Papers of John Adams, volume 2

Editorial Note Editorial Note
Editorial Note

The Continental Association and the Bill of Rights of the First Continental Congress turned American against American as never before. Extreme whigs professed that their only goal was to win increased auton-217omy for the colonies within the British Empire—a return to the status quo before George Grenville—but they were not always believed by the moderates. Among the latter, some suspected that the extremists were deliberately striving to achieve American independence, while others believed that they were unwittingly leading the colonies into a potentially ruinous war with Great Britain. As a result, in virtually every province men debated the wisdom of extremist leadership, the prudence of the steps taken by the Congress, and the nature of the proper relationship between colonies and mother country. Especially intense in Massachusetts, this debate gave rise to the famous exchange of pseudonymous newspaper letters between John Adams as Novanglus and Daniel Leonard as Massachusettensis.

Leonard, a prosperous Taunton lawyer, was a good friend of Adams. In old age Adams bitterly recalled that Thomas Hutchinson had “Seduced from my Bosom, three of the most intimate Friends I ever had in my Life, Jonathan Sewall, Samuel Quincy, and Daniel Leonard” (JA to William Tudor, 16 Nov. 1816, LbC, Adams Papers). In 1769 Leonard entered the lower house of the General Court for the first time, where he was to distinguish himself until 1774 as a supporter of the popular party led by Samuel Adams and James Otis, voting for the recall of Governor Bernard and for the letter asking for the dismissal of Chief Justice Peter Oliver and Governor Hutchinson. Like some other partisans of the popular party, however, Leonard turned against it after the Boston Tea Party and became increasingly more favorably disposed toward the Hutchinson administration and the policies of the British government it represented.

His changed attitude led him to accept an appointment from General Gage in August 1774 as one of 36 mandamus councilors, an act that so enraged the people of Taunton that he was obliged to remove himself and his family to Boston for their safety (Sibley-Shipton, Harvard Graduates , 14:641–644). In Boston, according to a letter written by Leonard in 1779, “he was solicited by several of the principal gentlemen there, to endeavour to trace the discontents of the people to their source, to point out the criminality and ruinous tendency of the opposition to the authority of parliament, and to convince the people of the justice of the measures of Administration” (Leonard to Sir Grey Cooper, 26 June 1779, P.R.O., A. O. 13/74, f.517, DLC Microfilm Copy). Leonard responded to these solicitations by defending the anti-whig position in seventeen letters originally printed in consecutive issues of the Massachusetts Gazette; and the Boston Post-Boy and Advertiser from 12 December 1774 to 3 April 1775.

Because John Adams quotes only brief excerpts from Leonard's letters, an account of his main arguments at some length seems warranted. Adams, whose letters will be printed in their entirety, can be dealt with more briefly. Leonard sounded several themes: the practical dangers in the course the whigs were pursuing; the reciprocal relations of protection and subordination that ought to prevail between Britain and the colonies; the 218 219 destruction of the Massachusetts constitution coming from the political maneuvers of the whigs; the positive benefits flowing from the mother country; and the inadequacy and inconsistency of whig reasoning on the relationship between Parliament and the colonies. Although there is nothing original in the Massachusettensis letters, they are lucid, sometimes clever in their appeal, and sharp in their thrusts. They are arguments that a skillful lawyer might have addressed to jurymen, playing on their fears and flattering them by exposing the whigs to ridicule. Leonard dismissed out of hand the ponderous legal arguments with which Adams buttressed his conviction that the colonies were not part of the realm. For Leonard, Adams' citations were nothing but “a huge pile of learning” (3 April 1775). In this encounter at least, Leonard understood better the art of public persuasion. Adams sought to bowl over his opponent with an astonishing display of legal scholarship that might have impressed lawyers but would certainly have left ordinary readers bewildered, exhausted, and finally bored.

Both men had one thing in common: neither believed that the confrontation shaping up between Britain and America resulted from misunderstandings. Both saw a calculated effort, a drive for power in the colonies, as the root cause. For Leonard, the “bad policy of a popular party” (19 Dec. 1774) had virtually muzzled the press and had undermined the Massachusetts constitution through purges of the Council, so that it could not play its proper role of moderator “between the two extremes of prerogative and privilege” (26 Dec. 1774). But he ignores the multiplicity of offices that selected councilors accumulated, which justified the purges in whig eyes. According to Leonard, whigs are leading the multitude down the path of high treason to secure the independence of the colonies, which he believes is the unacknowledged goal of the whigs. He begs the people to reflect upon the dangers of treason; upon the might of the British, who will surely resort to war to save their colonies; and upon the divisions among Americans and their lack of resources and discipline that will bring destruction in an unequal contest with the mother country (12 Dec. 1774, 23 Jan., 3 April 1775). Leonard reminds his readers of the protection and benefits that Britain has furnished the colonies from the first—of protection against France and Spain that the colonies actively sought in the past and of the bounties and other supports for American crops, benefits that far outweigh the duties paid (13, 20 March 1775).

Among the terrors of independence, Leonard foresees the vulnerability of the fishing and maritime industries to powerful enemies and the eventual rise of a dictator to quell the divided Americans, exhausted and burdened with war taxes from the struggle with Britain. France and Spain will get back their lost territories, and America will become the Poland of the New World (30 Jan. 1775). Like all conservatives, Leonard feared the risks of drastic change. He chose the settled ways of due subordination to legitimate and recognized authority. He has little to say of liberty. He admits that occasionally in the past real grievances have been redressed 220when the people have insisted upon their rights, but he asserts that that was not the usual pattern (26 Dec. 1774). As for grievances, he feels that practically all of them can be explained away. The Declaratory Act is not to be read absolutely literally; it does not deliver the colonies bound hand and foot to the tender mercies of Parliament; rather, it asserts Parliament's right to tax and legislate within the limits of respect for traditional liberties (20 Feb. 1775). The Massachusetts Government Act is necessary to restore the constitutional balance subverted by the whigs, to furnish protection to those who disagree with the popular party. And Leonard finds inexplicable whig hostility to the toleration granted Roman Catholics under the Quebec Act (13 Feb. 1775).

Parliament's authority to raise a revenue Leonard bases mainly upon the protection that Britain affords the colonies. He denies any distinction between duties and revenue if the intent is to raise a tax, whether the word revenue is used or not. Through various statutes, Parliament raised revenues long before 1764 (27 Feb. 1775). Only three of his letters deal in any significant way with the theory of empire, with the whole question of Parliament's relation to the colonies within the meaning of the British constitution. For Leonard, the constitution is the principle of mixed government, the provision for a monarchical, aristocratic, and democratic principle, which gives the best government known to man. “An Englishman glories in being subject to and protected by such a government.” Settlers who go off to a new country remain nonetheless part of the empire. Local assemblies are meant to handle only internal police. The supreme power in a state can have only one locus; in the British case, that center of power is the Parliament, a position taken by Governor Hutchinson in 1773 in his dispute with the House. Parliament's supremacy was intended and acknowledged from the very beginning of the colonies. To rely solely upon a personal connection with the King, to speak of the “King of Massachusetts” and ignore Parliament, is to set up a King whose prerogatives “have never been defined or limitted” (9, 16 Jan. 1775). Here Leonard is touching upon the very concern of the English whigs, who feared that rejection of Parliamentary authority opened the door to tyranny, for it was Parliament that had defined English liberties.

Leonard goes on to insist that Ireland, Jersey, and Guernsey are all subject to Parliament, whether they have their own legislative bodies or not, whether they are represented in Parliament or not. To claim exemption from Parliamentary authority makes one an alien, an absurdity on the face of it. The very charter by which Massachusetts sets such great store recognizes a right to tax after a limited number of years, and under English law, taxation can only be by the King in Parliament. To assert that the original charter guarantee of English liberties exempts the colony from taxation because Massachusetts freemen are not represented in Parliament is to make the charter inconsistent in language and therefore wholly void (16 Jan. 1775). The charter of 1691 would have been void as well if it had denied the authority of Parliament, for the Crown cannot “alienate a part 221of the British dominions, nor impair the supreme power of the empire” (23 Jan. 1775).

In stating his case, Leonard relies chiefly upon past practice, charter interpretation, citation of statutes, and, perhaps most disconcertingly, the words of James Otis and John Dickinson, whigs who had acknowledged in print the authority of Parliament. None of Leonard's arguments is supported by delving into arcane legal sources or by critical examination of legal authorities. He does not deign to enter the area of combat that Adams blocks out. Leonard does not refer to Novanglus by name until his letter of February 20, the eleventh in his series, by which time four of Adams' letters were already in print. Leonard replies to Adams' claim that the press is really open to all, and he defends governors Shirley and Hutchinson from Adams' charges of conspiracy (6 March 1775). Beyond that, Leonard contents himself with an occasional gibe. In his last letter, he offers, in true tory style, his own recipe for peace: “We have only to cease contending . . . with the King respecting his prerogatives, and with Great-Britain respecting our subordination; to dismiss our illegal committees, disband our forces, despise the thraldom of arrogant congresses, and submit to constitutional government, to be happy” (3 April 1775).

Leonard's letters seem to have given heart to the moderates and pause to some of the extremists in the province. At the beginning of 1775 James Warren complained that “the publications of Massachusettensis are read by the tories with more devotion and Esteem than Holy writt.” Much later John Adams admitted that Massachusettensis “excited great exultation among the tories and many gloomy apprehensions among the whigs” (James Warren to Samuel Adams, 1 Jan. 1775, NN:Samuel Adams Papers; Novanglus and Massachusettensis . . . , Boston, 1819, p. vi). Nor was their impact diminished by the outbreak of armed hostilities between British and American forces at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. For some, this clash seemed to confirm Leonard's worst forebodings; it may have been responsible for the appearance of numerous pamphlet editions of the Massachusettensis letters in Boston, New York, London, and Dublin in 1775 and 1776 (T. R. Adams, American Independence , No. 180 a–g).

Returning home to Braintree after the dissolution of Massachusetts' First Provincial Congress on 10 December 1774, John Adams “found the Massachusetts Gazette teeming with political speculations, and Massachusettensis shining like the moon among the lesser stars” (Novanglus and Massachusettensis, p. vi). Almost immediately he concluded that Massachusettensis was none other than his good friend and long-time polemical sparring partner, Jonathan Sewall—an erroneous belief he continued to hold until just a few years before his death. Leonard's name did not appear publicly as the author until the letters were reprinted in a London edition in 1822.

Adams' mistake is the more curious because Massachusettensis had been identified as Leonard by John Trumbull in 1775. In A New Proclamation! 222 by Thomas Gage . . . (Hartford, 1775, p. 3; Evans, No. 14526), Trumbull included these lines: “Did not my scribbler general strain hard / My Massachusettensis, L——d.” He carried these lines over into his McFingal, written in the fall of 1775, changing “my scribbler” to “our scribbler” and spelling out Leonard's name. He also supplied a footnote explaining his allusion (McFingal, Phila., 1775, p. 15–16). Trumbull sent the MS of McFingal to Silas Deane, asking that he reveal the author's name to no one but John Adams ( Deane Papers , 1:89). After reading the poem, Adams expressed his pleasure to Trumbull, commenting, “It is excellent, and perhaps the more so for being misterious. It wants explanatory Notes as much as Hudibras” (JA to Trumbull, 5 Nov. 1775, NjP:de Coppet Coll.). It is almost inconceivable that Adams did not see the first American edition of McFingal with its footnote on Leonard. Subsequent editions omit Leonard's name, and it may be that Trumbull came to believe he was mistaken; but Adams' surprise that Massachusettensis could be other than Sewall and his never mentioning that Leonard's name had been suggested by his former law clerk remain unexplained.

As the letters of Massachusettensis began to appear, Adams hoped some whig would come forward to refute them. When no such refutation appeared and the need for one became glaringly evident, he took it upon himself to undertake a reply in thirteen letters written under the signature of Novanglus. The pseudonym was thin cover; his friends and others soon knew who he was, for the learning and the style were unmistakable. The first twelve letters were originally published in the Boston Gazette from 23 January to 17 April 1775, and the last was never published at all, owing to the temporary suspension of printing in Massachusetts after Lexington and Concord (Novanglus and Massachusettensis, p. iv–vii; JA, Diary and Autobiography , 3:313).

In his Novanglus letters Adams examines the letters of Massachusettensis with the closest attention, refuting his facts and seizing upon an unwarranted assumption here or a non sequitur there. But the fascination of a legal argument so lays hold of him that he forgets Massachusettensis for long stretches, pausing occasionally to apologize for the thickets he leads his readers through. His thoroughness prevented him from replying directly to any of the arguments Leonard put forth after his first six letters. Essentially Adams is arguing that the American colonies are not part of the realm and are therefore not subject to the authority of Parliament. To prove his point, he recounts at length the historical and legal position of Wales and Ireland. Conquest of these areas did not subject them to Parliament's authority until special steps were taken to secure the consent of the people concerned; until then, the areas were not part of the realm, but owed fealty to the person of the King (Nos. VIII, X, and XI, below). In his final printed letter Adams describes the feudal condition of Chester and Durham; none of these places can serve as a model for how the American colonies should be treated (No. XII, below). But Americans are willing to allow Parliament to regulate trade, 223freely consenting to such regulation, as stipulated in the fourth article of the Bill of Rights adopted by the First Continental Congress.

Adams rejects the notion that Britain is an empire and that the colonies owe obedience to the “imperial crown,” asserting that the British empire is unknown to law and that the “imperial crown” is a fiction of courtiers (No. III, below). Britain is closer to a republic than any other form of government, for Adams defines a republic as “a government of laws, and not of men.” Allegiance from the colonies is owed directly to the person, not the political capacity of the King (No. VII, below). In answer to Massachusettensis, who pointed out that attachment to only the person of the King threatened liberty because Parliament has circumscribed royal prerogatives, Adams insisted that the ultimate source of liberties was the law of nature, that the rights of Englishmen were secured by contract with the King, and that these rights were “sufficiently known.” Colonies that have no charters or contracts are protected by the instructions to their governors, for no law gave the English King absolute powers anywhere (No. VIII, below).

Parliament's attempt to collect taxes, however, does not arise from imperfect understanding of the legally and historically defined relation between the King and the colonies. Adams traces back to Governor Shirley a conspiracy to raise taxes that would ultimately free officials in Massachusetts from dependence upon the legislature and reduce the people to a kind of slavery (Nos. I and II, below). With slavery in prospect, Adams sees no reason to fear the might of the British or divisions among Americans (No. III, below). Yet he emphatically denies that Americans are seeking independence (Nos. IV and VIII, below).

Adams' view that the colonies were not part of the realm and thus not subject to Parliament's authority was no new idea for him. Beginning with “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” he had noted the modified feudalism under which Puritans held their lands. By 1773, when he helped the House of Representatives to prepare its replies to Governor Hutchinson, he had recognized that direct dependence upon the King arising from acceptance of land grants freed Americans from dependence upon Parliament (see Constitutional Debate between Governor Hutchinson and the House, 26 Jan. – 2 March 1773, Nos. III and V I and III , above). That Americans merely consented to the regulation of trade by Parliament was the language he had drafted for the fourth article of the Bill of Rights of the First Continental Congress (5 Sept. – 26 Oct. 1774, No. IV, note 3, above). What Adams does in the Novanglus letters is to supply more elaborate underpinning from legal authorities and from history for these beliefs.

The Novanglus letters did not soon obtain the wide reprinting enjoyed by the letters of Massachusettensis. A spot check shows only two New England newspapers reprinting a few of Adams' letters, while Leonard's letters were reprinted completely in six editions before the year 1776 was out (Essex Gazette, 14 Feb.–18 April, 2 May 1775; New Hampshire 224Gazette, 17 March–14 April 1775; T. R. Adams, American Independence , No. 180 b–g). John Almon, a radical English bookseller sympathetic to the American cause, in an effort to mobilize English public opinion against the North ministry's repressive colonial policies, reprinted, without Adams' knowledge, portions of the second through the sixth letters under the title “History of the Dispute with America; from Its Origin in 1754,” in his Remembrancer, or Impartial Repository of Public Events, London, 1st edn., 1775, p. 24–32, 45–54. Almon eliminated virtually all the matter in these letters pertaining exclusively to Massachusetts provincial politics, concentrating instead on all that related to the crisis between the Bay Colony and the British government. He changed Adams' references to Massachusettensis to vaguer allusions—to a “ministerial writer” or some comparable variant—and added a few sentences of his own to smooth transitions between sections of the letters. Despite excisions and alterations, Almon is faithful to the substance (JA, Diary and Autobiography , 3:313; same to Jedidiah Morse, 20 Nov. 1815, LbC, Adams Papers; and to Hezekiah Niles, 25 May 1817, LbC, Adams Papers).

Adams himself was responsible for the next reprinting in the Revolutionary era, a Dutch translation of the Almon edition published in book form and entitled Geschiedenis van het geschil tusschen Groot-Britannie en Amerika, zedert deszelfs oorsprong, in den jaare 1754, tot op den tegenwoordigen tijd. Door . . . John Adams, Amsterdam, 1782. The preface of this volume, which describes the scope of the whole Novanglus series, was probably written by Adams for translation into Dutch or composed by a citizen of the United Provinces on the basis of information supplied by Adams. The book also contains two “Letters from a Gentleman in the Province of Massachusetts, to his Friend in London,” 21 January, 10 February 1775, which complement the arguments of Novanglus, which Almon initially published as anonymous letters, and which are here ascribed to Adams for the first time (Remembrancer, 1:10–11). Although Adams obviously arranged for the printing of this work for the general purpose of inducing the Dutch government to favor the American cause, his surviving papers make no reference to it and thus give no hint of more specific motives.

The last edition of the Novanglus letters to appear while Adams was in public life was a pamphlet printed by John Stockdale under the title History of the Dispute with America; from Its Origin in 1754 . . . By John Adams, Esq., London, 1784. Stockdale had once worked as a porter for John Almon, and, as can be surmised from the title, his pamphlet was merely a reprint of Almon's edition. Adams had nothing to do with the Stockdale effort, nor is there a ready explanation for the decision to issue it. The reprinting, however, provided an anonymous English reviewer, who seemed well disposed to America, with an opportunity of denigrating Adams' efforts as a polemicist:

The conduct of Barnard and Hutchinson is treated with great freedom and asperity; nor is the indignant Author less sparing of the characters 225of some eminent statesmen in England, under whose influence they projected and pursued the inauspicious system of American taxation. Mr. Adams foretold the consequence of obstinately adhering to it; and the event hath too well verified his predictions. They were, however, PREDICTIONS WHICH REQUIRED NO INSPIRATION (The Monthly Review, 70:477–478 [London, 1784]).

Over three decades passed before a new edition of the Novanglus letters was printed. In 1818 Abraham Hews Jr. and Sylvester Goss, inspired by the burst of nationalist fervor which swept across the country in the aftermath of the War of 1812, conceived the idea of reproducing the Novanglus and Massachusettensis letters together in a single book. The two Boston printers obtained from Adams, who at the time was busily exhorting his younger countrymen to apply themselves to the task of writing accurate histories of the American Revolution, consent to publish his side of the correspondence. The end result was Novanglus and Massachusettensis; or Political Essays, Published in the Years 1774 and 1775, on the Principal Points of Controversy, between Great Britain and Her Colonies . . . , Boston, 1819. In addition to the letters, which Hews and Goss reprinted directly from the original newspapers with minor changes in punctuation, this volume also contains a preface and an appendix by Adams. The preface, wrongly identifying Jonathan Sewall as Adams' antagonist, describes the relationship between the two men and their last meeting. The appendix contains letters, published as well as unpublished, from Adams to William Tudor, William Wirt, and Hezekiah Niles, describing the opening stages of the American Revolution.

One unanticipated but not unwelcome consequence of the publication of this book was that it helped to goad Daniel Leonard, then living in London after his retirement as chief justice of Bermuda, to come forward and admit openly to being the real author of the Massachusettensis letters, thereby freeing Adams of a misapprehension he had labored under for many years (Adams to Abraham Holmes, 14 Oct. 1821, LbC, Adams Papers). Since no record of an edition of the Massachusettensis letters for 1821 has been found, it is not clear how Adams knew in 1821 about Judge Chipman's affadavit certifying Leonard's authorship, which appears in the 1822 edition and is dated 20 August 1822 (Massachusettensis; or A Series of Letters Published under that Signature in the Years 1774 & 1775 . . . , London, 1822, p. v–vii).

Since the death of John Adams in 1826, only two other editions of the Novanglus letters have appeared in print. Charles Francis Adams was responsible for the first of these (JA, Works , 4:3–177), Bernard Mason for the second (The American Colonial Crisis: The Daniel Leonard-John Adams Letters to the Press, 1774–1775, N.Y., 1972). The former reprints all the letters which were published in the Boston Gazette, although it is uncertain whether the text is based on the Gazette or the 1819 edition of Novanglus (D/CFA/20, Nov. 1850–Jan. 1851). What is indisputable, however, is that editor Adams modernized the letters to some 226extent by correcting misspelled words, altering the tenses of some verbs, and rearranging whole paragraphs. Moreover, he removed from the text of the letters and placed in footnotes at the bottom of appropriate pages, references to John Adams' citations of legal and historical works. Consequently, the reader is often unsure whether footnotes give John Adams' citations or identifications of sources made by Charles Francis Adams. Finally, the editor, without distorting the original meaning, sometimes silently changed his grandfather's wording to give it more polish. In contrast, Mason's reprinting of selections from the Novanglus letters and those of Massachusettensis are faithful to the originals. Mason is the first to print, if only in part, Adams' thirteenth letter. He also provides a perceptive introduction.

The present edition presents in full all thirteen Novanglus letters. Since none of the twelve published letters survives in manuscript, they are reprinted here from the Boston Gazette. The thirteenth is a composite made from Adams' draft supplemented by two contemporary copies made by Judge William Cushing. Although each of the letters has been treated generally in accordance with the textual principles set forth in the first volume of this series, certain differences in treatment are worth noting. Because the source for the published letters is the same, their notes omit the usual descriptive note. Each letter is numbered consecutively, with a roman numeral, without accompanying table of contents. The date for each is that of publication. Unfamiliar Latin phrases and passages whose meaning is essential for understanding the argument are translated in footnotes at the bottom of appropriate pages rather than in the notes at the end of documents. The location in the Massachusettensis letters of Adams' paraphrases and quotations from them will not be noted; and, if the quotations are not verbatim, they will not be corrected unless the original sense has been altered. In a few instances, punctuation has been changed to prevent misreading.

I. To the Inhabitants of the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay, 23 January 1775 JA Novanglus Inhabitants of Massachusetts Bay Colony Massachusettensis


I. To the Inhabitants of the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay, 23 January 1775 Adams, John Novanglus Inhabitants of Massachusetts Bay Colony Massachusettensis
I. To the Inhabitants of the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay
My Friends, 23 January 1775

A Writer, under the signature of Massachusettensis, has addressed you, in a series of papers, on the great national subject of the present quarrel between the British administration and the colonies. As I have not in my possession, more than one of his Essays, and that is in the Gazette of December 26, I will take the liberty, in the spirit of candor and decency, to bespeak your attention, upon the same subject.1

There may be occasion, to say very severe things, before I shall have 227finished what I propose, in opposition to this writer, but there ought to be no reviling. Rem ipsam dic, mitte male loqui, which may be justly translated, speak out the whole truth boldly, but use no bad language.

It is not very material to enquire, as others have done, who is the author of the speculations in question. If he is a disinterested writer, and has nothing to gain or lose, to hope or fear, for himself, more than other individuals of your community; but engages in this controversy from the purest principles, the noblest motives of benevolence to men, and of love to his country, he ought to have no influence with you, further than truth and justice will support his argument. On the other hand, if he hopes to acquire or preserve a lucrative employment, to screen himself from the just detestation of his countrymen, or whatever other sinister inducement he may have; as far as the truth of facts and the weight of argument, are in his favour, he ought to be heard and regarded.

He tells you “that the temporal salvation of this province depends upon an entire and speedy change of measures, which must depend upon a change of sentiments respecting our own conduct and the justice of the British nation.”

The task, of effecting these great changes, this courageous writer, has undertaken in a course of publications in a news-paper. Nil desperandum is a good motto, and Nil admirari,2 is another. He is welcome to the first, and I hope will be willing that I should assume the last. The public, if they are not mistaken in their conjecture, have been so long acquainted with this gentleman, and have seen him so often disappointed, that if they were not habituated to strange things, they would wonder at his hopes, at this time to accomplish the most unpromising project of his whole life. In the character of Philanthrop,3 he attempted to reconcile you, to Mr. Bernard. But the only fruit of his labour was, to expose his client to more general examination, and consequently to more general resentment and aversion. In the character of Philalethes,4 he essayed to prove Mr. Hutchinson a Patriot, and his letters not only innocent, but meritorious. But the more you read and considered, the more you were convinced of the ambition and avarice, the simulation and dissimulation, the hypocricy and perfidy of that destroying angel.

This illfated and unsuccessful, tho' persevering writer, still hopes to change your sentiments and conduct—by which it is supposed that he means to convince you that the system of colony administration, 228which has been pursued for these ten or twelve years past, is a wise, righteous and humane plan: that Sir Francis Bernard and Mr. Hutchinson, with their connections, who have been the principal instruments of it, are your best friends;—and that those gentlemen in this province, and in all the other colonies, who have been in opposition to it, are from ignorance, error, or from worse and baser causes, your worst enemies.

This is certainly an inquiry, that is worthy of you: and I promise to accompany this writer, in his ingenious labours to assist you in it. And I earnestly intreat you, as the result of all shall be, to change your sentiments or persevere in them, as the evidence shall appear to you, upon the most dispassionate and impartial consideration, without regard to his opinion or mine.

He promises to avoid personal reflections, but to penetrate the arcana, and expose the wretched policy of the whigs.—The cause of the whigs is not conducted by intrigues at a distant court, but by constant appeals to a sensible and virtuous people; it depends intirely on their good will, and cannot be pursued a single step without their concurrence, to obtain which all designs, measures and means, are constantly published to the collective body. The whigs therefore can have no arcana: But if they had, I dare say they were never so left, as to communicate them to this writer: you will therefore be disappointed if you expect from him any thing which is true, but what has been as publick as records and news-papers could make it.

I, on my part, may perhaps in a course of papers, penetrate arcana too. Shew the wicked policy of the Tories—trace their plan from its first rude sketches to its present compleat draught. Shew that it has been much longer in contemplation, than is generally known—who were the first in it—their views, motives and secret springs of action—and the means they have employed. This will necessarily bring before your eyes many characters, living and dead. From such a research and detail of facts, it will clearly appear, who were the aggressors—and who have acted on the defensive from first to last—who are still struggling, at the expence of their ease, health, peace, wealth and preferment, against the encroachments of the Tories on their country—and who are determined to continue struggling, at much greater hazards still, and like the Prince of Orange resolve never to see its entire subjection to arbitrary power, but rather to die fighting against it, in the last ditch.

It is true as this writer observes, “that the bulk of the people are generally but little versed in matters of state, that they rest the affairs 229of government where accident has placed them.” If this had not been true, the designs of the tories had been many years ago, entirely defeated. It was clearly seen, by a few, more than ten years since, that they were planning and pursuing the very measures, we now see executing. The people were informed of it, and warned of their danger: But they had been accustomed to confide in certain persons, and could never be persuaded to believe, until prophecy, became history. Now they see and feel, that the horrible calamities are come upon them, which were foretold so many years ago, and they now sufficiently execrate the men who have brought these things upon them. Now alas! when perhaps it is too late. If they had withdrawn their confidence from them in season, they would have wholly disarmed them.

The same game, with the same success, has been played in all ages and countries, as Massachusettensis observes. When a favourable conjuncture has presented, some of the most intrigueing and powerful citizens have conceived the design of enslaving their country, and building their own greatness on its ruins. Philip and Alexander, are examples of this in Greece—Caesar in Rome—Charles the fifth in Spain—Lewis the eleventh in France—and ten thousand others.

“There is a latent spark in the breasts of the people capable of being kindled into a flame, and to do this has always been the employment of the disaffected.” What is this “latent spark”? The love of Liberty? a Deo, hominis est indita naturae.5 Human nature itself is evermore an advocate for liberty. There is also in human nature, a resentment of injury, and indignation against wrong. A love of truth and a veneration for virtue.

These amiable passions, are the “latent spark” to which those whom this writer calls the “disaffected” apply. If the people are capable of understanding, seeing and feeling the difference between true and false, right and wrong, virtue and vice, to what better principle can the friends of mankind apply, than to the sense of this difference.

Is it better to apply as, this writer and his friends do, to the basest passions in the human breast, to their fear, their vanity, their avarice, ambition, and every kind of corruption? I appeal to all experience, and to universal history, if it has ever been in the power of popular leaders, uninvested with other authority than what is conferred by the popular suffrage, to persuade a large people, for any length of time together, to think themselves wronged, injured, and oppressed, unless they really were, and saw and felt it to be so.


“They,” the popular leaders, “begin by reminding the people of the elevated rank they hold in the universe as men; that all men by nature are equal; that kings are but the ministers of the people; that their authority is delegated to them by the people for their good, and they have a right to resume it, and place it in other hands, or keep it themselves, whenever it is made use of to oppress them. Doubtless there have been instances, when these principles have been inculcated to obtain a redress of real grievances, but they have been much oftener perverted to the worst of purposes.”

These are what are called revolution-principles. They are the principles of Aristotle and Plato, of Livy and Cicero, of Sydney, Harrington and Lock.—The principles of nature and eternal reason.—The principles on which the whole government over us, now stands. It is therefore astonishing, if any thing can be so, that writers, who call themselves friends of government, should in this age and country, be so inconsistent with themselves, so indiscreet, so immodest, as to insinuate a doubt concerning them.

Yet we find that these principles stand in the way of Massachusettensis, and all the writers of his class. The Veteran,6 in his letter to the officers of the army, allows them to be noble, and true, but says the application of them to particular cases is wild and Utopian. How they can be in general true, and not applicable to particular cases, I cannot comprehend. I thought their being true in general was because, they were applicable to most particular cases.

Gravity is a principle in nature. Why? because all particular bodies are found to gravitate. How would it sound to say, that bodies in general are heavy; yet to apply this to particular bodies and say, that a guinea, or a ball is heavy, is wild, &c? “Adopted in private life,” says the honest amiable Veteran, “they would introduce perpetual discord.” This I deny, and I think it plain, that there never was an happy private family where they were not adopted. “In the State perpetual discord.” This I deny, and affirm that order, concord and stability in the state, never was or can be preserved without them. “The least failure in the reciprocal duties of worship and obedience in the matrimonial contract would justify a divorce.” This is no consequence from those principles. A total departure from the ends and designs of the contract, it is true, as elopement and adultery, would by these principles justify a divorce, but not the least failure, or many smaller failures in the reciprocal duties, &c. “In the political compact, the smallest defect in the prince a revolution.”7 By no means. But a manifest design in the Prince, to annul the contract on his part, will 231annul it on the part of the people. A settled plan to deprive the people of all the benefits, blessings and ends of the contract, to subvert the fundamentals of the constitution—to deprive them of all share in making and executing laws, will justify a revolution.

The author of a “Friendly Address to all reasonable Americans”,8 discovers his rancour against these principles, in a more explicit manner, and makes no scruples to advance the principles of Hobbs and Filmer, boldly, and to pronounce damnation, ore rotunda, on all who do not practice implicit passive obedience, to all established government, of whatever character it may be.

It is not reviling, it is not bad language, it is strictly decent to say, that this angry bigot, this ignorant dogmatist, this foul mouthed scold, deserves no other answer than silent contempt. Massachusettensis and the Veteran, I admire, the first for his art, the last for his honesty.

Massachusettensis, is more discreet than either of the others. Sensible that these principles would be very troublesome to him, yet conscious of their truth, he has neither admitted nor denied them. But we have a right to his opinion of them, before we dispute with him. He finds fault with the application of them. They have been invariably applied in support of the revolution and the present establishment—against the Stuarts, the Charles's and James's,—in support of the reformation and the protestant religion, against the worst tyranny, that the genius of toryism, has ever yet invented, I mean the Romish superstition. Does this writer rank the revolution and present establishment, the reformation and protestant religion among his worst of purposes? What “worse purpose” is there than established tyranny? Were these principles ever inculcated in favour of such tyranny? Have they not always been used against such tyrannies, when the people have had knowledge enough to be apprized of them, and courage to assert them? Do not those who aim at depriving the people of their liberties, always inculcate opposite principles, or discredit these?

“A small mistake in point of policy” says he, “often furnishes a pretence to libel government and perswade the people that their rulers are tyrants, and the whole government, a system of oppression.” This is not only untrue, but inconsistent with what he said before. The people are in their nature so gentle, that there never was a government yet, in which thousands of mistakes were not overlooked. The most sensible and jealous people are so little attentive to government, that there are no instances of resistance, until repeated, multiplied oppressions have placed it beyond a doubt, that their rulers had 232formed settled plans to deprive them of their liberties; not to oppress an individual or a few, but to break down the fences of a free constitution, and deprive the people at large of all share in the government and all the checks by which it is limitted. Even Machiavel himself allows, that not ingratitude to their rulers, but much love is the constant fault of the people.

This writer is equally mistaken, when he says, the people are sure to be loosers in the end. They can hardly be loosers, if unsuccessful: because if they live, they can but be slaves, after an unfortunate effort, and slaves they would have been, if they had not resisted. So that nothing is lost. If they die, they cannot be said to lose, for death is better than slavery. If they succeed, their gains are immense. They preserve their liberties. The instances in antiquity, which this writer alludes to, are not mentioned and therefore cannot be answered, but that in the country from whence we are derived, is the most unfortunate for his purpose, that could have been chosen. The resistance to Charles the first and the case of Cromwell, no doubt he means. But the people of England, and the cause of liberty, truth, virtue and humanity, gained infinite advantages by that resistance. In all human probability, liberty civil and religious, not only in England but in all Europe, would have been lost. Charles would undoubtedly have established the Romish religion and a despotism as wild as any in the world. And as England has been a principal bulwark from that period to this, of civil liberty and the protestant religion in all Europe, if Charles's schemes had succeeded, there is great reason to apprehend that the light of science would have been extinguished, and mankind, drawn back to a state of darkness and misery, like that which prevailed from the fourth to the fourteenth century. It is true and to be lamented that Cromwell did not establish a government as free, as he might and ought; but his government was infinitely more glorious and happy to the people than Charles's. Did not the people gain by the resistance to James the second? Did not the Romans gain by resistance to Tarquin? Without that resistance and the liberty that was restored by it would the great Roman orators, poets and historians, the great teachers of humanity and politeness, the pride of human nature, and the delight and glory of mankind, for seventeen hundred years, ever have existed? Did not the Romans gain by resistance to the Decimvirs? Did not the English gain by resistance to John, when Magna Charta was obtained? Did not the seven united provinces gain by resistance to Phillip, Alva and Gran-233vell? Did not the Swiss Cantens, the Genevans and Grissons, gain by resistance to Albert and Grisler?


The letter published 26 Dec. 1774 was the third in Leonard's series.


Let us despair of nothing; wonder at nothing.


See Replies to Philanthrop, Defender of Governor Bernard ante 9 Dec. 1766 – 16 Feb. 1767, Editorial Note, above. JA obviously has made up his mind that Massachusettensis is Jonathan Sewall.


Under the pseudonym of Philalethes, Sewall wrote a series of articles in the Massachusetts Gazette , 26 June – 22 July 1773, defending Gov. Hutchinson against the attacks of the popular party after publication of Hutchinson's letters to Thomas Whately (Hutchinson, Massachusetts Bay, ed. Mayo, 3:295; A. M. Schlesinger, Prelude to Independence, N.Y., 1958, p. 150–152).


It is given to the nature of man by God.


[Robert Prescott], A Letter from A Veteran, to the Officers of the Army Encamped at Boston [N.Y.], 1774 (Evans, No. 13554).


This and preceding quotations are all from same, p. 9–10.


See post 17 Nov. 1774, note 1, above.