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hough apparent to all sagacious observers, did not lead to any overt ac. of resistance till 1761.
An order of council had been passed in Great Britain, ordering the officers of the customs in Massachusetts Bay, to execute the acts of trade. The custom-house officers, in order that they might fully perform this duty, petitioned the Supreme Court, to grant “writs .of assistance, according to the usage of the Court of Exchequer in England, which authorized those who held them to enter houses, &c. in search of goods liable to duty. This created a great excitement, and the right w grant them was strenuously denied. Its legality was made the subject of a trial. Mr. Gridley, the King's Attorney General, argued in support of the power of the court, and he was opposed by the celebrated James Otis, a man of splendid abilities and ardent patriotism, at that time, in the prime of life, and the full blaze of his reputation. His speech was a magnificent display of eloquence, argument, and learning. And Mr. Adams, who heard it, has recorded his impressions of it, in his glowing and . peculiar language. “Otis,” says he, “was a flame of fire! With a promptitude of classical allusion, a depth of research, a rapid summary of historical events and dates, a profusion of legal authorities, a prophetic glance of his eyes into futurity, a rapid torrent of impetuous eloquence, he hurried away all before him. American Independence was then and there born; every man of an immensely crowded audience, appeared to me to go away ready to take up arms against writs of assistance.” On another occasion, he says of the same speech, “that James Otis, then and there, breathed into this nation the breath of life.”
The court decided against the legality of the writs, but it is generally supposed that they were issued clandestinely.
In 1764, Mr. Adams married Abigail, daughter of the Rev. William Smith, of We
(ymouth, and few men have been so fortunate in their choice, or so happy in their domestic relations. Mrs. Adams was a woman of great personal beauty, and strength of character, with a highly cultivated mind, and the most feminine sweetness of disposition. She sympathized with her husband, in his patriotic enthusiasm, was the confidant of all his plans and feelings; cheered and supported him in his hours of trial, and submitted, without repining, to the long separations, which his di ty to the public rendered necessary.
In 1765, the British ministry, with what now seems a providential infatuation, passed the memorable stamp act, by which stamped paper was required to be used in all legal instruments, and imposing a tax upon it, by which a large amount was to be raised in the colonies. A flame of opposition blazed out immediately throughout the whole country. The right of Parliament to lay the tax was denied, pamphlets were written against it, the newspapers contested it, town-meetings were held, and the most spirited resolutions passed. The men who took the lead in the opposition, were Patrick Henry, of Virginia, and James Otis, who was powerfully supported by Mr. Adams. These two last gentlemen, together with Mr. Gridley, appeared before the Governor and Council, and
argued that the courts should administer justice without stamped paper.
About this time he gave to the world, his first printed performance,
his “Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law.” The object of this work, was to show the absurdity and tyranny of the Lonarchical and aristocratic institutions of the old world, and, in particular, the mischievous principles of the canon and feudal law. He contends that the New-England settlers had been induced to cross the ocean to escape the tyranny of church and state, and that they had laid the foundations of their government in reason, justice, and a respect for the rights of humanity. It exhorts his countrymen not to fall short of these noble sentiments of their fathers, and to sacrifice any thing rather than liberty and honor. “The whole tone of the essay is so raised and bold,” says Mr. Wirt, “that it sounds like a trumpet-call to arms. It was much read and admired in America and Europe, and was pronounced by Mr Hollis, of London, to be the best American work which had crossed the Atlantic.
In 1766, he removed his residence to Boston, to reap the more abundant harvest of professional honor and emolument which the capital afforded, but still continued his attendance on the neighboring circuits. The stamp act was opposed throughout the colonies, with such spirit and nnanimity, that on the tenth of March, 1766, it was repealed; but still the British cabinet, notwithstanding the eloquent remonstrances of Burke and Chatham, would not give up the idea of raising a revenue in America, and the repeal act was accompanied by a declaratory act, in which it was asserted, "that the Parliament had, and of right ought to have, power to bind the colonies in all cases whatsoever.” In the next year, a law was passed, laying duties in the British colonies, on glass, paper, painters' colors, and tea. These proceedings, coupled with the declaration above-mentioned, raised a new storm in the colonies, who were determined to resist the tax, and to extort from the British ministry the acknowledgment that they had no right to tax them. The town of Boston had, also, its peculiar sources of irritation and dislike to the mother country. It had always been considered as taking the lead in the opposition, and in order to overawe the inhabitants, some armed vessels were stationed in the harbor, and two regiments of foot were quartered in the town.
During these troubled tinies, Mr. Adams was zealous and unremitting in asserting the rights of his country. The value and importance of his services in behalf of liberty, may be estimated by the fact that the crown officers thought him worthy of being purchased by a bigh price. They offered to him the place of Advocate
General in the Court of Admiralty, a very lucrative office at that time, and a steppingstone to still higher ones. But as he could not accept it, without abandoning his friends and principles, he declined it, as he himself says, "decidedly and peremptorily, though respectfully."
In 1769, he was the chairman of a committee, consisting of himself, Richard Dana and Joseph Warren, chosen by the citizens of Boston, to prepare instructions to their representatives to resist the encroachments of the British government. These were conceived in a bold tone of spirited remonstrance, and particularly urged the removal of the troops from Boston.
But the soldiers still continued in town, and this gave rise to an inci dent, which was highly honorable to the professional firmness and mora. courage of Mr. Adams. The inhabitants looked with an evil eye upon the soldiers. Squabbles were perpetually taking place between them, and on the fifth of March, 1770, a bloody affray occurred in State-street, in which five citizens were killed and many others wounded. This is commonly called the Boston massacre, about which it is almost impossible to learn the exact truth, even at this day, or to settle the amount of blame which ought to be attached to both parties. The town was thrown into a most violent ferment, as may well be supposed, and nothing but the most active exertions of the leading men prevented the populace from rising en masse, and putting to death every man who wore a red coat. The inhabitants assembled in town-meeting and chose a committee, of which Samuel Adams was the chairman, to present a remonstrance to the Governor, with a demand that the regular troops should be removed from the town. The state of popular feeling is well described in the words of John Adams himself. “Not only the immense assemblies of the people from day to day, but military arrangements from night to night, were necessary to keep the people and the soldiers from getting together by the ears. The life of a red coat would not have been safe in any street or corner of the town. Nor would the lives of the inhabitants been much
The whole militia of the city was in requisition, and military watches and guards were every where placed. We were all upon a level, no man was exempted; our military officers were our only superiors. I had the honor to be summoned in my turn, and attended at the state-house with my musket and bayonet, my broadsword and cartridgebox, under the command of the famous Paddock., I know you will laugh at my military figure, but I believe there was not a more obedient soldier in the regiment, nor one more impartial between the people and the regulars. In this character, I was upon duty all night upon my turn."
The Governor did not attempt to stem the current of popular feeling, but the soldiers were sent to the castle, and Captain Preston, the commanding officer, and some of the privates, were arrested and held for trial. Mr. Adams was applied to, to bę their counsel. This request placed him in an embarrassing situation. The people were clamorous against the criminals, and demanded their blood with one voice; and any man who appeared in their defence, was in danger of losing his popularity and influence with them; and Mr. Adams, who had been so zealous a champion in the popular cause, ran the risk of being accused of deserting his former principles, and becoming the advocate of tyranny. But these considerations had no weight with him. His life was ordered in obedience to duty, and his conduct was never influenced by the hope of gaining, or the fear of losing, the favor of the people. He undertook the defence without any hesitation, and Josiah Quincy, Jr., another eminent patriot, was associated with him. The result of the trial was, in the highest degree, honorable to the community. Captain Preston was acquitted by a jury, chosen from the exasperated inhabitants of the town, and his counsel, who defended him with great ability and eloquence, lost nothing in their good opinion by their resolute performance of their professional duty. Such incidents as these show us the exalted motives, and the sublime sense of right and justice, which influenced the men of the revolution, and of the dark days that preceded it.
Mr. Adams was chosen, in the same year, one of the representatives in the General Assembly. The session which ensued was signalized by an obstinate contest with Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson, as to whether the General Court should be held in Cambridge, where Governor Barnard had removed it, or in Boston, the usual place. Mr. Adams was one of a committee chosen to remonstrate with the acting Governor on his changing the place of assembly, to gratify the wishes of his Majesty's ministers; and their eloquent appeal to him, probably proceeded from his pen. But the Lieutenant (and acting) Governor was determined not to go to Boston, of whose bold and spirited population, he stood in no little awe. Urged by the necessity of the times, the members proceeded to transact business at Cambridge, protesting, however, against the restraint they were under.
In 1772, the ministers introduced a regulation, by which the salaries of the judges were paid in such a manner, as rendered them wholly dependent upon, and subservient to, the crown.
This excited great offence, and gave rise to a controversy in the public papers, between William Brattle, the senior member of the council, on one side, and Mr. Adams, on the other. Mr. Adams' numbers were learned and able, and communicated much useful information to the people. These essays were published in the Boston Gazette, of February, 1773, under his proper signature.
When the General Court met in January, 1773, Hutchinson, who had been appointed Governor, made a very injudicious and violent speech to the two houses, on the supremacy of Parliament, and the impolicy of resisting it. To their reply, he made an elaborate rejoinder, and the sense in which Mr. Adams was held, may be learned from the fact, that, though not a member, he was called upon to furnish a reply. He produced an eloquent and argumentative dissertation, remarkable both for the beauty of its style and the cogency of its reasoning. It was republished by Dr. Franklin, in England, as the ablest exposition of colonial affairs that had appeared.
Soon after this, he was chosen a member of the Assembly, and nomi nated by them on their list of Councillors, but his name was erased by Governor Hutchinson, and the same compliment was paid him the next year by Governor Gage.
The act of 1767, which granted duties in the British colonies na glass, paper, painters' colors, and tea, had been repealed as to all the articles except tea, and, in consequence, associations were formed in all the colonies, to discourage the use of it. Large shipments of it were made. The consignees were prevailed upon to send it back to England, but the custom-house officers refused a clearance.
The patience of the inhabitants became quite exhausted, and on the evening of the fifteenth of December, a band of them, amounting to between seventy and eighty in number, went quietly down to the wharf, boarded the vessels, hoisted the chests upon deck, and emptied their contents into the sea. A consideration of the circumstances of the times exalts this seeming frolic into an act of the most sublime daring. It was the first open act of rebellion. It was the throwing the gauntlet of defiance to the mother country. It removed all chances of reconciliation, and rendered an appeal to arms inevitable. *
The British ministry were highly incensed at this outrage, and determined to visit it with signal punishment. An act was passed for closing the port of Boston, which is commonly called the Boston Port Bill. This was a deadly blow to the prosperity of the place, and the inhabitants looked anxiously to the sister colonies for aid in carrying on the contest. They resolved to make application to them to refuse all importations from Great Britain; they sent agents among them to ascertain their views, and to persuade them to the adoption of their own sentiments. Among these was a plan for a general Congress, deeming that the condition of the colonies was such as to require the most vigorous and united measures. To this Congress they chose five delegates, James Bowdoin, Thomas Cushing, Samuel Adams, John Adams, and Robert Treat Paine. While the General Court were engaged in the discussion of these important measures, and electing the delegates, Governor Gage, having been informed of what was passing, sent his secretary with a message dissolving them. But he found the doors locked, and was resolutely refused admission. The secretary, by the Governor's orders, came to the door of the room, and read a proclamation for dissolving the assembly. This was the close of the power of England in and over Massachusetts. From that moment she was, to all intents and purposes, an independent state.
An interesting incident is related, as having happened to Mr. Adams at this time, and which is valuable, as illustrating the state of his feelings. Soon after he was elected a delegate, his friend, Mr. Sewall, the King's Attorney General, labored earnestly to dissuade him from accepting the appointment. He told him “that Great Britain was determined on her system; her power was irresistible, and would be destructive to him and all those who should persevere in opposition to her designs.” Mr. Adams replied to him, “I know Great Britain has determined on her system, and that very determination determines me on mine; you know I have been constant and uniform in opposition to her measures. The die is now cast. I have passed the Rubicon. Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish with my country, is my unalterable determination."
The delegates from Massachusetts, with the exception of Mr. Bowdoin, took their seats in Congress, the first day of its meeting, September fifth,
* For a minute and interesting account of this transaction, see Tudor's Life of James
Otis, chap. xxv.