There is a Charm in the Word ‘Constitutional’

in about Warren

[Samuel Adams to Joseph Warren]

“Philadelphia, September [24], 1774.

My Dear, -Your letter of the 12th instant, directed to Mr. Cushing and others, came duly to hand. The subject of it is of the greatest importance. It is difficult, at this distance, to form a judgment, with any degree of accuracy, of what is best to be done. The eastern and western counties appear to differ in sentiment with regard to the two measures mentioned in your letter. This difference of sentiment might produce opposition, in case either part should be taken. You know the vast importance of union. That union is most likely to be obtained by a consultation of deputies from the several towns, either in a House of Representatives or a Provincial Congress. But the question still remains, which measure to adopt. It is probable the people would be most united; as they would think it safest, to abide by the present form of government, – I mean according to the charter. The governor has been appointed by the Crown, according to the charter; but he has placed himself at the head of a different constitution. If the only constitutional council, chosen last May, have honesty and courage enough to meet with the representatives chosen by the people by virtue of the last writ, and’ jointly proceed to the public business, would it not bring the governor to such an explicit conduct as either to restore the general assembly, or give the two Houses a fair occasion to declare the chair vacant? In which case the council would hold it till another governor should be appointed. This would immediately reduce the government prescribed in the charter; and the people would be united in what they would easily see to be a constitutional opposition to tyranny. You know there is a charm in the word constitutional.”

[Samuel Adams]

Source: Samuel Adams Papers 1635-1826. In Wells and Bancroft Collection. New York: New York Public Library.  Text also appears in Frothingham, Richard. 1865. Life and Times of Joseph Warren. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co., p. 377

Commentary: Samuel Adams, then attending the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, responds to Joseph Warren’s urgent appeal for a strategy to reconcile the more radical Patriot opinions of the Western Massachusetts countryside with the Eastern Massachusetts stance as reflected in the Suffolk Resolves. The Western Counties were prepared to openly declare what they had already carried out de facto, namely that they were independent of Great Britain. The slightly less radical Eastern Massachusetts Patriots were asserting allegiance to the British Crown but advocated firm resistance to Tory Ministerial policies and the Intolerable Acts of Parliament. As captured in the Suffolk Resolves, that resistance would take the form of a vigorous boycott of British imports, and, if General Gage’s troops acted on the offensive, a rapid military defensive mobilization.

At this point Samuel Adams was unsure whether an additional Massachusetts county convention was desirable, but he recommended adherence to the provincial Old Charter of 1692. This approach, adhered to until the outbreak of hostilities the following Spring, maintained nominal royal allegiance and deference to Thomas Gage as the appointed governor, while the elected Massachusetts House of Representatives morphed into the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and assumed independent quasi-governmental functions.

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