Diary of John Adams, volume 2

1773. March 5th. Fryday.

1773. April 7th: Wednesday.

1773. March 22d. Monday. JA


1773. March 22d. Monday. Adams, John
1773. March 22d. Monday.

This Afternoon received a Collection of Seventeen Letters, written from this Province, Rhode Island, Connecticutt and N. York, by Hutchinson, Oliver, Moffat, Paxton, and Rome, in the Years 1767, 8, 9.

They came from England under such Injunctions of Secrecy, as to the Person to whom they were written, by whom and to whom they are sent here, and as to the Contents of them, no Copies of the whole 80or any Part to be taken, that it is difficult to make any public Use of them.

These curious Projectors and Speculators in Politicks, will ruin this Country—cool, thinking, deliberate Villains, malicious, and vindictive, as well as ambitious and avaricious.

The Secrecy of these epistolary Genii is very remarkable—profoundly secret, dark, and deep.1


The letters were furnished (from a source never divulged) by Benjamin Franklin, London agent of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, in a letter to Speaker Thomas Cushing, London, 2 Dec. 1772 (Franklin, Writings, ed. Smyth, 6:265–268; a variant version, copied in JA's hand, is in the Adams Papers, Microfilms, April 1773, and is printed in JA's Works , 1:647–648). JA also made a copy of the Hutchinson letter that gave greatest offense to whig feelings. It was originally written, as we now know all the purloined letters were, to Thomas Whately, dated at Boston, 20 Jan. 1769, and contained the following passage as copied and attested by JA:

“This is most certainly a Crisis. I really wish that there may not have been the least degree of Severity, beyond what is absolutely necessary to maintain, I think I may say to you, the dependance which a Colony ought to have upon the Parent State, but if no measures shall have been taken to secure this dependance or nothing more than some Declaratory Acts or Resolves, it is all over with Us. The Friends of Government will be utterly disheartned and the friends of Anarchy will be afraid of nothing be it ever so extravagant. . . .

“I never think of the measures necessary for the Peace and good Order of the Colonies without pain. There must be an Abridgment of what are called English Liberties. I relieve myself by considering that in a Remove from the State of nature to the most perfect State of Government there must be a great restraint of natural Liberty. I doubt whether it is possible to project a System of Government in which a Colony 3000 miles distant from the parent State shall enjoy all the Liberty of the parent State. I am certain I have never yet seen the Projection. I wish the Good of the Colony, when I wish to see some further Restraint of Liberty rather than the Connection with the parent State should be broken for I am sure such a Breach must prove the Ruin of the Colony.”

The letters were handed about too freely and over too long a time to be kept a secret, and on 15 June they were by order of the House turned over to the printers (Mass., House Jour. , 1773–1774, p. 56). They appeared in a pamphlet published by Edes and Gill under the title Copy of Letters Sent to Great-Britain, by His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, the Hon. Andrew Oliver, and Several Other Persons, Born and Educated Among Us, 1773, which was several times reprinted in America and England, and they ran all summer serially in Thomas' Massachusetts Spy. They led to a petition by the Massachusetts House for the removal of Hutchinson and Oliver from their posts, to a duel in London, to the famous denunciation of Franklin by Alexander Wedderburn in the Privy Council, and to Franklin's loss of his office as postmaster general in America.

Franklin's account of the affair, published posthumously, is in his Writings, ed. Smyth, 6:258–289; Hutchinson's in his Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo, 3:282–298, supplemented by “Additions to Thomas Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts Bay, Amer. Antiq. Soc, Procs., 59 (1949):60–65. Mr. Malcolm Freiberg in an article entitled “Missing: One Hutchinson Autograph Letter” points out and discusses the significance of the variations between the texts of the critical paragraphs in Hutchinson's letter quoted above as on the one hand printed by his adversaries and as on the other hand preserved in his letterbook in the Massachusetts Archives (Manuscripts, 8:179–184 [Spring 1956]). But it should be noted that Hutchinson himself did not raise questions about the validity 81of the printed text and indeed quoted the most controversial passage of all from that text ( Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo, 3:293–294).