Adams, John, 1735-1826. The ‘American Revolution‘, Letter to Hezekiah Niles, first editor of the National Register. Quincy, February 13, 1818. First published in Niles’ Weekly Register, v. 2, n. 14, March 7, 1818.
In this research, the glorioroles of individual gentlemen, and of separate states, is of little consequence. The MEANS AND THE MEASURES are the proper objects of investigation. These may be of use to posterity, not only in this nation, but in South America, and all other countries. They may teach mankind that revolutions are no trifles; that they ought never to be undertaken rashly; nor without deliberate consideration and sober reflection; nor without a solid, immutable, eternal foundation of justice and humanity; nor without a people possessed of intelligence, fortitude and integrity sufficient to carry them with steadiness, patience, and perseverance, through all the vicissitudes of fortune, the fiery trials and melancholy disasters they may have to encounter.
The town of Boston early instituted an annual oration on the fourth of July, in commemoration of the principles and feelings which contributed to produce the revolution. Many of those orations I have heard, and all that I could obtain I have read. Much ingenuity and eloquence appears upon every subject, except those principles and feelings. That of my honest and amiable neighbour. Josiah Quincy, appeared to me the most directly to the purpose of the institution. Those principles and feelings ought to be traced back for two hundred years, and sought in the history of the country from the first plantations in America. Nor should the principles and feelings of the English and Scotch towards the colonies, through that whole period ever be forgotten. The perpetual discordance between British principles and feelings, and of those of America, the next year after the suppression of the French power in America, came to a crisis, and produced an explosion.
It was not until after the annihilation of the French dominion in America, that any British ministry had dared to gratify their own wishes, and the desire of the nation, by projecting a formal plan for raising a national revenue from America, by parliamentary taxation. The first great manifestation of this design, was by the order to carry into strict execution those acts of parliament, which were well known by the appellation of the acts of trade, which had lain a dead letter, unexecuted for half a century, and some of them, I believe, for nearly a whole one.
This produced, in 1760 and 1761, AN AWAKENING and a REVIVAL of American principles and feelings, with an enthusiasm which went on increasing, till in 1775 it burst out in open violence, hostility and fury.
The characters, the most conspicuous, the most ardent and influential in this revival, from 1760 to 1766, were—first and foremost, before all and above all, JAMES OTIS ; next to him was OXENBRIDGE THATCHER; next to him, SAMUEL ADAMS; next to him, JOHN HANCOCK; then Dr. Mayhew, then Dr. Cooper and his brother. Of Mr. Hancock’s life, character, generous nature, great and disinterested sacrifices, and important services, if I had forces, I should be glad to write a volume. But this I hope will be done by some younger and abler hand. Mr. Thatcher, because his name and merits are less known, must not be wholly omitted. This gentleman was an eminent barrister at law, in as large practice as any one in Boston.— There was not a citizen of that town more universally beloved for his learning, ingenuity, every domestic and social virtue, and conscientious conduct in every relation of life. His patriotism was as ardent, as his progenitors had been ancient and illustrious in this country. Hutchinson often said, “Thatcher was not born a Plebeian, but he was determined to die one.” In May 1763, I believe he was chosen by the town of Boston one of their representatives in the legislature, a colleague with Mr. Otis, who had been a member from May 1761, and he continued to be re-elected annually till his death in 1765, when Mr. Samuel Adams was elected to fill his place, in the absence of Mr. Otis, then attending the congress at New-York.— Thatcher had long been jealous of the unbounded ambition of Mr. Hutchinson, but when he found him not content with the office of lieutenant-governor, the command of the castle and its emoluments, of judge of probate for the county of Suffolk, a seat in his majesty’s council in the legislature; his brother-in-law secretary of slate by the king’s commission; a brother of that secretary of state, a judge of the supreme court and a member of council, now in 1760 and 1761, soliciting and accepting the office of chief justice of the superior court of judicature, he concluded, as Mr. Otis did, and as every other enlightened friend of his country did, that he sought that office with the determined purpose of determining all causes in favour of the ministry at St. James and their servile parliament.
His indignation against him henceforward, to 1765, when he died, knew no bounds but truth. I speak from personal knowledge. For, from 1758, to 1765,1 attended every superior and inferior court in Boston, and recollect not one in which he did not invite me home to spend evenings with him, when he made me converse with him as well as I could, on all subjects of religion, morals, law, politics, history, philosophy, belles-lettres, theology, mythology, cosmogony, metaphysics,—Lock, Clark, Leibnits, Bolinbroke, Berkley,—the pre-established harmony of the universe, the nature of matter and of spirit, and the eternal establishment of coincidences between their operations, fate, foreknowledge absolute—and we reasoned on such unfathomable subjects as high as Milton’s gentry in pandemonium; and we understood them as well as they did, and no better. To such mighty mysteries he added the news of the day, and the tittle tattle of the town. But his favourite subject was politics, and the impending threatening system of parliamentary taxation, and universal government over the colonies. On this subject he was so anxious and agitated, that I have no doubt it occasioned his premature death.— From the time when he argued the question of writs of assistance, to his death, he considered the king, ministry, parliament and nation of Great Britain, as determined to new-model the colonies from the foundation; to annul all their charters; to constitute them all royal governments; to raise a revenue in America by parliamentary taxation; to apply that revenue to pay the salaries of governors, judges, and all other crown officers; and, after all this, to raise as large a revenue as they pleased, to be applied to national purposes at the exchequer in England; and further to establish bishops, and the whole system of the Church of England, tythes and all, throughout all British America. This system, he said, if it was suffered to prevail, would extinguish the flame of liberty all over the world; that America would be employed as an engine to batter down all the miserable remains of liberty in Great Britain and Ireland, where only any semblance of it was left in the world. To this system he considered Hutchinson, the Olivers, and all their connections—dependants—adherents—shoelickers—and entirely devoted. He asserted that they were all engaged with all the crown officers in America, and the understrappers of the ministry in England, in a deep and treasonable conspiracy to betray the liberties of their country, for their own private, personal and family aggrandisement. His Philippicks against the unprincipled ambition and avarice of all of them, ut especially of Hutchinson, were unbridled; not only in private, confidential conversations, but in all companies and on all occasions. He gave Hutchinson the sobriquet of “Summa Potestatis,” and rarely mentioned him but by the name of ” Summa.” His liberties of speech were no secrets to his enemies. I have sometimes wortdered that they did not throw him over the bar, as they did soon afterwards Major Hawley. For they hated him worse than they did James Otis, or Samuel Adams, and they feared him more,—because they had no revenge for a father’s disappointment of a seat on the superior bench to impute to him, as they did to Otis; and Thatcher’s character through life had been so modest, decent, unassuming —his morals so pure, and his religion so venerated, that they dared not attack him. In his office were educated to the bar, two eminent characters, the late Judge Lowell, and Josiah Quincy, aptly called the Boston Cicero. Mr. Thatcher’s frame was slender, his constitution delicate: whether his physicians overstrained his vessels with mercury, when he had the small pox by inoculation at the castle, or whether he was overplyed by public anxieties and exertions, the small pox left him in a decline from which he never recovered. Not long before his death, he sent for me to commit to my care some of his business at the bar. I asked him whether he had seen the Virginia resolves? “Oh yes—they are men! they are noble spirits! It kills me to think of the lethargy and stupidity that prevails here. I long to be out. I will go out. I will go out. I will go into court, and make a speech which shall be read after my death, as my dying testimony against this infernal tyranny which they are bringing upon us.” Seeing the violent agitation into which it threw him, I changed the subject as soon as possible, and retired. He had been confined for some time. Had he been abroad among the people, he would not have complained so pathetically of the “lethargy and stupidity that prevailed,” for town and country were all alive; and in August became active enough, and some of the people proceeded to unwarrantable excesses, which were more lamented by the patriots than by their enemies. Mr. Thatcher soon died, deeply lamented by all the friends of their country.