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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, 7 March, 1819.
On the 20th of January, 1768, the House of Representatives appointed a committee to prepare a petition to the king, and letters to his ministers, and a letter to the agent. Knowing that such a committee was appointed, and that they were busily employed in preparing those representations, and meeting Mr. Otis one morning, I asked him, “How do you proceed with your petitions and letters?” He answered, “I have drawn them all up, and given them to Sam to quieu whew them.” Whether this word is Arabic or Seminole, I know not. I believe it was an oddity of his own invention. These letters were printed in London, by Almon, in 1768, in a pamphlet. These letters, from beginning to end, demonstrate the rough cast of James Otis and the polish and burnish of Samuel Adams. The first is a petition to the king. In every sentence of this petition the hand of Otis is visible; in page 8, in this paragraph, particularly.
“With great sincerity permit us to assure your Majesty, that your subjects of this province ever have and still continue to acknowledge your Majesty’s high court of Parliament the supreme legislative power of the whole empire; the superintending authority of which is clearly admitted in all cases that can consist with the fundamental rights of nature and the constitution, to which your Majesty’s happy subjects in all parts of your empire conceive they have a just and equitable claim.”
The next letter is to the Earl of Shelburne. This letter, also, in every paragraph, demonstrates the hand of Mr. Otis. In page 15:—
“It is the glory of the British constitution that it has its foundation in the law of God and nature. It is essentially a natural right, that a man shall quietly enjoy and have the sole disposal of his own property. This right is engrafted into the British constitution, and is familiar to the American subjects; and your lordship will judge whether any necessity can render it just and equitable in the nature of things, that the supreme legislative of the empire should impose duties, subsidies, talliages, and taxes, internal or external, for the sole purpose of raising a revenue, upon subjects that are not and cannot, considering their local circumstances, by any possibility be equally represented, and consequently whose consent cannot be had in Parliament. The security of right and property is the great end of government. Surely, then, such measures as tend to render right and property precarious, tend to destroy both property and government; for these must stand or fall together. Property is admitted to have an existence in the savage state of nature; and, if it is necessary for the support of savage life, it becomes by no means less so in civil society. The House entreat your lordship to consider whether a colonist can be conceived to have any property which he may call his own, if it may be granted away by any other body without his consent; and they submit to your lordship’s judgment, whether this was not actually done, when the act for granting to his Majesty certain duties for paper, glass, and other articles, for the sole and express purpose of raising a revenue in America, was made. It is the judgment of Lord Coke, that the Parliament of Great Britain cannot tax Ireland quia milites ad parliamentum non mittant; and Sir William Jones, an eminent jurist, declared it as his opinion to King Charles II., that he could no more grant a commission to levy money on his subjects in Jamaica, without their consent by an assembly, than they could discharge themselves from their allegiance to the crown.”
I have selected this paragraph merely as a specimen; but every other sentence in the letter carries demonstrative marks of the hand of James Otis. The next letter was to General Conway, dated February 18th, 1768. This letter, also, bears indelible marks of the hand of James Otis. Page 22d:—
“The House is at all times ready to recognize his Majesty’s high court of Parliament, the supreme legislative power over the whole empire. Its superintending authority in all cases consistent with the fundamental rules of the constitution, is as clearly admitted by his Majesty’s subjects in this province as by those within the realm.”
This paragraph is an infallible stamp of the then character of James Otis’s opinions. This opinion was not mine. I could not and would not have consented to it, for long before this time I was fully convinced that Parliament had no legal and constitutional authority over us, in any case whatsoever. Page 23:—
“It is the glory of the British prince and the happiness of all his subjects, that their constitution hath its foundation in the immutable laws of nature, and as the supreme legislative, as well as the supreme executive, derives its authority from that constitution, it should seem that no laws can be made or executed that are repugnant to any essential law in nature. Hence, a British subject is happily distinguished from the subjects of many other States, in a just and well-grounded opinion of his own safety, which is the perfection of political liberty.”
This whole paragraph is James Otis in perfection; the sense of every line of it is his. It may be thought a minute criticism, but it is characteristic and infallible. Otis and the majority of the committee derived all authority from the constitution. Samuel Adams would have derived it only from the people; the people with him were every thing, and constitutions nothing. Otis and Adams, however, might have agreed in expression, for it is certain that no constitution can be made by any other power than the people. The letter proceeds, page 23:—
“It is acknowledged to be an unalterable law in nature, that a man should have the free use and sole disposal of the fruit of his honest industry, subject to no control. The equity of this principle seems to have been too obvious to be misunderstood by those who framed the constitution, into which it is engrafted as an established law. It is conceived that this principle gave rise, in early time, to a representation in Parliament, where every individual in the realm has since been and is still considered by acts of Parliament as present by himself or by his representative of his own free election: consequently the aid afforded there to the sovereign is not in the nature of a tribute, but the free and voluntary gift of all”
All the subsequent paragraphs of this letter carry indelible marks of Otis’s hand, smoothed with the oily brush of Sam Adams. The next letter is to the Marquis of Rockingham, January 22d, 1768. Page 28:—
“Your lordship is pleased to say, that you will not adopt a system of arbitrary rule over the Colonies, nor do otherwise than strenuously resist, where attempts shall be made to throw off that dependency to which the Colonies ought to submit. And your lordship, with great impartiality, adds, ‘not only for the advantage of Great Britain, but for their own real happiness and safety.’ This House, my Lord, have the honor heartily to join with you in sentiment; and they speak the language of their constituents. So sensible are they of their happiness and safety, in their union with and dependence upon the mother country, that they would by no means be inclined to accept of an independency, if offered to them.”
This was the sentiment of James Otis and of a majority of that committee and of their constituents; but whether it was cordially the sentiment of Sam Adams at that time, I submit to the judgment of his grandson. I could not have consented to that paragraph without limitations and explanations. If we could have been sure of continuing our old connection, I should have preferred it to independence; but rather than submit to the sovereign authority of Parliament, I would not only have accepted independence, if offered, but would have fought for it, if refused. Page 29th:—
“My Lord, the superintending power of that high court” (the Parliament) “over all his Majesty’s subjects in the empire, and in all cases which can consist with the fundamental rules of the constitution, was never questioned in this province, nor, as the House conceive, in any other. But, in all free States the constitution is fixed It is from thence that the supreme legislative, as well as the supreme executive, derives its authority, neither, then, can break through the fundamental rules of the constitution without destroying their own foundation It is humbly conceived, that all his Majesty’s happy subjects, in every part of his wide extended dominions, have a just and equitable claim to the rights of that constitution, upon which government itself is formed, and by which sovereigntv and allegiance are ascertained and limited. Your lordship will allow us to say, that it is an essential right of a British subject, engrafted into the constitution, or, if your lordship will admit the expression, a sacred and unalienable natural right, quietly to enjoy and have the sole disposal of his own property.”
This and all the subsequent paragraphs in this letter are but abridgments of the sentiments uttered by Otis in 1761, in his arguments against the execution of the dormant acts of trade. The next letter is to Lord Camden, page 33:—
“If in all free States the constitution is fixed and the supreme legislative power of the nation from thence derives its authority can that power overleap the bounds of the constitution without subverting its own foundation? If the remotest subjects are bound by the ties of allegiance, which this people and then forefathers have ever acknowledged, are they not by the rules of equity entitled to all the rights of that constitution, which ascertains and limits both sovereignty and allegiance? If it is an essential, unalterable right in nature, engrafted into the British constitution as a fundamental law, and ever held sacred and irrevocable by the subjects within the realm, that what is a man’s own is absolutely his own and that no man hath a right to take it from him without his consent, may not the subjects of this province, with a decent firmness, which has always distinguished the happy subjects of Britain, plead and maintain this natural constitutional right? The superintending authority of his Majesty’s high court of Parliament over the whole empire, in all cases which can consist with the fundamental rights of the constitution, was never questioned in this province, nor, as this House conceive, in any other.”
Here, Mr. Otis, Mr. Adams, and the whole committee, are undoubtedly in an error; they made too ample a concession. The authority of Parliament had always been questioned and always disputed until the year 1675, when it was denied not only by Governor Leverett, but the legislature of the colony, and it was ever after questioned by the best informed and thinking men both in this province and in many others, if not in all:—
“But they entreat your lordship’s reflection one moment on an act of Parliament passed the last session, and another in the fourth of his present Majesty’s reign, both imposing duties on his subjects in America, which, as they are imposed for the sole and express purpose of raising a revenue, are, in effect, taxes. The position, that taxation and representation are inseparable, is founded on the immutable laws of nature, but the Americans had no representation in the Parliament, when they were taxed; are they not then unfortunate in these instances, in having that separated, which God and nature had joined?”
Every other paragraph in the letter is demonstrative of the hand of Otis. Page 36:—
“A power without a check is always unsafe, and in some future time may introduce an absolute government into America. The judges of the land here do not hold their commissions during good behavior; is it not, then, justly to be apprehended that, at so great a distance from the throne, the fountain of national justice, with salaries altogether independent of the people, an arbitrary rule may take effect, which shall deprive a bench of justice of its glory and the people of their security?”
The next letter is to the Earl of Chatham, February 2d, 1768. This is principally a letter of compliment, but it may not be amiss to quote a sentence or two. Page 38:—
“It must afford the utmost satisfaction to the distressed colonists to find your lordship so explicitly declaring your sentiments in that grand principle in nature, that ‘what a man hath honestly acquired, is absolutely and uncontrollably his own.’ This principle is established as a fundamental rule in the British constitution, which eminently hath its foundation in the laws of nature; and consequently it is the indisputable right of all men, more especially of a British subject, to be present in person, or by representation, in the body where he is taxed. But, however fixed your lordship and some others may be in this cardinal point, it is truly mortifying to many of his Majesty’s free and loval subjects that even in the British Parliament, that sanctuary of liberty and justice, a different sentiment seems of late to have prevailed.”
The rest of the letter is but a repetition of the complaints in former letters, and a representation of the merits of the colonies in all former times in the public service. The next is a letter to the commissioners of the treasury. This, in general, is a repetition of the substance of the former letters, a little varied in expression. Page 45:—They complain of the duties levied by the offensive acts of Parliament, as imposed with the sole and express purpose of raising a revenue, and to be applied in the first place for the making a more certain and adequate provision for the charge of the administration of justice and support of civil government, &c., &c.
The next letter is a circular letter “to the speakers of the respective Houses of Representatives and Burgesses on this continent; a copy of which was also sent to Dennis de Berdt, Esquire, their agent, by order of the House, that he might make use of it, if necessary, to prevent any misrepresentation of it in England.” This letter is but a kind of recapitulation of the former letter.
The letter to the Earl of Shelburne, which follows, is dated January 22d, 1768. This letter relates to proceedings between Governor Bernard and the House, relative to a letter of his lordship which the House had been permitted to hear, but not to see, and relative to charges against them, which had been supposed to have been preferred by Bernard himself. I shall quote but one paragraph from their vindication of themselves for having left out the judges from their legislative council.
“The non-election of several gentlemen of distinguished character and station was by no means the effect of party prejudice, private resentment, or motives still more blamable, but the result of calm reflection upon the danger that might accrue to our excellent constitution and the liberties of the people from too great a union of the legislative, executive, and judiciary powers of government, which, in the opinion of the greatest writers, ought always to be kept separate; nor was this a new opinion, formed at a certain period, but it has been the prevailing sentiment of many of the most sensible and unexceptionable gentlemen in the province for many years past, upon principles which your lordship’s thorough knowledge of the constitution and the just balance of the several powers of government, this House is assured, will justify.”
The last letter, dated January 12th, 1768, is to Dennis de Berdt, Esq., agent for the House. Page 59:—
“The fundamental rules of the constitution are the grand security of all British subjects; and it is a security, which they are all equally entitled to, in all parts of his Majesty’s extended dominions. The supreme legislative in every free State derives its power from the constitution, by the fundamental rules of which it is bounded and circumscribed. As a legislative power is essentially requisite, where any powers of government are exercised, it is conceived the several legislative bodies in America were erected, because their existence and the free exercise of their power, within their several limits, are essentially important and necessary to preserve to his Majesty’s subjects in America the advantages of the fundamental laws of the constitution. When we mention the rights of the subjects in America, and the interest we have in the British constitution, in common with all other British subjects, we cannot justly be suspected of the most distant thought of an independency on Great Britain. Some, we know, have imagined this of the colonists; and others, perhaps, may have industriously propagated it, to raise groundless and unreasonable jealousies of them; but it is so far from the truth, that we apprehend the colonies would refuse it, if offered to them, and would even deem it the greatest misfortune to be obliged to accept it. They are far from being insensible of their happiness in being connected with the mother country, and of the mutual benefits derived from it to both,” &c. &c.
Here, Mr. Tudor, let me pause. Whatever Mr. J. Otis or Mr. S. Adams, or Colonel Otis, or Major Hawley, or Mr. Samuel Dexter, the illustrious committee who sanctioned these letters, thought at that time, I could not have given my unqualified assent to the foregoing paragraph, for I certainly had distant thoughts of an independency of Great Britain, long before I ever saw the face of any one of that committee, even as long ago as the years 1755, 56 and 57. When living at Worcester, and knowing the miserable conduct of Shirley, Braddock, Loudon, Webb, and others, in conducting the war and managing American affairs, I ardently wished that we had nothing to do with Great Britain, and firmly believed that the American colonies, if left to themselves, and suffered to unite, might defend themselves against the French, much better without Great Britain than with her. Now we will proceed with our quotations from the letter.
“It is the glory of the British constitution that it hath its foundation in the law of God and nature. It is an essential natural right that a man shall quietly enjoy and have the disposal of his own property. This right is adopted into the constitution. This natural and constitutional right is so familiar to the American subjects, that it would be difficult, if possible, to convince them that any necessity can render it just, equitable, and reasonable, in the nature of things, that the Parliament should impose duties, subsidies, talliages, and taxes upon them, internal or external, for the sole purpose of raising a revenue. The reason is obvious; because they cannot be represented, and, therefore, their consent cannot be constitutionally had in Parliament.”
They then remark upon the declaratory act, and the subsequent revenue acts, which I pass over, to page 63:—
“It is observable, that though many have disregarded life and contemned liberty, yet there are few men who do not agree, that property is a valuable acquisition, which ought to be held sacred. Many have fought and bled and died for this, who have been insensible to all other obligations. Those who ridicule the ideas of right and justice, faith and truth among men, will put a high value upon money. Property is admitted to have an existence, even in the savage state of nature. The bow, the arrow, and the tomahawk, the hunting and the fishing ground, are species of property as important to an American savage, as pearls, rubies, and diamonds are to the Mogul, or a Nabob in the east, or the lands, tenements, hereditaments, messuages, gold and silver of the Europeans. And, if property is necessary to the support of savage life, it is by no means less so in civil society. The Utopian schemes of levelling, and a community of goods, are as visionary and impracticable as those which vest all property in the crown, are arbitrary, despotic, and, in our government, unconstitutional. Now, what property can the colonists be conceived to have, if their money may be granted away by others, without their consent?”
To do justice to this letter, I must transcribe every word of it; but I have already, you will think, transcribed too much, though every line is a diamond. We will pass to page 65:—
“Our ancestors were in one respect not in so melancholy a situation as we, their posterity, are. In those times, the crown and the ministers of the crown, without the intervention of Parliament, demolished charters, and levied taxes on the colonies, at pleasure. Governor Andros, in the time of James II., declared that wherever an Englishman sets his foot, all he hath is the king’s. And Dudley declared at the council board, and even on the sacred seat of justice that the privilege of Englishmen not to be taxed without their consent, and the laws of England, would not follow them to the ends of the earth. It was also in those days declared in council, that the king’s subjects in New England did not differ much from slaves, and that the only difference was, that they were not bought and sold. But there was even in those times an excellent attorney-general, Sir W. Jones, who was of another mind, and told king James that he could no more grant a commission to levy money on his subjects in Jamaica, though a conquered island, without their consent, by an assembly, than they could discharge themselves from their allegiance to the English crown. But the misfortune of the colonists at present is, that they are taxed by Parliament without their consent. This, while the Parliament continues resolved to tax us, will ever render our case, in one respect, more deplorable and remediless, under the best of kings, than that of our ancestors was, under the worst. They found relief by the interposition of Parliament; but, by the intervention of that very power we are taxed, and can appeal for relief from their final decision to no power on earth: for there is no power on earth above them.”
For the rest of this admirable letter, I must refer you to the printed volume in which it is found, rich as it is, both in style and matter. Upon an attentive and careful review of all these letters, I can find nothing to ascribe to Mr. Adams. Every sentence and every word of them appears to me to be Mr. Otis’s. They are but an abridgment, a concise compendium of Mr. Otis’s argument against the execution of the acts of trade in 1761, seven years before these letters were written. If Mr. Otis himself had not informed me that he had given them all to Mr. Sam Adams to be revised, I should not have suspected that Mr. Adams had any thing to do in the composition of them; for Mr. Otis was as severe a critic, and as capable of writing well, as any man of that time. He only did not love to revise, correct, and polish. If Mr. Adams had really any share in these compositions, it must have been only in the collocation of words. “Proper words in proper places,” is a definition of style. Swift, in these four words, has expressed the essence of a learned, acute, and celebrated treatise of Dionysius Halicarnassensis concerning the arrangement of words. This arrangement of words is indeed a matter of great consequence. Hume, Robertson, and Gibbon, owed more their fame to this than to their accuracy or impartiality; woe to the writer in this age of the world, who is rash enough to despise or neglect it!