Leverett, and the Massachusetts legislature, in adopting it, in 1675, after it had lain dormant for fifteen years; though the adoption of it was infinitely prejudicial to the interests, the growth, the increase, the prosperity of the colonies in general, of New England in particular, and most of all, to the town of Boston. It was an immense sacrifice to what was called the mother country. Mr. Otis thought that this statute ought to have been sufficient to satisfy the ambition, the avarice, the cupidity of any nation, but especially of one who boasted of being a tender mother of her children colonies; and when those children had always been so fondly disposed to acknowledge the condescending tenderness of their dear indulgent mother.
This statute, however, Mr. Otis said, was wholly prohibitory. It abounded, indeed, with penalties and forfeitures, and with bribes to governors and informers, and custom-house officers, and naval officers and commanders; but it imposed no taxes. Taxes were laid in abundance by subsequent acts of trade; but this act laid none. Nevertheless, this was one of the acts that were to be carried into strict execution by these writs of assistance. Houses were to be broken open, and if a piece of Dutch linen could be found, from the cellar to the cock-loft, it was to be seized and become the prey of governors, informers, and majesty.
When Mr. Otis had extended his observations on this act of navigation, much farther than I dare to attempt to repeat, he proceeded to the subsequent acts of trade. These, he contended, imposed taxes, and enormous taxes, burdensome taxes, oppressive, ruinous, intolerable taxes. And here he gave the reins to his genius, in declamation, invective, philippic, call it which you will, against the tyranny of taxation without representation.
But Mr. Otis’s observations on those acts of trade must be postponed for another letter.
Let me, however, say, in my own name, if any man wishes to investigate thoroughly, the causes, feelings, and principles of the Revolution, he must study this act of navigation and the acts of trade, as a philosopher, a politician, and a philanthropist.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 17 June, 1818.
The next statute produced and commented by Mr. Otis was the 15th of Charles II., that is, 1663, chapter 7,—
“An act for the encouragement of trade.”
Sec. 5. “And in regard his Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas are inhabited and peopled by his subjects of this his kingdom of England, for the maintaining a greater correspondence and kindness between them, and keeping them in a firmer dependence upon it, and rendering them yet more beneficial and advantageous unto it, in the further employment and increase of English shipping and seamen, vent of English woolen and other manufactures and commodities, rendering the navigation to and from the same more cheap and safe, and making this kingdom a staple, not only of the commodities of those plantations, but also of the commodities of other countries and places, for the supplying of them; and it being the usage of other nations to keep their plantations trades to themselves.”
Sec. 6. “Be it enacted, &c., that no commodity of the growth, production, or manufacture of Europe, shall be imported into any land, island, plantation, colony, territory, or place, to his Majesty belonging, or which shall hereafter belong unto or be in possession of his Majesty, his heirs and successors, in Asia, Africa or America, (Tangier only excepted,) but what shall be bonâ fide, and without fraud, laden and shipped in England, Wales, or the town of Berwick upon Tweed, and in English built shipping, or which were bonâ fide bought before the 1st of October, 1662, and had such certificate thereof as is directed in one act, passed the last session of the present Parliament, entitled. “An act for preventing frauds and regulating abuses in his Majesty’s customs;” and whereof the master and three fourths of the mariners, at least, are English, and which shall be carried directly thence to the said lands, islands, plantations, colonies, territories or places, and from no other place or places whatsoever; any law, statute, or usage to the contrary notwithstanding; under the penalty of the loss of all such commodities of the growth, production, or manufacture of Europe, as shall be imported into any of them, from any other place whatsoever, by land or water; and if by water, of the ship or vessel, also, in which they were imported, with all her guns, tackle, furniture, ammunition, and apparel; one third part to his Majesty, his heirs, and successors; one third part to the governor of such land, island, plantation, colony, territory, or place, into which such goods were imported, if the said ship, vessel, or goods be there seized or informed against and sued for; or, otherwise, that third part, also, to his Majesty, his heirs, and successors; and the other third part to him or them who shall seize, inform, or sue for the same in any of his Majesty’s courts in such of the said lands, islands, colonies, plantations, territories or places where the offence was committed, or in any court of record in England, by bill, information, plaint, or other action, wherein no essoin, protection, or wager of law shall be allowed.”
Sections 7, 8, 9, and 10 of this odious instrument of mischief and misery to mankind, were all calculated to fortify by oaths and penalties the tyrannical ordinances of the preceding sections.
Mr. Otis’s observations on these statutes were numerous, and some of them appeared to me at the time, young as I was, bitter. But as I cannot pretend to recollect those observations with precision, I will recommend to you and others to make your own remarks upon them.
You must remember, Mr. Tudor, that you and I had much trouble with these statutes after you came into my office, in 1770, and I had been tormented with them for nine years before, that is, from 1761. I have no scruple in making a confession with all the simplicity of Jean Jacques Rousseau, that I never turned over the leaves of these statutes, or any section of them, without pronouncing a hearty curse upon them. I felt them as a humiliation, a degradation, a disgrace to my country, and to myself as a native of it.
Let me respectfully recommend to the future orators on the 4th of July to peruse these statutes in pursuit of “principles and feelings that produced the revolution.”
Oh! Mr. Tudor, when will France, Spain, England, and Holland renounce their selfish, contracted, exclusive systems of religion, government, and commerce? I fear, never. But they may depend upon it, their present systems of colonization cannot endure. Colonies universally, ardently breathe for independence. No man, who has a soul, will ever live in a colony under the present establishments one moment longer than necessity compels him.
But I must return to Mr. Otis. The burden of his song was “writs of assistance.” All these rigorous statutes were now to be carried into rigorous execution by the still more rigorous instruments of arbitrary power, “writs of assistance.”
Here arose a number of very important questions. What were writs of assistance? Where were they to be found? When, where, and by what authority had they been invented, created, and established? Nobody could answer any of these questions. Neither Chief Justice Hutchinson, nor any one of his four associate judges, pretended to have ever read or seen in any book any such writ, or to know any thing about it. The court had ordered or requested the bar to search for precedents and authorities for it, but none were found. Otis pronounced boldly that there were none, and neither judge nor lawyer, bench or bar, pretended to confute him. He asserted farther, that there was no color of authority for it, but one produced by Mr. Gridley in a statute of the 13th and 14th of Charles II., which Mr. Otis said was neither authority, precedent, or color of either in America. Mr. Thacher said he had diligently searched all the books, but could find no such writ. He had indeed found in Rastall’s Entries a thing which in some of its features resembled this, but so little like it on the whole, that it was not worth while to read it.
Mr. Gridley, who, no doubt, was furnished upon this great and critical occasion with all the information possessed by the governor, lieutenant-governor, secretary, custom-house officers, and all other crown officers, produced the statute of the 13th and 14th of Charles II., chapter eleventh, entitled, “An act to prevent frauds, and regulating abuses in his Majesty’s customs,” section fifth, which I will quote verbatim.
“And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that in case, after the clearing of any ship or vessel, by the person or persons which are or shall be appointed by his Majesty for managing the customs, or any their deputies, and discharging the watchmen and tidesmen from attendance thereupon, there shall be found on board such ship or vessel, any goods, wares, or merchandises, which have been concealed from the knowledge of the said person or persons, which are or shall be so appointed to manage the customs, and for which the custom, subsidy, and other duties due upon the importation thereof have not been paid; then the master, purser, or other person taking charge of said ship or vessel, shall forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds: and it shall be lawful to or for any person or persons authorized by writ of assistance under the seal of his Majesty’s court of exchequer, to take a constable, headborough, or other public officer, inhabiting near unto the place, and in the daytime to enter and go into any house, shop, cellar, warehouse or room or other place; and in case of resistance, to break open doors, chests, trunks, and other packages, there to seize, and from thence to bring any kind of goods or merchandise whatsoever, prohibited and uncustomed, and to put and secure the same, in his Majesty’s storehouse in the port, next to the place where such seizures shall be made.”
Here is all the color for “writs of assistance,” which the officers of the crown, aided by the researches of their learned counsel, Mr. Gridley, could produce.
Where, exclaimed Otis, is your seal of his Majesty’s court of exchequer? And what has the court of exchequer to do here? But my sheet is full, and my patience exhausted for the present.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 24 June, 1818.
Mr. Otis said, such a “writ of assistance” might become the reign of Charles II. in England, and he would not dispute the taste of the Parliament of England in passing such an act, nor of the people of England in submitting to it; but it was not calculated for the meridian of America. The court of exchequer had no jurisdiction here. Her warrants and her writs were never seen here. Or if they should be, they would be waste paper. He insisted, however, that these warrants and writs were even in England inconsistent with the fundamental law, the natural and constitutional rights of the subjects. If, however, it would please the people of England, he might admit that they were legal there, but not here.
Diligent research had been made by Mr. Otis and Thacher, and by Gridley, aided, as may well be supposed, by the officers of the customs, and by all the conspirators against American liberty, on both sides the water, for precedents and examples of any thing similar to this writ of assistance, even in England. But nothing could be found, except the following: An act of the 12th of Charles II., chapter 22. “An act for the regulating the trade of Bay-making, in the Dutch Bay-hall, in Colchester.” The fifth section of this statute, “for the better discovering, finding out, and punishing of the frauds and deceits, aforesaid, be it enacted, that it shall and may be lawful for the governors of the Dutch Bay-hall, or their officers, or any of them, from time to time, in the daytime, to search any cart, wagon, or pack, wherein they shall have notice, or suspect any such deceitful bays to be; and also from time to time, with a constable, who are hereby required to be aiding and assisting them, to make search in any house, shop, or warehouse, where they are informed any such deceitful bays to be, and to secure and seize the same, and to carry them to the Dutch Bay-hall; and that such bays so seized and carried to the said hall, shall be confiscate and forfeit, to be disposed in such manner as the forfeitures herein before mentioned, to be paid by the weavers and fullers, are herein before limited and appointed.”
The Dutch Bay-hall made sport for Otis and his audience; but was acknowledged to have no authority here, unless by certain distant analogies and constructions, which Mr. Gridley himself did not pretend to urge. Another ridiculous statute was of the 22d and 23d of Charles II., chapter 8th, “An act for the regulating the making of Kidderminster Stuffs.”
By the eleventh section of this important law, it is enacted, “That the said president, wardens, and assistants of the said Kidderminster weavers, or any two or more of them, shall have, and hereby have power and authority to enter into and search the houses and workhouses of any artificer under the regulation of the said trade, at all times of the day, and usual times of opening shops and working; and into the shops, houses, and warehouses of any common buyer, dealer in, or retailer of any of the said cloths or stuffs, and into the houses and workhouses of any dyer, shearman, and all other workmen’s houses and places of sale, or dressing of the said cloths or stuffs, and yarns, and may there view the said cloths, stuffs, and yarns respectively; and if any cloth, stuff, or yarns shall be found defective, to seize and carry away the same to be tried by a jury.”
The wit, the humor, the irony, the satire played off by Mr. Otis in his observations on these acts of navigation, Dutch bays and Kidderminster stuffs, it would be madness in me to pretend to remember with any accuracy. But this I do say, that Horace’s “Irritat, mulcet, veris terroribus implet,” was never exemplified, in my hearing, with so great effect. With all his drollery, he intermixed solid and sober observations upon the acts of navigation, by Sir Joshua Child, and other English writers upon trade, which I shall produce together in another letter.
It is hard to be called upon, at my age, to such a service as this. But it is the duty of
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 9 July, 1818.
In the search for something in the history and statutes of England, in any degree resembling this monstrum horrendum ingens, the writ of assistance, the following examples were found.
In the statute of the first year of King James the II., chapter 3d, “An act for granting to his Majesty an imposition upon all wines and vinegar,” &c., section 8, it is enacted, “That the officers of his Majesty’s customs, &c., shall have power and authority to enter on board ships and vessels, and make searches, and to do all other matters and things, which may tend to secure the true payment of the duties by this act imposed, and the due and orderly collection thereof, which any customers, collectors, or other officers of any of his Majesty’s ports can or may do, touching the securing his Majesty’s customs of tonnage and poundage,” &c., &c., &c. I must refer to the statute for the rest.
In the statute of King James II., chapter 4, “An act for granting to his Majesty an imposition upon all tobacco and sugar imported,” &c., section 5th, in certain cases, “the commissioners may appoint one or more officer or officers to enter into all the cellars, warehouses, store cellars, or other places whatsoever, belonging to such importer, to search, see, and try,” &c., &c., &c. I must again refer to the statute for the rest, which is indeed nothing to the present purpose.
Though the portraits of Charles II. and James II. were blazing before his eyes, their characters and reigns were sufficiently odious to all but the conspirators against human liberty, to excite the highest applause of Otis’s philippics against them and all the foregoing acts of their reigns, which writs of assistance were now intended to enforce. Otis asserted and proved, that none of these statutes extended to America, or were obligatory here, by any rule of law ever acknowledged here, or ever before pretended in England.
Another species of statutes were introduced by the counsel for the crown, which I shall state as they occur to me without any regard to the order of time.
1st of James II., chapter 17, “An act for the revival and continuance of several acts of Parliament therein mentioned,” in which the tobacco law, among others, is revived and continued.
13th and 14th of Charles II., chapter 13, “An act for prohibiting the importation of foreign bone-lace, cutwork, embroidery, fringe, band-strings, buttons, and needlework.” Pray, Sir, do not laugh! for something very serious comes in section third.
“Be it further enacted, that for the preventing of the importing of the said manufactures as aforesaid, upon complaint and information given to the justices of the peace or any or either of them, within their respective counties, cities, and towns corporate, at times reasonable, he or they are hereby authorized and required to issue forth his or their warrants to the constables of their respective counties, cities, and towns corporate, to enter and search for such manufactures in the shops being open, or warehouses and dwelling-houses of such person or persons, as shall be suspected to have any such foreign bone-laces, embroideries, cutwork, fringe, band-strings, buttons, or needle-work within their respective counties, cities, and towns corporate, and to seize the same, any act, statute, or ordinance to the contrary thereof in any wise notwithstanding.”
Another curious act was produced, to prove the legality of writs of assistance, though it was no more to the purpose than all the others. I mean the statute of the 12th of Charles II., chapter 3d, “An act for the continuance of process and judicial proceedings continued.” In which it is enacted, section first, “That no pleas, writs, bills, actions, suits, plaints, process, precepts, or other thing or things, &c., shall be in any wise discontinued,” &c.
But I must refer to the act. I cannot transcribe. If any antiquarian should hereafter ever wish to review this period, he will see with compassion how such a genius as Otis was compelled to delve among the rubbish of such statutes, to defend the country against the gross sophistry of the crown and its officers.
Another act of 12 C. II., ch. 12, “An act for confirmation of judicial proceedings,” in which it is enacted, &c., “that nor any writs, or actions on, or returns of any writs, orders, or other proceedings in law or equity, had, made, given, taken, or done, or depending in the courts of chancery, king’s bench, upper bench, common pleas, and court of exchequer, and court of exchequer chamber, or any of them, &c., in the kingdom of England, &c., shall be avoided, &c.” I must refer to the statute.
In short, wherever the custom-house officers could find in any statute the word “writs,” the word “continued,” and the words “court of exchequer,” they had instructed their counsel to produce it, though in express words restricted to “the realm.” Mr. Gridley was incapable of prevarication or duplicity.
It was a moral spectacle, more affecting to me than any I have since seen upon any stage, to see a pupil treating his master with all the deference, respect, esteem, and affection of a son to a father, and that without the least affectation; while he baffled and confounded all his authorities, and confuted all his arguments and reduced him to silence.
Indeed, upon the principle of construction, inference, analogy, or corollary, by which they extended these acts to America, they might have extended the jurisdiction of the court of king’s bench, and court of common pleas, and all the sanguinary statutes against crimes and misdemeanors, and all their church establishment of archbishops and bishops, priests, deacons, deans, and chapters; and all their acts of uniformity, and all their acts against conventicles.
I have no hesitation or scruple to say, that the commencement of the reign of George III. was the commencement of another Stuart’s reign; and if it had not been checked by James Otis and others first, and by the great Chatham and others afterwards, it would have been as arbitrary as any of the four. I will not say it would have extinguished civil and religious liberty upon earth; but it would have gone great lengths towards it, and would have cost mankind even more than the French Revolution to preserve it. The most sublime, profound, and prophetic expression of Chatham’s oratory that he ever uttered was, “I rejoice that America has resisted. Two millions of people reduced to servitude, would be fit instruments to make slaves of the rest.”
Another statute was produced, 12 C. 2, cap. 19.
“An act to prevent frauds and concealments of his Majesty’s customs and subsidies.” “Be it enacted,” &c., “that if any person or persons, &c., shall cause any goods, for which custom, subsidy, or other duties are due or payable, &c., to be landed or conveyed away, without due entry thereof first made and the customer or collector, or his deputy agreed with; that then and in such case, upon oath thereof made before the lord treasurer, or any of the barons of the exchequer, or chief magistrate of the port or place where the offence shall be committed, or the place next adjoining thereto, it shall be lawful to and for the lord-treasurer, or any of the barons of the exchequer, or the chief magistrate of the port or place, &c., to issue out a warrant to any person or persons, thereby enabling him or them, with the assistance of a sheriff, justice of the peace, or constable, to enter into any house in the daytime, where such goods are suspected to be concealed, and in case of resistance to break open such house, and to seize and secure the same goods so concealed; and all officers and ministers of justice are hereby required to be aiding and assisting thereunto.”
Such was the sophistry; such the chicanery of the officers of the crown, and such their power of face, as to apply these statutes to America and to the petition for writs of assistance from the superior court.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 14 July, 1818.
Mr. Otis, to show the spirit of the acts of trade, those I have already quoted, as well as of those I shall hereafter quote, and as the best commentaries upon them, produced a number of authors upon trade, and read passages from them, which I shall recite, without pretending to remember the order in which he read them.
1. Sir Josiah Child, “A new Discourse of Trade.” Let me recommend this old book to the perusal of my inquisitive fellow-citizens. A discerning mind will find useful observations on the interest of money, the price of labor, &c., &c., &c. I would quote them all, if I had time. But I will select one. In page 15, of his preface, he says, “I understand not the world so little as not to know, that he that will faithfully serve his country, must be content to pass through good report and evil report.” I cannot agree to that word, content. I would substitute instead of it, the words, “as patient as he can.” Sir Josiah adds, “neither regard I which I meet with.” This is too cavalierly spoken. It is not sound philosophy. Sir Joshua proceeds: “Truth I am sure at last will vindicate itself, and be found by my countrymen.” Amen! So be it! I wish I could believe it.
But it is high time for me to return from this ramble to Mr. Otis’s quotations from Sir Josiah Child, whose chapter 4, page 105, is “Concerning the Act of Navigation.” Probably this knight was one of the most active and able inflamers of the national pride in their navy and their commerce, and one of the principal promoters of that enthusiasm for the act of navigation, which has prevailed to this day. For this work was written about the year 1677, near the period when the court of Charles II. began to urge and insist on the strict execution of the act of navigation. Such pride in that statute did not become Charles, his court, or his nation of royalists and loyalists at that time. For shall I blush, or shall I boast, when I remember, that this act was not the invention of a Briton, but of an American. George Downing, a native of New England, educated at Harvard College, whose name, office, and title appear in their catalogue, went to England in the time of Lord Clarendon’s civil wars, and became such a favorite of Cromwell and the ruling powers, that he was sent ambassador to Holland. He was not only not received, but ill treated, which he resented on his return to England, by proposing an act of navigation, which was adopted, and has ruined Holland, and would have ruined America, if she had not resisted.
To borrow the language of the great Dr. Johnson, this “dog” Downing must have had a head and brains, or, in other words, genius and address; but, if we may believe history, he was a scoundrel. To ingratiate himself with Charles II., he probably not only pleaded his merit in inventing the navigation act, but he betrayed to the block some of his old republican and revolutionary friends.
George Downing! Far from boasting of thee as my countryman, or of thy statute as an American invention, if it were lawful to wish for any thing past, that has not happened, I should wish that thou hadst been hanged, drawn, and quartered, instead of Hugh Peters and Sir Henry Vane. But no! This is too cruel for my nature! I rather wish, that thou hadst been obliged to fly with thy project, and repent among the rocks and caves of the mountains in New England.
But where is Downing’s statute? British policy has suppressed all the laws of England, from 1648 to 1660. The statute book contains not one line. Such are records, and such is history!
The nation, it seems, was not unanimous in its approbation of this statute. The great knight himself informs us, page 105, “that some wise and honest gentlemen and merchants doubted whether the inconveniences it has brought with it be not greater than the conveniences.” This chapter was, therefore, written to answer all objections, and to vindicate and justify Downing’s statute.
Mr. Otis cast an eye over this chapter, and adverted to such observations in it, as tended to show the spirit of the writer, and of the statute; which might be summed up in this comprehensive Machiavelian principle, that earth, air, and seas, all colonies and all nations were to be made subservient to the growth, grandeur, and power of the British navy.
And thus, truly, it happened. The two great knights, Sir George Downing and Sir Josiah Child, must be acknowledged to have been great politicians!
Mr. Otis proceeded to chapter 10 of this work, page 166, “Concerning Plantations.” And he paused at the 6th proposition, in page 167, “That all colonies and plantations do endamage their mother kingdoms, whereof the trades of such plantations are not confined by severe laws, and good executions of those laws, to the mother kingdom.”
Mr. Otis then proceeded to seize the key to the whole riddle, in page 168, proposition eleventh, “that New England is the most prejudicial plantation to the kingdom of England.” Sir George Downing, no doubt, said the same to Charles II.
Otis proceeded to page 170, near the bottom.
“We must consider what kind of people they were and are that have and do transport themselves to our foreign plantations.” New England, as every one knows, was originally inhabited, and hath since been successively replenished by a sort of people called Puritans, who could not conform to the ecclesiastical laws of England; but being wearied with church censures and persecutions, were forced to quit their fathers’ land, to find out new habitations, as many of them did in Germany and Holland, as well as at New England, and had there not been a New England found for some of them, Germany and Holland, probably, had received the rest; but Old England, to be sure, had lost them all.
“Virginia and Barbadoes were first peopled by a sort of loose, vagrant people, vicious, and destitute of means to live at home (being either unfit for labor, or such as could find none to employ themselves about, or had so misbehaved themselves by whoring, thieving, or other debauchery, that none would set them on work), which merchants and masters of ships, by their agents (or spirits, as they were called), gathered up about the streets of London, and other places, clothed and transported, to be employed upon plantations, and these, I say, were such as, had there been no English foreign plantation in the world, could probably never have lived at home, to do service for their country, but must have come to be hanged, or starved, or died untimely of some of those miserable diseases that proceed from want and vice; or else have sold themselves for soldiers, to be knocked on the head, or starved, in the quarrels of our neighbors, as many thousands of brave Englishmen were in the low countries, as also in the wars of Germany, France, and Sweden, &c., or else, if they could, by begging or otherwise, arrive to the stock of 2s. 6d. to waft them over to Holland, become servants to the Dutch, who refuse none.
“But the principal growth and increase of the aforesaid plantations of Virginia and Barbadoes happened in, or immediately after, our late civil wars, when the worsted party, by the fate of war, being deprived of their estates, and having, some of them, never been bred to labor, and others made unfit for it by the lazy habit of a soldier’s life, there wanting means to maintain them all abroad with his Majesty, many of them betook themselves to the aforesaid plantations, and great numbers of Scotch soldiers of his Majesty’s army, after Worcester fight, were by the then prevailing powers voluntarily sent thither.
“Another great swarm or accession of new inhabitants to the aforesaid plantations, as also to New England, Jamaica, and all other his Majesty’s plantations in the West Indies, ensued upon his Majesty’s restoration, when the former prevailing party being by a divine hand of Providence brought under, the army disbanded, many officers displaced, and all the new purchasers of public titles dispossessed of their pretended lands, estates, &c., many became impoverished and destitute of employment, and, therefore, such as could find no way of living at home, and some who feared the reestablishment of the ecclesiastical laws, under which they could not live, were forced to transport themselves, or sell themselves for a few years to be transported by others, to the foreign English plantations. The constant supply that the said plantations have since had, hath been such vagrant, loose people as I have before mentioned, picked up especially about the streets of London and Westminster, and male-factors condemned for crimes, for which, by the law, they deserved to die; and some of those people called quakers, banished for meeting on pretence of religious worship.
“Now, if from the premises it be duly considered what kind of persons those have been, by whom our plantations have at all times been replenished, I suppose it will appear, that such they have been, and under such circumstances, that if his Majesty had had no foreign plantations, to which they might have resorted, England, however, must have lost them.”
Any man, who will consider with attention these passages from Sir Josiah Child, may conjecture what Mr. Otis’s observations upon them were. As I cannot pretend to remember them verbatim and with precision, I can only say that they struck me very forcibly. They were short, rapid; he had not time to be long; but Tacitus himself could not express more in fewer words. My only fear is, that I cannot do him justice.
In the first place, there is a great deal of true history in this passage, which manifestly proves, that the emigrants to America, in general, were not only as good as the people in general, whom they left in England, but much better, more courageous, more enterprising, more temperate, more discreet, and more industrious, frugal, and conscientious. I mean the royalists as well as the republicans.
In the second place, there is a great deal of uncandid, ungenerous misrepresentation, and scurrilous exaggeration in this passage of the great knight, which proves him to have been a fit tool of Charles II., and a suitable companion, associate, and friend of the great knight, Sir George Downing, the second scholar in Harvard College catalogue.
But I will leave you, Mr. Tudor, to make your own observations and reflections upon these pages of Sir Josiah Child.
Mr. Otis read them with great reluctance; but he felt it his duty to read them, in order to show the spirit of the author, and the spirit of Sir George Downing’s navigation act.
But, my friend, I am weary. I have not done with Mr. Otis or Sir Josiah Child. I must postpone to another letter.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 17 July, 1818.
Mr. Otis proceeded to page 198, of this great work of the great knight, Sir Josiah Child.
“Proposition eleventh. That New England is the most prejudicial plantation in this kingdom.”
“I am now to write of a people whose frugality, industry, and temperance, and the happiness of whose laws and institutions, do promise to themselves long life, with a wonderful increase of people, riches, and power; and although no men ought to envy that virtue and wisdom in others, which themselves either cannot or will not practise, but rather to commend and admire it, yet I think it is the duty of every good man primarily to respect the welfare of his native country. And, therefore, though I may offend some whom I would not willingly displease, I cannot omit, in the progress of this discourse, to take notice of some particulars, wherein Old England suffers diminution by the growth of those colonies settled in New England, and how that plantation differs from those more southerly, with respect to the gain or loss of this kingdom,—namely,
“1. All our American plantations, except that of New England, produce commodities of different natures from those of this kingdom, as sugar, tobacco cocoa, wool, ginger, sundry sorts of dying woods, &c., whereas. New England produces generally the same we have here, namely, corn and cattle. Some quantity of fish they do likewise kill, but that is taken and saved altogether by their own inhabitants, which prejudiceth our Newfoundland trade; where, as hath been said, very few are, or ought according to prudence to be employed in those fisheries but the inhabitants of Old England. The other commodities we have from them are some few great masts, furs, and train oil, whereof the yearly value amounts to very little; the much greater value of returns from thence being made in sugar, cotton, wool, tobacco, and such like commodities, which they first receive from some other of his Majesty’s plantations in barter for dry codfish, salt mackerel beef, pork, bread, beer, flour, peas, &c., which they supply Barbadoes, Jamaica, &c., with, to the diminution of the vent of those commodities from this kingdom; the great expense whereof in our West India plantations would soon be found in the advance of the value of our lands in England, were it not for the vast and almost incredible supplies those colonies have from New England.
“2. The people of New England, by virtue of their primitive charters, being not so strictly tied to the observation of the laws of this kingdom, do sometimes assume a liberty of trading contrary to the act of navigation, by reason whereof many of our American commodities, especially tobacco and sugar, are transported, in New England shipping, directly into Spain and other foreign countries, without being landed in England, or paying any duty to his Majesty, which is not only loss to the king, and a prejudice to the navigation of Old England, but also a total exclusion of the old English merchant from the vent of those commodities in those ports where the new English vessels trade, because there being no custom paid on those commodities in New England, and a great custom paid upon them in Old England, it must necessarily follow that the New English merchant will be able to afford his commodity much cheaper at the market than the Old English merchant: and those that can sell cheapest, will infallibly engross the whole trade, sooner or later.
“3. Of all the American plantations, his Majesty hath none so apt for the building of shipping as New England, nor none comparably so qualified for breeding of seamen, not only by reason of the natural industry of that people, but principally by reason of their cod and mackerel fisheries, and, in my poor opinion, there is nothing more prejudicial, and in prospect more dangerous to any mother kingdom, than the increase of shipping in her colonies, plantations, and provinces.”
“4. The people that evacuate from us to Barbadoes, and the other West India plantations, as was before hinted, do commonly work one Englishman to ten or eight blacks; and, if we kept the trade of our said plantations entirely to England, England would have no less inhabitants, but rather an increase of people by such evacuation; because that one Englishman, with the ten blacks that work with him, accounting what they eat, use, and wear, would make employment for four men in England, as was said before; whereas, peradventure, of ten men that issue from us to New England and Ireland, what we send to, or receive from them, doth not employ one man in England.
“To conclude this chapter, and to do right to that most industrious English colony, I must confess, that though we lose by their unlimited trade with our foreign plantations, yet we are very great gainers by their direct trade to and from Old England; our yearly exportations of English manufactures, malt, and other goods, from hence thither, amounting, in my opinion, to ten times the value of what is imported from thence; which calculation I do not make at random, but upon mature consideration, and, peradventure, upon as much experience in this very trade as any other person will pretend to: and, therefore, whenever a reformation of our correspondency in trade with that people shall be thought on, it will, in my poor judgment, require great tenderness and very serious circumspection.”
Mr. Otis’s humor and satire were not idle upon this occasion, but his wit served only to increase the effect of a subsequent, very grave, and serious remonstrance and invective against the detestable principles of the foregoing passages, which he read with regret, but which it was his duty to read, in order to show the temper, the views, and the objects of the knight, which were the same with those of all the acts of trade, anterior and posterior to the writing of this book. And those views, designs, and objects were, to annul all the New England charters, and they were but three, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut; to reduce all the colonies to royal governments, to subject them all to the supreme domination of parliament, who were to tax us, without limitation, who would tax us whenever the crown would recommend it, which crown would recommend it, whenever the ministry for the time being should please, and which ministry would please as often as the West India planters and North American governors, crown officers and naval commanders, should solicit more fees, salaries, penalties, and forfeitures.
Mr. Otis had no thanks for the knight for his pharisaical compliment to New England, at the expense of Virginia and other colonies, who, for any thing he knew, were equally meritorious. It was certain, the first settlers of New England were not all godly. But he reprobated in the strongest terms that language can command, the machiavelian, the jesuitical, the diabolical, and infernal principle that men, colonies, and nations were to be sacrificed, because they were industrious and frugal, wise and virtuous; while others were to be encouraged, fostered, and cherished, because they were pretended to be profligate, vicious, and lazy.
But, my friend, I must quit Josiah Child, and look for others of Mr. Otis’s authorities.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 27 July, 1818.
Another author, produced by Mr. Otis, was, “The Trade and Navigation of Great Britain Considered,” by Joshua Gee, “a new edition, with many interesting notes and additions, by a merchant,” printed in 1767. This new edition, which was printed, no doubt, to justify the ministry in the system they were then pursuing, could not be the edition that Mr. Otis produced in 1761. The advertisement of the editor informs us, that “this valuable treatise has for many years been very scarce, though strongly recommended by the best judges and writers on trade, and universally allowed to be one of the most interesting books on that subject.” “The principles upon which it was written, continue, with little variation.” But I am fatigued with quotations, and must refer you to the advertisement in the book, which will show, past a doubt, that this was a ministerial republication. The “feelings, the manners and principles, which produced the revolution,” will be excited and renovated by the perusal of this book, as much as by that of Sir Josiah Child. I wish I could fill sheets of paper with quotations from it; but this is impossible. If I recommend it to the research, and perusal, and patient thinking of the present generation, it is in despair of being regarded. For who will engage in this dry, dull study? Yet, Mr. Otis labored in it. He asserted and proved, that it was only a reenforcement of the system of Sir Josiah Child, which Gee approved in all things, and even quoted with approbation the most offensive passage in his book, the scurrilous reflections on Virginia and Barbadoes.
Another writer, produced by Mr. Otis, was, “Memoirs and Considerations concerning the Trade and Revenues of the British Colonies in America; with Proposals for rendering those Colonies more beneficial to Great Britain. By John Ashley, Esq.”
This book is in the same spirit and system of Josiah Child and Joshua Gee.
Mr. Otis also quoted Postlethwait. But I can quote no more.
If any man of the present age can read these authors and not feel his “feelings, manners, and principles” shocked and insulted, I know not of what stuff he is made. All I can say is, that I read them all in my youth, and that I never read them without being set on fire.
I will, however, transcribe one passage from Ashley, painful as it is. In page 41 he says,
“The laws now in being for the regulation of the plantation trade, namely the 14th of Charles II. ch. 2, sec. 2, 3, 9, 10; 7 and 8 William III. ch. 22, sec. 5, 6; 6 George II. ch. 13, are very well calculated, and, were they put in execution as they ought to be, would in a great measure put an end to the mischiets here complained of. If the several officers of the customs would see that all entries of sugar, rum and molasses were made conformable to the directions of those laws; and let every entry of such goods distinguish expressly, what are of British growth and produce, and what are of foreign growth and produce; and let the whole cargo of sugar, penneles, rum, spirits, molasses and syrup be inserted at large in the manifest and clearance of every ship or vessel, under office seal, or be liable to the same duties and penalties as such goods of foreign growth are hable to, this would very much balk the progress of those who carry on this illicit trade, and be agreeable and advantageous to all fair traders.
“And all masters and skippers of boats in all the plantations should give some reasonable security, not to take in any such goods of foreign growth from any vessel not duly entered at the custom-house, in order to land the same, or put the same on board any other ship or vessel, without a warrant or sufference from a proper officer.”
But you will be fatigued with quotations, and so is your friend,
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 30 July, 1818.
Another passage, which Mr. Otis read from Ashley, gave occasion, as I suppose, to another memorable and very curious event, which your esteemed pupil and my beloved friend, Judge Minot, has recorded. The passage is in the 42d page.
“In fine, I would humbly propose that the duties on foreign sugar and rum imposed by the before-mentioned act of the 6th of King George II. remain as they are, and also the duty on molasses, so far as concerns the importations into the sugar colonies, but that there be an abatement of the duty on molasses imported into the northern colonies, so far as to give the British planters a reasonable advantage over foreigners, and what may bear some proportion to the charge, risk, and inconvemence of running it in the manner they now do, or after the proposed regulation shall be put in execution. Whether this duty shall be one, two, or three pence, sterling money of Great Britain, per gallon, may be matter of consideration.”
Gracious and merciful indeed! The tax might be reduced and made supportable, but not abolished. Oh, no! by no means.
Mr. Hutchinson, however, seized this idea of Ashley, of reducing the tax on molasses from sixpence to threepence, or twopence, or a penny; and the use he made of it you shall learn from your own pupil and my amiable friend, Judge Minot.1
“About this time there was a pause in the opposition to the measures of the crown and parliament, which might have given some appearance of the conciliation of parties, but which was more probably owing to the uncertainty of the eventual plan of the ministry, and the proper ground to be chosen for counteracting it. The suppressing of the proposed instructions to the agent by a committee of the House of Representatives indicated that this balance of power there was unsettled. Several circumstances showed a less inflexible spirit than had existed among the leaders. The governor appointed the elder Mr. Otis a justice of the court of common pleas, and judge of probate for the county of Barnstable. The younger wrote a pamphlet on the rights of the British colonies, in which he acknowledged the sovereignty of Parliament, as well as the obligations of the colonies to submit to such burdens as it might lay upon them, until it should be pleased to relieve them, and put the question of taxing America on the footing of the common good.”
I beg your attention to Mr. Minot’s history, vol. ii., from page 140 to the end of the chapter in page 152. Mr. Minot has endeavored to preserve the dignity, the impartiality, and the delicacy of history. But it was a period of mingled glory and disgrace. But as it is a digression from the subject of Mr. Otis’s speech against writs of assistance, I can pursue it no further at present. Mr. Hutchinson seized the idea of reducing the duties. Mr. Otis and his associates seemed to despair of any thing more. Hutchinson was chosen agent, to the utter astonishment of every American out of doors. This was committing the lamb to the kind guardianship of the wolf. The public opinion of all the friends of their country was decided. The public voice was pronounced in accents so terrible, that Mr. Otis fell into a disgrace, from which nothing but Jemmibullero saved him. Mr. Hutchinson was politely excused from his embassy, and the storm blew over. Otis, upon whose zeal, energy, and exertions the whole great cause seemed to depend, returned to his duty, and gave entire satisfaction to the end of his political career.
Thus ended the piddling project of reducing the duty on molasses from sixpence a gallon to fivepence, fourpence, threepence, twopence, or a penny. And one half penny a gallon would have abandoned the great principle as much as one pound.
This is another digression from the account of Mr. Otis’s argument against writs of assistance and the acts of trade. I have heretofore written you on this subject. The truth, the whole truth, must and will and ought to come out; and nothing but the truth shall appear with the consent of your humble servant,
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 6 August, 1818.
“Mid the low murmurs of submission, fear and mingled rage, my Hampden raised his voice, and to the laws appealed.”
Mr. Otis had reasoned like a philosopher upon the navigation acts, and all the tyrannical acts of Charles II.; but when he came to the revenue laws, the orator blazed out. Poor King William! If thy spirit, whether in heaven or elsewhere, heard James Otis, it must have blushed. A stadtholder of Holland, by accident or by miracle vested with a little brief authority in England, cordially adopting the system of George Downing, Josiah Child, and Charles II., for the total destruction of that country to which he owed his existence, and all his power and importance in the world; and, what was still worse, joining in the conspiracy with such worthy characters to enslave all the colonies in Europe, Asia, and America, and, indeed, all nations, to the omnipotence of the British Parliament and its royal navy!
The act of Parliament of the 7th and 8th of King William III. was produced, chapter 22d: “An act for preventing frauds, and regulating abuses in the plantation trade.” I wish I could transcribe this whole statute, and that which precedes it: “An act for the encouragement of seamen.” But who would read them? Yet it behoves our young and old yeomen, mechanics, and laborers, philosophers, politicians, legislators, and merchants to read them. However tedious and painful it may be for you to read, or me to transcribe any part of these dull statutes, we must endure the task, or we shall never understand the American Revolution. Recollect and listen to the preamble of this statute, of the 7th and 8th of William III. chapter 22d.
“Whereas, notwithstanding divers acts made for the encouragement of the navigation of this kingdom, and for the better securing and regulating the plantation trade, more especially one act of Parliament made in the 12th year of the reign of the late King Charles II., intituled an act for the increasing of shipping and navigation; another act, made in the 15th year of the reign of his said late Majesty, intituled an act for the encouragement of trade, another act, made in the 22d and 23d years of his said late Majesty’s reign, intituled an act to prevent the planting of tobacco in England, and for regulation of the plantation trade; another act, made in the 25th year of the reign of his said late Majesty, intituled an act for the encouragement of the Greenland and Eastland fisheries, and for the better securing the plantation trade great abuses are daily committed, to the prejudice of the English navigation and the loss of a great part of the plantation trade to this kingdom by the artifice and cunning of ill-disposed persons; for remedy whereof for the future,” &c.
Will you be so good, Sir, as to pause a moment on this preamble? To what will you liken it? Does it resemble a great, rich, powerful West India planter, Alderman Beckford, for example, preparing and calculating and writing instructions for his overseers? “You are to have no regard to the health, strength, comfort, natural affections, or moral feelings, or intellectual endowments of my negroes. You are only to consider what subsistence to allow them, and what labor to exact of them will subserve my interest. According to the most accurate calculation I can make, the proportion of subsistence and labor, which will work them up, in six years upon an average, is the most profitable to the planter. And this allowance, surely, is very humane; for we estimate here the lives of our coal-heavers upon an average at only two years, and our fifty thousand girls of the town at three years at most. And our soldiers and seamen no matter what.”
Is there, Mr. Tudor, in this preamble, or in any statute of Great Britain, in the whole book, the smallest consideration of the health, the comfort, the happiness, the wealth, the growth, the population, the agriculture, the manufactures, the commerce, the fisheries of the American people? All these things are to be sacrificed to British wealth, British commerce, British domination, and the British navy, as the great engine and instrument to accomplish all. To be sure, they were apt scholars of their master, Tacitus, whose fundamental and universal principle of philosophy, religion, morality, and policy was, that all nations and all things were to be sacrificed to the grandeur of Rome. Oh! my fellow-citizens, that I had the voice of an archangel to warn you against these detestable principles. The world was not made for you; you were made for the world. Be content with your own rights. Never usurp those of others. What would be the merit and the fortune of a nation that should never do or suffer wrong?
The purview of this statute was in the same spirit with the preamble. Pray read it! Old as you are, you are not so old as I am, and I assure you I have conquered my natural impatience so far as to read it again, after almost sixty years acquaintance with it, in all its horrid deformity.
Every artifice is employed to ensure a rigorous, a severe, a cruel execution of this system of tyranny. The religion, the morality, of all plantation governors, of all naval commanders, of all custom-house officers, if they had any, and all men have some, were put in requisition by the most solemn oaths. Their ambition was enlisted by the forfeiture of their offices; their avarice was secured by the most tempting penalties and forfeitures, to be divided among them. Fine picking, to be sure! Even the lowest, the basest informers were to be made gentlemen of fortune!
I must transcribe one section of this detestable statute, and leave you to read the rest; I can transcribe no more.
The sixth section of this benign law of our glorious deliverer, King William, is as follows:
Section 6. “And for the more effectual preventing of frauds and regulating abuses in the plantation trade in America, be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that all ships coming into, or going out of any of the said plantations, and lading, or unlading any goods or commodities, whether the same be his Majesty’s ships of war or merchant ships, and the masters and commanders thereof, and their ladings, shall be subject and liable to the same rules, visitations, searches, penalties, and forfeitures, as to the entering, landing, and discharging their respective ships and ladings, as ships and their ladings, and the commanders and masters of ships, are subject and liable unto in this kingdom by virtue of an act of Parliament made in the fourteenth vear of the reign of King Charles II, intituled an act for preventing frauds and regulating abuses in his Majesty’s customs. And that the officers for collecting and managing his Majesty’s revenue, and inspecting the plantation trade, and in any of the said plantations, shall have the same powers and authorities, for visiting and searching of ships, and taking their entries, and for seizing and securing, or bringing on shore any of the goods prohibited to be imported or exported into or out of any the said plantations, or for which any duties are payable, or ought to have been paid, by any of the before mentioned acts, as are provided for the officers of the customs in England by the said last mentioned act, made in the fourteenth year of the reign of King Charles II.; and also to enter houses or warehouses, to search for and seize any such goods, and that all the wharfingers, and owners of keys and wharves, or any lightermen, bargemen, watermen, porters, or other persons assisting in the conveyance, concealment, or rescue of any of the said goods, or in the hindering or resistance of any of the said officers in the performance of their duty, and the boats, barges, lighters, or other vessels employed in the conveyance of such goods, shall be subject to the like pains and penalties, as are provided by the same act, made in the fourteenth year of the reign of King Charles II., in relation to prohibited or unaccustomed goods in this kingdom: and that “the like assistance” shall be given to the said officers in the execution of their office, as by the said last mentioned act is provided for the officers in England; and, also, that the said officers shall be subject to the same penalties and forfeitures, for any corruptions, frauds, connivances, or concealments, in violation of any the before mentioned laws, as any officers of the customs in England are liable to, by virtue of the last mentioned act, and, also, that in case any officer or officers in the plantations shall be seized or molested for any thing done in the execution of their office, the said officer shall and may plead the general issue, and shall give this or other custom-acts in evidence, and the judge to allow thereof, have and enjoy the like privileges and advantages, as are allowed by law to the officers of his Majesty’s customs in England.”
Could it be pretended, that the superior court of judicature, court of assize, and general gaol delivery in the province of Massachusetts Bay, had all the powers of the court of exchequer in England, and consequently could issue warrants like his Majesty’s court of exchequer in England? No custom-house officer dared to say this, or to instruct his counsel to say it. It is true, this court was invested with all the powers of the courts of king’s bench, common pleas, and exchequer in England. But this was by a law of the province, made by the provincial legislature, by virtue of the powers vested in them by the charter.
Otis called and called in vain for their warrant from “his Majesty’s court of exchequer.” They had none, and they could have none from England, and they dared not say, that Hutchinson’s court was “his Majesty’s court of exchequer.” Hutchinson himself dared not say it. The principle would have been fatal to parliamentary pretensions.
This is the second and the last time, I believe, that the word “assistance” is employed in any of these statutes. But the words, “writs of assistance,” were nowhere to be found; in no statute, no law-book, no volume of entries; neither in Rastell, Coke, or Fitzherbert, nor even in Instructor Clericalis, or Burn’s Justice. Where, then, was it to be found? Nowhere but in the imagination or invention of Boston custom-house officers, royal governors, West India planters, or naval commanders.
It was indeed a farce. The crown, by its agents, accumulated construction upon construction, and inference upon inference, as the giants heaped Pelion upon Ossa. I hope it is not impious or profane to compare Otis to Ovid’s Jupiter. But
He dashed this whole building to pieces, and scattered the pulverized atoms to the four winds; and no judge, lawyer, or crown officer dared to say, why do you so? They were all reduced to total silence.
In plain English, by cool, patient comparison of phraseology of these statutes, their several provisions, the dates of their enactments, the privileges of our charters, the merits of the colonists, &c., he showed the pretensions to introduce the revenue acts, and this arbitrary and mechanical writ of assistance, as an instrument for the execution of them, to be so irrational; by his wit he represented the attempt as so ludicrous and ridiculous, and by his dignified reprobation of so impudent an attempt to impose on the people of America, he raised such a storm of indignation, that even Hutchinson, who had been appointed on purpose to sanction this writ, dared not utter a word in its favor; and Mr. Gridley himself seemed to me to exult inwardly at the glory and triumph of his pupil.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 11 August, 1818.
The “Defence of the New England Charters” by Jer. Dummer, is both for style and matter one of our most classical American productions. “The feelings, the manners, and principles which produced the Revolution,” appear in as vast abundance in this work as in any that I have read. This beautiful composition ought to be reprinted, and read by every American who has learned to read. In pages 30 and 31, this statute of 7th and 8th of King William, chapter 22, section 9th, is quoted, “All laws, by-laws, usages, or customs, at this time, or which hereafter shall be in practice, or endeavored or pretended to be in force or practice in any of the plantations, which are in any wise repugnant to the before mentioned laws or any of them, so far as they do relate to the said plantations, or any of them, or which are any wise repugnant to this present act, or any other law hereafter to be made in this kingdom, so far as such law shall relate to and mention the plantations, are illegal, null and void to all intents and purposes whatsoever.” This passage Mr. Otis quoted, with a very handsome eulogium of the author and his book. He quoted it for the sake of the rule established in it by Parliament itself for the construction of his own statutes. And he contended that by this rule there could be no pretence for extending writs of assistance to this country. He also alluded to many other passages in this work, very applicable to his purpose, which any man who reads it must perceive, but which I have not time to transcribe.
If you, or your inquisitive and ingenious son, or either of my sons or grandsons or great-grandsons, should ever think of these things, it may not be improper to transcribe from a marginal note at the end of this statute, an enumeration of the “Further provisions concerning plantations.”1
The vigilance of the crown officers and their learned counsel on one side, and that of merchants, patriots, and their counsel on the other, produced every thing in any of these statutes which could favor their respective arguments. It would not only be ridiculous in me, but culpable to pretend to recollect all that were produced. Such as I distinctly remember, I will endeavour to introduce to your remembrance and reflections.
Molasses, or melasses, or molosses, for by all these names they are designated in the statutes. By the statute of the second year of our glorious deliverers, King William and Queen Mary, session second, chapter four, section 35. “For every hundred weight of molosses, containing one hundred and twelve pounds, imported from any other place than the English plantations in America, eight shillings over and above what the same is charged with in the book of rates.”
The next statute that I recollect at present to have been introduced upon that occasion, was the 6th of George II., chapter 13, “An act for the better securing and encouraging the trade of his Majesty’s sugar colonies in America.”
Cost what it will, I must transcribe the first section of this statute, with all its parliamentary verbiage. I hope some of my fellow-citizens of the present or some future age will ponder it.
“Whereas, the welfare and prosperity of your Majesty’s sugar colonies in America are of the greatest consequence and importance to the trade, navigation, and strength of this kingdom; and whereas, the planters of the said sugar colonies have of late years fallen under such great discouragements, that they are unable to improve or carry on the sugar trade upon an equal footing with the foreign sugar colonies, without some advantage and relief be given to them from Great Britain. For remedy whereof, and for the good and welfare of your Majesty’s subjects, we, your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the commons of Great Britain, assembled in Parliament, have given and granted unto your Majesty the several and respective rates and duties hereinafter mentioned, and in such manner and form as is hereinafter expressed; and do most humbly beseech your Majesty that it may be enacted, and be it enacted by the king’s most excellent Majesty, by and with the consent of the lords spiritual and temporal, and commons in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that from and after the twenty-fifth day of December, one thousand seven hundred and thirty-three, there shall be raised, levied, collected, and paid, unto and for the use of his Majesty, his heirs and successors, upon all rum or spirits of the produce or manufacture of any of the colonies or plantations in America, not in the possession or under the dominion of his Majesty, his heirs and successors, which at any time or times, within or during the continuance of this act, shall be imported or brought into any of the colonies or plantations in America, which now are or hereafter may be, in the possession or under the dominion of his Majesty, his heirs or successors, the sum of ninepence, money of Great Britain, to be paid according to the proportion and value of five shillings and sixpence the ounce in silver, for every gallon thereof, and after that rate for any greater or lesser quantity, and upon all molasses or syrups of such foreign produce or manufacture, as aforesaid, which shall be imported or brought into any of the said colonies of or belonging to his Majesty the sum of sixpence of like money for every gallon thereof, and after that rate for any greater or lesser quantity; and upon all sugars and paneles of such foreign growth, produce, or manufacture, as aforesaid, which shall be imported into any of the said colonies or plantations of or belonging to his Majesty, a duty after the rate of five shillings of like money for every hundred weight avoirdupois of the said sugar and paneles, and after that rate for a greater or lesser quantity.”
Now, Sir, will you be pleased to read Judge Minot’s History, vol. ii., from page 137 to 140, ending with these words; “But the strongest apprehensions arose from the publication of the orders for the strict execution of the molasses act, which is said to have caused a greater alarm in the country, than the taking of Fort William Henry did in the year 1757.” This I fully believe, and certainly know to be true; for I was an eye and an ear witness to both of these alarms. Wits may laugh at our fondness for molasses, and we ought all to join in the laugh with as much good humor as General Lincoln did. General Washington, however, always asserted and proved, that Virginians loved molasses as well as New Englandmen did. I know not why we should blush to confess that molasses was an essential ingredient in American independence. Many great events have proceeded from much smaller causes.
Mr. Otis demonstrated how these articles of molasses and sugar, especially the former, entered into all and every branch of our commerce, fisheries, even manufactures and agriculture. He asserted this act to be a revenue law, a taxation law, made by a foreign legislature without our consent, and by a legislature who had no feeling for us, and whose interest prompted them to tax us to the quick. Pray, Mr. Tudor, calculate the amount of these duties upon molasses and sugar. What an enormous revenue for that age! Mr. Otis made a calculation, and showed it to be more than sufficient to support all the crown officers.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 16 August, 1818.
We cannot yet dismiss this precious statute of the 6th of George II. chapter 13.
The second section I must abridge, for I cannot transcribe much more. It enacts, that all the duties imposed by the first section, shall be paid down in ready money by the importer before landing.
The third section must be transcribed by me or some other person, because it is the most arbitrary among statutes that were all arbitrary, the most unconstitutional among laws which were all unconstitutional.
Section 3d. “And be it further enacted, that in case any of the said commodities shall be landed, or put on shore in any of his Majesty’s said colonies or plantations in America, out of any ship or vessel before due entry be made thereof, at the port or place where the same shall be imported, and before the duties by this act charged or chargeable thereupon, shall be duly paid, or without a warrant for the landing and delivering the same, first signed by the collector or impost officer, or other proper officer or officers of the custom or excise, belonging to such port or place respectively, all such goods as shall be so landed or put on shore, or the value of the same, shall be forfeited; and all and every such goods as shall be so landed or put on shore, contrary to the true intent and meaning of this act, shall, and may be seized by the governor or commander-in-chief, for the time being, of the colonies or plantations, where the same shall be so landed or put on shore, or any person or persons by them authorized in that behalf, or by warrant of any justice of the peace or other magistrate, (which warrant such justice or magistrate is hereby empowered and required to give upon request,) or by any custom-house officer, impost, or excise officer or any person or persons him or them accompanying, aiding, and assisting; and all and every such offence and forfeitures shall, and may be prosecuted for and recovered in any court of admiralty in his Majesty’s colonies or plantations in America, (which court of admiralty is hereby authorized, impowered, and required to proceed to hear, and finally determine the same,) or in any court ofrecord in the said colonies or plantations, where such offence is committed, at the election of the informer or prosecutor, according to the course and method used and practised there in prosecutions for offences against penal laws relating to customs or excise, and such penalties and forfeitures so recovered there shall be divided as follows,—namely, one third part for the use of his Majesty, his heirs and successors, to be applied for the support of the government of the colony or plantation, where the same shall be recovered, one third part to the governor or commander-in-chief of the said colony or plantation, and the other third part to the informer or prosecutor, who shall sue for the same.”
Section 5th contains the penalties on persons assisting in such unlawful importation.
Section 6th. “Fifty pound penalty on molesting an officer on his duty. Officer, if sued, may plead the general issue. Fifty pound penalty, an officer conniving at such fraudulent importation.
Section 7th. “One hundred pound penalty, on master of ship, &c., permitting such importation.
Section 8th. “The onus probandi in suits to lie on the owners.
Section 12th. “Charge of prosecution to be borne out of the king’s part of seizures, forfeitures, and penalties.”
George II. was represented and believed in America to be an honest, well-meaning man; and although he consented to this statute and others which he thought sanctioned by his predecessors, especially King William, yet it was reported and understood that he had uniformly resisted the importunities of ministers, governors, planters, and projectors, to induce him to extend the system of taxation and revenue in America, by saying, that “he did not understand the colonies; he wished their prosperity. They appeared to be happy at present; and he would not consent to any innovations, the consequences of which he could not foresee.”
Solomon, in all his glory, could not have said a wiser thing. If George III. had adopted this sentiment, what would now be the state of the world? Who can tell, or who can conjecture?
The question now was concerning the designs of a new reign and of a new prince. This young king had now adopted the whole system of his predecessors, Stuarts, Oranges, and Hanoverians, and determined to carry it into execution, right or wrong; and that, by the most tyrannical instruments that ever were invented—writs of assistance. What hope remained for an American who knew, or imagined he knew, the character of the English nation and the character of the American people? To borrow a French word, so many reminiscences rush upon me, that I know not which to select, and must return for the present to Mr. Otis. By what means this young inexperienced king was first tempted by his ministers to enter with so much spirit into this system, may be hereafter explained.
Mr. Otis analyzed this statute, 6 George II. c. 13, with great accuracy. His calculations may be made by any modern mathematician who will take the pains. How much molasses, for example, was then subject to this tax? Suppose a million gallons, which is far less than the truth. Sixpence a gallon was full one half of the value of the article. It was sold at market for one shilling; and I have known a cargo purchased at a pistareen. The duties on a million gallons would then be twenty-five thousand pounds sterling a year; a fund amply sufficient with the duties on sugars, &c., and more than sufficient, at that time, to pay all the salaries of all the governors upon the continent, and all judges of admiralty too.
Mr. King, formerly of Massachusetts, now of New York, in a late luminous and masterly speech in Senate, page 18, informs us, from sure sources, that “we import annually upwards of six million gallons of West India rum.” The Lord have mercy on us! “More than half of which comes from the English colonies. We also import every year nearly seven millions of gallons of molasses; and as every gallon of molasses yields, by distillation, a gallon of rum, the rum imported, added to that distilled from molasses, is probably equal to twelve millions of gallons, which enormous quantity is chiefly consumed, besides whiskey, by citizens of the United States.” Again, I devoutly pray, the Lord have mercy on us!
But calculate the revenue, at this day, from this single act of George II. It would be sufficient to bribe any nation less knowing and less virtuous than the people of America, to the voluntary surrender of all their liberties.
Mr. Otis asserted this to be a revenue law; a taxation law; an unconstitutional law; a law subversive of every end of society and government; it was null and void. It was a violation of all the rights of nature, of the English Constitution, and of all the charters and compacts with the colonies; and if carried into execution by writs of assistance and courts of admiralty, would destroy all security of life, liberty, and property. Subjecting all these laws to the jurisdiction of judges of admiralty, poor dependent creatures, to the forms and course of the civil law, without juries, or any of the open, noble examination of witnesses or publicity of proceedings of the common law, was capping the climax, it was clenching the nail of American slavery.
Mr. Otis roundly asserted, that this statute, and the preceding statute, never could be executed. The whole power of Great Britain would be ineffectual; and by a bold figure, which will now be thought exaggeration, he declared that if the King of Great Britain in person were encamped on Boston common, at the head of twenty thousand men, with all his navy on our coast, he would not be able to execute these laws. They would be resisted or eluded.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 21 August, 1818.
Mr. Otis quoted another author, “The Political and Commercial Works of Charles Davenant, LL. D.” vol. ii. Discourse 3. “On the Plantation Trade.” I cannot transcribe seventy-six pages, but wish that Americans of all classes would read them. They are in the same strain with Downing, Child, Gee, Ashley, Charles II., James II., William and Mary, William III., Anne, George II., and George III.; all conspiring to make the people of North America hewers of wood and drawers of water to plantation governors, custom-house officers, judges of admiralty, common informers, West India planters, naval commanders, in the first place; and, after all these worthy people should be amply supported, nourished, encouraged, and pampered, if any thing more could be squeezed from the hard earnings of the farmers, the merchants, the tradesmen, and laborers in America, it was to be drawn into the exchequer in England, to aggrandize the British navy.
Mr. Otis proceeded to another species of statutes, relative to our internal policy, even our domestic manufactures and fireside comforts; I might say, our homespun blankets and woollen sheets, so necessary to cover some, if not all of us, in our slumbers in the long nights of our frozen winters. I shall refer to these statutes as they occur, without any regard to order, and shall not pretend to transcribe any of them.1
I cannot search for any more of these mincing laws. Mr. Otis alternately laughed and raged against them all. He said one member of Parliament had said, that a hobnail should not be manufactured in America; and another had moved that Americans should be compelled by act of Parliament to send their horses to England to be shod. He believed, however, that this last was a man of sense, and meant, by this admirable irony, to cast a ridicule on the whole selfish, partial, arbitrary, and contracted system of parliamentary regulations in America.
Another statute there is, and was quoted by Mr. Otis, by which wool was prohibited to be water-borne in America; in consequence of which a fleece of wool could not be conveyed in a canoe across a river or brook, without seizure and forfeiture. But I am wearied to death by digging in this mud; with searching among this trash, chaff, rubbish of acts of Parliament; of that Parliament which declared it had a right to legislate for us, as sovereign, absolute, and supreme, in all cases whatsoever. But I deny that they ever had any right to legislate for us in any case whatsoever. And on this point we are and were at issue before God and the world. These righteous judges have decided the question; and it is melancholy that any Americans should still doubt the equity and wisdom of the decision.
Such were the bowels of compassion, such the tender mercies of our pious, virtuous, our moral and religious mother country towards her most dutiful and affectionate children! Such they are still, and such they will be till the United States shall compel that country to respect this. To this end, poor and destitute as I am, I would cheerfully contribute double my proportion of the expense of building and equipping thirty ships of the line, before the year 1820.
Mr. Otis asserted all these acts to be null and void by the law of nature, by the English constitution, and by the American charters, because America was not represented in Parliament. He entered into the history of the charters. James I. and Charles I. could not be supposed to have ever intended that Parliament, more hated by them both than the Pope or the French King, should share with them in the government of colonies and corporations which they had instituted by their royal prerogatives. “Tom, Dick, and Harry were not to censure them and their council.” Pym, Hampden, Sir Harry Vane, and Oliver Cromwell did not surely wish to subject a country, which they sought as an asylum, to the arbitrary jurisdiction of a country from which they wished to fly. Charles II. had learned by dismal, doleful experience, that Parliaments were not to be wholly despised. He, therefore, endeavored to associate Parliament with himself in his navigation act, and many others of his despotic projects, even in that of destroying, by his unlimited licentiousness and debauchery, the moral character of the nation. Charles II. courted Parliament as a mistress; his successors embraced her as a wife, at least for the purpose of enslaving America.
Mr. Otis roundly asserted this whole system of parliamentary regulations, and every act of Parliament before quoted, to be illegal, unconstitutional, tyrannical, null, and void. Nevertheless, with all my admiration of Mr. Otis, and enthusiasm for his character, I must acknowledge he was not always consistent in drawing or admitting the necessary consequences from his principles, one of which comprehended them all. to wit, that Parliament had no authority over America in any case whatsoever.
But at present we must confine ourselves to his principles and authorities in opposition to the acts of trade and writs of assistance. These principles I perfectly remember. The authorities in detail I could not be supposed to retain; though with recollecting the names, Vattel, Coke, and Holt, I might have found them again by a diligent search. But Mr. Otis himself has saved that trouble, by a publication of his own, which must be the subject of another letter.1
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 10 September, 1818.
The charters were quoted or alluded to by Mr. Otis frequently in the whole course of his argument; but he made them also a more distinct and more solemn head of his discourse. And here, these charters ought to be copied verbatim. But an immense verbiage renders it impossible. Bishop Butler somewhere complains of this enormous abuse of words in public transactions, and John Read and Theophilus Parsons, of Massachusetts, have attempted to reform it. So did James Otis. All with little success. I hope, however, that their examples will be followed, and that common sense in common language will, in time, become fashionable. But the hope must be faint as long as clerks are paid by the line and the number of syllables in a line.
Some passages of these charters must, however, be quoted; and I will endeavor to strip them, as well as I can, of their useless words. They are recited in the charter of King William and Queen Mary, dated the seventh day of October, in the third year of their reign, that is, in 1691.
“Whereas King James I., in the eighteenth year of his reign, did grant to the Council at Plymouth, for the planting and governing New England, all that part of America, from the 40th to the 48th degree of latitude, and from sea to sea together with all lands, waters, fishings, and all and singular other commodities, jurisdictions, royalties, privileges, tranchises, and preeminences, both within the said tract of land upon the main, and also within the islands and seas adjoining, to have and hold all, unto the said council, their heirs and successors and assigns forever, to be holden of his said Majesty as of his manor of East Greenwich, in free and common socage, and not in capite, or by knights’ service; yielding to the king a fifth part of the ore of gold and silver, for and in respect of all and all manner of duties, demands, and services whatsoever.”
But I cannot pursue to the end this infinite series of words. You must read the charter again. For although you have and I have read it fifty times, I believe you will find it, as I do, much stronger in favor of Mr. Otis’s argument than I expected or you will expect. I doubt whether you will take the pains to read it again; but your son will, and to him I recommend it.
The Council of Plymouth, on the 19th of March, in the third year of the reign of Charles I., granted to Sir Henry Rosewell and others, part of New England by certain boundaries, with all the prerogatives and privileges.
King Charles I., on the 4th of March, in the fourth year of his reign, confirmed to Sir Henry Rosewell and others, all those lands before granted to them by the Council of Plymouth. King Charles I. created Sir Henry Rosewell and others, a body corporate and politic. And said body politic did settle a colony, which became very populous.
In 1684, in the 36th year of King William and Queen Mary’s dearest uncle, Charles II., a judgment was given in the court of chancery, that the letters-patent of Charles I. should be cancelled, vacated, and annihilated.
The agents petitioned to be reincorporated. I can easily conceive their perplexity, their timidity, their uncertainty, their choice of difficulties, their necessary preference of the least of a multitude of evils, for I have felt them all as keenly as they did.
William and Mary unite Massachusetts, New Plymouth, the Province of Maine and Nova Scotia into one province, to be holden in fee of the manor of East Greenwich, paying one fifth of gold and silver ore.
Liberty of conscience to be granted to all Christians, except papists. Good God! A grant from a king of liberty of conscience! Is it not a grant of the King of kings, which no puppet or roitelet upon earth can give or take away?
The general court empowered to erect judicatories and courts of record. The general court empowered to make laws, “not repugnant to the laws of England.” Here was an unfathomable gulf of controversy. The grant itself, of liberty of conscience, was repugnant to the laws of England. Every thing was repugnant to the laws of England. The whole system of colonization was beyond the limits of the laws of England, and beyond the jurisdiction of their national legislature. The general court is authorized to impose fines, &c., and taxes.
But the fell paragraph of all is the proviso in these words:—
“Provided always, and it is hereby declared, that nothing herein shall extend or to be taken to erect or grant, or allow the exercise of any admiralty court jurisdiction, power, or authority; but that the same shall be, and is hereby reserved to us and our successors, and shall from time to time be erected, granted, and exercised by virtue of commissions to be issued under the great seal of England, or under the seal of the high admiral, or the commissioners for executing the office of high admiral of England”
The history of this court of admiralty would require volumes. Where are its records and its files? Its libels and answers? Its interrogatories and cross-interrogatories? All hurried away to England, as I suppose, never to be seen again in America, nor probably to be inspected in Europe.
The records and files of the court of probate in Boston were transported to Halifax. Judge Foster Hutchinson had the honor to return them after the peace of 1783. But admiralty records have never been restored, as I have heard.
The subject may be pursued hereafter by your servant,
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 13 September, 1818.
It is some consolation to find in the paragraph of the charter, next following the court of admiralty, that nothing in it
“shall in any manner enure, or be taken to abridge, bar, or hinder any of our loving subjects whatsoever to use and exercise the trade of fishing upon the coasts of New England, but that they and every of them shall have full and free power and liberty to continue and use their said trade of fishing upon the said coast, in any of the seas thereunto adjoining, or any arms of the said seas, or salt water rivers, where they have been wont to fish, and to build and set upon the lands within our said province or colony, lying waste, and not then possessed by particular proprietors, such wharfs, stages, and work-houses, as shall be necessary for the salting, drying, keeping, and packing of their fish, to be taken and gotten upon that coast; and to cut down and take such trees and other materials there growing or being upon any parts or places lying waste, and not then in possession of particular proprietors, as shall be needful for that purpose, and for all other necessary easements, helps, and advantages, concerning the trade of fishing there, in such manner and form as they have been heretofore at any time accustomed to do, without making any wilful waste or spoil, any thing in these presents to the contrary notwithstanding.”
Fellow-citizens! Recollect that “this our province or colony” contained the whole of Nova Scotia as well as the “Province of Maine, Massachusetts Bay, and New Plymouth.” Will you ever surrender one particle, one iota of this sacred charter right, and still more sacred right of nature, purchase, acquisition, possession, usage, habit, and conquest, let the thunder of British cannon say what it will? I know you will not. I know you cannot. And if you could be base enough to surrender it, which I know you cannot and never will be, your sons will reclaim it and redemand it at the price of whatever blood or treasure it may cost, and will obtain it, secure it, and command it forever. This pretended grant is but an acknowledgment of your antecedent right by nature and by English liberty. You have no power or authority to alienate it. It was granted, or rather acknowledged to your successors and posterity as well as to you, and any cessions you could make would be null and void in the sight of God and all reasonable men.
Mr. Otis descanted largely on these charters. His observations carried irresistible conviction to the minds and hearts of many others as well as to mine, that every one of those statutes from the navigation act to the last act of trade, was a violation of all the charters and compacts between the two countries, was a fundamental invasion of our essential rights, and was consequently null and void; that the legislatures of the colonies, and especially of Massachusetts, had the sole and exclusive authority of legislation and especially of taxation in America.
The indecision and inconsistency, which appears in some of Mr. Otis’s subsequent writings is greatly to be regretted and lamented. They resemble those of Colonel Bland, as represented by Mr. Wirt. I wish I had Colonel Bland’s pamphlet that I might compare it with some of Mr. Otis’s.
I have too many daily proofs of the infirmity of my memory to pretend to recollect Mr. Otis’s reasoning in detail. If, indeed, I had a general recollection of any of his positions, I could not express them in that close, concise, nervous, and energetic language, which was peculiar to him, and which I never possessed.
I must leave you, Sir, to make your own observations and reflections upon these charters. But you may indulge me in throwing out a few hints, rather as queries or topics of speculation than as positive opinions. And here, though I see a wide field, I must make it narrow.
1. Mr. Bollan was a kind of learned man, of indefatigable research, and a faithful friend to America; though he lost all his influence when his father-in-law, Governor and General Shirley, went out of circulation. This Mr. Bollan printed a book very early on the “Rights of the Colonies.” I scarcely ever knew a book so deeply despised. The English reviewers would not allow it to be the production of a rational creature. In America itself it was held in no esteem. Otis himself expressed in the House of Representatives, in a public speech, his contempt of it in these words: “Mr. Bollan’s book is the strangest thing I ever read. Under the title of ‘Rights of the Colonies,’ he has employed one third of his work to prove that the world is round; and another, that it turns round; and the last, that the Pope was a devil for pretending to give it to whom he pleased.”
All this I regretted. I wished that Bollan had not only been permitted, but encouraged to proceed. There is no doubt he would have produced much in illustration of the ecclesiastical and political superstition and despotism of the ages when colonization commenced and proceeded. But Bollan was discouraged, and ceased from his labors.
What is the idea, Mr. Tudor, of British allegiance? And of European allegiance? Can you, or, rather, will you analyze it? At present, I have demands upon me, which compel me to close abruptly.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 18 September, 1818.
The English doctrine of allegiance is so mysterious, fabulous, and enigmatical, that it is difficult to decompose the elements of which it is compounded. The priests, under the Hebrew economy, especially the sovereign pontiffs, were anointed with consecrated oil, which was poured upon their heads in such profusion that it ran down their beards, and they were thence called “the Lord’s anointed.” When kings were permitted to be introduced, they were anointed in the same manner by the sovereign pontiff; and they, too, were called “the Lord’s anointed.” When the pontiffs of Rome assumed the customs, pomps, and ceremonies of the Jewish priesthood, they assumed the power of consecrating things by the same ceremony of “holy oil.” The Pope who, as vicar of God, possessed the whole globe of earth in supreme dominion and absolute property, possessed also the power of sending the Holy Ghost wherever he pleased. To France it pleased his holiness to send him in a phial of oil to Rheims, in the beak of a dove. I have not heard, that my friend, Louis XVIII. has been consecrated at Rheims, by the pouring on of this holy oil; but his worthy elder brother, Louis XVI., was so consecrated at a vast expense of treasure and ridicule. How the holy bottle was conveyed to England, is worth inquiry. But there it is, and is used at every coronation; and is demurely, if not devoutly, shown to every traveller who visits the tower. These ideas were once as firmly established in England as they were in Rome; and no small quantity of the relics of them remain to this day. Hence the doctrine of the divine right of kings, and the duties, in subjects, of unlimited submission, passive obedience, and non-resistance, on pain (oh, how can I write it?) of eternal damnation. These doctrines have been openly and boldly asserted and defended, since my memory, in the town of Boston and in the town of Quincy, by persons of no small consideration in the world, whom I could name, but I will not, because their posterity are much softened from this severity.
This indelible character of sovereignty in kings and obedience in subjects still remains. The rights and duties are inherent, unalienable, indefeasible, indestructible, and immortal. Hence the right of a lieutenant or midshipman of a British man-of-war to search all American ships, impress every seaman his judgeship shall decree, by law, and in fact, to be a subject of his king, and compel him to fight, though it may be against his father, brother, or son. My countrymen! Will you submit to those miserable remnants of priestcraft and despotism?
There is no principle of law or government, that has been more deliberately or more solemnly adjudged in Great Britain than that allegiance is not due to the king in his official capacity or political capacity, but merely in his personal capacity. Allegiance to Parliament is nowhere found in English, Scottish, or British laws. What, then, had our ancestors to do with Parliament? Nothing more than with the Jewish Sanhedrim, or Napoleon’s literary and scientific Institute at Grand Cairo. They owed no allegiance to Parliament, as a whole or in parts; none to the House of Lords, as a branch of the legislature, nor to any individual peer or number of individuals; none to the House of Commons, as another branch, nor to any individual commoner or group of commoners. They owed no allegiance to the nation, any more than the nation owed to them; and they had as good and clear a right to make laws for England, as the people of England had to make laws for them.
What right, then, had King James I. to the sovereignty, dominion, or property of North America? No more than King George III. has to Georgium sidus, because Mr. Herschell discovered that planet in his reign. His only color, pretension, or pretext is this. The Pope, as head of the church, was sovereign of the world. Henry VIII. deposed him, became head of the church in England, and consequently became sovereign master and proprietor of as much of the globe as he could grasp. A group of his nobles hungered for immense landed estates in America, and obtained from his quasi holiness a large tract. But it was useless and unprofitable to them. They must have planters and settlers. The sincere and conscientious Protestants had been driven from England into Holland, Germany, Switzerland, &c., by the terrors of stocks, pillories, croppings, scourges, imprisonments, roastings, and burnings, under Henry VIII., Elizabeth, Mary, James I., and Charles I. The noblemen and gentlemen of the council of Plymouth wanted settlers for their lands in America, set on foot a negotiation with the persecuted fugitive religionists abroad, promised them liberty of conscience, exemption from all jurisdiction, ecclesiastic, civil, and political, except allegiance to the king, and the tribute, moderate, surely, of one fifth of gold and silver ore. This charter was procured by the council at Plymouth, and displayed off as a lure to the persecuted, fugitive Englishmen abroad; and they were completely taken into the snare, as Charles II. convinced them in the first year of his actual, and the twelfth of his imaginary reign. Sir Josiah Child, enemy as he was, has stated, in the paragraphs quoted from him in a former letter, fairly and candidly the substance of these facts.
Our ancestors had been so long abroad, that they had acquired comfortable establishments, especially in Holland, that singular region of toleration, that glorious asylum for persecuted Huguenots and Puritans, that country where priests have been eternally worrying one another, and alternately teasing the government to persecute their antagonists, but where enlightened statesmen have constantly and intrepidly resisted their wild fanaticism.
The first charter, the charter of James I., is more like a treaty between independent sovereigns than like a charter or grant of privileges from a sovereign to his subjects. Our ancestors were tempted by the prospect and promise of a government of their own, independent in religion, government, commerce, manufactures, and every thing else, excepting one or two articles of trifling importance.
Independence of English church and state, was the fundamental principle of the first colonization, has been its general principle for two hundred years, and now, I hope, is past dispute.
Who, then, was the author, inventor, discoverer of independence? The only true answer must be the first emigrants, and the proof of it is the charter of James I. When we say, that Otis, Adams, Mayhew, Henry, Lee, Jefferson, &c., were authors of independence, we ought to say they were only awakeners and revivers of the original fundamental principle of colonization.
TO WILLIAM TUDOR.
Quincy, 23 September, 1818.
If, in our search of principles, we have not been able to investigate any moral, philosophical, or rational foundation for any claim of dominion or property in America, in the English nation, their Parliament, or even in their king; if the whole appears a mere usurpation of fiction, fancy, and superstition, what was the right to dominion or property in the native Indians?
Shall we say that a few handfuls of scattering tribes of savages have a right of dominion and property over a quarter of this globe capable of nourishing hundreds of millions of happy human beings? Why had not Europeans a right to come and hunt and fish with them?
The Indians had a right to life, liberty, and property in common with all men; but what right to dominion or property beyond these? Every Indian had a right to his wigwam, his armor, his utensils; when he had burned the woods about him, and planted his corn and beans, his squashes and pompions, all these were his undoubted right; but will you infer from this, that he had right of exclusive dominion and property over immense regions of uncultivated wilderness that he never saw, that he might have the exclusive privilege of hunting and fishing in them, which he himself never expected or hoped to enjoy?
These reflections appear to have occurred to our ancestors, and their general conduct was regulated by them. They do not seem to have had any confidence in their charter, as conveying any right, except against the king who signed it. They considered the right to be in the native Indians. And, in truth, all the right there was in the case lay there. They accordingly respected the Indian wigwams and poor plantations, their clam-banks and muscle-banks and oyster-banks, and all their property.
Property in land, antecedent to civil society, or the social compact, seems to have been confined to actual possession and power of commanding it. It is the creature of convention, of social laws and artificial order. Our ancestors, however, did not amuse, nor puzzle themselves with these refinements. They considered the Indians as having rights; and they entered into negotiations with them, purchased and paid for their rights and claims, whatever they were, and procured deeds, grants, and quitclaims of all their lands, leaving them their habitations, arms, utensils, fishings, huntings, and plantations. There is scarcely a litigation at law concerning a title to land that may not be traced to an Indian deed. I have in my possession, somewhere, a parchment copy of a deed of Massasoit,1 of the township of Braintree incorporated by the legislature in one thousand six hundred and thirty-nine. And this was the general practice through the country, and has been to this day through the continent. In short, I see not how the Indians could have been treated with more equity or humanity than they have been in general in North America. The histories of Indian wars have not been sufficiently regarded.
When Mr. Hutchinson’s History of Massachusetts Bay first appeared, one of the most common criticisms upon it was the slight, cold, and unfeeling manner in which he passed over the Indian wars. I have heard gentlemen the best informed in the history of the country say, “he had no sympathy for the sufferings of his ancestors. Otherwise he could not have winked out of sight one of the most important, most affecting, afflicting, and distressing branches of the history of his country.”
There is somewhere in existence, as I hope and believe, a manuscript history of Indian wars, written by the Reverend Samuel Niles, of Braintree. Almost sixty years ago, I was an humble acquaintance of this venerable clergyman, then, as I believe, more than fourscore years of age. He asked me many questions, and informed me, in his own house, that he was endeavoring to recollect and commit to writing a history of Indian wars, in his own time, and before it, as far as he could collect information. This history he completed and prepared for the press; but no printer would undertake it, or venture to propose a subscription for its publication. Since my return from Europe, I inquired of his oldest son, the Honorable Samuel Niles, of Braintree, on a visit he made me at my own house, what was become of that manuscript. He laughed, and said it was still safe in the till of a certain trunk; but no encouragement had ever appeared for its publication. Ye liberal Christians! Laugh not at me, nor frown upon me, for thus reviving the memory of your once formidable enemy. I was then no more of a disciple of his theological science than ye are now. But I then revered and still revere the honest, virtuous, and pious man. Fas est et ab hoste doceri. And his memorial of facts might be of great value to this country.1
What infinite pains have been taken and expenses incurred in treaties, presents, stipulated sums of money, instruments of agriculture, education, what dangerous and unwearied labors, to convert these poor, ignorant savages to Christianity! And, alas! with how little success! The Indians are as bigoted to their religion as the Mahometans are to their Koran, the Hindoos to their Shaster, the Chinese to Confucius, the Romans to their saints and angels, or the Jews to Moses and the Prophets. It is a principle of religion, at bottom, which inspires the Indians with such an invincible aversion both to civilization and Christianity. The same principle has excited their perpetual hostilities against the colonists and the independent Americans.
If the English nation, their Parliaments, and all their kings, have appeared to be totally ignorant of all these things, or at least to have vouchsafed no consideration upon them; if we, good, patriotic Americans, have forgotten them, Mr. Otis had not. He enlarged on the merits of our ancestors in undertaking so perilous, arduous, and almost desperate an enterprise, in disforesting bare creation, in conciliating and necessarily contending with Indian natives, in purchasing rather than conquering a quarter of the globe at their own expense, at the sweat of their own brows, at the hazard and sacrifice of their own lives, without the smallest aid, assistance, or comfort from the government of England, or from England itself as a nation; on the contrary, constant jealousy, envy, intrigue against their charter, their religion, and all their privileges. Laud, the pious tyrant, dreaded them, as if he foresaw they would overthrow his religion.
Mr. Otis reproached the nation, parliaments, and kings, with injustice, ungenerosity, ingratitude, cruelty, and perfidy in all their conduct towards this country, in a style of oratory that I never heard equalled in this or any other country.1
THOMAS JEFFERSON TO JOHN ADAMS.
Monticello, 13 November, 1818.
The public papers, my dear friend, announce the fatal event,2 of which your letter of October 20th had given me ominous foreboding. Tried myself in the school of affliction, by the loss of every form of connection which can rive the human heart, I know well, and feel what you have lost, what you have suffered, are suffering, and have yet to endure. The same trials have taught me that, for ills so immeasurable, time and silence are the only medicines. I will not, therefore, by useless condolences open afresh the sluices of your grief, nor, although mingling sincerely my tears with yours, will I say a word more, where words are vain, but that it is of some comfort to us both that the term is not very distant, at which we are to deposit in the same cerement our sorrows and suffering bodies, and to ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost, and whom we shall still love and never lose again. God bless you and support you under your heavy affliction.
TO THOMAS JEFFERSON.
Quincy, 8 December, 1818.
Your letter of November 13th gave great delight, not only by the divine consolation it afforded me under my great affliction, but as it gave me full proof of your restoration to health.
While you live, I seem to have a bank at Monticello, on which I can draw for a letter of friendship and entertainment, when I please.
I know not how to prove, physically, that we shall meet and know each other in a future state; nor does revelation, as I can find, give us any positive assurance of such a felicity. My reasons for believing it, as I do most undoubtedly, are that I cannot conceive such a being could make such a species as the human, merely to live and die on this earth. If I did not believe a future state, I should believe in no God. This universe, this all, this τὸ πᾶν would appear, with all its swelling pomp, a boyish fire-work. And, if there be a future state, why should the Almighty dissolve forever all the tender ties which unite us so delightfully in this world, and forbid us to see each other in the next?
Trumbull, with a band of associates, drew me, by the cords of old friendship, to see his picture, on Saturday, where I got a great cold. The air of Faneuil Hall is changed. I have not been used to catch cold there.
Sick or well, the friendship is the same of your old acquaintance.
[1 ] Mr. Jay’s clear and convincing reply, which set the question at rest forever, is printed in his Life by his son, William Jay, vol. ii. p. 381.
[1 ] This letter is printed in full in the Appendix to vol. ix. of this work.
[1 ] Benjamin Austin was a voluminous writer under these signatures, in the Boston Chronicle, in the early part of the present century, and an active leader of the republican side in politics. He was known during the rest of his life as Honestus, or rather Hony Austin.
[1 ] The copies made of these late letters are often exceedingly defective. There is obviously an omission of some words in the first part of this sentence, which makes the whole of it unintelligible.
[2 ] As the dates exactly coincide, it seems not unlikely that this is the same bar-meeting described in the Diary, vol. ii. p. 142. But that was not connected with politics. The indignation excited against Mr. Otis, who was present and opposed the bar rules there agreed upon, may have been much increased by his vacillation in politics. It was violent enough, at all events. Thacher shared in it largely.
[1 ] Jemmybullero.
[1 ] Here follow quotations from Locke on Government, Part II. Ch. iv., Ch. xi., Ch. xiv., B. I. Ch. ii. and B. II. Ch. ii., touching the origin of government, which are omitted.
[1 ] This [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] whom Mr. Jefferson had given a letter of introduction.
[1 ] Volume ii. page 142.
[1 ] II. W. 3, c. 12; 3, 4 of An. c 5 and 10; 6 of An. c. 30, 8 of An. c. 13; 9 of An. c. 17; 10 An. c. 22 and 26; 4 Geo. 1, c 11; 5 Geo. 1, c 12 and 15; 13 Geo. 1, c. 5; 3 Geo. 2, c. 12 and 28, 4 Geo. 2, c. 15, 5 Geo. 2, c. 7 and 9, 6 Geo. 2, c. 15; 8 Geo. 2, c. 13; 8 Geo. 2, c. 19; 12 Geo. 2, c. 30; 15 Geo. 2, c. 31 and 33; 24 Geo. 2, c. 51 and 53; 29 Geo. 2, c. 5 and 35; and 30 Geo. 2, c. 9.
[1 ] “Furs of the plantations to be brought to Great Britain. 8 Geo. I. c. 15, ss. 24.”
“Hats not to be exported from one plantation to another. 5 Geo. II. c. 22.”
“Hatters not to have more than two apprentices. 5 Geo. II. c. 22, ss. 7.”
“Slitting mills, steel furnaces, &c., not to be erected in the plantations. 23 Geo. II. c. 29, ss. 9.”
“No wool, or woollen manufacture of the plantations shall be exported. 10 & 11 Wm. III. c. 10, ss. 19.”
“Exporting wool, contrary to the regulations, forfeiture of the ship, &c. 12 Geo. II. c. 21, ss. 11.”
[1 ] The next letter contains nearly the whole of Mr. Otis’s memorial, drawn up and sent to Jasper Mauduit by the House of Representatives, in June, 1764, the substance of which has been given by the younger Tudor in his Life of Otis, pp. 166-169. It is omitted here for want of space.
[1 ] Slight inaccuracies occur here. The deed is a deed of release, in 1665, from Wampatuck, the son of Chickatabut, deceased, of all lands in Braintree, with certain exceptions therein named, granted by his predecessors. The township was incorporated in 1640.
[1 ] A part of this history has been published by the Historical Society of Massachusetts, in their Transactions, vol. vi. of the third series.
[1 ] By comparison of this sketch of Mr. Otis’s speech with that taken at the time, vol. ii. pp. 521-525, as well as with Mr. Otis’s published writings, it is difficult to resist the belief that Mr. Adams insensibly infused into this work much of the learning and of the breadth of views belonging to himself. It looks a little as Raphael’s labor might be supposed to look, if he had undertaken to show how Perugino painted. It has a historical value independently of the generous endeavor to do justice to a man who had, at the moment, fallen into discredit and oblivion, most undeservedly. Later historians are giving him his fitting position.
[2 ] The death of Mrs. Adams.