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TO WILLIAM TUDOR. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 10.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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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.