1773 March 4th. Thurdsday.
The two last Months have slided away. I have written a tedious Examination of Brattle’s absurdities. The Governor and General Court, has been engaged for two Months upon the greatest Question ever yet agitated. I stand amazed at the Governor, for forcing on this Controversy. He will not be thanked for this. His Ruin and Destruction must spring out of it, either from the Ministry and Parliament on one Hand, or from his Countrymen, on the other. He has reduced himself to a most ridiculous State of Distress. He is closetting and soliciting Mr. Bowdoin, Mr. Dennie, Dr. Church &c. &c., and seems in the utmost Agony.1
The Original of my Controversy with Brattle is worthy to be comitted to Writing, in these Memorandums.—At the Town Meeting in Cambridge, called to consider of the Judges Salaries, he advanced for Law, that the Judges by this Appointment, would be compleatly independent, for that they held Estates for Life in their offices by common Law and their Nomination and Appointment. And, he said “this I averr to be Law, and I will maintain it, against any Body, I will dispute it, with Mr. Otis, Mr. Adams, Mr. John Adams I mean, and Mr. Josiah Quincy. I would dispute it with them, here in Town Meeting, nay, I will dispute it with them in the Newspapers.”
He was so elated with that Applause which this inane Harrangue procured him, from the Enemies of this Country, that in the next Thurdsdays Gazette, he roundly advanced the same Doctrine in Print, and the Thurdsday after invited any Gentleman to dispute with him upon his Points of Law.
These vain and frothy Harrangues and Scribblings would have had no Effect upon me, if I had not seen that his Ignorant Doctrines were taking Root in the Minds of the People, many of whom were in Appearance, if not in Reality, taking it for granted, that the Judges held their Places during good Behaviour.
Upon this I determined to enter the Lists, and the General was very soon silenced.—Whether from Conviction, or from Policy, or Contempt I know not.2
It is thus that little Incidents produce great Events. I have never known a Period, in which the Seeds of great Events have been so plentifully sown as this Winter. A Providence is visible, in that Concurrence of Causes, which produced the Debates and Controversies of this Winter. The Court of Inquisition at Rhode Island, the Judges Salaries, the Massachusetts Bay Town Meetings, General Brattles Folly, all conspired in a remarkable, a wonderfull Manner.
My own Determination had been to decline all Invitations to public Affairs and Enquiries, but Brattles rude, indecent, and unmeaning Challenge of me in Particular, laid me under peculiar Obligations to undeceive the People, and changed my Resolution. I hope that some good will come out of it.—God knows.
1. JA alludes to the bitter dispute between Hutchinson and the House of Representatives over the issue whether “Parliament was our Sovereign Legislature, and had a Right to make Laws for Us in all Cases whatsoever”—a dispute evoked by Hutchinson’s speech of 6 Jan., which was answered in an elaborate paper by the House on 26 Jan. For further details, especially on JA’s part in the answer, see his Autobiography and his letter to William Tudor, 8 March 1817 (LbC, Adams Papers; inserted by CFA in his text of the Diary, Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 2:310–313); Hutchinson, Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo description begins Thomas Hutchinson, The History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts-Bay, ed. Lawrence Shaw Mayo, Cambridge, 1936; 3 vols. description ends , 3:266–280. The documents are printed in Mass., Speeches of the Governors description begins [Alden Bradford, ed.,] Speeches of the Governors of Massachusetts, from 1765 to 1775 ..., Boston, 1818. description ends , p. 336–364.
2. At a special town meeting in Cambridge, 14 Dec. 1772, Gen. William Brattle opposed the town’s vote of instructions condemning the ministerial proposal to have the Superior Court judges paid by the crown and thus rendered independent of the Province. Brattle published his reasons in the Boston News Letter, 31 Dec. JA answered him in the Boston Gazette, 11 Jan. 1773, and followed with six more weekly pieces, citing innumerable British legal authorities from Bracton onward, to Brattle’s sole rejoinder in the same paper, 25 Jan. All these articles, preceded by the Cambridge instructions, are reprinted in JA, Works description begins The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, ed. Charles Francis Adams, Boston, 1850–1856; 10 vols. description ends , 3:511–574. The nub of the controversy, as JA phrased it in his Autobiography, was that since “the Judges Commissions were during pleasure” (durante beneplacito), the judges would become “entirely dependent on the Crown for Bread [as] well as office.” The position of Brattle and other tory advocates of the measure was that under the common law the judges held office during good behavior (quamdiu bene se gesserint), and by the proposed mode of payment would be rendered independent of both royal and popular influence.