James Kendall Hosmer.

The life of Thomas Hutchinson, royal governor of the province of Massachusetts Bay [electronic resource] online

. (page 20 of 36)
Online LibraryJames Kendall HosmerThe life of Thomas Hutchinson, royal governor of the province of Massachusetts Bay [electronic resource] → online text (page 20 of 36)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

professing loyalty, they were casting off Parliament
and King. Two supreme authorities in one state are
out of the question. Samuel Adams appreciated this
well, though as yet the wary " Chief Incendiary " felt
it to be impolitic quite to drop his mask. First, a three
years' " campaign of education ; " then July 4, 1776.
It is no discredit to Hutchinson that in these years


lie saw nothing but calamity in a dismemberment of
the British empire. That was the general feeling,
though the Colonies in this blind way were bringing
about the very severance which all dreaded. Franklin,
who in this view was quite in accord with Hutchinson,
compared in his homely effective way the British em-
pire to a handsome china bowl, which it was a great
pity to break. In that generation dismemberment
seemed certain to bring to pass ruin. Anglo-Saxon-
dom, so thought the highest minded, would lose all
chance to be preeminent, and the leadership of the
world must fall into the hands of some race less mas-
terful, with ideas less promotive of human welfare.
Hutchinson could not foresee, no one foresaw, that the
shock of separation would rather invigorate England,
and that in a few years, even without the Thirteen Colo-
nies, her empire and influence would be more far-reach-
ing than ever before ; nor was it at all within human
ken that, in the cleaving, the United States could
come to pass, a nation so mighty, on pillars so endur-
ing, of such good hope to mankind. To the Governor
and all his world, misfortune only seemed to lie in
schism, and honor rather than shame should be accorded
him for his steady and uncompromising fight against
it. As the reader has abundantly seen from the letters
that have been quoted, what Hutchinson thought of as
the happy solution of the problems of British empire
was in all essential respects what has been hit ujDon as
the English policy of the nineteenth century. Each
Colonial member within its own limits administers itself,
quite unvexed by interference from the mother land :


none the less, each Colonial member concedes to the
power at home — that Parliament which our Revolu-
tionary fathers so execrated and hated, now a body
whose authority is largely increased — a precedence ;
indeed, a supremacy. In all ordinary times and affairs
the Parliament, so far as the Colonies are concerned, is
silent and unfelt. Let, however, a crisis arise involving
the interests of the whole, none of the Colonial mem-
bers would to-day question the right and duty of the
English Parliament to step into the leadership, with
authority, if need were, to dictate east and west, as far
as the drum-beat extends, what measures should be
taken and what sums should be contributed to main-
tain the general welfare. This state of things Hutch-
inson would have had, if he could, a century and a
quarter ago. His world had no patience with such a
thought. From home came always exasperating inter-
meddling with local affairs ; in the Colonies there was
no disposition quietly to endure until ministers should
grow wiser. Standing directly between the contestants
advancing upon one another already with weapons bare
for use, turning now to one now to the other with
pleas, arguments, and entreaties, to which both one
and the other turned deaf ears, who will say that in
the attitude of the Governor there is not something:
both pathetic and heroic !

This much can be said for the hated Tory, while at
the same time full justice is done to those with whom
he struggled. But while Anglo-Saxon freedom en-
dures, honor will be rendered to Bowdoin, to Otis, to
the Adamses, and their sympathizers throughout the


Thirteen ColcAies, who insisted, at the risk of their
necks, that tl;e princij)les of Magna Charta, becoming
obscure, should be fully maintained. There will be
honor to them for that ; and honor to them also for
their impetuous declaration that to the plain people be-
longs authority ; that the plain people, in Towai-Meet-
ing assembled, or in any way seriously and solemnly
convened, have a right to pass judgment on all acts
that affect them, — to apj)rove, to condemn, if need
be, to denounce, even though it may be the King ; and
if words fail of effect, that the sword may be lawfully
snatched and all ties sundered. It was inexpedient to try
to justify this rule of the people from what was held to
be the English constitution of that day, or from any
conception of that constitution which had existed dur-
ing the existence of the Colonies, excejit, indeed, the
memorable interpretation given by the men of the Com-
monwealth, 1649-1653, which died out in the very
uttering of it, because a sordid world was not worthy
of it.^ Far wiser was the course of the patriot cham-
pions, when at length they threw precedents away and
boldly based their claims upon the law of nature, —
upon inherent right, upon which human institutions
should not be permitted to infringe, however hoar with
age. Not until this ground was assumed (which Gads-
den, of South Carolina, had counseled as far back as
the Stamp-Act Congress) did the argument of the
fathers become thoroughly irrefragable. In the long
fence with the Governor he had them at a disadvan-
tage, so long as it was sought to rest their justification

^ See the author's Life of Young Sir Henry Vane.


upon what then existed, or had been in existence in
preceding ages/

It was a memorable controversy, during which the
fiercest hate sprang up between the contestants. Can-
did men to-day can thoroughly respect the champions
of both sides. Certainly the claims of the fathers of
the Republic need no further setting forth. In Hutch-
inson's case, grant that his apprehension of some pre-
cious principles was quite too weak, — that in trying to
put restraints upon the people he was foolishly blind,
yet in his own day he stood in company of the best ;
and in our day authoritative voices urge that any soci-
ety, to be saved, must not be given over to itself, but
be guided and ordered by a select " remnant," a doc-
trine to which Hutchinson would have fully subscribed.
" By an unfortunate mistake," wrote the Governor to
General Gage, " soon after the charter, a law passed
which made every town in the Province a corporation
perfectly democratic, every matter being determined
by the major vote of the inhabitants ; and although the
intent of the law was to confine their proceedings to
the immediate proceedings of the town, yet for many
years past the town of Boston has been used to interest
itself in every affair of moment which concerned the
Province in general." ^ It was in the Governor's view

1 " Adams now gives out they are on better ground ; all men have a
natural right to change a bad constitution for a better whenever they
have it in their power." Hutchinson to Col. J. Williams, April 7, 1773.

For an account of this change of base in the American Whigs from
historical to natural rights, see D. J. Ritchie, Natural Rights, pp. 10, 11,
London, 1895.

- Quoted in Wells : Life of Samuel Adams, vol. ii., p. 56.


" by an unfortunate mistake," and not by direction of
the Divine power that shapes the course of nations for
their good. He was brave and honest, however, and
had and continues to have the best countenance.

Interspersed within this great controversy, a frequent
interchange of messages had gone on between Governor
and legislature over the question of salaries for the
judges of the Superior Court. Government wished to
make the judges independent of the Province. Is it
not well that judges should be independent of the com-
munity in wdiich they are to judge? The people, how-
ever, resisted long and fiercely, seeing a better condition
m the state of things which had prevailed since the
beginning, — a judiciary, namely, receiving at best a
very meagre stipend, — a stipend, moreover, liable to be
considerably reduced, or indeed completely withdrawn,
if decisions were given contrary to the popular vnll.
Were the people really wiser here than they had been
in the time of the bad currency ? This important ses-
sion of the legislature came to an end on the 6th of

On the 5th of March, Benjamin Church (a man now
nearly forgotten, but an honored and prominent fig-
ure until he turned traitor in 1775), in delivering the
oration on the third anniversary of the Massacre,
exclaimed: "Some future Congress w411 be the glorious
source of the salvation of America. The Amphictyons
of Greece who formed the diet or great Council of the
states exhibit an excellent model for the rising Amer-
icans." Contemporaneously with this utterance, tlie
House of Burgesses in Virginia debated the subject of


an intercolonial Committee of Correspondence. Before
the middle of the month a measure favoring- it had
passed, action to some extent brought about, no doubt,
through incitements from Samuel Adams's committee
in Massachusetts. The natal hour being close at hand,
the unborn nation was plainly stirring.

Even while the legislature were contending so hotly
with Hutchinson, he made preparations for settling the
boundary on the side of New York, for which he had
been appointed the year before. That a state should
be well secured and at peace, nothing is more important
than that its boundaries should be clearly and advanta-
geously settled. That Massachusetts has fared here for-
tunately is due to Hutchinson. We have already seen
him as the principal figure in drawing the lines on the
sides of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecti-
cut. In 1767, an unsuccessful effort, in which he was
the prime actor, had been made to fix the limit on the
side of New York.^ Some settlement had now become
imperative ; and although his principles were popularly
denounced, and the scheme was already in progress
which was to fling him out of the land, only he could
be trusted to undertake the delicate negotiation upon
which the Avelfare of the Province depended. The
journal of the proceedings is still extant in the hand
of the Governor. With William Brattle, Joseph Haw-
ley, and John Hancock, Hutchinson journeyed to Hart-
ford, where in the middle of May they discussed the
matter with Governor Tryon, John Watts, William

^ The details are given in the Alass. Archives, marked "Colonial," vol.
iv., 1721-1768, pp. 335-344.


Smith, R. R. Livingston, and William Nicoll, commis-
sioners of New York. On election day the dignitaries
of Connecticut invited the visitors to a formal banquet,
after which, until May 18, the business was debated.
The New York men, although more compliant than the
negotiators of seven years before, were still disposed
to exact hard concessions, to which all the commis-
sioners but Hutchinson were about prepared to agree.
New York in that time was rapacious, and already deeply
involved with the Green Mountain Boys in disputes
as to the rightful ownership of the New Hampshire
Grants, which in days following were to become the
State of Vermont. Hutchinson, however, while diplo-
matic, was unyielding, insisting upon what had been
substantially the demand of 1767. At last it was con-
ceded, establishing for all time as part of the Bay State
the beautiful county of Berkshire. He alone, too, it
is said, prevented the giving up by Massachusetts of
her claim to western lands ; these were retained, and
afterwards sold for a large sum.^ It was really a con-
siderable victory. The Massachusetts commissioners
had been left free to do what seemed to them best;
the Governor's colleagues cordially acknowledged that
the success belono-ed to him. On the return to Bos-


ton the legislature was in the May session, and the
Assembly authorized him to transmit the settlement to
Dartmouth, Secretary of State, at once, without formally
laying it before them. They trusted him entirely.
Hutchinson with some pride declares that "no previous

1 N. E. Hist, and Gen. Register, vol. i., p. 310.


instance of a like confidence of an Assembly in a Gov-
ernor" can be found in Massachusetts story .^ This
transient favor and trust aggravated for him the force
of the blow he was about to receive.

1 Hist., vol. iii., pp. 390, 391.



How bitter the home-coming of Hutchinson was, the
foUowino" extracts will show : —

June 29, 1773, to Bernard : " After every other at-
tempt to distress me they have at last engaged in a
conspiracy which has been managed with infinite art,
and succeeded beyond their own expectations. They
have buzzed about for three or four months a story of
something that would amaze everybody, and as soon as
the elections were over, it was said in the House some-
thing would appear in eight and forty hours, which if
improved aright, the Province might be as hajipy as it
was fourteen or fifteen years ago. These things were
spread through all the towns in the Province, and every-
body's exj)ectations were raised. At lenglli upon mo-
tion the gallery was ordered to be cleared and the doors
shut, and it was rumored that the members were sworn
to secrecy. This was not true. After most of a day
sj^ent, it came out that Mr. Adams informed the House
seventeen original letters had been put into his hands,
wrote to a gentleman in England by several persons
from New England, with an intention to subvert the
constitution. They were delivered to him on condition
that they should be returned not printed, and no copies
taken. If the House would receive them on these terms,
he would read them. They agreed to it.


" It looks as if the desio'ii at first was to form the
resolves and never suffer the letters to appear to be
compared Avith them. The name of the person to whom
the letters were wrote was erased from all of them, but
they appear to be all Mr. Whately's, — six from me,
four from the Lieutenant-Governor,^ one from Rogers,
and one from Auchmuty to me which I had enclosed,
— besides three or four more from Rhode Island or
Connecticut. [So far the amanuensis, what follows
being in Hutchinson's hand.]

"They broke through the pretended agreement,
printed the resolves and then the letters, which effrontery
was never known before. The letters are mere narratives
which you well know to be true as respects remarks
upon the constitution of the Colonies, and such pro-
posals as naturally follow from the principles which I
have openly avowed ; but by every malversation which
the talents of the party in each House could produce,
they have raised the prejudice of the people against
me, and it is generally supposed all the writers were
concerned in one plan, though I suppose no one of
them ever saw or knew the contents of the letters of
any of the others unless by accident. After three
weeks spent the House resolved to address the King to
remove the Governor and Lieutenant-Governor. The
Council, through their resolves, as you well know (for
most of the facts about the Council I had from you),
are more injurious than those of the House, yet con-
clude that the Governor and Lieutenant-Governor have
rendered themselves so unpopular, that it cannot be

^ Andrew Oliver.


for his Majesty's service they should continue, &c.
There were five only out of twenty in the Council had
firmness enough to withstand the cry, and twenty-eight
in one hundred and eleven in the House. . . . Mr.
Adams said in the House that what he had in view was
to take off such people as were attached to the Gov-
ernor, for the King would never confirm a Governor
against the general voice of the people, and they had
got rid of Sir F. Bernard in that way." ^

The affair of the " Hutchinson Letters," which cre-
ated great excitement both in America and England,
an affair in which the best men of Massachusetts Bay
were concerned (including Franklin, then the agent
of the Assembly of his native Province, though a citi-
zen of Pennsylvania), has been variously characterized.
American writers in general have portrayed it as an
instance of spirited treatment by patriots thoroughly
upright and long-suffering, of an underhand and most
criminal attack upon their liberties. The important
assertion of Dr. George E. Ellis, in opposition to this
view, however, is, that " the whole affair is a marvel-
ously strong illustration of the most vehement possible
cry, with the slightest possible amount of wool." ^
Hutchinson himself believed that he was pursued with
the most treacherous and unprincipled malignity. An
innocent man nearly lost his life in a duel in conse-
quence of the transactions ; a shade has rested there-
from upon the character of Franklin which cannot yet
be said to have been explained away ; the conduct of

^ M. A. Hist, vol. xxvii., p. 502, etc.
2 Atlantic Monthly, vol. liii., p. 662.


the people, so far from being admirable, seems to some,
even at the present day, to have been a blind following
of crafty leaders into the commission of grave injustice.
Certainly, the biographer of Hutchinson is called upon
to consider the matter with care.

Hutchinson throughout his public life had corre-
spondents in England. As his manhood went forward,
his prominence meantime always increasing, his letters
abroad became constantly more numerous, addressed to
people of all ranks, from men in humble station up to
the Secretaries of State. The character of these for-
eign letters of Hutchinson has been abundantly illus-
trated in these pages. He expressed his views with
entire frankness, but certainly with no more frankness
than he employed in his daily private conversations, and
in his open, formal declarations as a high of&cial. Not
the slio'htest evidence exists that he was ever double-
faced : his condemnations, his counsel, his criticisms, as
communicated to Jackson, to Hillsboro, to Dartmouth,
to Bernard, are of like tenor with his communications
as Chief Justice, as chief magistrate, as conservative
Boston townsman. Both in letters and in daily talk
and manifestoes he had condemned the high flights of
the Town-Meeting; while not recommending the intro-
duction of troops, he had yet declared that Parliamen-
tary Acts must be backed up with soiae exertion of
force ; he had mentioned by name the men he regarded
as dangerous to the public peace, and approved of the
policy of bringing such men to trial somewhere out of
New England, since there they were sure to be shielded.
With all this he had never favored any change in the


charter ; but consistently from first to last pressed his
deeply-set conviction that if only Parliament would
leave the Colonies to themselves in all but strictly un-
perial concerns, and if only the Colonies would admit
Parliamentary supremacy, that, however, to be kept far
in the background, — all would go as well as possible,
no change at all being necessary in the existing instru-
ment/ Such were the views expressed in his letters and
also to those in his Massachusetts environment. Hutch-
inson, however, had, as the reader has had frequent
opportunity to see, become very nervous about having
the contents of his letters reported from England back
to his countrymen. Why was he nervous? It was
because he had before him the experience of Bernard.
Bernard's views, though plainly expressed in Massachu-
setts, somehow seemed in the pojDular view much worse
when reported back from across the water ; and coming
back in that way had been a main factor in bringing
about his overthrow. Hutchinson feared now a similar
fate for himself. He had never gone so far as Bernard,
for Bernard wished to change the charter. His views,
however, were unpopular. He held his chief opponents
— Samuel Adams, Bowdoin, Otis, Hawley — to be full
of craft and intensely hostile to him : they could sway
the people as they chose. If his letters should come
back, they could give an interpretation to their phrases
which would make them seem to go much farther, and
to be of character quite different, from the sentiments
uttered by the Governor to the world of Massachusetts.

^ Such hints at " reform " as occur on page 1G9 do not imply change,
but only restoration to the original intention.


Hutchinson's English friends were in the main dis-
creet, but what he had feared at length came to pass.
A package containing, with others, six letters from him
was transmitted to America. The letters are mild as
compared with some quoted in the foregoing pages.
How they were obtained, how used, and what the con-
sequences were, it is important to set forth.

The view of George Bancroft, subscribed to by
Robert C. Winthrop,^ is that the letters having been
written to a member of Parhament, Thomas Whately,
not a friend to government but in opposition, were
shown by him to his friend George Grenville, the pro-
moter of the Stamp Act, by whom they were retained.
Grenville dying in 1770, and Whately in 1772, the
letters fell into the hands in some way of Sir John
Temple, the highly connected son-in-law of Bowdoin,
lately a Commissioner of Customs in Boston, and after
the war the first British Consul-General in the United
States. Temple's sympathies were quite liberal, a dis-
position no doubt helped forward by his relations with
the energetic leader of the Massachusetts Council ; and
he it was who committed them to the hands of Franklin.
FrankHn, having received the originals, under strict
injunctions of secrecy, was allowed at last to send them
to Boston, with the understanding that the letters were
to be shown only to a few leading people of the gov-
ernment, without being printed or copied, and that they
were to be carefully returned. " They were not," he

1 Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., vol. xvi., Feb. 14, 1878. W. H. Whitmore,
in the Nation, vol. xxxrviii., p. 298, gives a slightly differeut account of the


says, " of the nature of private letters between friends.
They were written by public officers, to persons in pub-
lic station, on public affairs, and intended to procure
public measures. They were therefore handed to other
public persons who might be influenced by them to
produce those measures." Franklin did not contem-
plate the publication of the letters, nor did the Boston
leaders to wdiom they had been sent. Hutchinson, too,
believes they meant to keep back the documents, while
persuading the people that they contained enormities not
to be endured ; ^ but as Gushing told Hutchinson, " the
people compelled their publication, or would not be
satisfied without it." For thus making public private
letters, the Whigs were roundly denounced. Wedder-
burn, afterwards Lord Loughborough, who was scarcely
inferior to " Junius " in his power of bitter speech,
lashed Frankhn before a Committee of Parliament with-
out mercy, who thenceforth had no position in the Eng-
lish social world. Mr. Winthrop palliates Franklin's
conduct by saying that the best men in Massachusetts
were in it, Chauncy, Cooper, Dr. Winthrop, and Bow-
doin, the latter of whom calls it " that meritorious act."
It was a time of great commotion: Franklin's own
letters were thus opened. Mr. Winthrop believes it
may be classed among what Burke calls " irregular
things done in the confusion of mighty troubles, not to
be made precedents of or justified on principle." If
Franklin had done no more than to send the letters,
his conduct perhaps need give little trouble to his eulo-
gists ; but there are grounds for thinking he accom-

^ Hist., vol. iii., p. 393. See, also, the letter to Bernard, p. 269.


panied them by a letter of his own, Avhich contained a
crafty suggestion. It is claimed that July 7, 1773,
Franklin wrote as follows to Dr. Samuel Cooper : —

" The letters might be shown to some of the Gov-
ernor's and Lieutenant-Governor's partisans, and spoken
of to everybody, for there was no restraint proposed to
talking of them, but only to copying. And possibly,
as distant objects, seen only through a mist, appear
larger, the same may happen from the mystery in this
case. However this may be, the terms given with them
could only be those with which they were received."

Online LibraryJames Kendall HosmerThe life of Thomas Hutchinson, royal governor of the province of Massachusetts Bay [electronic resource] → online text (page 20 of 36)