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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 3


Docno: ADMS-01-03-02-0016-0020

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1773

[Controversy with Hutchinson, 1773]

As I have written hitherto, wholly from my memory, without recurring to any Books or Papers, I am sensible I have made several Anachronisms, and particularly in some things immediately preceeding. It was I believe in 17721 that Governor Hutchinson, in an elaborate Speech to both Houses of Congress endeavoured to convince them, their Constituents and the World that Parliament was our Sovereign Legislature, and had a Right to make Laws for Us in all Cases whatso• { 305 } ever, to Lay Taxes on all things external and internal, on Land as well as on Trade. The House appointed a Committee to answer this Speech. An Answer was drawn prettily written, I never knew certainly by whom, whether Mr. Samuel Adams or Dr. Joseph Warren <or both together> or Dr. Church, or all three together. Major Hawley was pleased with the Composition but was not satisfied with all the Principles, nor with all the Reasoning. Major Hawley would do nothing without me, and without Major Hawley the Committee could do nothing. I must be invited and must be present at every Meeting. This Attachment of the Major to me, I soon perceived and often afterwards perceived was an Eye Sore to some Gentlemen. I have seen at Antwerp, an admirable Picture by one of the flemish Masters of the Saviour and his Disciples. The Saviour is represented as shewing to the beloved Disciple John, some peculiar marks of his tender Affection and Friendship for him. The Eyes of all the Disciples are turned to those two principal figures, and these Partialities are observed by them all. The Artist understood human Nature so well, that he had stamped a Jealousy on every Countenance, especially on that of St. Peter whose Eyes allmost start out of his head with it. The Painter knew that the holiest Men were Men still. I must declare that my Experience has been conformable to that of the Painter. I have never known in the Course of my whole Life any Man however exalted in Rank, Genius, Talents, Fame, Fortune or Virtue, in whom I have not seen disgusting Instances and proofs of this Passion. I will not say that I have never felt them in myself, but I will say I have been always on my guard against them and always endeavoured to suppress them and that I never took one Step to supplant any Man from such Motives. I had reason to make this Observation at the time. I saw in Mr. Hancock and Mr. Samuel Adams very visible marks of Jealousy and Envy too at this superiour Attachment of Major Hawley to me. I regarded it very little and it made no Alteration in my respectfull and friendly behaviour to them. The Draught of a Report was full of very popular Talk and with those democratical Principles which have since done so much mischief in this Country. I objected to them all and got them all expunged which I thought exceptionable, and furnished the committee with the Law Authorities, and the legal and constitutional Reasonings that are to be seen on the part of the House in that Controversy. How these Papers would appear to me or to others, at this day I know not, having never seen them since their first publication: but they appeared to me, at that time to be correct.
1. Jan. 1773. On the contest alluded to here and JA 's part in it, see Diary entry of 4 March 1773 and note 1 there.

Docno: ADMS-01-03-02-0016-0021

Author: Adams, John
DateRange: 1768-06-10 - 1769-03-25

[Seizure of Hancock's Sloop, 1768–1769]

In the fall of the Year 1773, a great Uproar was raised in Boston, { 306 } on Account of the Unlading in the Night of a Cargo of Wines from the Sloop Liberty from Madeira, belonging to Mr. Hancock, without paying the Customs. Mr. Hancock was prosecuted upon a great Number of Libells for Penalties, upon Acts of Parliament, amounting to Ninety or an hundred thousand Pounds Sterling. He thought fit to engage me as his Counsell and Advocate; and a painfull Drudgery I had of his cause. There were few days through the whole Winter, when I was not summoned to attend the Court of Admiralty. It seemed as if the Officers of the Crown were determined to examine the whole Town as Witnesses. Almost every day a fresh Witness was to be examined upon Interrogatories. They interrogated many of his near Relations and most intimate Friends and threatened to summons his amiable and venerable Aunt, the Relict of his Uncle Thomas Hancock, who had left the greatest Part of his Fortune to him. I was thoroughly weary and disgusted with the Court, the Officers of the Crown, the Cause, and even with the tyrannical Bell that dongled me out of my House every Morning; and this odious Cause was suspended at last only by the Battle of Lexington, which put an End for ever to all such Prosecutions.1
1. Here JA 's memory seriously misled him. This protracted admiralty case, Advocate General Jonathan Sewall v. John Hancock, occurred in 1768–1769. It followed the seizure in Boston harbor of Hancock's sloop Liberty, 10 June 1768, by members of the crew of the Romney man-of-war at the instance of the new board of customs commissioners, not for smuggling but for failing to obtain a permit for a cargo it had loaded. The Liberty was condemned in August and sold in September. The following month, after British troops had garrisoned Boston (also at the behest of the customs commissioners), a suit was filed against Hancock, not by a grand jury indictment but by an “information” and an admiralty court order, for the enormous sum of £9,000. The charge was for smuggling wine that had been brought in earlier by the Liberty. JA 's notes on this case are in his “Admiralty Book” (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 184) and are printed, with introductory commentary and valuable references, in Quincy, Reports , p. 456–463.
In his stubborn and eloquent defense before Judge Auchmuty, JA questioned the validity of the legislation under which the case was tried, because it denied his client the right of a jury trial and thus, by repealing “Magna Charta, as far as America is concerned,” “degraded [Hancock] below the Rank of an Englishman.” The defense was successful. At the end of the record appears this notation, dated 25 March 1769: “The Advocate General prays leave to Retract this Information and says our Sovereign Lord the King will prosecute no further hereon. Allow'd” (Suffolk co. Court House, Records, Court of Vice Admiralty, Province of Massachusetts Bay, 1765–1772).
See also George G. Wolkins, “The Seizure of John Hancock's Sloop ‘Liberty,'”MHS, Procs. , 55 (1921–1922) :239–284; Oliver M. Dickerson, The Navigation Acts and the American Revolution, Phila., 1951, p. 231–246, 260–265; and David S. Lovejoy, “Rights Imply Equality: The Case against Admiralty Jurisdiction in America, 1764–1776,” WMQ , 3d ser., 16: 459–484 (Oct. 1959), especially p. 478–482.