Instructions of Boston to its Representatives in the General Court
To the Hon.james otis, andthomas cushing, Esq’rs; Mr.samuel adams, andjohn hancock, Esqr.;
After the repeal of the late American Stamp Act, we were happy in the pleasing prospect of a restoration of that tranquility and unanimity among ourselves, and that harmony and affection between our parent country and us, which had generally subsisted before that detestable Act. But with the utmost grief and concern, we find that we flatter’d ourselves too soon, and that the root of bitterness is yet alive.—The principle on which that Act was founded continues in full force, and a revenue is still demanded from America.
We have the mortification to observe one Act of Parliament after another passed for the express purpose of raising a revenue from us; to see our money continually collecting from us without our consent, by an authority in the constitution of which we have no share, and over which we have no kind of influence or controul; to see the little circulating cash that remained among us for the support of our trade, from time to time transmitted to a distant country, never to return, or what in our estimation is worse, if possible, appropriated to the maintenance of swarms of Officers and Pensioners in idleness and luxury, whose example has a tendency to corrupt our morals, and whose arbitrary dispositions will trample on our rights.
Under all these misfortunes and afflictions, however, it is our fixed resolution to maintain our loyalty and duty to our most gracious Sovereign, a reverence and due subordination to the British Parliament as the supreme legislative in all cases of necessity, for the preservation of the whole empire, and our cordial and sincere affection for our parent country; and to use our utmost endeavours for the preservation of peace and order among ourselves: Waiting with anxious expectation, for a favorable answer to the petitions and sollicitations of this continent, for relief. At the same time, it is our unalterable resolution, at all times, to assert and vindicate our dear and invaluable rights and liberties, at the utmost hazard of our lives and fortunes; and we have a full and rational confidence that no designs formed against them will ever prosper.
That such designs have been formed and are still in being, we have reason to apprehend. A multitude of Place men and Pensioners, and an enormous train of Underlings and Dependants, all novel in this country, we have seen already: Their imperious tempers, their rash inconsiderate and weak behaviour, are well known.
In this situation of affairs, several armed vessels, and among the rest, his Majesty’s ship of war the Romney, have appeared in our harbour; and the last, as we believe, by the express application of the Board of Commissioners, with design to overawe and terrify the inhabitants of this town into base compliances and unlimitted submission, has been anchored within a cable’s length of the wharves.
But passing over other irregularities, we are assured, that the last alarming act of that ship, viz. the violent, and in our opinion illegal seizure of a vessel lying at a wharf, the cutting of her fasts and removing her with an armed force in hostile manner, under the protection of the King’s ship, without any probable cause of seizure that we know of, or indeed any cause that has yet been made known;2 no libel or prosecution whatever having yet been instituted against her, was by the express order, or request in writing of the Board of Commissioners to the commander of that ship.
In addition to all this, we are continually alarmed with rumours and reports of new revenue Acts to be passed, new importations of Officers and Pensioners to suck the life-blood of the body politick, while it is streaming from the veins: fresh arrival of ships of war to be a still severer restraint upon our trade; and the arrival of a military force to dragoon us into passive obedience: orders and requisitions transmitted to New-York, Halifax and to England, for regiments and troops to preserve the public peace.
Under the distresses arising from this state of things, with the highest confidence in your integrity, abilities and fortitude, you will exert yourselves, Gentlemen, on this occasion, that nothing be left undone that may conduce to our relief; and in particular we recommend it to your consideration and discretion, in the first place, to endeavour that impresses of all kinds may if possible be prevented. There is an act of parliament in being, which has never been repealed, for the encouragement of the trade to America. We mean by the 6th Ann. Chap. xxxvii. Sect. 9. it is enacted, “That no mariner, or other person who shall serve on board, or be retained to serve on board, any privateer, or trading ship or vessel that shall be employed in any part of America, nor any mariner, or other person, being on shore in any part thereof, shall be liable to be impressed, or taken away by any officer or officers of or belonging to any of her Majesty’s ships of war, impowered by the lord high admiral, or any other person whatsoever, unless such mariner shall have before deserted from such ship of war belonging to her Majesty, at any time after the fourteenth day of February 1707, upon pain that any officer or officers so impressing or taken away, or causing to be impressed or taken away, any mariner or other person, contrary to the tenor and true meaning of this act, shall forfeit to the master, or owner or owners of any such ship or vessel, Twenty Pounds for every man he or they shall so impress or take, to be recovered with full costs of suit in any court within any part of her Majesty’s dominions.” So that any impresses of any mariner, from any vessel whatever, appears to be in direct violation of an act of parliament. In the next place, ’tis our desire that you inquire and use your endeavors to promote a parliamentary enquiry for the authors and propagators of such alarming rumours and reports as we have mentioned before; and whether the Commissioners or any other persons whatever have really wrote or solicited for troops to be sent here from New-York, Halifax, England or elsewhere, and for what end; and that you forward, if you think it expedient, in the House of Representatives, resolutions, that every such person who shall solicit or promote the importation of troops at this time, is an enemy to this town and province, and a disturber of the peace and good order of both3
Reprinted from the (Boston Gazette, 20 June 1768).MS (MB:Boston Town Records, 5:102–105). There are no significant variations between the printed text and MS. For attribution to JA, see note 1, below.
1. Salutation omitted in MS. The town meeting had deliberated carefully on the form and spirit of its protest against the customs commissioners’ seizure of John Hancock’s sloop Liberty on 10 June. (For a description of the seizure of the Liberty and of JA’s role as Hancock’s attorney in ensuing legal action, see JA, Legal Papers description begins Legal Papers of John Adams, ed. L. Kinvin Wroth and Hiller B. Zobel, Cambridge, 1965; 3 vols. description ends , 2:173–210.) On 14 June, the town meeting named Joseph Warren, Benjamin Church, and Samuel Adams “to prepare the form of a Vote, to be laid before the Town at the Adjournment; expressing their great dislike at the manner of proceedure in the Custom house Officers in lately carrying off a Vessel from Hancocks Wharff; and their sense of the ill consequences which must follow the methods made use of to introduce an armed force into this Town.” This committee made its report the following day “in the form of Resolves and after considerable debate thereon & the propriety of a Towns passing Resolves,” the meeting named a second committee, which included JA, “to prepare Instructions for our Representatives relative to those and other Matters.” The committee of 15 June was given the “form of Resolves” drawn up by its predecessor “for such use to be made of them as they may Judge proper” (Boston Record Commissioners, 16th Report description begins City of Boston, Record Commissioners, Reports, Boston, 1876–1909; 39 vols. description ends , p. 255–257).
This committee appointment marked JA’s first participation in the political affairs of the Town of Boston after he moved there in April 1768. Even before he established his home in the town, however, he had signed a petition with 53 others on 10 March 1767, urging the selectmen to appoint Nathanael Oliver master of the North Grammar School (A. S. Austrian et al. sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, N.Y., 4–5 April 1939). Adams’ continuing interest in the schools is suggested by his serving with a number of others as visitor on 5 July 1769 and 7 July 1773 (Boston Record Commissioners, 23d Report description begins City of Boston, Record Commissioners, Reports, Boston, 1876–1909; 39 vols. description ends , p. 21, 182). In 1770 he was appointed with six others to look into laws on breaking and entering and to recommend amendments, but no report of the committee’s findings is apparently extant (same, 18th Report, p. 20). It was political issues affecting the town, however, in which Adams became most embroiled.
In his Autobiography, JA recalled his reluctance to become involved in local politics: “I was solicited to go to the Town Meetings and harrangue there. This I constantly refused. My Friend Dr. Warren the most frequently urged me to this: My Answer to him always was ’That way madness lies.’” Still, JA continued, “Although I had never attended a Meeting the Town was pleased to choose me upon their Committee to draw up Instructions to their Representatives, this Year 1768 and the next 1769. . . . The Committee always insisted on my preparing the Draught, which I did and the Instructions were adopted without Alteration by the Town” (Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 3:290–291). JA’s claim to have drafted the town’s instructions of 1768 as well as those of 1769 (for which, see 8 May 1769, below) is borne out by testimony given much earlier than that in the Autobiography. In an unsent letter to the Abbé de Mably, 17 Jan. 1783, JA supplied a list of his works published before that date; the 1768 instructions appear in this list, which is otherwise accurate (LbC, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel 108). There seems to be no basis for the claim by a biographer of Joseph Warren that Warren, chairman of the committee, was the author of the instructions and that only “the long quotation from a statute of Queen Anne likely was supplied by John Adams” (John Cary, Joseph Warren: Physician, Politician, Patriot, Urbana, Ill., 1961, p. 78n.).
The Instructions, which JA’s committee submitted to the town meeting on 17 June and which were adopted unanimously that day, probably did not represent the literary style or philosophy of any individual. John Rowe, one of JA’s colleagues on this committee, noted in his Diary that on 16 June he had “Spent the After noon with the Towns Committee to draw Instructions” and that the committee had conferred again on the morning of 17 June, only a few hours before their report was submitted (MHi:John Rowe Diary, p. 773–774). The Instructions doubtless reflected the suggestions of the committee as a whole, with JA assigned the responsibility of polishing and arranging these suggestions. Internal evidence shows, as well, that the committee drew heavily upon the “form of Resolves” read in the meeting on 15 June (see note 3, below).
2. For the part played by the Romney and her crew in the seizure of the Liberty, see JA, Legal Papers description begins Legal Papers of John Adams, ed. L. Kinvin Wroth and Hiller B. Zobel, Cambridge, 1965; 3 vols. description ends , 2:175–176.
3. The concluding section of the Instructions was doubtless influenced by the wording of the resolves reported to the town meeting on 15 June. Thomas Hutchinson reported that those resolutions had included one declaring “that whoever had by writing or any other ways and means promoted or even wished that Troops might be sent here was a Tyrant in his heart a Traytor and open enemy to his Country” (Hutchinson to Richard Jackson, 16 June 1768, MHS, Procs. description begins Massachusetts Historical Society, Collections and Proceedings. description ends , 55 :283–284).