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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 1

This note contained in document ADMS-06-01-02-0071
1. Salutation omitted in MS. The town meeting had deliberated carefully on the form and spirit of its protest against the customs commissioners' seizure of John Hancock's sloop Liberty on 10 June. (For a description of the seizure of the Liberty and of JA's role as Hancock's attorney in ensuing legal action, { 219 } see JA, Legal Papers, 2:173–210.) On 14 June, the town meeting named Joseph Warren, Benjamin Church, and Samuel Adams “to prepare the form of a Vote, to be laid before the Town at the Adjournment; expressing their great dislike at the manner of proceedure in the Custom house Officers in lately carrying off a Vessel from Hancocks Wharff; and their sense of the ill consequences which must follow the methods made use of to introduce an armed force into this Town.” This committee made its report the following day “in the form of Resolves and after considerable debate thereon & the propriety of a Towns passing Resolves,” the meeting named a second committee, which included JA, “to prepare Instructions for our Representatives relative to those and other Matters.” The committee of 15 June was given the “form of Resolves” drawn up by its predecessor “for such use to be made of them as they may Judge proper” (Boston Record Commissioners, 16th Report, p. 255–257).
This committee appointment marked JA's first participation in the political affairs of the Town of Boston after he moved there in April 1768. Even before he established his home in the town, however, he had signed a petition with 53 others on 10 March 1767, urging the selectmen to appoint Nathanael Oliver master of the North Grammar School (A. S. Austrian et al. sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, N.Y., 4–5 April 1939). Adams' continuing interest in the schools is suggested by his serving with a number of others as visitor on 5 July 1769 and 7 July 1773 (Boston Record Commissioners, 23d Report, p. 21, 182). In 1770 he was appointed with six others to look into laws on breaking and entering and to recommend amendments, but no report of the committee's findings is apparently extant (same, 18th Report, p. 20). It was political issues affecting the town, however, in which Adams became most embroiled.
In his Autobiography, JA recalled his reluctance to become involved in local politics: “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.'” Still, JA continued, “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. . . . The Committee always insisted on my preparing the Draught, which I did and the Instructions were adopted without Alteration by the Town” (Diary and Autobiography, 3:290–291). JA's claim to have drafted the town's instructions of 1768 as well as those of 1769 (for which, see 8 May 1769, below) is borne out by testimony given much earlier than that in the Autobiography. In an unsent letter to the Abbé de Mably, 17 Jan. 1783, JA supplied a list of his works published before that date; the 1768 instructions appear in this list, which is otherwise accurate (LbC, Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel 108). There seems to be no basis for the claim by a biographer of Joseph Warren that Warren, chairman of the committee, was the author of the instructions and that only “the long quotation from a statute of Queen Anne likely was supplied by John Adams” (John Cary, Joseph Warren: Physician, Politician, Patriot, Urbana, Ill., 1961, p. 78n.).
The Instructions, which JA's committee submitted to the town meeting on 17 June and which were adopted unanimously that day, probably did not represent the literary style or philosophy of any individual. John Rowe, one of JA's colleagues on this committee, noted in his Diary that on 16 June he had “Spent the After noon with the Towns Committee to draw Instructions” and that the committee had conferred again on the morning of 17 June, only a few hours before their report was submitted (MHi:John Rowe Diary, p. 773–774). The Instructions doubtless reflected the suggestions of the committee as a whole, with JA assigned the responsibility of polishing and arranging these suggestions. Internal evidence shows, as well, that the committee drew heavily upon the “form of Resolves” read in the meeting on 15 June (see note 3, below).
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2018.