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"A Circulatory Letter, directed to the Speakers of the respective Houses of Representatives and Burgesses on this Continent ... February 11, 1768"

A Circulatory Letter, directed to the Speakers of the respective Houses of Representatives and Burgesses on this Continent ... February 11, 1768


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    • Main description

    [ This description is from the project: Coming of the American Revolution ]

    This letter, written by Samuel Adams and James Otis, was sent from the Massachusetts House of Representatives to officials of the other colonies in protest of the Townshend Acts. The letter discusses, among other issues, the injustice of imposing taxes on colonists who are not represented in Parliament.

    "to a sister colony"
    Massachusetts vehemently protests the Townshend Act measures to the British government. Then she reaches out to her twelve "sister colonies" through this letter signed by Speaker of the House Thomas Cushing. The authors of the letter are Samuel Adams and James Otis and in this document they lay out their most powerful and persuasive argument. Britain tries to stop the circulation and impact of this letter. Secretary of State for the Colonies Lord Hillsborough orders the governor of Massachusetts to dissolve the colony's General Court (of which the House of Representatives is a part) unless the letter is rescinded and orders the governors of the other colonies to stop their assemblies from endorsing it. But is it too late?

    Questions to Consider

    1. What does "circular" or "circulatory" mean? Why was this letter written? What do its senders hope will happen as a result of it? To whom is this letter addressed and for what purpose?

    2. Outline the argument presented in this document. Why do Americans deserve the same rights as Englishmen? To what are they entitled? Why are they not being adequately represented in Parliament?

    3. What justification is given for the legality of the provincial assemblies in the colonies?

    4. What MIS-representations is this letter trying to correct?

    5. What assumptions do the Massachusetts legislators make about their counterparts in the "sister colonies"? What would they like their counterparts to do?

    6. Why does the letter end with an expression of confidence in the King?

    Further Exploration

    7. Research the effect of this letter in each of the other colonies. Which colonies endorsed it and what were the arguments pro and con?

    8. Did the Massachusetts House of Representatives comply with the governor’s request and rescind the letter? What happened?

    9. What is a "circular letter"? How were these letters sent out and how did they reach their intended audiences?

    10. Why don't  Adams's and Otis's names appear on the letter? How do we know that they were the authors of it?