They Say They Have a Right to Determine for Themselves Under What Government They Will Live Hereafter

in by Warren

Date: September 4, 1774

[To Samuel Adams in Philadelphia]

Dear Sir, – Our friends, Drs. Church and Young (whose letters I have seen), write so fully to you by this conveyance, that it will be needless for me to take up your time in giving a minute account of what has passed since my last. I can only assure you, that I never saw a more glorious prospect than the present. The generous spirit of our ancestors seems to have revived beyond our most sanguine expectations. I promised you, in my last, some account of the mighty expedition against the Arsenal at Cambridge; but, as you will have a particular detail of that campaign in the public papers, you will not wish me to take up your time. Friday morning, about six o’clock, I received a message from Charlestown, informing me that some boys and negroes had called at Mr. Sewall’s house at Cambridge; and, by the imprudent discharge of a pistol by a person in the house, they were provoked to break the windows, but very soon left the house without doing further damage. The informant besides assured me, that the county of Middlesex were highly incensed against Mr. Brattle and some others, and advised that some person from Boston should go up to Cambridge. This message was scarcely finished when a billet  was brought, requesting me to take some step in order to prevent the people from coming to immediate acts of violence, as incredible num­bers were in arms, and lined the roads from Sudbury to Cambridge. I summoned the committee of correspondence; but, as care had been taken to caution every man who passed the ferry from alarming, Boston, I judged it best not to inform the person who warned the com­mittee of the business they were to meet upon. They, therefore, made no great haste to get together. After waiting some time, I took as many of the members as came in my way to Charlestown, fearing that something amiss might take place. I saw the gentlemen at Charlestown, who begged us to move forward to Cambridge. On our way, we met the Lieutenant-governor Oliver. He said he was going to the general, to desire him not to march his troops out of Boston. We thought his precaution good, and proceeded to Cambridge. We there saw a fine body of respectable freemen, with whom we spent the day, and were witnesses of their patience, temperance, and fortitude, a particular account of which you have per this conveyance. The accounts from the western counties are such as must give the most exalted idea of the resolution and intrepidity of the inhabitants. The people from Hampshire County crowded the county of Worcester with armed men; and both counties received the accounts of the quiet dispersion of the people of Middlesex with apparent regret, grudging them the glory of having done something important for their country without their assistance. Had the troops marched only five miles out of Boston, I doubt whether a man would have been saved of their whole number. But enough of this. We find it difficult here to regulate the little matters in which we are engaged. You move in a larger orbit. However, I hope your superior abilities will not fail of carrying you safely through.

You will, I am sure, consider the very great difference that there is between this and the other colonies. Their commerce glides in its usual channels. Their charters have not yet been torn to pieces by the harpies of power. They retain their usual forms of trials by juries, in courts duly constituted. What is left for us? If we acquiesce but for an hour, the shackles will be fixed for ever. If we should allow the county courts to sit one term upon the new establishment, what confusion, what dissensions, must take place! Our friends – I mean particularly you, Mr. Cushing, Mr. Adams, and Mr. Paine – are capable of representing to your brethren the impossibility of our continuing long in a state of inactivity. Our all is at stake. We must give up our rights, and boast no more of freedom, or we must oppose immediately. Our enemies press so close that we cannot rest upon our arms. If this province is saved, it must be by adopting measures immediately efficacious. I have mentioned, in my letters to you, the most mild plan that can be adopted; viz., non-importation and non-exportation to Britain, Ireland, and the West Indies. I mentioned some of my reasons for believing that our liberties might thereby be secured; but it may not be amiss to try how far some further steps for securing our rights might (if absolutely necessary) be approved by our brethren on the continent. I firmly believe, that the utmost caution and prudence is necessary to gain the consent of the province to wait a few months longer for their deliverance, as they think the cord by which they were bound to the King of Britain has been, by his act, cut in sunder. They say they have a right to determine for themselves under what government they will live hereafter. But I shall now only subscribe myself your friend and humble servant,

Joseph Warren.

Dr. [Samuel] Adams [Jr.] informs me that your lady and family are in health, and present sent their love and duty to you.

Source: Richard Frothingham Life and Times of Joseph Warren. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., 1865, pp. 355-357. Said to be copied from the original then in the possession of Mr. Bancroft. I believe that the original ms is now among the Samuel Adams Papers 1635-1826, In: Wells and Bancroft Collection, New York: New York Public Library, but I have not confirmed the assertion.

Commentary: As Samuel Adams was in Philadelphia for the convening of the First Continental Congress, momentous events were transpiring in Massachusetts, then the epicenter for friction between American Patriots and Tory Ministerial policies.

In early September 1774 Joseph Warren stepped out from his political mentor Samuel Adams’ shadow. As a leading Patriot remaining in Boston, Warren provided eloquent and effective political leadership at the Suffolk Convention of Eastern Massachusetts towns and situational leadership in the field by defusing a volatile situation arising from the Cambridge Alarm. Militant and armed Patriots from the countryside congregated by the thousands in Cambridge to force several Mandamus Counselors to renounce their appointments by Governor General Gage. If British soldiers had been deployed from Boston to protect the Loyalists of Tory Row in Cambridge during those early September days, a blood bath and beginning of the Revolutionary War might well have ensued. While the situation in which Warren found himself, as well as its implications, might give pause to many, Warren was paradoxically energized by the importance and plasticity of the situation and his role. His excitement and delight are palpable in this letter.

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