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Browsing: Legal Papers of John Adams, Volume 2


This foot note contained in document ADMS-05-02-02-0006-0004-0001
21. It has been argued that the Liberty was seized and condemned solely for having loaded oil and tar without bond or permit, a technical offense against a requirement that had not previously been enforced in Boston. The loading is said to have been made the basis for the suit, because it provided ground for condemnation more readily provable than unloading before entry, and at the same time allowed the customs officers and Governor Bernard to take the proceeds of the cargo as well as of the vessel. Dickerson, Navigation Acts 237–238. See also Lovejoy, “Rights Imply Equality: The Case against Admiralty Jurisdiction in America, 1764–1776,” 16 WMQ (3d ser.) 459, 478 (1959); Ubbelohde, Vice Admiralty Courts 121–122. This view was followed in 3 JA, Diary and Autobiography  306 note. The files of the Vice Admiralty Court are lost, but secondary materials support the contrary position on several grounds: (1) There is complete unanimity in the contemporary accounts of the various royal officials concerned that Kirk's deposition of 10 June as to the unloading and the opinion of the Board's solicitor thereon provided the immediate impetus for the seizure. See materials cited in notes 7, 9, above; also, Commissioners' Minutes, 8 Aug. 1768, PRO, Treas. 1:471, fols. 7, 8; Bernard to Lord Hillsborough, 11 June 1768, 6 Bernard Papers 311, MH; Hutchinson to Richard Jackson, 16 June 1768, 55 MHS, Procs. 281. The case was presented to Attorney General DeGrey for his opinion on this basis. Opinion of William DeGrey, 25 July 1768, 55 MHS, Procs. 273–276. (2) The only accounts which mention the failure to secure bond or permit indicate that this was an alternative ground for the seizure. Boston News-Letter, 16 June 1768, p. 2, col. 1; 3 Hutchinson, Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo, 137 (The latter states expressly that the vessel was seized for false entry, and the goods for lack of a permit). (3) Dickerson's argument that the use of a writ of assistance to search the Liberty shows that her present cargo, rather than her past misdeeds, was the basis for the seizure, seems to be based on a misreading of Hutchinson's account of the question raised by the fact that the seizure was at sunset. See note 8 above. No contemporary account mentions a writ of assistance. (4) If the suit had been based only on loading without bond or permit, the oil and tar would certainly have been condemned with the vessel. The release of the goods (note 20 above) indicates that there was no violation of the bond and sufferance provisions at all. See also Hutchinson to——, ca. 3 Nov. 1768, 26 Mass. Arch. 324–325. (5) In all the furor which the Town of Boston produced in print as a result of the seizure and its aftermath, there is not a single complaint that the cause of seizure was the technical, and therefore unjust, one of loading without bond or permit. Boston's position was that the employment of the Romney, already despised for the impressment activities of her captain, brought on the riot of 10 June; this was the basis of all subsequent complaints. See Instructions to Boston Representatives, 17 June 1768, 16 Boston Record Commissioners, Reports 258; “A Letter from Boston to a Gentleman in London,” 15 June 1768, American Gazette (No. 2) 97–110; An Appeal to the World, or a Vindication of the Town of Boston 14–17 (London, 1770); Letters to the Right Honorable the Earl of Hillsborough from Governor Bernard, General Gage, and the Honorable His Majesty's Council 44 (London, 1770); Observations on Several Acts of Parliament 19 note (Boston, 1769). See also Gary, Joseph Warren 75–76. (6) One contemporary account favorable to Boston states that the seizure and condemnation of the Liberty were “for a non-entry of a part of her cargo of Madeiria wines.” “A Journal of the Times,” 3 Nov. 1768, in Dickerson, Boston under Military Rule 18. An early historian of the Revolution, who had access both to documents and personal accounts in Boston, states that the seizure was for a false entry. 1 Gordon, History of Independence 231.