452 | To the Board of Trade

    Boston Mar 10 1766

    My Lords

    By my letter of Jan 18,1 I informed your Lordships of some proceedings at the opening of the Session which were unfavorable to Government. I shall now proceed to give a further Account of the Session ^which ended^ without much mischeif done, altho’ it was otherwise intended.

    The Committee of Greivances, of which I informed your Lordships in my last, was devised for two purposes: 1, to get an Act of the general Court passed for opening the Courts in defiance of the Act of parliament; 2, to get some ordinance or other for excluding the judges & principal officers of the Government from the Council. The first produced the Resolve in the Votes pa 214[,] which passed the House & was sent up to the Council.2 The Council after a short debate order’d it to lye on the table: the House sent up a Message to desire they would pass on it. The Council resumed the consideration of it: and, it having been said that it did not appear that the Judges would not proceed in business at the usual time, it was order’d that the Judges be desired to meet together & after Consideration to signify to the Council whether they intended to proceed in business at the usual time. The Judges accordingly met, & signified to the Council by letter, that it was impossible for them to determine absolutely what they should do at so distant a time (5 weeks); but they were of opinion that, if the Circumstances of the province were the same at the time of opening the Court as they were now, & the Lawyers should urge their proceeding, they should find themselves obliged to proceed. The Council voted this to be satisfactory & passed upon the resolve by nonconcurring it. The House sent down for the Judges letters & voted that the Information was unsatisfactory.3 And so the Matter ended.

    In the Course of this Proceeding, which lasted best part of the Session, the Council in general acted a very steady part & showed great resolution in preventing the resolve being sent up to me; which was one of the cheif mischeifs intended by it. For this I made my acknowledgements to them at the end of the Session, & assured them I should report their good conduct to your Lordships.4 But they were not so steady in another matter arising from the same business, in which their own Honour was much concerned. In the first debate upon the resolve, the Lieut Govr bore a principal part: in the next Boston Gazette came out a Letter signed Freeborn Armstrong containing Virulent Abuse of the Lieut Govr misrepresenting what he said in the Council & arraigning him upon the very falsities of the misrepresentation.5 This was a breach of priviledge tending to overturn all Government, by destroying a main pillar of it freedom of debate in the Councils of state. Upon this principle the Council were earnestly urged by myself & some of the most respectable of their own body to resent this in a parliamentary Way. But It could not be obtained: it was said, that if they committed the printers, they would be rescued6 by the Mob; that if the Author was discovered in form, as he was known to be a Member of the House (Mr Otis) they should be involved in a quarrel with the House; that this was not a Time to resent indignities. So they contented themselves with vindicating the Lieut Govr’s Character by a publication of their own. Boston Gazette, Janry 27 & Febry 3.7 Thus this Opportunity of vindicating the Government in one instance against its most notorious offenders was lost: which was much regretted; as it appeared afterwards that the Libell was so universally abhorred, that the censuring it would have had the approbation of the people, & the concurrence of the house, if it had been traced up to the Member. But besides the general timidity, The time of reelecting Councellors was too much in View & had its effect: so necessary is it in this Government sometimes to Sacrifice the Dignity of the Council to its dependence on the people.

    The other purpose of the Committee of Greivances, was to exclude the Judges & other Officers of the Government from sitting in the Council. This was introduced in the House by a report of the Committee that one person’s holding two offices executive or legislative was a greivance.8 So that by first premising that a Seat in the Council was an Office, then arguing that no one Person ought to hold two offices, it will follow that no Officer of the Crown or the State ought to be allowed to sit in the Council. But — If the appointing Officers to be Councellors is a Greivance, the Representatives of the People, who have the Election of the Council in their own hands, are the Persons answerable for it: and if they think it a Greivance, they have it in their power evry Year, by themselves only, to redress it. Notwithstanding these glaring absurdities, The Faction had this measure so much at heart, that they argued it for a whole afternoon: at the End of which it was rejected by a majority of 3 to 1. Thus ended the Committee of Greivances.

    There was another Transaction in this Session which gave great offence to good & sober Men, which I think proper to acquaint your Lordships with. Among the Commissioners who were sent by the House to the Congress at New York was Timothy Ruggles Esqr, a Man of a most respectable Character & noted for his good Sense Integrity, & Honour. In the late War He commanded the whole Body of the Massachusets Forces, amounting at one time to 7 Battalions, with the provincial Commission of Brigadier genl & conducted himself therein with the highest reputation. Since that He was appointed Speaker of the House; which, after 2 years Service, He declined. He was then chosen a Councellor; which he declined, alledging that He could do better service to the Government in the House than in the Council. This is the Man whom the Faction singled out, to make an example of an Advocate for the power of parliament. This Man, firmly loyal, before he resolved to attend the Congress endeavoured to learn the Sense of the House concerning their subordination to Great Britain, intending, if he saw a disposition to dispute the power of the parliament, to decline that employment: but he could not obtain an explanation of the Houses Opinion upon that subject. He went to the Congress & was chose Chairman of it: in the Course of their proceedings he argued against their claiming an exemption from the Authority of parliament; & when he could not ^prevail he declared he could not^ Sign the petitions &c in which there was such a claim, & did not sign them. For this He has been arraigned in the House, condemned & reprimanded; & was very near being expelled. He obtained leave of the House to enter his justification on the journal of the House to be printed with it: but when he produced his justification to the House, they refused to let it be entered; some of them saying, that if that was to appear in their journal, they must beg his pardon for what they had done. And so indeed they ought to do, if they would do him justice.9 I have had some copies of this printed for my own use to add to the copies of the Votes which I send home; one of which I shall enclose with this.

    The House also reduced sevral of the Salaries of Officers annually granted by them; & particularly set a Mark of their displeasure on the Secretary Mr Oliver by striking off 45 pounds sterling from his usual appointments.10 It was in vain to object the great losses he had received from the Mob, which were not in Any way of being compensated: this was meant as addition to his former correction & may be well placed to the same Account.

    I shall have no occasion to observe upon the bills passed this Session. The Excise Bill & the Impost Bill11 have some alterations from the former, but none that appear to be worth your Lordship’s notice: The other Bills concern private Œconomy only. There was another Bill laid before me, which I have not passed: that is a Bill for repealing the late insolvent Act.12 The Reason given for it was that the Act had been much abused by fraudulent debtors. But it is the Nature of these Acts to be subject to abuse; & much more so where they are not assisted by a Court of Equity which can enquire into frauds. And yet without them, the Common Law is pregnant of greater abuses from partial attachments & fraudulent judgements. I therefore thought, & with me many others, that the ^Act^ should be rather amended than repealed. But if it was to be repealed, It ought to be done at a day distant from the passing the Act ^of repeal^; that absent Creditors who now trust to it may know when it is to cease. For these reasons I have declined passing the bill; tho’ as the Genl Court is continued by adjournment I can yet do it if I see occasion.

    I am, with great respect, My Lords, Your Lordships most obedient & most humble Servant

    Fra Bernard

    The Right Honble The Lords Commrs for Trade & Plantations

    PS Mar 12

    I have an opportunity to add an account of what has been done at the opening the Superior Court at the usual time, which was yesterday. It is usual for the Lawyers in a body to wait on the Judges on the first day of the Term before they go into the Court. At this meeting, the Cheif Justice not attending, one of the Judges, Mr Peter Oliver,13 said that he attended the Court according to his duty; that he understood that it would be expected that he & his brethren should proceed in business in defiance of the late Act of parliament; that such proceeding was contrary to his Judgement & Opinion; and that if he submitted to it, it would be only for self preservation, as he knew he was in the hands of the populace: and therefore he previously protested that all such Acts of his, if they should happen would be Acts done under Duress. To which the other Judges assenting, it was proposed to each of the Lawyers singly whether he desired that business should proceed contrary to the Act of parliament: when Evry One of them answered in the negative; even Otis himself, who has for 4 months past been labouring indefatigably to bring about this particular mischeif. But they said, it would be proper to try a Cause or two to quiet the people: accordingly one Cause, which had been at issue before the stamp Act took place, was tryed, & all other ^civil^ business was postponed to the middle of April, by which time they expect to know the determinations of the parliament.__ So evident is it that this Scheme for obliging the Judges of the Superior Court to proceed in defiance of the Stamp Act, which has agitated the Governor and the general Court at different times for 5 months past, was not calculated for the ease or convenience of the people who wanted no such expedient, but was contrived to oblige the Government to join in an insult upon the Authority of the Parliament, or else to remain exposed to the resentment of the people for not so doing.


    ALS, RC      CO 5/892, ff 3-7.