House of Representatives’ Answer to Gov. Hutchinson IV

in by Warren

Date: January 29, 1773

Authors: Attributed to Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren, and/or Benjamin Church, Jr.

[Modern installment IV]

“Thus we have endeavored to shew the Sense of the People of this Colony under both Charters; and if there have been in any late Instances a Submission to Acts of Parliament, it has been in our opinion, rather from Inconsideration or a Reluctance at the Idea of contending with the Parent State, than from a Conviction or Acknowledgement of the supreme legislative Authority of Parliament.

Your Excellency tells us, “you know of no Line that can be drawn between the supreme Authority of Parliament and the total Independence of the Colonies.”  If there be no such Line, the Consequence is, either that the Colonies are the Vassals of Parliament, or, that they are totally independent.  As it cannot be supposed to have been the Intention of the Parties in the Compact, that we should be reduced to a State of Vassallage, the Constitution, that it were their Sense, that we were thus independent.  “It is impossible, your Excellency says, that there should be two independent Legislatures in one and the same State.  May we not then further conclude, that it was their Sense that the Colonists were by their Charter made distinct States from the Mother Country?  Your Excellency adds “for although there may be but one head, the King, yet the two legislative Bodies will make two Governments as distinct as the Kingdoms of England and Scotland, before the Union.”  Very true, may it please your Excellency, and if they interfere not with each other, what hinders but that their united in one Head and common Sovereign , that they live happily in that Connection and mutually support and protect each other?  Notwithstanding all the Terrors which your Excellency has pictured to us as the Effects of total Independence, there is more Reason to dread the Consequences of absolute uncontrolled supreme Power, whether of a Nation or a Monarch, than those of a total Independence.  It would be a Misfortune “to know by Experience the Liberties of an English Colonist, and those of the Spanish, French or Dutch.”  And since the British Parliament has passed an Act which is executed ever with Rigor, though not voluntarily submitted to, for raising a  Revenue and appropriating the same without the consent of the People who pay it, and have claimed a Power of making such Laws as they please to order and govern us, your Excellency will excuse us asking, whether you do not think we already experience too much of such a Difference, and have not reason to fear we shall soon be reduced to a worse situation than that of the Colonies of Spain, France and Holland.

If your Excellency expects to have the Line of Distinction between the Supreme Authority of Parliament and the total Independence of the Colonies drawn by us, would say that it would be a very arduous Undertaking, and of very great Importance to all the other Colonies; and therefore, could we conceive of such a Line, without their Consent in Congress.

To conclude, These are great and profound Questions. It is the Grief of this House, that by the ill Policy of the [  ] injudicious Administration America has been driven into the Contemplation of them.  And we cannot but express our Concern, that your Excellency by your speech has reduced us to the unhappy Alternative, either of appearing by our Silence to acquiesce in your Excellency’s Sentiments, or of thus freely discussing this Point.

After all that we have said, we would be far from understood to have the least abused that just Sense of Allegience which w e owe to the King of Great Britain, our rightful Sovereign: and should the People of this Province be left to the free and full Exercise of all the Liberties and Immunities granted to them by Charter, there would be no Danger of an Independence on the Crown.  Our Charter reserves great power to the Crown in its Representative, fully sufficient to balance, analogous to the English Constitution, all the Liberties and Privileges granted to the People.  All this your Excellency knows full well — And whoever considers the Power and Influence, in all their Branches, reserved by our Charter to the Crown, will be far from thinking that the Commons of this Province are too independent.”

[6786 words inclusive of all installments]

Source:  Massachusetts Spy, Vol. II, issue 104, suppl;   Essex Gazette, Vol. V, Issue 136, pp. 1-2 suppl, February 9, 1773;  and Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary, Issue 3618, p. 1, February 4, 1773.  The first two appearances appear to be from the same set-up of moveable type,  i.e. from the same printing plate, an observation suggesting an unusual degree of cooperation in producing these pages among separate newspapers.  The article appears in whole or in part in additional Colonial newspapers:  Providence Gazette, February 13, 1773;  New York Gazette, February 15, 1773;  and Newport Mercury Supplement, Issue 755, p.1, February 22, 1773.

Commentary: Patriots could not resist answering Thomas Hutchinson’s invitation to hear contrarian views, and to use it as grist for a salvo in the war of words between Loyalists and Patriots.  In a back-handed tribute to Hutchinson’s speech, Patriot leaning newspapers made sure that the answer to Hutchinson was unified, well enunciated, and more widely distributed than Hutchinson’s speech that inspired their response. Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren, and Benjamin Church, according to John Adams’ recollection, had outsized roles in this response.

The House of Representatives response is 6786 words long. I have divided it, according to optimal website performance and modern attention spans, into four parts.

The first modern installment identifies Native Americans as the true first possessors of the land. The concept could have been worked further as a fundamental questioning of European colonialism, but the authors do not pursue the implications. Instead they argue that royal grants and charters indicate colonials’ allegiance to the King rather than Parliament.

The second installment provides historical examples, mostly from the 17th century, of England’s relationship with its North American colonies.  Examples cited included Maryland and Virginia, discussions that would have been of special interest to patriots in those provinces.

The third installment addresses the Massachusetts’ Pilgrims’ intentions to maintain regional autonomy subject to the British King.  This is ostensibly to refute an assertion by Thomas Hutchinson that the Massachusetts colonists had always intended to be part of the Empire and therefore subject to King and Parliament.  Quoting Hutchinson’s History of Massachusetts Bay back to its author may have been meant to be both clever and galling to Hutchinson.

This fourth and last installment refutes Hutchinson’s provocative assertion that Patriot incendiaries were agitating for total independence, something that few if any of them at that time were actually contemplating.

I speculate that the Patriots’ audience for this detailed piece included newspaper readers in Massachusetts, other colonies, and abroad.  Whether one agreed with it or not, it is a reasoned and detailed exposition of the Patriot cause. Arguments here depend more heavily on legal relationships and precedence within the British colonial system rather than on natural rights.  The piece may well have synergized with the recently initiated Boston Committee of Correspondence to engage, and set the terms of discussion, with Patriots and undecided citizens of sister Colonies.

In early 1773 Whiggish newspapers published in parallel the Massachusetts Governor’s Council answer to the Hutchinson New Year address. This exposition is comparably detailed.  It characterizes the governor as the King’s representative in the province and provides additional arguments of why the colonies in general, and Massachusetts in particular, was not subject to the English Parliament.  Since Joseph Warren was unlikely to have had a hand in the Council’s reply, I will not post it here.  Scholars can find it in: the Boston Evening Post, Issue 949, pp.1-2 suppl, February 1, 1773;  Boston Post-Boy, Issue 806, p.2, February 1, 1773;  Essex Gazette, Vol. V, Issue 236, p. 105, February 2, 1773;  Providence Gazette, Vol X, Issue 474, p.1, February 6, 1773;  and perhaps reported in more distant newspapers.

As a modern observer, I cannot help but contrast the depth of reasoning and example put forth in this episode by both sides in the constitutional controversy within the British Empire.  It shines in comparison to modern politics, too often characterized by headline sloganeering and venomous, vacuous Tweets.

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