The Man That Would Bestow Himself for an Ass for You to Ride On, Deserves to be Saddled Indeed

in by Warren

Author: Mucius Scaevola, a pseudonym of Joseph Warren

Date: January 2, 1772

“To T—– H———, Esq.

Sir, Notwithstanding your apparent ascendency over the reprehensive power of any body politic in this community, I cannot esteem myself fairly acquitted of my duty without giving you a little share of wholesome admonition, in common with the rest of my countrymen.  Were you as ignorant as some have accounted you wicked, I should despair of having the least influence upon you by any argument; but as it is, I shall offer none that will not strictly apply to yourself.

As matters now stand with us, you will not deny we are under an absolute despotism. The government of British America, by ministerial instructions, differs nothing in kind from that of French or Spanish America, by royal commands; and taxes you are sensible will soon be imposed at pleasure, if things go on easy. You know to what a wretched condition these very measures have reduced the once noble and generous Spaniard; and how speedily that nation, was involved in the deepest misery after the crown had usurped and confirmed to itself the power of taxation.  Universally aware of these tremendous consequences, you cannot believe an empire of wise and independent freemen will submit to them without a struggle.  In the terrors of that dreadful day, perhaps not very distant, those favorite heirs to your so dearly purchased acquisitions, may share a heavy part.  But should they even escape, who could wish, for any consideration, to see his country reduced to a state of civil wars, burnings, plundering and cruel executions, and have it pass to future ages, that himself was a very active procurer of it?  Your namesake of Glasgow, very wisely tells you, that the publick security is the only certain security of every individual; and he and many other good authors assure us, that public justice is the only stable basis of public felicity; without which private felicity is impossible.  Figure to yourself another Tryonean expedition; suppose you saw another Captain Merrel, whose superior courage had retained him on the field while two thousand cowards ran away; suppose him taken and condemned to die, for endeavouring to prevent a conspiracy of villains from ruining him in defiance of right and positive law; could you restrain the tear? Could you view the loving wife and tender child, embracing the kind husband and indulgent parent on the verge of eternity, and not relent? If you could in my presence, I would freely give a fresh example of enthusiasm to which many modern infidels feign, too great an incredulity.  Life on the terms of the slavery of ourselves and posterity is a dirty bargain, when mine appears irretrievably so, I shall feel little anxiety for its longer duration.  I am positive, sir, I am far from being alone in this sentiment, and I cannot think that the publication of it can be a disadvantage to you or to mankind.  Rods, you remember, conquered the army of slaves; but rods brought against an army of my disposition, would hardly be carried home again.  For men wantonly to cut the bonds of human society, and render themselves the avowed enemy of every man of sense and spirit in a whole empire savors of much hardiness and temerity, or ignorance and stupidity.  Of the latter till of late, you were by no means generally suspected; but your conduct towards Mr. [Isaiah]Thomas and J[ohn]. Greenleaf, Esq: will hardly bear examination.

Mr. Thomas a young man, dependent entirely on his business, set up in this town, rather plentifully stocked with well established printers, and opened a paper with the catholic declaration of being open to all parties but influenced by none.  And to this profession he affirms that he had ever acted in strict conformity; refusing nothing on either side that could be offered without nauseating the public. If your flatterers are so far inferior to their opponents that their zeal in your cause dis-serveed you, it was not the printer’s fault; you have had as little to boast from the worthy and impartial Messrs. Fleets; yet with them I have never heard you had any difference.

If at the particular time the tide rose high against you, you must remember these were moving Provocations.  You had in all your transactions with the legislature of this province behaved with so cavalier a spirit, as convinced every one you regarded them no more than a Turkish Bashaw would a group of his menial servants.  You pleaded instructions to hold them in duress –you caused their committees to wait upon you at inconvenient places—indeed you insulted them with a sarcasm; as if it had been an improper assumption for the Representatives of the people, to stile themselves his Majesty’s commons in the Massachusetts Bay.  To this was added your refusal of a salary of the grant of the people, which manifested you utterly in another interest, as you in your closing speech declared you really were.

These things were then pretty warmly told you, and yet remain unanswered, under the evasive pretense of your despising such impotent calumny.  Had you not read this best vindication your friends could make for you, one might overlook your mean interposition in the affair of the Theses, but not content with the contempt you ensured in that low expedition you must forsooth engage in another.  Unable to answer you would silence enquiry into your right of control over a state, in which, nineteen twentieths, are each individual, by charter, as independent as your master.  If you assume a control over them, in any wise inconsistent with this position, you claim a power with which no man has a right to invest you; which claim all political writers term usurpation.  I argued this point with you in a former paper, and you summoned Mr. Justice Greenleaf to appear before you in council to answer to it.  He knew you had again gone beyond your last, and treated your summons as it deserved.  You still keep cobbling a wretched pattern, which all your art will never form into a tolerable any thing, nor all your care in this engagement prevent your bench from sticking to your breeches.

But to conclude with you in a more serious stile and manner, I will acknowledge you are among a few candidates for an unrivaled fame, if success should vindicate the impracticability of enslaving so many millions of men among whom are many thousands wiser than yourself, without the aid of military force, or even that of corruption.  The man that would bestow himself for an ass for you to ride on, deserves to be saddled indeed, and wh[  ]t till his entrails fall out, to pay him for his complaisance.”

[signed] MUCIUS SCAEVOLA

Source: Massachusetts Spy newspaper

Commentary: “I argued this point with you in a former paper, and you summoned Mr. Justice Greenleaf to appear before you in council to answer to it.” I interpret this as the pseudonymous Mucius Scaevola asserting that he is not John Greenleaf, who was called to task for the inflammatory op-ed piece in the Massachusetts Spy on November 11, 1771. Stylistically, this piece features the distinct bombast and colorful analogies of Warren’s pseudonymous writings as Paskalos and A True Patriot.  It shows none of the convoluted phrasing and legalisms evident in Greenleaf’s Abingdon Resolves and his account of his run-in with the Governor’s Council.

I identify Mucius Scaevola as a pseudonym of Joseph Warren in the new biography.  Earlier Professor Richard D. Brown [Revolutionary Politics in Massachusetts – the Boston Committee of Correspondence and the Towns, 1772-1774. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970] did so as did local historian Benjamin Hobart [History of the Town of Abingdon, Plymouth County, Massachusetts. Boston: T.H. Carter and Son, 1866, p. 269]. In contrast, Mucius Scaevola was thought by some contemporaries and modern historians  as being the pseudonymous writings of John Greenleaf. Mr. Greenleaf was called to task for Mucius by the Governor’s Council, so some have assumed him to have been Mucius.

The issue of attribution illustrates a difference between thematic histories and historical biography.  For those toiling within a broad frame, such as the “Atlantic World,” precise attribution of a particular pseudonymous provincial trouble maker in a minor controversy is of little importance or interest. In contrast, the frame of historical biography is the individual and his or her agency. When primary documentation is scanty, as is the case with Joseph Warren, most women, slaves, servants, and the many poorly documented individuals of the era,  attribution of a particular piece or pseudonym can be central, as it will serve as the grist for insights into individual acts and motivations. These can be valid only to the extent that the documents were actually written by or about the biographical subject. It might be the only documentation for the dates in question, so the issue of attribution can be central for the biographer.

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