Papers of John Adams, volume 2

To Ebenezer Thayer Jr.

To William Woodfall

85 To Alexander Wedderburn, 25 April 1774 JA Wedderburn, Alexander


To Alexander Wedderburn, 25 April 1774 Adams, John Wedderburn, Alexander
To Alexander Wedderburn
post 25 April 1774 1
To Mr. Alexander Wedderburne.

Your Defence of Messrs. Hutchinson and Oliver before the Lords Committee of his Majestys privy Council for Plantation affairs, against the Address of the House of Representatives of the Massachusetts Bay, has arrived in Boston,: and as it is very curious, interesting and extraordinary, you will excuse a fair Discussion of its Merits, before the Trybunal of the Public.

Whatever may be your real Character, in private or in public Life, (which however is better known in America than you imagine) you shall be treated, with all that Respect, which is due, to his Majestys Solicitor General.

“The Question is, you say of no less Magnitude, than whether the Crown shall ever have it in its Power to employ a faithfull and Steady Servant in the Administration of a Colony”: But this is, begging the Question Mr. Wedderburn. The Question is whether Mr. Hutchinson is a faithfull and Steady Servant of the Crown. If he is let him be Supported, but if he is not the Petition of the Massachusetts Assembly ought to have been granted.

“In the Appointment of Mr. Hutchinson,” you say his Majestys Choice followed the Wishes of his People! Do you mean, the good People in England Mr. Wedderburn? These for want of true Intelligence, are not competent Judges. Can you mean the People of the Province? If you do, I Sincerely pity you! You must have been deceived by false Informations; you must have been ignorant, to an unpardonable Degree of a Country and of Characters, about which you, dogmatise with so much Confidence.

At the Time, when Mr. Hutchinson was appointed to this Government, he was the Object of the political Hatred of the Body of this People. For this I appeal to every Thing, which can be an Indication of their Sentiments. If We look into the Pamphlets which have been written, in this Province, for these last Ten Years, We shall find him to be the principal Object of Jealousy and Aversion. If We look into the Boston Gazette, which even Mr. Oliver allows to be the oracle of the People and a sure Indication of their Temper, We find that Mr. Hutchinson has been, more remarkably the Object of their Aversion, and Jealousy than any other Man.


If We turn over the Records of the general Assembly, We find the House of Representatives, the most infallible Proof of the sense of this People, engaged for this whole Period, in an uninterrupted Opposition to him, his Views, Designs and Measures. In 1764 his Friends, exerted their Utmost Address and Influence and in Repeated Attempts to get him, appointed Agent for the Province, at the Court of Great Britain. But every attempt of this Kind was defeated, by the Popular Members of the House, though they had a most formidable Combination of that Gentlemans Family Connections, and all the Influence of the Prerogative, and the then Governor Bernards Friends to contend with.2 In 1766, his Character ran so low, with the People, that he was disgracefully discarded from the Council, together with the wholly united Phalanx of his Friends—and neither he nor they have been able to procure an Election Since that Time, tho repeated Attempts have been made in their favour.3 In the same Year or the next, upon his assuming a seat at the Board as Lt Governor, tho without claiming a Voice, Such was the Jealousy of his Ambition, and such the opinion of his Guile and Artifice, his Dissimulation and Hypocrisy, his falshood and fraud, that the People universally and their Representatives took the Alarm, and by a determined and Spirited opposition to him, defeated him in that attempt ascribing it to a “Lust of Power,”4 which those who know best Supposed to be his predominant Passion.

After, the Departure of Sir Francis Bernard, Mr. Hutchinson assumed the Chair as Lt Governor, And every session of the general Court, nay almost every day of every session exhibited Proofs, of the aversion of the People and their Representatives to him, he not being able with all his Advantages, his Extensive Connections, his numerous personal Votaries who were attached to him because they had been promoted by him, and all his Prerogatives, to carry a Single Point of Consequence in the assembly.5

Let your Informers blush then, for their Disregard to Truth, who have led you to expose your Character, to the World and to Posterity, by saying, that the Choice of Mr. Hutchinson followed the Wishes of the People. If you, should take the Pains, to learn the true History of this Province you will certainly retract an Assertion, so entirely repugnant to Truth.

I will not descend into more Particulars to shew aversion of this People to Mr. Hutchinson, which has been growing for Ten years past, unless I should be further called upon to do it. If I am I will, and I will undertake to prove, more of this Kind, than Mr Wedder-87burn can do, relative to a Strafford and a Laud, who fell Bloody Victims, to the Hatred of the People.

I propose to do my self the Honour to accompany the solicitor General through his whole Argument, and to examine the Choicest flowers of his Rhetoric. But I shall take, my own Time, and follow my own Humour in it.6

A Disciple of Dr. Franklin

Dft (Adams Papers); an accompanying sheet docketed by CFA: “Original Draught of a Newspaper Article upon the examination of Dr Franklin before the Committee of the Privy Council On Plantation affairs. 29 January 1774.”


On 19 April a vessel from England brought Boston the news of Benjamin Franklin's ordeal at the hands of Alexander Wedderburn (1733–1805) before the Privy Council's Committee on Plantation Affairs the preceding January (Boston Post-Boy, 25 April). In August 1773, as agent for the Massachusetts House, Franklin presented that body's Address to the King, seeking the removal of Thomas Hutchinson and Andrew Oliver as governor and lieutenant governor. Shortly after the Address was referred to the Privy Council in December, Franklin was forced to admit publicly that he was “the person who obtained and transmitted to Boston the letters” written to Thomas Whately by Hutchinson and Oliver, the very letters which had prompted the House to demand the dismissal of those officials (Franklin to the Printer of the Public Advertiser, 25 Dec. 1773; [Israel Mauduit], Franklin before the Privy Council, White Hall Chapel, London, 1774 . . . , Phila., 1860, p. 67–73). At the Privy Council committee's final hearing on the Address, 29 Jan., Solicitor General Wedderburn acted as counsel for Hutchinson's and Oliver's agent Israel Mauduit. Wedderburn's hour-long speech to the committee was less a defense of Hutchinson and Oliver than a denunciation of Franklin's role in obtaining the Whately letters and transmitting them to Boston. (For a vivid description of Franklin's experience in the Privy Council chambers in the “Cockpit,” see Carl Van Doren, Benjamin Franklin, N.Y., 1938, p. 467–476.)

Not surprisingly, the committee voted later that day that the Massachusetts Address was “groundless, vexatious, and scandalous, and calculated only for the seditious purposes of keeping up a spirit of clamor and discontent in the said province” ([Mauduit], Franklin before the Privy Council, p. 120). The next day Franklin was notified that he had been dismissed as Deputy Postmaster General (Van Doren, Franklin, p. 476), and on 7 Feb. the King, on advice of the Privy Council, accepted the recommendation of the Committee on Plantation Affairs and dismissed the Address of the Massachusetts House ([Mauduit], Franklin before the Privy Council, p. 116–121).

The first report of the incident printed in Boston appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette , 21 April. Four days later, the Boston Gazette and the Boston Post-Boy carried similar accounts of the affair, along with notices that the proceedings of the Privy Council committee and the “Substance” of Wedderburn's speech would be available the next day, 26 April, at the offices of Mills & Hicks, the Post-Boy's proprietors. JA's use of direct quotations from Wedderburn's speech in this unpublished newspaper essay indicates that he drafted the article after seeing the Mills & Hicks publication of 26 April, “Proceedings of his Majesty's PRIVY-COUNCIL on the Address of the ASSEMBLY of Massachusetts-Bay . . . with the Substance of Mr. Wedderburn's Speech relative to said Address” (MHi:Broadside Coll.).

88 2.

In January 1764 the General Court chose Hutchinson as a special agent to present the province's objections to the Sugar Act in London. Hutchinson asked to be excused from this duty, although he apparently expected the legislature to postpone action on his request until he could determine whether his private affairs would allow him to leave the colony. Instead, his opponents in the House mobilized their forces and voted to excuse him from the agency. The Council did not concur in this vote, but the lower chamber's action effectively destroyed Hutchinson's hopes for the post (Hutchinson, Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo, 3:76–77; Malcolm Freiberg, Prelude to Purgatory: Thomas Hutchinson in Provincial Massachusetts Politics, 1760–1770, Brown Univ. doctoral dissertation, 1950, p. 59–63).


The removal of Hutchinson and the other chief executive officials from the Council in 1766 had important effects upon the structure of Massachusetts politics for the rest of the pre-revolutionary era; see Francis G. Walett, “The Massachusetts Council, 1766–1774: The Transformation of a Conservative Institution,” WMQ , 3d ser., 6:605–627 (Oct. 1949). For Hutchinson's account of the affair, see his Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo, 3:107–113.


Hutchinson's attempt to sit with the Council while lieutenant governor was so described by the House in its reply to Gov. Bernard's message at the opening of the General Court session, Jan. 1767. The representatives remarked that even had Hutchinson acted at Bernard's request, “the happiest means of supporting the authority of the Government or maintaining the honor of the province were not consulted therein: But if he came in and took a seat of his own motion . . . it affords a new and additional instance of ambition and a lust of power, to what we have heretofore observed” (Mass., House Jour. , 1766–1767, p. 233).


For Hutchinson's difficulties with the General Court in its first session after he had become acting governor, see Editorial Note, JA's Service in the House, 7 June 1770–16 April 1771, above.


This essay was not published nor, so far as is known, did JA draft any successor pieces. While Boston's immediate reaction to the Franklin-Wedderburn affair was one of deep indignation, that cause was soon overshadowed by a more important one. On 2 May the Boston Gazette reprinted the pro-Franklin essays of “A Bostonian” from the London press in February; on 5 May the Massachusetts Spy published an anonymous letter to Wedderburn. The last extensive press notice given in Boston to the incident came on 9 May, when the Gazette offered an additional piece by “A Bostonian” and an anonymous defense of the publication of the Whately letters. The next day, Tuesday, May 10, the ship Harmony arrived from London with “the Severest Act ever was Penned against the Town of Boston” (MHi:John Rowe Diary). The news of the Boston Port Act and, in coming weeks, of the other Intolerable Acts, left the colonists of Massachusetts little time to ponder the sufferings of their agent in London.