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Browsing: Legal Papers of John Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-05-01-02-0003-0005-0001

Editorial Note

In the bitter verbal battling which rumbled beneath the physical violence of the pre-Revolutionary years, the heavy advantage rested with the radical press. Led by such pseudonymous journalistic swordsmen as Samuel Adams, Joseph Hawley, and Joseph Warren, the patriots skewered { 152 } the administration and the loyal faction without restraint, and almost without opposition.1 Only one tory printer possessed sufficient journalistic skill and courage to brave the muscular threats with which Sam's Mohawks imposed their ideas of liberty. That man was John Mein, printer of the Boston Chronicle. It was Mein, for example, who crippled Adams' nonimportation campaign by publishing authenticated lists of the self-styled “well-disposed” merchants who, having signed the agreement not to import, were quietly landing and selling forbidden goods.2
Mein's combative nature and his journalistic skill plunged the Boston Chronicle into controversy from the very start of its brief existence. In the first issue, under a London dateline, Mein ran a sharp attack on William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, the idol of the Sons of Liberty.3 A violent response by “Americus” appeared in Edes and Gill's Boston Gazette, indirectly accusing Mein, among other things, of Jacobite leanings.4
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Storming into the Gazette's office, Mein unsuccessfully demanded that the editors name the author; returning the next day, he repeated his inquiry and was again repulsed.5 Finally, that evening, Mein met Gill and, by his own admission, caned him.6
{ 154 }
Gill sued Mein for £200 at the April 1768 Suffolk Inferior Court, where with Adams as Gill's counsel the case was tried on 28 April 1768; after a “long hearing” the jury brought in a verdict for Gill of £130 and costs.7 Both parties appealed. Meanwhile, Mein had been cited criminally for the assault, and at the April sitting of the Court of Sessions, had been fined forty shillings.8
At the March 1769 Suffolk Superior Court, the civil matter went to trial on Mein's appeal, with Kent and Auchmuty defending Mein, while Otis and Adams (whose minutes appear below) represented Gill. This time Gill won again, but the verdict was reduced to £75 and costs. A motion for a new trial was made in Mein's behalf, but later withdrawn.9
From the state of Adams' minutes, it seems probable that he opened for the plaintiff and was followed by Kent for the defendant. Plaintiff's evidence then went in, but defendant did not introduce any. Auchmuty closed for defendant, and Otis for plaintiff.
Although Mein's plea had traversed (denied) the assault, and had not attempted to justify it, the Adams minutes suggest that Mein conceded the striking but sought to minimize the damages by arguing provocation.
1. The best treatment of this subject is Arthur M. Schlesinger, Prelude to Independence 84–109 (N.Y., 1958); see also John C. Miller, Sam Adams, Pioneer in Propaganda 174–176 (Boston, 1936); E. F. Brown, Joseph Hawley 63–68 (N.Y., 1930); John Gary, Joseph Warren 60–63 (Urbana, 111., 1961).
2. On Mein's life, see Alden, “John Mein: Scourge of Patriots,” 34 Col. Soc. Mass., Pubns. 571–599 (1942), and Bolton, “Circulating Libraries in Boston, 1765–1865,” 11 Col. Soc. Mass., Pubns. 196–200 (1907). See also No. 12. On the Boston Chronicle, see Matthews, “Bibliographical Notes to Check List of Boston Newspapers, 1704–1780,” 9 Col. Soc. Mass., Pubns. 403, 480–483 (1907); Schlesinger, Prelude to Independence 107; Andrews, “Boston Merchants and the Non-Importation Movement,” 19 Col. Soc. Mass., Pubns. 159, 227–230 (1917).
3. “It is confidently reported that the E. of C—'s gout is only political, and that notwithstanding his late indisposition he will soon appear on the scene of action and struggle hard to guide the reins of government, but having lost the confidence of the people, whom he has deceived by his contradictions and changes, and never having been a favorite with the nobility, whom he always affected to dispise, he will while he exists be considered by every disinterested man as a miserable monument of wrecked ambition.” Boston Chronicle, 21 Dec. 1767, p. 5, col. 1. In the same piece, the Marquis of Rockingham received praise for having “quieted the commotions which shook the state by the repeal of the American Stamp Act; while he preserved the constitution in full vigour by the act for securing the dependence of the colonies.”
4. “When I read the Proposals, for publishing the Boston Chronicle, I tho't on the Plan with Satisfaction, hoping thereby much good would accrue to America in general, and to this province in particular; with Pleasure I also noted the judicious Advice given Messi'rs Mein and Fleeming by their Friends of Taste. It runs thus:
“'We suppose you intend to study your own Interest; if you would do it effectually, be of no Party, publish and propagate with the greatest Industry whatever may promote the general Good. Be Independent—Your Interest is intimately connected with this noble Virtue—If you depart from this, you must sink from the Esteem of the Publick, to the partial Praise of a Party, who, when their Purposes is serv'd or defeated, may perhaps desert you, and then how can you expect that those whom you have revil'd will support you'—To which at that Time they answer'd.—'Whenever any Dispute claims general Attention, the Arguments on both Sides shall be laid before the Publick with the utmost Impartiality.'
“But to the Surprize of many, how are they fallen off from their own Purposes, and the excellent Caution of their Benefactors—Instead of giving impartial Accounts concerning Affairs at Home, and the unhappy Disputes lately arisen between the greatest Men of the Nation; they have made Choice of, or printed under Guise of being taken from the London Papers, the most infamous and reproachful Invectives, that ever was invented against the worst of Traitors to their King and Country, and who are these that are thus censur'd? Why, men held in the highest esteem and veneration in the British Parliament. Patriots and Friends and Deliverers of America from Oppression. He who nobly vindicated her Cause, almost against the whole Senate, who cast behind him all Lucre of Gain, when it came in Competition with the Good of his Country, and sacrific'd his Family-Connections and Interest to the publick Welfare. He that through real Infirmities hardly stood, (not to cover his politic Schemes and Ambition as his Enemies would insinuate) but stood though tottering, and in the Cause of Liberty made that heroic Speech before the august House of Commons, in Opposition to the Stamp-Act, sufficient to eternize his Fame, and ought to be written in Letters of Gold to perpetuate his Memory. Could the Sons of America be ingrateful, or countenance the greatest Falsities, rais'd only to prejudice their best Friends and Benefactors—God forbid! Let that Dishonor stain with the blackest Infamy the Jacobite Party—And though Invectives should be daily thrown out, let us keep our Integrity to the Confusion of our Enemies; who, for a long Time have exerted their Power to shake the Props of our Constitution, and bring a free people into Bondage, thereby to satisfy their more than common Avarice, &c.” Boston Gazette, 18 Jan. 1768, p. 1, col. 3.
Benjamin Edes (1732–1803) and John Gill (d. 1785) had been partners since 1755. Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America, 1:136–140 (Worcester, 2d edn., 1874). “Gill was a sound whig, but did not possess the political energy of his partner. He was industrious, constantly in the printing house, and there worked at case or press as occasion required.” Id. at 140.
5.
“In consequence of a piece signed Americus, published in the last Monday's Gazette, Mr. Mein came to our office between 4 and 5 o'clock the same afternoon, and there being a number of persons present, he desired to be spoke with in private, accordingly I withdrew with him to another room—when he said, I suppose you know what I am come about. I told him I did not. Well then, said he, I am come to demand the author of the piece you printed against me; and if you will not tell me who he is, I shall look upon you as the author, and the affair shall be decided in three minutes. In reply to which I said, Mr. Mein, above all persons in the world, I should not have thought a Printer would have ask'd such an impertinent, improper question; and told him that we never divulg'd authors; but if he would call on the morrow between 9 and 10 o'clock, being then very busy, I would let him know whether I would tell the author or not,—and added,—if we have transgress'd the law, it is open, and there he might seek satisfaction. He said he should not concern himself with the law, nor enter into any dispute; but if I did not tell the author, he should look upon us as the authors, and repeated it, the affair should be settled in three minutes. I then ask'd him, if what he said with regard to settling the affair in three minutes, was meant as a challenge or threat? which he declin'd answering, but said he would call at the time appointed, and then departed.
“Accordingly the next morning, I was at the office precisely at 9 o'clock, where I found Mr. Mein, who immediately after my entrance, and saying your servant, ask'd whether I would tell him the author of the above piece or no. I told him I would not. He then said he should look upon me and Mr. Gill as the authors. I told him he might and welcome. I then ask'd him what he meant by saying the last night he would settle the affair in three minutes, whether as a challenge or threat? He answered, if I would take my hat, and take a walk with him to the southward, he would let me know. I told him I was not to be at every fellow's beck, and did not regard him. He then said, I shall look upon you as the author. I reply'd, you may. Your servant, and your servant. B. Edes.” Boston Gazette, 25 Jan. 1768, p. 2, col. 1.
6. See note 11 2 below.
7. Massachusetts Gazette, 5 May 1768, suppl., p. 1, col. 3; SF 101491.
8. Rex v. Mein, Sess. Min. Bk., Suffolk, April—May 1768.
9. Min. Bk. 89, SCJ Suffolk, Aug. 1769, C—12; SCJ Rec. 1769, fol. 235.

Docno: ADMS-05-01-02-0003-0005-0002

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1769-03

Adams' Minutes of the Trial1

Suffolk Superior Court, Boston, March 1769

Gill vs. Mein.
News Paper. Jacobite Party.
Kent. Odd that Edes and Gill should desire him to be of no Party. Pitt is a fallen Angell, and given up by his Partizans, since he dwindled into a Lord. Lost. Lucre of Gain. Gain of Gain. Did not come from Salem.2 Mem. no Witchcraft in it. Jacobite Party, ungenerous base Insinuations. Kick upon the A—se.
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B. Edes. No Conversation past between Us, about agreeing not to abuse one Another, nor to mention one Another. The Account I published is true, all but one Word, and I am uncertain whether I said Fellow, Rascall or Scoundrel.
Anthony Oliver. Do not remember Meins desiring Edes and Gill, not to mention him in their Paper, Mein said he would get the Printers to meet, so that they might have no Dispute.
Auchmuty. I shall confine myself to one single Object, the Quantum of Damages. To view a Case of this sort thro the Flames of Passion, must give you a dissagreable Turn against the Rules of Justice.
The Passions are sometimes, excused by Law. Son killing the Assailant of his father. The Husband killing An Adulterer, with his Wife, not guilty of Murder, Jury not to punish in Terrorem. Feeling, &c. Tendency to take away his Bread by publishing that a Man publishes Falsities. Sporting and wantoning with Characters. Not from Man to Man, but scattered thro whole Countries. Have not been so civil as to [give?] his Name. If Printers will not tell the Author they must be treated as the Authors themselves.
Auchmuty. Uncandid and uncivil, not to tell the Author. An Indication of some little Guilt, in the Mind of Mr. Gill when he desired Witnesses beforehand, to take Notice if Mr. Mein should Assault him.
Virulence of Representation, high Colouring Rather that Mr. Adams has given it in Opening.
“But how are they fallen off,” &c. This is to catch and byass the Reader.
Accuse Mein of taking out of “Choice ... the most infamous and reproachfull Invectives” vs. the Patron of the Country. By his Profession depends vastly upon the public Smiles. The Insult vastly greater, upon Us, than upon Gill.
Encomiums and Panegyricks upon Mr. Pit or the Person alluded to. 1st to be guilty of infamous Lying, and for no other End but to abuse the “best Friends and Benefactors” of the Country. A Lyar, a Traytor, and a Jacobite. Assassin, Ruffian, Spaniards Sticking and Stabbing.3 { 156 } Henshaw and Tyng.4 Lye, the high Provocation. If I was to call Assassin, and Ruffian, I would in some other Place. A Man must be made of Oakum, not to feel Cutting, and tearing Characters. It is one of the greatest inconveniences, and may be attended with public Mischief.
Otis. Weight and Bulk of the Stick. Observations a cool deliberate Action. No sudden Heat, or Ruffle of Passion. Went once and twice to the office, and took an Opportunity afterwards to beat. Gill pretends not to be a Boxer, Bruizer, Man of the sword or any Prowess whatever. I would not engage Mein, but I would beat 2 of Gill.
He was assaulted for carrying on a Paper, in the Course [of] his Business. No Man I think ought to publish an Opinion that he is not able nor willing to defend.
Mr. Cooke5 who lived and died in the Service of the Town whose last Words expressed Wishes for our Welfare, and Fears of the very Things that are now coming upon Us.
Chaind between two Posts. Odd Idea of Liberty of the Press.6 A Fashion to raise a vast Outcry vs. this Paper. Scurrillity of Grandees. Dream or Vision, of a mutual Compact between Mein and Gill.
Green & Russell7 go on in pe[a]cable quiet, harmless, dovelike, inoffensive Manner. Distinction between Bump and Tumour. Note the Diversity.
Paper set up above all Criticism. This is but a Criticism [of?] impartial History.
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Little nibbling quibbling Decisions in our Books about Libells and Actions of Defamation.8 All these decisions cannot make the Words “leave these Things to the Jacobite Party” applicable to Mein.9
Interlard and interlace with Innuendo's.
1. In JA 's hand. Original not found, but a photostat of the MS , originally in private hands, is preserved in MHi:Photostat Coll. under date of 1768. Quotation marks supplied by the editors. See note 4 above.
2. A paper in Mein's hand in 3 Bernard Papers 45, 46, MH, explains this allusion: “Jemmy [Otis] is fond of dating his pieces from Salem, being the town where he has the fewest Adherents. And he is suspected from good Authority of being the author of the abusive piece in Edes & Gill against me when our Chronicle was first published, which obliged me to call on the Printers, and on their refusal to name the Authors to ask them one after another to take a short Walk; and on their declining it to cane the first of them I mett which has already cost me about £100 St.” On the resistance of Salem to the nonimportation agreement, see Miller, Sam Adams 222.
3.
“The Freedom of the PRESS has been deservedly esteemed an important Branch of our Liberty. We hold it dear, and look on all those as our Enemies who endeavour to deprive us of it. The Dispute therefore between Messieurs Gill and Mein, cannot be looked upon barely as a Dispute between two private Persons, but is of the highest Importance to the Community. If we suffer the Printers to be abused, for resolutely maintaining the Freedom of the Press, without discovering our just Resentment against those who endeavour to force them from their Duty, we shall soon find the Press shut against us—For it cannot be expected that one or two Men who will be subject to the Malice of the publick Enemies, bear to be bruised, and run the Hazard of being assassinated, if the Public, whose Cause they are fighting do not zealously patronize their Cause. The People in this Province, and this Town in particular, must for the foregoing Reasons, be justified in their general Disapprobation of, and Disgust to Mr. Mein, for his late Spaniard-like Attempt on Mr. Gill, and in him, upon the Freedom of the Press.” Boston Gazette, 1 Feb. 1768, p. 2, col. 2.
4. The reference is unclear.
5. Elisha Cooke (1678–1737), “the masterly hand from School Street,” politician and court clerk, of “a fixt enmity to all Kingly Governments,” had led the fight against the royal prerogative in the 1720's. He even sailed to England to argue the cause before the Privy Council. DAB . Ironically, a transcript of the Privy Council proceedings had appeared in the Boston Chronicle, 11 Jan. 1768, p. 33, cols. 1–3. Cooke was the father of Middlecott Cooke (1705–1771), clerk of the Suffolk Inferior Court. See vol. 2:248–249, notes 4, 5, and 7, below.
6. “Otis at my trial for caning Gill, bandied about this Liberty of the Press as the Salvation of America, and said, that in beating him I had endeavoured to shutt up that great Source of freedom.” Mein, “A Key to a Certain Publication,” 3 Bernard Papers 45, 47, MH.
7. John Green and Joseph Russell, publishers of the pro-Administration Boston Post-Boy. Matthews, “Bibliographical Notes,” 9 Col. Soc. Mass., Pubns. 403, 470.
8. See the discussion of this point in 8 Holdsworth, History of English Law 355–356, cited in No. 3 at note 9.
9. The words are apparently Otis' paraphrase for “Let that Dishonor [i.e. falsities and prejudice of friends] stain with the blackest Infamy the Jacobite Party,” from the Americus letter, note 4 above.