Hutchinson’s 1773 Address in a Modernized and Condensed Version

in about Warren

Date:  January 11, 1773

Author:  Thomas Hutchinson

Gentlemen of the Council, and Gentlemen of the House of Representatives,

I have nothing special from His Majesty at this time, rather general instructions from me. That the Government is at present in a disturbed and disordered state is a truth too evident to be denied. For several years past, I have hoped this would end on its own, but I am disappointed. Consistent with my duty, I won’t delay communicating my sentiments on a matter of so great importance. I hope you will listen to what I have to say. Even if you don’t agree with me, I promise to consider your response.

When the Pilgrims first took possession, under a grant and charter from the Crown of England, it was their and the Kingdom’s sense that they were to remain subject to the supreme authority of Parliament.  This appears in the charter itself.  This supreme authority has been exercised by Parliament and submitted to by the Colony.  It has been acknowledged by the Provincial legislature and, except during the anarchy preceding the Restoration of Charles II, it has not been called in question until seven or eight years ago.  Our province submitted to acts of Parliament made for plantations in general, and this colony in particular.  In our executive courts both juries and judges have considered such acts as part of our rule of law.  Such a constitution in a colony is not particular to England but agrees with the principles of the most celebrated writers upon international law.

The spirit of liberty infuses all parts of the British Constitution. Although from the nature of government there must be one supreme authority over all, yet this Constitution allows subordinate powers, with legislative and executive authority according to local circumstances.  Thus we see a variety of governmental structures within the Kingdom with powers to make and execute bylaws for their immediate use and benefit. The members of such structures still remain subject to the general laws of the Kingdom.  We see also governments established in the colonies which, from their separate and remote situation, require more general and extensive legislative powers, but are subject nevertheless to all the laws of the Kingdom that are designed to extend to them.  In this province we have been left to the exercise of our legislative and executive powers, Parliament rarely interposing.

For more than one hundred years, the laws of both the supreme and subordinate authority were duly executed. Offenders against them have been punished severely, peace and order have been maintained, and the people of this province have enjoyed the advantages of good government as any on Earth.  They have annually expressed their united appreciation for it thanking God for the enjoyment and continuation of these privileges.

Lately the constitution has been called into question and the authority of Parliament to pass laws for this Province.  What was at first whispered with caution is now openly asserted in print.  Inhabitants in several principal towns have assembled together, passed resolves which they have recorded in town records, and printed them in pamphlets and newspapers.  Some of these resolves deny the supreme authority of Parliament and alienate the affections of the people from their Sovereign.  Committees of Correspondence have been formed in several of towns to maintain the misguided principles.

I know of no reasonable arguments sufficient to support these principles or to justify the measures.  It has been asserted that the sole power in making laws is granted by Charter to the provincial legislature, consisting of the King by his representative the Governor, the Council and the House of Representatives – that by this Charter are granted to provincial inhabitants all the liberties and immunities of free and natural subjects as if they had been born within England – -that all this is part of liberties of British subjects, which has its foundation in nature, to be governed by laws made by their consent, in person or by their representatives – that the subjects in this Province are not represented in Parliament, therefore the acts of Parliament cannot be binding.

I do not find in the Charter such an expression as sole power or any words which impart it.  The General Court, however, has full power to pass laws as are not in conflict with the laws of England.  A favorable construction has been put on this clause when it has been allowed to intend such laws of England only as are expressly declared to apply to us.  Surely then this is by Charter a reserve of power and authority for Parliament to bind us by such laws as are made expressly to refer to us;  and, consequently, it is a limitation of power given to the General Court.  Nor can it be contended by the liberties of free and natural subjects is to be understood as an exemption from acts of Parliament because Massachusetts inhabitants are not represented there, seeing it is provided by the same Charter that such acts shall be in force.  And if people who object to such acts will read the Charter closely, they must be convinced that this grant of liberties and immunities is nothing more than a declaration and assurance on the part of the Crown that the place to which the Pilgrims were about to go was, and would always be, part of the dominions of the Crown of England.  And therefore those subjects of the Crown, and those born there and in their  passage to or from that place, would not become aliens.  Rather, throughout all parts of the English dominions, wherever they might happen to be, as well as in the Colony, they would retain the liberties and immunities of free and natural subjects, their distance from or not being born in England notwithstanding.  If the colonies are part of the dominions of the Crown, this clause in the Charter does not confer any special liberties but those enjoyed by inhabitants of every other colony without a Charter.  If the plantations are not the dominions of the Crown, wouldn’t everyone born here be considered to be born out of the allegiance to the King of England?  Wherever they go in any part of the dominions wouldn’t they be considered aliens, this grant in the Charter notwithstanding?

Those who claim exemption from Parliament, by virtue of their rights as Englishmen, should consider that it is impossible that the rights of English subjects should be the same in all parts of the Dominions.  If one of their rights as English subjects is to be governed by Laws made by persons in whose Election they have a voice—- They move from the Kingdom where, perhaps, they were in the full exercise of this right to a colony where it cannot be exercised.  Does it follow that the government, by their going from one dominion to another, loses its authority over that part to which they remove, and that they are free from the subjection they were under before?  Or do they expect that Parliament should relinquish its authority because they cannot enjoy this particular right?

Those who claim exemption as part of natural rights, should consider every restraint to which people are subject by a state of government, is a limitation on part of their natural rights.  Of all of the different forms of government which exist, there can be no two of them in which the departure from natural rights is exactly the same.  Even in the case of elected representation, don’t citizens give up part of their natural rights when they consent to be represented by a person chosen by the majority of voters, although their own voices may be for some other person?  Therefore this is an objection against a state of government rather than against any particular form.

If what I have said is insufficient to satisfy objections to the supreme authority of Parliament over the provinces, I will add one thing further.  I know of no line that can be drawn between the supreme authority of Parliament and total independence of the colonies.  It is impossible there should be two independent legislatures in one and the same state, for although there may be but one head in the King, yet two legislative bodies will result in two governments as distinct as the Kingdoms of England and Scotland were before the Union.  If independent of Great Britain, could we have any claim to the protection of that government of which we are no longer part?  We would become the prey of the other powers of Europe.  Is there anything we have more reason to dread than independence?  I hope that it will never be our misfortune to know by experience the difference between the liberties of an English colonist and those of the Spanish, French or Dutch.

If then the supremacy of Parliament over all British dominions shall no longer be denied, it follows that exercise of its authority can be no matter of grievance.  If it has been exercised in grievous way, still this is insufficient grounds for denying the authority or refusing to submit to it. The acts of the most perfect form of government will not always be thought just and equitable by everyone.  To doubt this necessarily works toward dissolution of the government.  The manner of obtaining redress must by representations pursued according to the rules prescribed by the Constitution.  But I conceive that it is rather the mere exercise of this authority which is complained of as a grievance, opposed to any substantive grievance.

Contentment and order are the happy effects of a Constitution strengthened by universal assent and approbation.  So discontent and disorder are now the deplorable effects of a Constitution enfeebled by partisan rancor.  Besides divisions and animosities which disturb the peace of towns and families, the law in some important cases has been obstructed. Offenders, ordered by advice of His Majesty’s Council to be prosecuted, escape with impunity.  Government authority is brought into contempt.  And there are only frail remains of subordination which was once very conspicuous and which is essential to a well regulated state.

When the bands of Government are thus weakened, it certainly behooves leaders to omit nothing which may tend to strengthen the government.  If my principles of government are right let us adhere to them.  With the same principles our ancestors were easy and happy for a long time, and I know of no reason to doubt that you could be equally easy and happy.  The people, influenced by you, will forsake their unconstitutional principles and desist from their irregularities. They will be convinced that everything that is valuable to them depends upon their connection to their parent state, that this connection cannot be continued in any other than dependence on the supreme authority of the British dominions. They will enjoy as great a portion of those rights to which they have a claim, by nature or as Englishmen, as can be enjoyed by any provincial or colonial.

I may not allow myself to think that you contemplate independence.  If you can conceive of any other constitutional dependence than what I have mentioned; if you believe that upon any other principles our connection with the state from which we sprang can be continued; communicate your sentiments to me with the same freedom as I have communicated mine to you.

I have no desire, to preclude you from seeking relief, in a constitutional way, in any cases in which you suppose that you are aggrieved. I will do nothing to lessen the weight which your representations may deserve.  I have lain before you what I think are the principles of your Constitution.  I hope we shall put an end to these irregularities, which will always be the portion of a Government where the supreme authority is disputed, and introduce that tranquility which has taken place in most of the North American colonies.

To the enacting of any new Laws which may be necessary for the more equal and effective distribution of Justice, or for giving further encouragement to our products, fishery and agriculture, which through Divine favor are already in a very flourishing state, or for promoting measures which may conduce to the general good of the Province, I will readily give my assent or concurrence. (2045 words)

Source: Boston Evening-Post supplement, Issue 1946; p.1. This is my somewhat modernized and condensed version of the original speech delivered on January 6, 1773: 1/3 shorter, all the sense and argument, more current verb forms and idioms, and less repetition and legalistic phrasing than the 3080 word original. The unabridged version as delivered and published on January 11, 1773 can be found here.

Commentary: This is a thoughtful exposition of the Loyalist cause. I judged it sufficiently interesting that I updated the wording and reduced the bulk in order to make it more accessible to modern history enthusiasts.

Patriots could not resist answering Thomas Hutchinson’s invitation to hear contrarian views, and to use his speech as grist for a salvo in the war of words between Loyalists and Patriots.  In a back-handed tribute, 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 probably had outsized roles in that response.

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