Madness and Haranguing at Boston Town Meeting

James Otis, Jr. (1725-1783)

in about Warren

Author: John Adams

Date: 1800s referring to events of 1768 or 1769

“I was solicited to go to the Town Meetings and harrangue there. This I constantly refused. My Friend Dr. Warren the most frequently urged me to this: My Answer to him always was “That way madness lies.” The Symptoms of our great Friend [James] Otis, at that time, suggested to Warren, a sufficient comment on these Words, at which he always smiled and said “it was true.” Although I had never attended a Meeting the Town was pleased to choose me upon their Committee to draw up Instructions to their Representatives, this Year 1768 and the next 1769 or in the year 1769 and the Year 1770, I am not certain which two of these Years. The Committee always insisted on my preparing the Draught, which I did and the Instructions were adopted without Alteration by the Town; they will be found in the Boston Gazette for those Years, and although there is nothing extraordinary in them of matter or Style, they will sufficiently shew the sense of the Public at that time.”

Source: John Adams autobiography, part 1, “John Adams,” through 1776, sheets 11 and 12 of 53 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society.

Commentary: By John Adams’ own recollections, we may infer that Adams was not yet in the inner circle of Boston Sons of Liberty in the late 1760s, while his friend Joseph Warren was by then among the most active Whigs. Warren’s wry admission, that to “harrangue” [sic] at the Town Meeting would have been tantamount to following mercurial politician James Otis, Jr. (1725-1783)  into madness, speaks to Warren’s warmly ironic sense of humor, John Adams’ appreciation of it, and Otis’ mental state prior to the 1769 altercation at the British Coffee House.

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