From Joseph Hawley
Broken Hints to be communicated to the Committee of Congress for the Massachusetts 2
“We must fight, if we can’t otherwise rid ourselves of British taxation, all revenues, and the constitution or form of government enacted for us by the British parliament. It is evil against right-utterly intolerable to every man who has any idea or feeling of right or liberty.
It is easy to demonstrate that the regulation act will soon annihilate every thing of value in the charter, introduce perfect despotism, and render the house of representatives a mere form and ministerial engine.
It is now or never, that we must assert our liberty. Twenty years will make the number of tories on this continent equal to the number of whigs. They who shall be born will not have any idea of a free government.
It will necessarily be a question, whether the new government of this province shall be suffered to take place at all,—or whether it shall be immediately withstood and resisted?
A most important question this—I humbly conceive it not best forcibly or wholly to resist it, immediately.
There is not heat enough yet for battle. Constant, and a sort of negative resistance of government, will increase the heat and blow the fire. There is not military skill enough. That is improving, and must be encouraged and improved, but will daily increase.
Fight we must finally, unless Britain retreats.
But it is of infinite consequence that victory be the end and issue of hostilities. If we get to fighting before necessary dispositions are made for it, we shall be conquered, and all will be lost forever.
A certain clear plan, for a constant, adequate and lasting supply of arms and military stores, must be devised and fully contemplated. This is the main thing. This, I think, ought to be a capital branch of the business of congress—to wit: to devise and settle such a plan; at least, clearly to investigate how such supplies can be extensively had in case of need. While this is effecting—to wit: while the continent is providing themselves with arms and military stores, and establishing a method for a sure and unfailing and constant supply, I conceive we had best to negotiate with Britain. If she will cede our rights and restore our liberties all is well—every good man will rejoice: if she will not agree to relinquish and abolish all American revenues, under every pretence and name, and all pretensions to order and regulate our internal policy and constitution—then, if we have got any constant and sufficient supply of military stores, it will be time to take our arms. I can’t quit this head—it ought to be immediately and most seriously attended to. It can’t be any other than madness to commence hostilities before we have established resources on a sure plan for certain and effectual military supplies. Men, in that case, will not be wanting.
But what considerate man will ever consent to take arms and go to war, where he has no reasonable assurance but that all must be given over and he fall a prey to the enemy, for want of military stores and ammunition, in a few weeks?
Either an effectual non-consumption agreement or resistance of the new government will bring on hostilities very soon.
1. As to a non-consumption agreement—it appears to me that ought to be taken for certain truth, that no plan of importation or consumption of tea, British goods in general, or enumerated articles, which is to rest and depend on the virtue of all the individuals, will succeed; but must certainly prove abortive.
The ministry may justly call such a plan futile—futile it will turn out. A plan of that sort may safely rest and be founded on the virtue of the majority: but then the majority, by the plan, must be directed to control the minority, which implies force. The plan, therefore, must direct and prescribe how that force shall be exercised.
Those, again, who exercise that force, under the direction and by order of the majority, must by that majority be defended and indemnified.
Dispositions must therefore necessarily be made to resist or overcome that force which will be brought against you—which will directly produce war and bloodshed.
From thence it follows, that any other non-consumption or non-importation plan, which is not perfectly futile and ridiculous, implies hostilities and war.
2. As to the resistance of the new government, that also implies war: for in order to resist and prevent the effect of the new government, it is indispensably necessary that the charter government, or some other, must be maintained—constitutionally exercised and supported.
The people will have some government or other—they will be drawn in by a seeming mild and just administration, which will last awhile; legislation and executive justice must go on in some form or other, and we may depend on it they will,—therefore the new government will take effect until the old is restored.
The old cannot be restored until the council take on them the administration, call assemblies, constitute courts, make sheriffs etc. The council will not attempt this without good assurance of protection. This protection can’t be given without hostilities.
Our salvation depends upon an established persevering union of the colonies.
The tools of administration are using every device and effort to destroy that union, and will certainly continue so to do—
Thereupon, all possible devices and endeavors must be used to establish, improve, brighten and maintain such union.
Every grievance of any one colony must be held and considered by the whole as a grievance to the whole, and must operate on the whole as a grievance to the whole. This will be a difficult matter to effect: but it must be done.
Quere, therefore—whether is it not absolutely necessary that some plan be settled for a continuation of congresses?—But here we must be aware that congresses will soon be declared and enacted by parliament to be high treason.
Is the India company to be compensated or not?
If to be compensated—each colony to pay the particular damage she has done, or is an average to be made on the continent?
The destruction of the tea was not unjust—therefore to what good purpose is the tea to be paid for, unless we are assured that by so doing, our rights will be restored and peace obtained?
What future measures is the continent to preserve with regard to imported dutied tea, whether it comes as East India property or otherwise, under the pretence and lie that the tea is imported from Holland, and the goods imported before a certain given day? Dutied tea will be imported and consumed—goods continue to be imported—your non-importation agreement eluded, rendered contemptible and ridiculous—unless all teas used, and all goods, are taken into some public custody which will be inviolably faithful.”
MS not found. Reprinted from (Niles, Principles and Acts description begins Hezekiah Niles, Principles and Acts of the Revolution in America, Baltimore, 1822. description ends ), p. 324–325. JA sent Hawley’s piece to Niles on 5 Feb. 1819, in response to a request for documents to be printed in a collection planned by Niles. It was never returned, and no MS is known to exist. Niles, however, authenticated his version in a note saying, “The foregoing is a literal copy of the venerable paper before me, except its frequent abbreviations of the and that, with the addition only of a few commas, &c. to make it read.” This statement conflicts somewhat with one made by JA on 23 Jan. 1818 in a letter to William Wirt, who had recently completed his biography of Patrick Henry. There JA recalled that he had received “a hasty letter” from Hawley, “containing ’a few broken hints,’” which concluded, “with these words ’After all, we must fight’” “Broken Hints” begins, not concludes, with “we must fight,” a rather abrupt beginning, to say the least. JA says that he read Hawley’s letter to Henry, “who listened to it with great attention, and as soon as I had pronounced the words, ’After all we must fight,’ he erected his head, and with an energy and vehemence, that I can never forget, broke out with ’By God, I am of that mans mind.’” JA goes on, “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” (LbC, Adams Papers). Either JA’s memory was defective, or “Broken Hints” was an enclosure with a short note, which JA read aloud, and then permitted Henry to read the longer document. JA may have sent only the enclosure to Niles. This supposition is perhaps strengthened by the absence of the term “broken hints” from the surviving document; since JA quoted the term, he may have been quoting from Hawley’s short note. In a letter from Hawley to Robert Treat Paine, 11 June 1775, we find: “My Poor Sentiments on the affair of Getting into a State of Civil Government were expressed in a letter to Mr. John Adams from Northampton. I have Not yet seen reason to alter my Opinion” (MHi:Robert Treat Paine Papers).
1. A diary entry for 18 Aug. 1774, recounting the progress of the Massachusetts delegation through Connecticut, begins: “Mr. Badcock is of the same Mind with Major Hawley, that a Non Importation and Non Consumption Agreement will not be faithfully observed” (JA, Diary and Autobiography description begins Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L. H. Butterfield and others, Cambridge, 1961; 4 vols. description ends , 2:101). Hawley had not made this point in his earlier letter of advice to JA (25 July, above). Very likely, therefore, “Broken Hints” was delivered to JA at Springfield or somewhere else along his route.
2. Niles introduced “Broken Hints” with an extract from JA’s letter to him:
“I enclose you the ’broken hints to be communicated to the committee of congress for the Massachusetts,’ by major Joseph Hawley, of Northampton.
“This is the original paper that I read to Patrick Henry in the fall of the year 1774, which produced his rapturous burst of approbation, and solemn asseveration, ’i am of that man’s mind.’
“I pray you to send it back to me. I would not exchange this original for the show book of Harvard college, and printed it shall be at my own expense in a handbill.”
Here JA is claiming that he read the entire “Broken Hints” to Henry. Given its length, that seems less probable than that he merely read Hawley’s accompanying note. At any rate, “Broken Hints” is an early, perceptive, and remarkably forthright recognition of the direction that the colonies would have to take to preserve their rights.