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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 1


Docno: ADMS-01-01-02-0009-0005-0002

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1765-12-19

Decr. 19th. 1765.

A fair Morning after a severe Storm of 3 days and 4 Nights. A vast Quantity of rain fell.
About 12. O Clock came in Messrs. Crafts and Chase and gave me a particular Account of the Proceedings of the Sons of Liberty on Tuesday last, in prevailing on Mr. Oliver to renounce his Office of Distributor of Stamps, by a Declaration under his Hand, and under his Oath, taken before Justice Dana, in Hanover Square, under the very Tree of Liberty, nay under the very Limb where he had been hanged in Effigy, Aug. 14th. 1765. Their absolute Requisition of an Oath, and under that Tree, were Circumstances, extreamly humiliating and mortifying, as Punishment for his receiving a Deputation to be Distributor after his pretended Resignation, and for his faint and indirect Declaration in the News Papers last Monday.
About one O’Clock came in Mr. Clark, one of the Constables of the Town of Boston, with a Letter from Mr. Wm. Cooper their Town Clerk in these Words

[salute] Sir

I am directed by the Town to acquaint you, that they have this day voted unanimously, that Jeremiah Gridley, James Otis, and John Adams Esqrs. be applied to, as Council to appear before his Excellency the Governor in Council, in Support of their Memorial, praying that the Courts of Law in this Province may be opened. A Copy of said { 266 } Memorial will be handed you, on your coming to Town. I am sir, your most obedient hum. sert.,
[signed] Wm. Cooper Town Clerk

[addrLine] John Adams Esqr.1

The Reasons which induced Boston to choose me, at a distance, and unknown as I am, The particular Persons concerned and measures concerted to bring this about, I am wholly at a loss to conjecture: as I am, what the future Effects and Consequences will be both with Regard to myself and the Public.
But when I recollect my own Reflections and Speculations Yesterday, a part of which were committed to Writing last Night, and may be seen under Decr. 18th, and compare them with the Proceedings of Boston Yesterday of which the foregoing Letter informed me, I cannot but Wonder, and call to Mind my Ld. Bacons Observation, about secret invisible Laws of Nature, a[nd] Communications and Influences between Places, that are not discoverable by Sense.
But I am now under all obligations of Interest and Ambition as well as Honour, Gratitude and Duty, to exert the Utmost of my Abilities, in this important Cause. How shall it be conducted? Shall we contend that the Stamp-Act is void? That the Parliament have no legal Authority to impose Internal Taxes upon Us?—Because We are not represented in it? And therefore that the Stamp Act ought to be waived by the Judges, as against natural Equity and the Constitution? Shall we use these, as Arguments for opening the Courts of Law? Or shall We ground ourselves on Necessity only.
1. The original letter is in the Adams Papers. On 17 Dec., immediately following the forced resignation of Andrew Oliver, the custom house reopened for business without stamped paper, and next day a special town meeting was called to deal with the problem of reopening the courts without the use of stamps. Its proceedings, including the memorial mentioned here, are in Boston Record Commissioners, 16th Report, p. 158–159.

Docno: ADMS-01-01-02-0009-0005-0003

Author: Adams, John
Date: 1765-12-20

Fryday. Decr. 20th. 1765

Went to Boston. Dined with Mr. Rowe,1 in Company with Messrs. Gridley, Otis, Kent, and Dudley. After Dinner, went to the Town House, and Attended with the Committee of the Town of Boston and many other Gentlemen in the Representatives Room till about Dark, after Candle Light, when Mr. Adams, the Chairman of the Committee, received a Message from the Governor, by the Deputy Secretary, purporting that his Excellency and the Council were ready to hear { 267 } the Memorial of the Town of Boston, and their Council in Support of it. But that no other Persons might attend.
We accordingly went in. His Excellency recommended it to Us, who were of Council for the Town, to divide the Points of Law and Topicks of Argument, among ourselves, that Repetition might as much as possible be avoided. Mr. Gridley answered, that, as he was to speak last, he would endeavour to avoid Repetition of what should be said by the two Gentlemen, who were to speak before him. Mr. Otis added that as he was to speak second, he would observe the same Rule.
Then it fell upon me, without one Moments Opportunity to consult any Authorities, to open an Argument, upon a Question that was never made before, and I wish I could hope it never would be made again, i.e. Whether the Courts of Law should be open, or not? My old Friend Thatchers Officina Justitiae?
I grounded my Argument on the Invalidity of the Stamp Act, it not being in any sense our Act, having never consented to it. But least that foundation should not be sufficient, on the present Necessity to prevent a Failure of Justice, and the present Impossibility of carrying that Act into Execution.2
Mr. Otis reasoned with great Learning and Zeal, on the Judges Oaths, <the>&c.3
Mr. Gridley on the great <Mischiefs> Inconveniences that would ensue the Interuption of Justice.
The Governor said many of the Arguments used were very good ones to be used before the Judges of the Executive Courts. But he believed there had been no Instance in America of an Application to the Governor and Council, and said that if the Judges should receive any Directions from the King about a Point of Law, they would scorn to regard them, and would say that while they were in those Seats, they only were to determine Points of Law.
The Council adjourned to the Morning and I repaired to my Lodgings.
1. John Rowe (1715–1787), the well-known Boston merchant, successful trimmer during the Revolution, and diarist; portions of his valuable diary from 1759 to 1779 have been published in Letters and Diary of John Rowe, ed. Anne Rowe Cunningham, Boston, 1903; the MS is in MHi. Rowe was a member of the committee appointed to present the Boston memorial to the Governor in Council.
2. A page of notes and authorities presumably prepared for this argument, in JA’s hand and headed “Right, Wrong and Remedy,” is in the Adams Papers; though undated, it has been filed under the present date. CFA printed these notes in JA, Works, 2:159, note. As reported by Josiah Quincy, JA’s argument on behalf of the Boston memorial does not follow the notes closely; see Quincy, Reports, p. 200–202. ||Quincy's report was also printed in Papers of John Adams, 1:152.||
3. Otis “opened with Tears,” according to Josiah Quincy. His argument and that of Gridley are in Quincy, Reports, p. { 268 } 202–209, together with Governor Bernard’s evasive proposal that the town’s plea be taken to the judges, since the Governor and Council had no power to act on it.
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, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/