If I had Power to Restrain the Press, I Should Have No Inclination to Hinder Mucius

in about Warren

by John Greenleaf, about Mucius Scaevola

Date: December 11, 1771

“Dear Sir,

As you are desirous of having an Account of the Late transactions of the Governor and Council relating to the, and my conduct respecting the same, I shall gratify you by giving you a short detail, that you may be able to judge, not of their unpoliteness, but of their cruelty towards me. I now consider myself as a Magistrate, or public person, and, as such, I land a right to expect to be treated: but was disappointed.

It may not be amiss to give you an account of the whole proceeding. —  On the 15th of November last I received a polite message from the Governor and Council, by Mr. Baker, desiring my attendance at the Council Chamber, this I have no fault to find with. The distress of my family, on account of a sick child, who died that day, was such that I could not possibly attend, and I excused myself in the most polite manner I was capable of. A few days later came a citation conceiv’d in the terms following, vis.

“Province of Massachusetts Bay.

To John Greenleaf of Boston, in said Province, Esq;

YOU are required to appear before the Governor and Council at the Council Chamber in Boston, on Tuesday the 10th Day of December next, at Ten of the Clock in the Forenoon, then and there to be examined regarding a certain Paper called the Massachusetts-Spy, published the 14th Day of Nov. 1771. Whereof you are not to fail at your Peril.

Dated at Boston the 16th Day of Nov. 1771. By order of the Governor with the Advice of Council, Tho. Flucker, Secr’y.”

This proceeding alarmed me, as I judged it WHOLLY illegal, for I could have no idea of the legality of erecting a court of INQUISITION in this free country, and could find on form[?] for such a decision in the province law books. My duty to my country therefore forbad my paying any obedience to it, especially as it might hereafter be used as precedent.

I should be very unwilling to be thought a disputer of the laws of my country, I religiously submit to them all, “not only for wrath, but for conscience sake.” I have not such a mistaken notion of liberty, as to think it consists in a freedom from obligation either to the laws of nature or the laws of the land. But the freedom I now contend for, is, a right of resistance, or rather withholding my obedience, when unlawfully commanded.

Had the governor or council, certified to me, in a legal manner, that a complaint had been exhibited against me (or any thing done, or said by me in the capacity of a magistrate, contrary to my duty, or injurious to the subject), I should have held myself in duty bound to have obeyed their summons, to endure such impeachments. Here, I acknowledge their jurisdiction, and would with cheerfulness have obeyed; but this was not the case, the citation sent to me, was, in my judgment, more suitable to be sent to a Porter, and considering myself as a magistrate, the dignity of the office forbad me making any notice of it; I have not been influenced by whist, or caprise, my design was to act in CHARACTER, and whether I have done so, you must judge.

By this time, sir, I suppose you are anxious to know the determination of the governor and council, upon my refusal to attend, you would scarce believe, should I attempt to satisfy you in my language; I shall therefore give it you from the minutes of council. — “At a Council held at the Council Chamber in Boston, Tuesday Dec. 19, 1771. His Excellency having acquainted the Board at their last Meeting, that Joseph Greenleaf, Esq: a Justice of the Peace for the County of Plymouth, was generally reputed to be concerned with Isaiah Thomas, in printing and publishing a News-Paper, called the Massachusetts Spy, and the said Joseph Greenleaf having thereupon been summoned at attend the board this day in order to his examination touching the same, and not attending according to summons, it was thereupon UNANIMOUSLY advised, that the said Joseph Greenleaf be dismissed from the Office of a Justice of the Peace, which advice was approved of, and consented to, by his Excellency; and the said Joseph Greenleaf is dismissed from the said Office accordingly.”

A true copy from the Minutes of Council, Tho. Flucker, Secr’y”

When you have read and thoroughly digested this, you will please to read the following quotation from Dal[ton, a legal reference]. E. 3d. By him we learn that [   ] a justice is dismissed from his office, he must be either “express’d by will under the great seal, or by implication by making a new commission, and leaving out the [    ]Justices names. But until notice, or establishing the new commission, the acts of the former Justices are good in Law.” – I have no remarks to make here, and am willing you should judge by a bare comparison, whether I have been righteously dealt with in the late proceedings. I have heard of no writ under the great seal to make void my commission, and the committee for the peace here, being different in form from those in England, cannot be dismissed by implication. The commission there runs thus, “George the third, by the grace of God, &c. To A, B, C, D, &c. greeting. Know ye that we have assigned yea, jointly and severally, and every one of you our justices to keep our peace in the country of, &c.” One commission answers for every; justice in a country there, here every justice has a separate commission. There, upon the accession of a King, the commission is made out anew, and if Mr. Justice A is omitted in the new commission, and Mr. Justice B inserted in his place, which may be done for certain reasons, and alter legal notice thereof, Mr. Justice A has no further jurisdiction, yet this cannot take place ‘till after a fair hearing and a legal conviction for a real crime. The reason why a Justice may not be set aside, but formal-administration, is founded in common justice, it should also be remembered that a Justice doth not hold his commission durante bene placite, not, quam din si benegesseris, and therefore, in justice, cannot be deprived of it, unless he makes a misuse of it: But if a Justice of the Peace may be d[i]smissed from his office, because he refuses to be examined about a common News-Paper, by any Court, but one legally inpowered to summon and examine him, if he may be dismissed, because he is “supposed by people in general” to be concerned with a Printer, or any other person, that the governor has conceived a dislike to, we are in a pitiable state. This is holding a commission durante [   ]————–, upon such terms no honest man would care to accept of one: besides what would be the consequence of such deprivations to the public?. I have given you this hasty account of the matter for your present perusal. I may give you hereafter some more digested remarks.

This affair, as it concerns myself, gives me no uneasiness, for by leaving the County where I had jurisdiction, I voluntarily relinquished it, yet according to Dalton, I still have jurisdiction when I please to take my seat on the bench at the Court of Sessions in the County of Plymouth.

I am, Sir, your most humble Servant, JOSEPH GREENLEAF

P.S. A [    ] has leaked out, it is said, it was my duty as a magistrate, to have prevented the publication of the Piece signed Mucius Scaevola: But I have no such connections with Mr. [Isaiah] Thomas or any other Printer, as give me a right to restrain him or them any publications, though, I must confess, that if I had power to restrain the Press, I should have no inclination to hinder Mucius, or even Chrom[ ], or Imp[  ]idius, from laying their sentiments before the public.

Yours, ut Supra”

Source: Massachusetts Spy

Commentary: As a consequence to the appearance of the provocative op-ed piece in the Massachusetts Spy under the byline of Mucius Scaevola, Joseph Greenleaf was called before the Governor’s Council to explain his role in the matter. I assert that Mucius was likely to have been a pseudonym for Joseph Warren. Greenleaf refused to appear before the hearing and was subsequently stripped of his Crown appointment as constable in Plymouth. Greenleaf’s authorship in 1770 of the Abingdon Resolves was sufficient in itself for Loyalist Friends of Government to find a pretext for reprisal.

Here, Greenleaf relates his view of the affair. In addition to reproducing communications he received from Thomas Flucker, secretary of the Province, Greenleaf arguers that the Council had no jurisdiction over him; that in any case he had no influence with publisher Isaiah Thomas relative to editorial content; and that the council’s denial of his Plymouth constabulary role was of no practical significance to him. He had moved to Boston since the original appointment, so was rarely present in Plymouth to exercise his office.

Significantly, he neither confirms nor denies that he was Mucius Scaevola, a circumstance I believe led some contemporaries and modern observers to conclude that Greenleaf was the pseudonymous author. The offense that the Council seized upon to punish Greenleaf was that he failed to prevent the seditious publication, rather than he had been its author. Mucius himself made another appearance in print, which if taken at face value, shows that Mucius was someone other than Joseph Greenleaf.

In my attribution of Mucius Scaevola, I am concurring with Professor Brown’s analysis that the actual author was Joseph Warren. The governor and his Loyalist counselors vented their anger on Joseph Greenleaf, who was an outspoken Whig, an associate of Massachusetts Spy publisher Isaiah Thomas, and vulnerable to reprisal in that he held a Crown appointment.

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