Papers of John Adams, volume 1

103 A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law: May – 21 October 1765 A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law: May – 21 October 1765
A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law
May – 21 October 1765







Editorial Note Editorial Note
Editorial Note

“A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” published unsigned and untitled in the Boston Gazette, 12, 19 August, 30 September, 21 October 1765, was at once John Adams' first effort to determine the significance of New England in American history and his initial contribution to the literature of the American Revolution. Seen from the first perspective, this work belonged to a genre which had begun at least as early as 1630 with John Winthrop's famed “Citty upon a Hill” sermon aboard the Arbella; while viewed from the second, it was a forceful justification of American opposition to the Stamp Act. From a strictly literary point of view, moreover, the “Dissertation,” written as it was in clear, concise, ringing tones, was the most satisfying of Adams' published works.

The “Dissertation” derived its dual character from the fact that Adams composed it in 1765 at widely different times, under widely different circumstances, and for widely different reasons. He first conceived the idea for it through his participation in the Sodality, a private club of provincial lawyers consisting, in addition to Adams himself, of Jeremiah Gridley, Samuel Fitch, and Joseph Dudley, which began to meet informally “for the study of Law and oratory” once a week starting in January 1765 (JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:251). Despite their original intention to strive for self-improvement by pursuing both legal and rhetorical 104studies, in practice the members of the Sodality confined themselves almost exclusively to discussing the historical significance of feudal law. These conversations prompted Adams to set down in fragmentary form—possibly as a prelude to presenting his colleagues in the Sodality with a finished essay for their private consideration—some random thoughts about the historic function of canon and feudal law as systems, respectively, of clerical and secular tyranny, the importance of the settlement of New England as a decisive episode in the chronicle of liberty's struggle against these two particular forms of despotism, and the role of popular education as a bulwark of freedom in colonial New England (same, p. 255–258; No. I, below). Written at various times between February and July 1765, these “Hints for future Enquiries,” as Adams described them, subsequently went through considerable refinement and expansion until at length they appeared in print in the first three published segments of the “Dissertation” ( Diary and Autobiography , 1:255; Nos. IIIV, below).

Adams decided to expand the “Dissertation” for newspaper publication rather than submit it as a private communication to the Sodality owing to Parliament's approval of the Stamp Act in March 1765, news of which reached Boston the following May. As a result of these events, Adams' abstract speculations suddenly took on new meaning, for in the Stamp Act he saw nothing less than an “enormous Engine, fabricated by the british Parliament, for battering down all the Rights and Liberties of America” ( Diary and Autobiography , 1:263). Thus, what had begun as an essay in historical analysis now became, in addition, an eloquent justification of American resistance to alleged British tyranny, as Adams devoted part of the third and all of the fourth published sections of the “Dissertation” to the argument that the passage of the Stamp Act, when taken in conjunction with the efforts of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts to convert New England Dissenters to the Anglican communion, represented a resurgence of political and ecclesiastical oppression which Americans could ignore only at their peril (Nos. V and VI, below).

Although Adams was later to claim that the “Dissertation” was the spark which ignited New England's opposition to the Stamp Act, in fact it did no such thing, resistance to this measure having developed in this region prior to and independent of the appearance of Adams' work (JA to Edmund Jenings, 20 April 1778 1780 , Adams Papers). In a more modest moment Adams probably more accurately described the effect of his “Dissertation” on the Revolutionary controversy when he referred to it as a “Production . . . written at Random weekly without any preconceived Plan, printed in the Newspapers, without Correction, and so little noticed or regarded here Massachusetts that the Author never thought it worth his while to give it Either a Title or a signature” (JA to Catherine Macaulay, 9 Aug. 1770, Diary and Autobiography , 1:360–361).

Despite its failure to make an immediate impact in America, the “Dissertation” enjoyed a long and involved bibliographical history during the 105era of the American Revolution. Before the outbreak of the War for Independence it was reprinted in England three times, on each occasion without Adams' prior knowledge or consent. In 1765 Thomas Hollis, an English radical determined to bring about the repeal of the Stamp Act, procured the republication of this work in the London Chronicle, 23, 28 Nov., 3, 26 Dec., under the title of “A DISSERTATION on the Feudal and the Canon Law” (same, 1:258, n. 1). Three years later Hollis also had it reprinted in the pamphlet The True Sentiments of America, London, 1768, in this instance with the more familiar title, “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law.” It was this reprinting that Charles Francis Adams used in his edition of his grandfather's works, incorporating the several corrections noted by John Adams in his copy of True Sentiments, which is now in the Stone Library at the Old House in Quincy. In this edition, however, Hollis mistakenly ascribed the authorship of the “Dissertation” to Jeremiah Gridley, who had died the previous year. Hollis was speedily disabused of this error by the Rev. Andrew Eliot, one of his correspondents in Boston, who advised him that Adams was the real author (Andrew Eliot to Thomas Hollis, 27 Sept., 17 Oct. 1768, MHS, Colls. , 4th ser., 4 [1858]:426–427, 434). In his copy John Adams wrote in a palsied hand in the margin opposite Hollis' date of 1765, “Month of August”; and after Hollis' brief identification of Gridley, Adams wrote in a firm hand, “By John Adams.” The last reprinting of the “Dissertation” in England before the beginning of armed conflict with the colonies took place five years afterward, when it appeared in the second volume of A Collection of Tracts on the Subjects of Taxing the British Colonies in America, 4 vols., London, 1773. The responsibility for this edition has yet to be determined.

During the next decade two other editions of the “Dissertation” were printed, the first with Adams' full cooperation and support and the second possibly without them. In order to dispose English public opinion to support peace negotiations on terms the American commissioners thought favorable, Adams secured the publication in London in 1782 of A of State-Papers, Relative to the First Acknowledgment of the Sovereignty of the United States of America, and the Reception of Their Minister . . . by . . . the States General of the United Netherlands. To which is Prefixed the Political Character of John Adams, Ambassador . . . to . . . the Netherlands. By an American. Likewise an Essay on Canon and Feudal Law, by J. Adams, Esq. (MBAt pamphlet copy). Adams did this largely through the agency of Edmund Jenings, a native Marylander with contacts among English printers; he probably also wrote the laudatory sketch of Adams in the above pamphlet (JA to Edmund Jenings, 28 April, 19–28 Aug. (LbC), 30 Aug., 16 Sept. 1782, Adams Papers; Edmund Jenings to JA, 22, 29 Aug. 1782, same). In the following year, on the other hand, a pamphlet appeared in Philadelphia containing John Baker Holroyd, 1st Earl of Sheffield's “Observations on the Commerce of the American States . . . ,” Adams' “Dissertation,” and Jenings' “Political 106Character” (Evans, No. 17976). So far the responsibility for this edition has not been determined.

The present edition of the “Dissertation” comprises some fragmentary notes Adams evidently wrote in connection with it as well as all four segments which were published in the Boston Gazette between 12 August and 21 October 1765. What is probably the earliest draft of the “Dissertation” has already been printed in Adams' Diary and Autobiography , 1:255–258, and so is not reprinted here.

I. Fragmentary Notes for “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law”, May – August 1765 JA I. Fragmentary Notes for “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law”, May – August 1765 Adams, John
I. Fragmentary Notes for “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law”
May–August 1765

Liberty, that has been compelled to skulk about in Corners of the Earth, and been everlastingly persecuted by the great, the rich, the noble, the Reverend, the proud, the Lasey, the Ambitious, avaricious, and Revengeful, who have from the beginning constituted almost all the sons of Adam. Liberty, that complication of real Honour, Piety, Virtue Dignity, and Glory, which has never been enjoyd, in its full Perfection, by more than ten or twelve Millions of Men at any Time, since the Creation, will reign in America, over hundreds and Thousands of Millions at a Time.

In future ages, when the Bones and sinews that now direct this Pen, shall become indistinguishable from the rest of Mother Earth, and perhaps incorporate into some Plant or other Animal, Man shall make his true Figure, upon this Continent, He shall make that great and happy Figure among Intellectual and sensible reigns that his great Creator intended he should in other Countries before his Ruin was effected by the Lust of Tyrants.

When science, Literature, Civility, Politeness, Humanity, every Christian grace and Virtue shall be well understood by all Men, when a few one shall not be able to deceive a Thousand and two because 10,000 of their Souls and Bodies then will be the Aera of human Happiness.

Knowledge monopolized, or in the Possession of a few, is a Curse to Mankind. We should dispense it among all Ranks. We should educate our children. Equality should be preserved in knowledge.

Property monopolized or in the Possession of a few is a Curse to Mankind. We should preserve not an Absolute Equality.—this is unnecessary, but preserve all from extreme Poverty, and all others from extravagant Riches.1


The Happiness of a Milion is in the sight of God, and in the Estimation of every honest and humane Mind, of more Importance, than that of 20 or an Hundred. Even tho the former may be called the Mob, the Vulgar, or the Herd, and tho the former may be called the reverd or right reverend, the honourable, or excellent, or noble, or puissant, or royal—for Happiness is Happiness to every human Creature, and they all feel nearly the Like Sensations from Hunger, Frost, from broken Bones, and bruised Flesh, notwithstanding all such Accidental Titles of Dignity or Reproach.

Let us reverence, with hearty Gratitude, the Memory of the late Chief Justice Dudley,2 for his noble Foundation of a Lecture on the Validity of Presbyterian ordinations, an Institution, that will redound more to his Honor and that of his family, than all the offices, that could have been bestowd upon him by the Crown or the People, an Institution that has given every Friend to unsullied Liberty, a great Idea both of his foresight and Public Spirit.

MS (Adams Papers). These notes are located amidst a group of draft newspaper letters which JA wrote in 1763 and which CFA docketed: “Original Draughts of Newspaper Articles, signed U. 1763” (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 343). However, internal evidence, particularly that of a thematic nature, indicates that they were actually written by JA in 1765 in conjunction with the composition of “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law.” Like the published “Dissertation,” although in much more summary style, the notes deal with the themes of the natural dichotomy between power and liberty and the role of popular education in the preservation of freedom. Also like the published “Dissertation,” they pay tribute to the institution of the Dudleian Lecture at Harvard College. Because JA was heavily influenced by the Dudleian Lecture delivered by Jonathan Mayhew on 8 May 1765 (see below, No. IV, note 3, and No. V, note 2), there are good grounds for assuming that JA jotted down these notes no earlier than that date.


Although JA expounded at some length in his draft and in the finished version on the dangers of monopolized knowledge, he did not develop the theme of the dangers of monopolized property and of the extremes of wealth and poverty. His concentration on the monopolization of knowledge probably grew out of concern over the Stamp Act with its taxes on newspapers, college diplomas, and the like.


Paul Dudley (1675–1751) graduated from Harvard in 1690. He served as attorney general of Massachusetts from 1702 to 1718, Superior Court justice from 1718 to 1745, and chief justice of the same court from 1745 until his death. In his will he endowed Harvard with the funds for an annual lecture, soon known as the Dudleian Lecture, every fourth one of which was to be devoted to “the detecting and convicting and exposing the Idolatry of the Romish Church, Their Tyranny, Usurpations, damnable Heresies, fatal Errors, abominable Superstitions, and other crying Wickednesses in their high Places; And Finally that the Church of Rome is that mystical Babylon, that Man of Sin, That Apostate Church spoken of, in the New-Testament” (Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates , 4:42–53).

108 II. Draft of “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law”, August 1765 JA


II. Draft of “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law”, August 1765 Adams, John
II. Draft of “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law”
August? 1765

“Ignorance and Inconsideration,” (says Dr. Tillotson) “are the two great Causes of the Ruin of Mankind.” This excellent observation, was made by that great Prelate, in the Way of his own Profession, with Relation to the Interest of his fellow Men; in a future and immortal state. But it is of equal Truth and Importance, when applied to the Happiness of Men, on this side the Grave. In the early Ages of the World absolute Monarchy seems to have been the universal form of Government. Kings and a few of their great Counsellors and Captains exercised, a cruel Tyranny over their Vassals and Subjects the People, who were little higher in those Days in the scale of intelligence than the Camells and Asses and Elephants, that carried them and their Arms and their Engines, to War.

By What Causes it was brought to pass that the People, in the middle ages, became more generally intelligent, would not perhaps be practicable, in these days to discover. But the Fact is certain, and it is as certain, that wherever, a general Knowledge and sensibility have prevailed among the People, Arbitrary Government and every kind of oppression, have lessened and disappeared in Proportion. Man has an exalted soul!—and the Same Principle in human Nature, that aspiring Noble Principle founded in Benevolence and cherished by Knowledge, I mean Ambition the Love of Power, has been the Cause of slavery and the Cause of Freedom. This Principle, it is, that has always prompted, the Kings and Princes and Nobles of the Earth to grasp at unlimited Power by every subtlety to shake off, all the Limits of their Power: and the Same Principle has always prompted the Common People, to aspire at Independancy, and to confine the Power of the great ones, within the Limits of Reason, and Equity.

The poor People, it is true, have been much less successful, than the Great. They had not so much Leisure, they knew not so well how to unite and exert their strength—ignorant as they were of Arts and Letters, they could not frame and support a regular system of opposition.

This has been known, by the great, to be the Temper of Mankind and they have accordingly laboured, in all Ages, to wrest from the Populace, both the Knowledge of their Rights and Wrongs, and the Power to assert the former, and redress the Latter. I say Rights, for such they have undoubtedly, antecedent to all Earthly Government, 109Rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human Laws—Rights derived from the great Legislater of the Universe.

Since the Promulgation of Christianity the two greatest systems of Tyranny that have Sprung from this source, are the Cannon and the feudal Law. The Desire of Dominion, however noble and useful on the whole, is however, when unawed and unrestrained by Hopes and Fears, an encroaching, grasping, restless and ungovernable Principle. And among all the Variety of iniquitous systems that have been contrived by the great, for the Gratification of it, in themselves was never So successful, as in the Invention and Establishment of the Cannon and the Feudal Law. In the former, the most refined, sublime, extensive and astonishing Constitution of Policy that was ever conceived by the human Mind, we find was framed by the Romish Clergy, for the Aggrandisement of their own order.

All the Epithets, that I have given to the Romish Policy, will be owned to be just, when it is considered, that they found it practicable to persuade Mankind, that God almighty had intrusted them with the Keys of Heaven, whose Gate they might open and Close at Pleasure—With a Power of Dispensation over all the Rules and Obligations of Morality—With an Authority to Licence all sorts both of Sins and Crimes.—With a Power of deposing Princes, and absolving subjects from their Allegiance.—With a Power of procuring or witholding the Rain of Heaven and the Beams of the Sun—With the Management of Earthquakes, Pestilence and Famine—Nay with the misterious, awful Incomprehensible Power of Creating out of Bread and Wine the Flesh and Blood of the great Creator of the Universe. And all these opinions, they were enabled to propagate and rivet in the Minds of the People, by reducing the Minds of the Common People them to a State of Sordid Ignorance and staring Timidity, and by infusing into them a religious Horror of Letters and Knowledge of every Kind. Thus was human Nature chained fast for ages in a cruel, shameful, deplorable Servitude, to him and his Subordinate Tyrants, who it was foretold, would exalt himself above all that was called God and that was worshiped.

In the latter We find another System, Similar in many Respects to the former: which, altho it was originally formed, perhaps for the necessary Defense of a barbarous People, against the Inroads and Invasions of her neighboring nations; Yet for the Same Purposes of Tyranny, Cruelty and Lust, which had dictated the Cannon Law, it was soon adopted by allmost all the Princes of Europe and wrought into the Constitution of their Govt. It was originally a Code of Laws 110for a vast Army in a Perpetual Encampment. The General was invested with the Sovereign Propriety of all the Lands within their Territory—of Him the first Rank of his great officers, held the Lands, immediately, and the other subordinate Ranks, held of them, and all held by a Variety of Duties and services, tending to bind the Chains the faster on every order of Mankind. In this Manner the Common People were held together in Clans and Herds in a State of Servile Dependance on their Lords, bound by the tenure of their lands to follow them to their Wars whenever they commanded, and in a state of total Ignorance of every Thing divine and humane, excepting the Use of Arms and the Culture of the Lands.

But another Event, still more calamitous to human Liberty, was a wicked Confederacy between the two Systems of Tyrany above described. It seems to have been even stipulated between them that the temporal Grandees, should contribute every Thing in their Power to maintain the Ascendancy of the Priesthood, and the Spiritual Grandees in their turn, shold employ that ascendancy over the Consciences of the People, in impressing on their Minds a blind, implicit obedience to civil Magistracy.

Thus, as long as this Confederacy lasted and the People were kept in Ignorance, Liberty, and with her Knowledge and Virtue too, seem to have deserted the Earth, and one Age of Darkness succeeded another, till God in his Providence, raised up the Champions who began and conducted the Reformation. From the Time of the Reformation, to the first settlement of America, Knowledge gradually increased in Europe but especially in England and as fast as Knowledge increased, and Spread among the People, Ecclesiastical and civil Tyranny, which I use as synonimous Expressions for the Cannon and feudal Law, Seem to have lost their strength and Weight. The People grew more and more sensible of the Wrong that was done them, by those systems, more and more impatient under it, and determined at all Hazards to rid themselves of it, till the struggle at last, under the Stewarts grew, formidable violent and bloody.

It was this Struggle that peopled America. It is commonly Said that these Colonies were peopled by Religion—But I should rather say that the Love of Liberty, projected conducted and accomplished the settlement of America.

Dft (Adams Papers); docketed by CFA: “Canon and Feudal Law”; “Original Draught. On the Canon and Feudal law. 1765. The Essay is printed in the Works of JA vol iii p 447.” This is a Dft of the first published part of JA's “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law” (No. III, below). There are many stylistic variations between the Dft and printed texts, but in regard 111to matters of substance both are virtually alike. The Dft contains all but the last paragraph and a half of the printed text, and was probably written sometime late in July or early in August 1765, although this is only a surmise.

III. “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” No. 1, 12 August 1765 JA Boston Gazette (newspaper)


III. “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” No. 1, 12 August 1765 Adams, John Boston Gazette (newspaper)
III. “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” No. 1
Monday, 12 August 1765 To the Printers.

“IGNORANCE and inconsideration are the two great causes of the ruin of mankind.” This is an observation of Dr. Tillotson,1 with relation to the interest of his fellow-men, in a future and immortal state: But it is of equal truth and importance, if applied to the happiness of men in society, on this side the grave. In the earliest ages of the world, absolute monarchy seems to have been the universal form of government. Kings, and a few of their great counsellors and captains, exercised a cruel tyranny over the people who held a rank in the scale of intelligence, in those days, but little higher than the camels and elephants, that carried them and their engines to war.

BY what causes it was bro't to pass, that the people in the middle ages, became more intelligent in general, would not perhaps be possible in these days to discover: But the fact is certain; and wherever a general knowledge and sensibility have prevail'd among the people, arbitrary government, and every kind of oppression, have lessened and disappeared in proportion. Man has certainly an exalted soul! and the same principle in humane nature, that aspiring noble principle, founded in benevolence, and cherished by knowledge, I mean the love of power, which has been so often the cause of slavery, has, whenever freedom has existed, been the cause of freedom. If it is this principle, that has always prompted the princes and nobles of the earth, by every species of fraud and violence, to shake off, all the limitations of their power; it is the same that has always stimulated the common people to aspire at independency, and to endeavor at confining the power of the great within the limits of equity and reason.

THE poor people, it is true, have been much less successful than the great. They have seldom found either leisure or opportunity to form an union and exert their strength—ignorant as they were of arts and letters, they have seldom been able to frame and support a regular opposition. This, however, has been known, by the great, to be the temper of mankind, and they have accordingly laboured, in all ages, to wrest from the populace, as they are contemptuously called, the 112knowledge of their rights and wrongs, and the power to assert the former or redress the latter. I say RIGHTS, for such they have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly government—Rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws—Rights derived from the great legislator of the universe.

SINCE the promulgation of Christianity, the two greatest systems of tyranny, that have sprung from this original, are the cannon and the feudal law. The desire of dominion, that great principle by which we have attempted to account for so much good, and so much evil, is, when properly restrained, a very useful and noble movement in the human mind: But when such restraints are taken off, it becomes an incroaching, grasping, restless and ungovernable power. Numberless have been the systems of iniquity, contrived by the great, for the gratification of this passion in themselves: but in none of them were they ever more successful, than in the invention and establishment of the cannon and the feudal law.

BY the former of these, the most refined, sublime, extensive, and astonishing constitution of policy, that ever was conceived by the mind of man, was framed by the Romish clergy for the aggrandisement of their own order.2 All the epithets I have here given to the Romish policy are just: and will be allowed to be so, when it is considered, that they even persuaded mankind to believe, faithfully and undoubtingly, that GOD almighty had intrusted them with the keys of heaven; whose gates they might open and close at pleasure—with a power of dispensation over all the rules and obligations of morality—with authority to licence all sorts of sins and crimes—with a power of deposing princes, and absolving subjects from allegiance—with a power of procuring or withholding the rain of heaven and the beams of the sun—with the management of earthquakes, pestilence and famine. Nay with the mysterious, awful, incomprehensible power of creating out of bread and wine, the flesh and blood of God himself. All these opinions, they were enabled to spread and rivet among the people, by reducing their minds to a state of sordid ignorance and staring timidity; and by infusing into them a religious horror of letters and knowledge. Thus was human nature chained fast for ages, in a cruel, shameful and deplorable servitude, to him and his subordinate tyrants, who, it was foretold, would exalt himself above all that was called God, and that was worshipped.

IN the latter, we find another system similar in many respects, to the former:3 which, altho' it was originally formed perhaps, for the necessary defence of a barbarous people, against the inroads and in-113vasions of her neighbouring nations; yet, for the same purposes of tyranny, cruelty and lust, which had dictated the cannon law, it was soon adopted by almost all the princes of Europe, and wrought into the constitutions of their government. It was originally, a code of laws, for a vast army, in a perpetual encampment. The general was invested with the sovereign propriety of all the lands within the territory. Of him, as his servants and vassals, the first rank of his great officers held the lands: and in the same manner, the other subordinate officers held of them; and all ranks and degrees held their lands, by a variety of duties and services, all tending to bind the chains the faster, on every order of mankind. In this manner, the common people were held together, in herds and clans, in a state of servile dependance on their lords; bound, even by the tenure of their lands to follow them, whenever they commanded, to their wars; and in a state of total ignorance of every thing divine and human, excepting the use of arms, and the culture of their lands.

BUT, another event still more calamitous to human liberty, was a wicked confederacy, between the two systems of tyranny above described. It seems to have been even stipulated between them, that the temporal grandees should contribute every thing in their power to maintain the ascendency of the priesthood; and that the spiritual grandees, in their turn, should employ that4 ascendency over the consciences of the people, in impressing on their minds, a blind, implicit obedience to civil magistracy.

THUS, as long as this confederacy lasted, and the people were held in ignorance; Liberty, and with her, Knowledge, and Virtue too, seem to have deserted the earth; and one age of darkness, succeeded another, till GOD, in his benign providence, raised up the champions, who began and conducted the reformation. From the time of the reformation, to the first settlement of America, knowledge gradually spread in Europe, but especially in England; and in proportion as that increased and spread among the people, ecclesiastical and civil tyranny, which I use as synonimous expressions, for the cannon and feudal laws, seem to have lost their strength and weight. The people grew more and more sensible of the wrong that was done them, by these systems; more and more impatient under it; and determined at all hazards to rid themselves of it; till, at last, under the execrable race of the Steuarts,5 the struggle between the people and the confederacy aforesaid of temporal and spiritual tyranny, became formidable, violent and bloody.

IT was this great struggle, that peopled America. It was not religion 114 alone, as is commonly supposed; but it was a love of universal Liberty, and an hatred, a dread, an horror of the infernal confederacy, before described, that projected, conducted, and accomplished the settlement of America.

IT was a resolution formed, by a sensible people, I mean the Puritans, almost in despair. They had become intelligent in general, and many of them learned. For this fact I have the testimony of archbishop King 6 himself, who observed of that people, that they were more intelligent, and better read than even the members of the church whom he censures warmly for that reason. This people had been so vexed, and tortured by the powers of those days, for no other crime than their knowledge, and their freedom of enquiry and examination, and they had so much reason to despair of deliverance from those miseries, on that side the ocean; that they at last resolved to fly to the wilderness for refuge, from the temporal and spiritual principalities and powers, and plagues, and scourges, of their native country.

AFTER their arrival here, they began their settlements, and formed their plan both of ecclesiastical and civil government, in direct opposition to the cannon and the feudal systems. The leading men among them, both of the clergy and the laity, were men of sense and learning: To many of them, the historians, orators, poets and philosophers of Greece and Rome were quite familiar: and some of them have left libraries that are still in being, consisting chiefly of volumes, in which the wisdom of the most enlightned ages and nations is deposited, written however in languages, which their great grandsons, tho' educated in European Universities, can scarcely read.

Reprinted from the Boston Gazette, 12 Aug. 1765. For partial Dft, see No. II, above, and descriptive note.


John Tillotson (1630–1694), Archbishop of Canterbury, popular preacher, and warm advocate of religious comprehension among English Protestants. JA owned an incomplete set of Tillotson's Works and admired the high moral tone of the Archbishop's sermons ( DNB ; Catalogue of JA's Library ; JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:224).


In his copy of True Sentiments . . . , containing the “Dissertation,” JA wrote the following marginal note at this point: “Rob. Hist. C. 5, page 54, and 141, 315.” The reference is to William Robertson, The History of the Reign of Charles the Fifth, Emperor of Germany; and of All the Kingdoms and States in Europe during His Age, 3 vols. [Phila.], 1770. Catalogue of JA's Library lists only a London edition of 1777 in 4 vols., but the pages listed here and below match the 1770 edition.


JA's marginal note here reads, “Rob. Hist. C. 5, 178, 9 &c.”


JA corrected the word that to read their.


JA underlined the whole phrase “the execrable race of the Steuarts.”


Since there was no Archbishop King in England during the reigns of James I and Charles I, the period presumably under discussion, the reference here is uncertain. In one of his drafts JA attributed this comment on Puritan su-115periority to “Archbishop King him self, (I think it was, for I say this upon Memory)” (JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:257). There were two bishops named King in the period: John (1559?–1621), Bishop of London, 1611–1621, and Henry (1592–1669), Bishop of Chichester, 1642–1669 ( DNB ).

IV. “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” No. 2, 19 August 1765 JA Boston Gazette (newspaper)


IV. “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” No. 2, 19 August 1765 Adams, John Boston Gazette (newspaper)
IV. “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” No. 2
Monday, 19 August 1765

THUS accomplished were many of the first Planters of these Colonies. It may be thought polite and fashionable, by many modern fine Gentlemen perhaps, to deride the Characters of these Persons, as enthusiastical, superstitious and republican: But such ridicule is founded in nothing but foppery and affectation, and is grosly injurious and false. Religious to some degree of enthusiasm it may be admitted they were; but this can be no peculiar derogation from their character, because it was at that time almost the universal character, not only of England, but of Christendom. Had this however, been otherwise, their enthusiasm, considering the principles in which it was founded, and the ends to which it was directed, far from being a reproach to them, was greatly to their honour: for I believe it will be found universally true, that no great enterprize, for the honour or happiness of mankind, was ever achieved, without a large mixture of that noble infirmity. Whatever imperfections may be justly ascribed to them, which however are as few, as any mortals have discovered their judgment in framing their policy, was founded in wise, humane and benevolent principles; It was founded in revelation, and in reason too; It was consistent with the principles, of the best, and greatest, and wisest legislators of antiquity. Tyranny in every form, shape, and appearance was their disdain, and abhorrence; no fear of punishment, not even of Death itself, in exquisite tortures, had been sufficient to conquer, that steady, manly, pertenacious spirit, with which they had opposed the tyrants of those days, in church and state. They were very far from being enemies to monarchy; and they knew as well as any men, the just regard and honour that is due to the character of a dispenser of the misteries of the gospel of Grace: But they saw clearly, that popular powers must be placed, as a guard, a countroul, a ballance, to the powers of the monarch, and the priest, in every government, or else it would soon become the man of sin, the whore of Babylon, the mystery of iniquity, a great and detestable system of fraud, violence, and usurpation. Their greatest concern seems to have been to establish a government of the church more consistent with 116the scriptures, and a government of the state more agreable to the dignity of humane nature, than any they had seen in Europe: and to transmit such a government down to their posterity, with the means of securing and preserving it, for ever. To render the popular power in their new government, as great and wise, as their principles and theory, i. e. as human nature and the christian religion require it should be, they endeavored to remove from it, as many of the feudal inequalities and dependencies, as could be spared, consistently with the preservation of a mild limited monarchy. And in this they discovered the depth of their wisdom, and the warmth of their friendship to human nature. But the first place is due to religion. They saw clearly, that of all the nonsense and delusion which had ever passed thro' the mind of man, none had ever been more extravagant than the notions of absolutions, indelible characters, uninterrupted successions, and the rest of those phantastical ideas, derived from the common law,1 which had thrown such a glare of mystery, sanctity, reverence and right reverence, eminence and holiness, around the idea of a priest, as no mortal could deserve, and as always must from the constitution of human nature, be dangerous in society.2 For this reason, they demolished the whole system of Diocesan episcopacy and deriding, as all reasonable and impartial men must do, the ridiculous fancies of sanctified effluvia from episcopal fingers, they established sacerdotal ordination, on the foundation of the bible and common sense. This conduct at once imposed an obligation on the whole body of the clergy, to industry, virtue, piety and learning, and rendered that whole body infinitely more independent on the civil powers, in all respects than they could be where they were formed into a scale of subordination, from a pope down to priests and fryars and confessors, necessarily and essentially a sordid, stupid, wretched herd; or than they could be in any other country, where an archbishop held the place of an universal bishop, and the vicars and curates that of the ignorant, dependent, miserable rabble aforesaid; and infinitely more sensible and learned than they could be in either. This subject has been seen in the same light, by many illustrious patriots, who have lived in America, since the days of our fore fathers, and who have adored their memory for the same reason. And methinks there has not appeared in New England a stronger veneration for their memory, a more penetrating insight into the grounds and principles and spirit of their policy, nor a more earnest desire of perpetuating the blessings of it to posterity, than that fine institution of the late chief justice Dudley, of a lecture against popery, and on the validity of presbyterian 117ordination.3 This was certainly intended by that wise and excellent man, as an eternal memento of the wisdom and goodness of the very principles that settled America. But I must again return to the feudal law.

The adventurers so often mentioned, had an utter contempt of all that dark ribaldry of hereditary indefeasible right—the Lord's anointed—and the divine miraculous original of government, with which the priesthood had inveloped the feudal monarch in clouds and mysteries, and from whence they had deduced the most mischievous of all doctrines, that of passive obedience and non resistance. They knew that government was a plain, simple, intelligible thing founded in nature and reason and quite comprehensible by common sense. They detested all the base services, and servile dependencies of the feudal system. They knew that no such unworthy dependences took place in the ancient seats of liberty, the republic of Greece and Rome: and they tho't all such slavish subordinations were equally inconsistent with the constitution of human nature and that religious liberty, with which Jesus had made them free. This was certainly the opinion they had formed, and they were far from being singular or extravagant in thinking so. Many celebrated modern writers, in Europe, have espoused the same sentiments. Lord Kaim's,4 a Scottish writer of great reputation, whose authority in this case ought to have the more weight, as his countrymen have not the most worthy ideas of liberty, speaking of the feudal law, says, “A constitution so contradictory to all the principles which govern mankind, can never be brought about, one should imagine, but by foreign conquest or native usurpations.” Brit. Ant. P. 2. Rousseau speaking of the same system, calls it “That most iniquitous and absurd form of government by which human nature was so shamefully degraded.” Social Compact, Page 164.5 It would be easy to multiply authorities, but it must be needless, because as the original of this form of government was among savages, as the spirit of it is military and despotic, every writer, who would allow the people to have any right to life or property, or freedom, more than the beasts of the field, and who was not hired or inlisted under arbitrary lawless power, has been always willing to admit the feudal system to be inconsistent with liberty and the rights of mankind.

MS not found. Reprinted from the (Boston Gazette, 19 Aug. 1765).


A printer's error for canon law, corrected in reprintings.


In JA's copy of True Sentiments . . . , containing the “Dissertation,” penciled in the margin opposite the beginning of this sentence are the words “omit No Papist” and a shaky line is drawn down the passage to include the whole sentence.


JA's praise of Dudley's gift to Har-118vard may have been prompted by Jonathan Mayhew's Dudleian Lecture of May 1765, in which he not only denounced Catholic doctrine but warned that the Church was a threat to civil liberty as well. In a manner strikingly parallel to the argument of JA's “Dissertation,” Mayhew declared that “Our controversy with her [Rome] is not merely a religious one. . . . But a defence of our laws, liberties and civil rights as men, in opposition to the proud claims of ecclesiastical persons, who under the pretext of religion and saving mens souls, would engross all power and property to themselves, and reduce us to the most abject slavery. . . . Popery and liberty are incompatible; at irreconcileable enmity with each other” (Popish Idolatry . . . , cited in Charles W. Akers, Called Unto Liberty: A Life of Jonathan Mayhew, 1720–1766, Cambridge, 1964, p. 195–196).


Henry Home, Lord Kames (1692–1782), Scottish judge and philosopher, wrote Essays upon Several Subjects concerning British Antiquities . . . , Edinburgh, 1747, one section of which dealt with the “Introduction of the Feudal Law into Scotland” ( DNB ). The third edition of this work (Edinburgh, 1763) is listed in Catalogue of JA's Library ; JA was thoroughly familiar with Kames before he began to write the “Dissertation” ( Diary and Autobiography , 1:254).


Jean Jacques Rousseau, A Treatise on the Social Compact; or the Principles of Politic Law, London, 1764 ( Catalogue of JA's Library ). The sentence begins, “The notion of representatives is modern, descending to us from the feudal system, that most iniquitous.”

V. “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” No. 3, 30 September 1765 JA Boston Gazette (newspaper)


V. “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” No. 3, 30 September 1765 Adams, John Boston Gazette (newspaper)
V. “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” No. 3
Monday, 30 September 1765 1

TO have holden their lands, allodially, or for every man to have been the sovereign lord and proprietor of the ground he occupied, would have constituted a government, too nearly like a commonwealth. They were contented therefore to hold their lands of their King, as their sovereign Lord, and to him they were willing to render homage: but to no mesne and subordinate Lords, nor were they willing to submit to any of the baser services. In all this, they were so strenuous, that they have even transmitted to their posterity, a very general contempt and detestation of holdings by quit rents: As they have also an hereditary ardor for liberty and thirst for knowledge.

They were convinced by their knowledge of human nature derived from history and their own experience, that nothing could preserve their posterity from the encroachments of the two systems of tyranny, in opposition to which, as has been observed already, they erected their government in church and state, but knowledge diffused generally thro' the whole body of the people. Their civil and religious principles, therefore, conspired to prompt them to use every measure, and take every precaution in their power, to propagate and perpetuate knowledge. For this purpose they laid, very early the foundations of colleges, and invested them with ample priviledges and emoluments; and it is 119 120 remarkable, that they have left among their posterity, so universal an affection and veneration for those seminaries, and for liberal education, that the meanest of the people contribute chearfully to the support and maintenance of them every year, and that nothing is more generally popular than projections for the honour, reputation and advantage of those seats of learning. But the wisdom and benevolence of our fathers rested not here. They made an early provision by law, that every town consisting of so many families, should be always furnished with a grammar school. They made it a crime for such a town to be destitute of a grammar school master, for a few months, and subjected it to an heavy penalty. So that the education of all ranks of people was made the care and expence of the public in a manner, that I believe has been unknown to any other people ancient or modern.

The consequences of these establishments we see and feel every day. A native of America who cannot read and write is as rare an appearance, as a Jacobite or a Roman Catholic, i. e. as rare as a Comet or an Earthquake. It has been observed, that we are all of us, lawyers, divines, politicians and philosophers.2 And I have good authorities to say that all candid foreigners who have passed thro' this country, and conversed freely with all sorts of people here, will allow, that they have never seen so much knowledge and civility among the common people in any part of the world. It is true, there has been among us a party for some years, consisting chiefly not of the descendants of the first settlers of this country but of high churchmen and high statesmen, imported since, who affect to censure this provision for the education of our youth as a needless expence, and an imposition upon the rich in favour of the poor—and as an institution productive of idleness and vain speculation among the people, whose time and attention it is said ought to be devoted to labour, and not to public affairs or to examination into the conduct of their superiours. And certain officers of the crown, and certain other missionaries of ignorance, foppery, servility and slavery, have been most inclined to countenance and increase the same party. Be it remembred, however, that liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned, and bought it for us, at the expence of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood. And liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know—but besides this 121they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible divine right to that most dreaded, and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers. Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents and trustees for the people; and if the cause, the interest and trust is insidiously betray'd, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority, that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents, attorneys and trustees. And the preservation of the means of knowledge, among the lowest ranks, is of more importance to the public, than all the property of all the rich men in the country. It is even of more consequence to the rich themselves, and to their posterity. The only question is whether it is a public emolument? and if it is, the rich ought undoubtedly to contribute in the same proportion, as to all other public burdens, i. e. in proportion to their wealth which is secured by public expences. But none of the means of information are more sacred, or have been cherished with more tenderness and care by the settlers of America, than the Press. Care has been taken, that the art of printing should be encouraged, and that it should be easy and cheap and safe for any person to communicate his thoughts to the public. And you, Messieurs Printers,3 whatever the tyrants of the earth may say of your paper, have done important service to your country, by your readiness and freedom in publishing the speculations of the curious. The stale, impudent insinuations of slander and sedition, with which the gormandizers of power have endeavor'd to discredit your paper, are so much the more to your honour; for the jaws of power are always opened to devour, and her arm is always stretched out if possible to destroy, the freedom of thinking, speaking and writing. And if the public interest, liberty and happiness have been in danger, from the ambition or avarice of any great man or number of great men, whatever may be their4 politeness, address, learning, ingenuity and in other respects integrity and humanity, you have done yourselves honour and your country service, by publishing and pointing out that avarice and ambition. These views5 are so much the more dangerous and pernicious, for the virtues with which they may be accompanied in the same character, and with so much the more watchful jealousy to be guarded against.

“Curse on such virtues, they've undone their country.”6

Be not intimidated therefore, by any terrors, from publishing with the utmost freedom, whatever can be warranted by the laws of your country; nor suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberty, by any pretences of politeness, delicacy or decency. These as they are 122often used, are but three different names, for hypocrisy, chicanery and cowardice. Much less I presume will you be discouraged by any pretences, that malignant's on this side the water will represent your paper as factious and seditious, or that the Great on the other side the water will take offence at them. This Dread of representation, has had for a long time in this province effects very similar to what the physicians call an hydropho, or dread of water. It has made us delirious. And we have rushed headlong into the water, till we are almost drowned, out of simple or phrensical fear of it. Believe me, the character of this country has suffered more in Britain, by the pusillanimity with which we have borne many insults and indignities from the creatures of power at home, and the creatures of those creatures here, than it ever did or ever will by the freedom and spirit that has been or will be discovered in writing, or action. Believe me my countrymen, they have imbibed an opinion on the other side the water, that we are an ignorant, a timid and a stupid people, nay their tools on this side have often the impudence to dispute your bravery. But I hope in God the time is near at hand, when they will be fully convinced of your understanding, integrity and courage. But can any thing be more ridiculous, were it not too provoking to be laughed at, than to pretend that offence should be taken at home for writings here? Pray let them look at home. Is not the human understanding exhausted there? Are not reason, imagination, wit, passion, senses and all, tortured to find out satyr and invective against the characters of the vile and futile fellows who sometimes get into place and power? The most exceptionable paper that ever I saw here, is perfect prudence and modesty, in comparison of multitudes of their applauded writings. Yet the high regard they have for the freedom of the Press, indulges all. I must and will repeat it, your Paper deserves the patronage of every friend to his country. And whether the defamers of it are arrayed in robes of scarlet or sable, whether they lurk and skulk in an insurance office, whether they assume the venerable character of a Priest, the sly one of a scrivener, or the dirty, infamous, abandoned one of an informer, they are all the creatures and tools of the lust of domination.

The true source of our sufferings, has been our timidity.

MS not found. Reprinted from the (Boston Gazette, 30 Sept. 1765).


This section was printed in the Gazette with a prefatory note to readers that it was a “Continuation of the Piece begun [in] our Paper of August the 12th, and continued in that of the 19th, upon the Canon and Feudal Laws,” the first suggestion for a title for the essay.


This observation was made by Jonathan Mayhew when he wrote, “It may be added, that the common people in New-England, by means of our schools, and the instructions of our 'able, learned, orthodox, ministers,' are, and have all along been, philosophers and divines in 123comparison of the common people of England, of the communion of the church there established” (Observations on the Charter and Conduct of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts . . . , Boston, 1763, p. 45, Evans, No. 9441).


Benjamin Edes (1732–1803) and John Gill (1732–1785), printers of the Boston Gazette ( DAB ).


JA's copy of True Sentiments has a marginal correction in JA's hand of their to his.


A marginal correction of views to Vices in JA's hand.


Joseph Addison, Cato, Act IV, scene iv. JA substituted such for his.

VI. “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” No. 4, 21 October 1765 JA Boston Gazette (newspaper)


VI. “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” No. 4, 21 October 1765 Adams, John Boston Gazette (newspaper)
VI. “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” No. 4
Monday, 21 October 1765

WE have been afraid to think. We have felt a reluctance to examining into the grounds of our privileges, and the extent in which we have an indisputable right to demand them against all the power and authority, on earth. And many who have not scrupled to examine for themselves, have yet for certain prudent reasons been cautious, and diffident of declaring the result of their enquiries.

The cause of this timidity is perhaps hereditary and to be traced back in history, as far as the cruel treatment the first settlers of this country received, before their embarkation for America, from the government at Home. Every body knows how dangerous it was to speak or write in favour of any thing in those days, but the triumphant system of religion and politicks. And our fathers were particularly, the objects of the persecutions and proscriptions of the times. It is not unlikely therefore, that, although they were inflexibly steady in refusing their positive assent to any thing against their principles, they might have contracted habits of reserve, and a cautious diffidence of asserting their opinions publickly. These habits they probably brought with them to America, and have transmitted down to us. Or, we may possibly account for this appearance, by the great affection and veneration, Americans have always entertained for the country from whence they sprang—or by the quiet temper for which they have been remarkable, no country having been less disposed to discontent than this—or by a sense they have, that it is their duty to acquiesce, under the administration of government, even when in many smaller matters gravaminous to them, and until the essentials of the great compact are destroy'd or invaded. These peculiar causes might operate upon them; but without these we all know, that human nature itself, from indolence, modesty, humanity or fear, has always too much reluctance to a manly assertion of its rights. Hence perhaps it has happened that nine tenths of the species, are groaning and gasping in misery and servitude.


But whatever the cause has been, the fact is certain, we have been excessively cautious of giving offence by complaining of grievances. And it is as certain that American governors, and their friends and all the crown officers have avail'd themselves of this disposition in the people. They have prevailed on us to consent to many things, which were grosly injurious to us, and to surrender many others with voluntary tameness, to which we had the clearest right. Have we not been treated formerly, with abominable insolence, by officers of the navy? I mean no insinuation against any gentleman now on this station, having heard no complaint of any one of them to his dishonor. Have not some generals, from England, treated us like servants, nay more like slaves than like Britons? Have we not been under the most ignominious contribution, the most abject submission, the most supercilious insults of some custom house officers? Have we not been trifled with, browbeaten, and trampled on, by former governors, in a manner which no king of England since James the second has dared to indulge towards his subjects? Have we not raised up one family,1 in them placed an unlimitted confidence, and been soothed and battered and intimidated by their influence, into a great part of this infamous tameness and submission? “These are serious and alarming questions, and deserve a dispassionate consideration.”2

This disposition has been the great wheel and the mainspring in the American machine of court politicks. We have been told that “the word 'Rights' is an offensive expression.” That “the King his ministry and parliament will not endure to hear Americans talk of their Rights.” That “Britain is the mother and we the children, that a filial duty and submission is due from us to her,” and that “we ought to doubt our own judgment, and presume that she is right, even when she seems to us to shake the foundations of government.” That “Britain is immensely rich and great and powerful, has fleets and armies at her command, which have been the dread and terror of the universe, and that she will force her own judgment into execution, right or wrong.” But let me intreat you Sir to pause and consider. Do you consider your self as a missionary of loyalty or of rebellion? Are you not representing your King his ministry and parliament as tyrants, imperious, unrelenting tyrants by such reasoning as this? Is not this representing your most gracious sovereign, as endeavouring to destroy the foundations of his own throne? Are you not putting language into the royal mouth, which if fairly pursued will shew him to have no right to the crown on his own sacred head? Are you not representing every member of parliament as renouncing the transactions at Running-125mede,3 and as repealing in effect the bill of rights, when the Lords and Commons asserted and vindicated the rights of the people and their own rights, and insisted on the King's assent to that assertion and vindication? Do you not represent them as forgetting that the prince of Orange, was created King William by the People, on purpose that their rights might be eternal and inviolable? Is there not something extremely fallacious, in the common-place images of mother country and children colonies? Are we the children of Great-Britain, any more than the cities of London, Exeter and Bath? Are we not brethren and fellow subjects, with those in Britain, only under a somewhat different method of legislation, and a totally different method of taxation? But admitting we are children; have not children a right to complain when their parents are attempting to break their limbs, to administer poison, or to sell them to enemies for slaves? Let me intreat you to consider, will the mother, be pleased, when you represent her as deaf to the cries of her children? When you compare her to the infamous miscreant, who lately stood on the gallows for starving her child? When you resemble her to Lady Macbeth in Shakespear, (I cannot think of it without horror)

Who “had given suck, and knew How tender 'twas to love the Babe that milk'd her.” But yet, who could “Even while 'twas smiling in her Face, Have pluck'd her Nipple from the boneless Gums, And dash'd the Brains out.”

Let us banish forever from our minds, my countrymen, all such unworthy ideas of the King, his ministry and parliament. Let us not suppose, that all are become luxurious effeminate and unreasonable, on the other side the water, as many designing persons would insinuate. Let us presume, what is in fact true, that the spirit of liberty, is as ardent as ever among the body of the nation, though a few individuals may be corrupted. Let us take it for granted, that the same great spirit, which once gave Caesar so warm a reception; which denounced4 hostilities against John 'till Magna Charta was signed; which severed the head of Charles the first from his body, and drove James the second from his kingdom; the same great spirit (may heaven preserve it till the earth shall be no more) which first seated the great grand father of his present most gracious Majesty, on the throne of Britain, is still alive and active and warm in England; and that the same spirit in America, instead of provoking the inhabitants of that country, will endear us to them for ever and secure their good will.


This spirit however without knowledge, would be little better than a brutal rage. Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak and write. Let every order and degree among the people rouse their attention and animate their resolution. Let them all become attentive to the grounds and principles of government, ecclesiastical and civil. Let us study the law of nature; search into the spirit of the British constitution; read the histories of ancient ages; contemplate the great examples of Greece and Rome; set before us, the conduct of our own British ancestors, who have defended for us, the inherent rights of mankind, against foreign and domestic tyrants and usurpers, against arbitrary kings and cruel priests, in short against the gates of earth and hell. Let us read and recollect and impress upon our souls, the views and ends, of our own more immediate forefathers, in exchanging their native country for a dreary, inhospitable wilderness. Let us examine into the nature of that power and the cruelty of that oppression which drove them from their homes. Recollect their amazing fortitude, their bitter sufferings! The hunger, the nakedness, the cold, which they patiently endured! The severe labours of clearing their grounds, building their houses, raising their provisions amidst dangers from wild beasts and savage men, before they had time or money or materials for commerce! Recollect the civil and religious principles and hopes and expectations, which constantly supported and carried them through all hardships, and patience and resignation! Let us recollect it was liberty! The hope of liberty for themselves and us and ours, which conquered all discouragements, dangers and trials! In such researches as these let us all in our several departments chearfully engage! But especially the proper patrons and supporters of law, learning and religion.

Let the pulpit resound with the doctrines and sentiments of religious liberty. Let us hear the danger of thraldom to our consciences, from ignorance, extream poverty and dependance, in short from civil and political slavery. Let us see delineated before us, the true map of man. Let us hear the dignity of his nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works of God! that consenting to slavery is a sacriligious breach of trust, as offensive in the sight of God, as it is derogatory from our own honor or interest or happiness; and that God almighty has promulgated from heaven, liberty, peace, and good-will to man!

Let the Bar proclaim, “the laws, the rights, the generous plan of power,” delivered down from remote antiquity; inform the world of 127the mighty struggles, and numberless sacrifices, made by our ancestors, in defence of freedom. Let it be known, that British liberties are not the grants of princes or parliaments, but original rights, conditions of original contracts, coequal with prerogative and coeval with government.—That many of our rights are inherent and essential, agreed on as maxims and establish'd as preliminaries, even before a parliament existed. Let them search for the foundations of British laws and government in the frame of human nature, in the constitution of the intellectual and moral world. There let us see, that truth, liberty, justice and benevolence, are its everlasting basis; and if these could be removed, the superstructure is overthrown of course.

Let the colleges join their harmony, in the same delightful concern. Let every declamation turn upon the beauty of liberty and virtue, and the deformity, turpitude and malignity of slavery and vice. Let the public disputations become researches into the grounds and nature and ends of government, and the means of preserving the good and demolishing the evil. Let the dialogues and all the exercises, become the instruments of impressing on the tender mind, and of spreading and distributing, far and wide, the ideas of right and the sensations of freedom.

In a word, let every sluice of knowledge be open'd and set a flowing. The encroachments upon liberty, in the reigns of the first James and the first Charles, by turning the general attention of learned men to government, are said to have produced the greatest number of consummate statesmen, which has ever been seen in any age, or nation. Your Clarendons, Southamptons, Seldens, Hampdens, Faulklands, Sidneys, Locks, Harringtons, are all said to have owed their eminence in political knowledge, to the tyrannies of those reigns. The prospect, now before us, in America, ought in the same manner to engage the attention of every man of learning to matters of power and of right, that we may be neither led nor driven blindfolded to irretrievable destruction. Nothing less than this seems to have been meditated for us, by somebody or other in Great-Britain. There seems to be a direct and formal design on foot, to enslave all America. This however must be done by degrees. The first step that is intended seems to be an entire subversion of the whole system of our Fathers, by an introduction of the cannon and feudal law, into America. The cannon and feudal systems tho' greatly mutilated in England, are not yet destroy'd. Like the temples and palaces, in which the great contrivers of them, once worship'd and inhabited, they exist in ruins; and much of the domineering spirit of them still remains. The designs and labours of a cer-128tain society,5 to introduce the former of them into America, have been well exposed to the public by a writer of great abilities,6 and the further attempts to the same purpose that may be made by that society, or by the ministry or parliament, I leave to the conjectures of the thoughtful. But it seems very manifest from the S—p A-t itself, that a design is form'd to strip us in a great measure of the means of knowledge, by loading the Press, the Colleges, and even an Almanack and a News-Paper, with restraints and duties; and to introduce the inequalities and dependances of the feudal system, by taking from the poorer sort of people all their little subsistance, and conferring it on a set of stamp officers, distributors and their deputies. But I must proceed no further at present. The sequel, whenever I shall find health and leisure to pursue it, will be a “disquisition of the policy of the stamp act.”7 In the mean time however let me add, These are not the vapours of a melancholly mind, nor the effusions of envy, disappointed ambition, nor of a spirit of opposition to government: but the emanations of an heart that burns, for its country's welfare. No one of any feeling, born and educated in this once happy country, can consider the numerous distresses, the gross indignities, the barbarous ignorance, the haughty usurpations, that we have reason to fear are meditating for ourselves, our children, our neighbours, in short for all our countrymen and all their posterity, without the utmost agonies of heart, and many tears.

MS not found. Reprinted from the (Boston Gazette, 21 Oct. 1765).


The family of Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson. In Aug. 1765 JA had surveyed the multiplicity of public offices held by Hutchinson and his relatives in Massachusetts and concluded that this constituted an “amazing ascendancy of one Family” that was a “Foundation sufficient on which to erect a Tyranny” ( Diary and Autobiography , 1:260).


The source of this quotation and those that follow has not been determined. For an interesting analysis of the role of the parent-child analogy in Revolutionary thought, see Edwin G. Burrows and Michael Wallace, “The American Revolution: the Ideology and Psychology of National Liberation,” Perspectives in American History, 6 (1972): 167–306.


The version of the “Dissertation” in The True Sentiments of America contains a bracketed editorial insertion after “Runing Med”: “the meadow, near Windsor, where Magna Charta was signed.”


Denounce: announce or proclaim, obs.; see OED under 1b.


The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.


Jonathan Mayhew.


JA never wrote a sequel.