520 | To the Earl of Shelburne

    (No 1)


    Boston, Decr 22d, 1766.

    My Lord,

    I am extremely sorry that I am obliged to enter minutely into the civil divisions of this Province, & the causes & effects of the same. I should have been glad to have saved your Lordship the trouble of reading so unpleasing a report, & myself the disagreable task of making it; I should also have been glad to have concealed the present unhappy state of the province, if there was any prospect of its amendment; also in truth, the disgrace arising therefrom is chargeable but to few Persons: for tho’ the driven & the led are many, the drivers & the Leaders are but few. But since the Faction, which has raised itself upon the public Calamity, knows no bounds, & seems determined to persist in bringing all Authority down to the level of the People, (preserving nevertheless the form of the Government, which may be made consistent with such a Scheme) & to make an example of a Governor, who has dared to stand in the Gap, & to endeavour to support the Royalty of the Government, I cannot any longer excuse myself laying open this System to the bottom. Not only my own defence, for that I might have safely left to a review of my general Conduct since I have been Governor, but my duty in discovering Designs & proceedings full of Danger to the King’s Government require it of me.

    I would avoid personalities: but in the present case it is impossible. The troubles of this Country take their rise from, & owe their continuance to one Man so much; that his History alone would contain a full Account of them. This Man, James Otis Esqr, was a Lawyer at Boston, when I came to the Government. He is by Nature a passionate, violent, & desperate Man; which qualities sometimes work him up to an absolute frenzy. I say Nothing of him, which is not known to be his certain Character confirmed by frequent experience. Soon after my entrance upon the Government, The Place of Chief Justice of the Province became vacant. The Lieut Governor was proposed for that office by the best Men in the Government. Mr Otis, (the father of the Otis) proposed himself for a seat on the Bench in case one of the Judges was made chief. Both these proposals could not be complied with, & there was no ballancing between the two candidates. But Mr Otis Senr urged his Pretensions, by telling me & the Lt Govr that if He (the Lt Govr) was appointed, we should both of us repent it. Otis junr did not confine himself to Hints, but declared publickly with oaths, that if his Father was not appointed Judge he would set the whole Province in a flame, tho’ he perished in the attempt. This was proved by the Oaths of two Gentlemen of Credit, whose depositions are now in the public Offices at Home.2 However, I appointed the Lieut Governor with general Approbation of the whole Province: & Messrs Otis immediately proceeded to make good their Promises.3

    In less than half a year they stirred up a persecution against the Court of Admiralty & the Custom house, promising nothing less than the abolishing the Activity of both. In this it was unavoidable, as it was intended, that I should be involved, as well as the chief Justice. This Persecution (it may be truly called so) lasted two years: In the course of it, five Actions were brought against different Custom house Officers, one (made bailable) against the Surveyor genl. (not the present)4 for £7,500 sterlg. all by the advice & direction of Otis junr. In the Course of these proceedings, Otis evrywhere appeared the principal. He was chief Director, Chamber Council, Councellor at the Bar, popular Haranguer & Assembly Orator: for the Merit of this Opposition to the Kings Offices procured him a seat in the House. However after about 2 years harassment, this Matter subsided with the Maintenance of the King’s rights: which were preserved, I may truly say, by my firmness & Perseverance, & by the Steadiness of the chief Justice & the other Judges of the Superior Court. A full Account of these Proceedings chiefly supported by Oath, was returned to the Treasury & to the board of Trade, & will appear further from my Letters to the Secretary of State & to the Lords of Trade, in 1761 & 1762.5

    When this was over, He still continued in a constant opposition to Government, except during an interval when his Father was solliciting for two Offices, which put him at the Head of his County. These I gave to him, together with a good place to one of his Sons, & was assured that this would wipe away all the ill humour which his former disappointment had occasioned.6 But no sooner were these patents sealed, than Otis renewed his hostilities against Government with fresh Vigour; but to no purpose, as the Council & House was then filled with Men of Worth & Ability, who greatly outweighed & outnumbered the Opposers of Government; & as I had at that time a credit with the Province equal, at least, to any of my Predecessors at any time. The Business of the Government was carried on with the utmost harmony & good humour; & I never met the Assembly without giving & receiving mutual Testimonies of our Satisfaction with one another. All this fair form of civil power, which had its chief foundation upon the Prudence & good Temper of the constituents Members of the Government, & the confidence of the People, & had scarce any coercive power to resort to upon occasion, was at once overturned by the fatal & unfortunate Stamp-Act. This let loose all the ill humours of common People, & put them into the hands of designing Men, to be employed not so much for the defence of their real & constitutional rights, as to humble the Government & bring it to the level of the very people.

    I desire not to revive the disputes concerning the Stamp Act; I wish they were buried beyond the reach of Memory: & they would have been buried before now, if the Opposition had not farther Views than the defeat of the Taxation. But, my Lord, The Opposing the Stamp Act has been made a Mask for a Battery, a stalking horse, to take a better aim at the Royalty of the Government. This was apparent whilst the Repeal was in suspence; but since it is passed, it is put out of all doubt. For this Purpose, when the People’s Passions were thoroughly worked up; when their Fears, Jealousy, & Credulity were got to such a Pitch that it was dangerous, as well as impracticable, to reason with them; they were told that the Scheme of the Stamp Act was formed in this Province; the principal Officers of the Government, & others of the first men of the Province were pointed out as the contrivers of it: Otis himself said, in the House, as well as out of it, that he knew the room (meaning ^in^ my House) the time & the Company when the Plan was settled. All Persons who had any weight or influence in the Province, & had been used to excercise it in the support of the Government, were branded by the Names of friends to the Stamp Act: When the Propagators of these Calumnies knew in their Conscience that there did not exist within the Province a Friend to the Stamp Act, not even in the Stamp Officer himself, who to my knowledge at no time wished for the continuance of the Act.

    These being the purposes of the Faction, Means were taken to distress the Government quite foreign to the repeal of the Stamp Act, & such as if they had been known in Parliament would have tended to prevent it. I shall mention a few Particulars which will divide these Matters into Heads. Mr Otis, in a speech to the House directed against the Government of Great Britain, said that “he wished that the Island was sunk in the Sea, so that the King & his Family were saved.” This Proviso, I suppose was to qualify the Treasonableness of the Wish. Of the Kings Governors He has said that “those who were appointed to the American Governments, were such as were obliged either by their Crimes or their debts to fly their Country.” Of the Council (who had given no other Offence than by assisting me to secure the Stamp Papers at the Castle) He said in the House “It was an infernal Divan,7 & deserved to be sent to the place from whence they derived their Councils.” In the House it was common for him to tell a Member who spoke on the side of Government, that He should not sit in that House the next Year.8 And accordingly as soon as the general Court was dissolved in order for a new Election, there was published in a weekly paper conducted by Otis & his Junto, a List of 32 Members, the most respectable in the House, & noted for their attachment to Government, who were proscribed as Enemies to their Country, because they had given their Testimony against the Violences lately committed: And of these 32, 19 lost, their Election.9

    Most of the foregoing passed whilst the Event of the Stamp Act was in suspence, & therefore might have been well forgot, if the Party himself had desired that they should. But when the same Violent Measures are pursued after the repeal of the Stamp Act is made known as before; When the Kings Government, & all that bear Office in it, are persecuted with the same unrelenting Acrimony, as if Nothing had been done for the People, & they were under no obligations to the King & his Parliament; When the Servant, to whom his King had forgiven ten thousand Talents,10 takes his fellow Servant by the throat for one hundred pence; It is difficult not to connect the Proceedings before & after the repeal. However I shall draw a line between them, in order to show that the Repeal occasioned no Relaxation in the disposition & designs of the Faction which had raised itself by the Act.

    It was the general Opinion that Otis himself wished that the Act might not be repealed, as that would answer his inflammatory purposes better. This was collected partly from a declaration he made, about the time of the Event being expected, “that He hoped it would not be repealed; for, said He, we will repeal it ourselves.” As soon as the Advice of the Repeal came, Otis published an Advertisement, which all the Printers were obliged to insert under pain of Mob execution.11 I inclose this advertisement which Otis owned to be his till he found it to be generally reprobated: after ^which^ he would neither own it nor deny it. By the terms of this, it is plain that the repeal was to produce no Remission, either of the Pretensions against parliament, or the Persecution of the friends of the Government. The Week after this came out a republication of the List of the 32 Members who had been proscribed as friends of the Stamp Act, & therefore Enemies to their Country, accompanied with Observations, among which it was said “that a general Purgation in both Houses was of absolute Necessity.” that is, that evry Member of either House who professed to have a regard for the support of the Government & the royal rights thereof should lose his Seat.12 About this time Mr Otis began to declare that they had fixed upon 15 Councellors, who were to be turned out at the next Election: this threat was continued allmost to the day of Election. I must add one transaction more, which past in this interval, which will properly conclude this Paragraph. Mr Otis at a meeting at the Town Hall (which I think was to fix a time for public rejoicings for the repeal) in a set Speech told the People that “the distinction between inland taxes & port duties was without foundation; for whoever had a right to impose one had a right to impose the other: & therefore as the Parliament had given up the one (for he said the Act ^for^ securing the dependency had no relation to taxes) they had given up the other; & the Merchants were great fools, if they submitted any longer to the Laws restraining their Trade, which ought to be free.13 This Speech made a great deal of Noise; & it was observed by serious Men, that Otis had thereby made himself answerable for all the disturbances which should thereafter happen in the execution of the Laws of Trade. But the natural Consequence & what immediately followed was, that a common talk prevailed among the people, that there should be no more seizures in this Town. There have been but two seizures made in the Province since, & they had been both rescued with an high hand. In that at Boston, it is remarkable that the Men who opposed the Officers, sent for Otis, & he went thither as his Councellor.14 This is the Manner, in which this Man & his Faction after they had heard of the repeal of the Stamp Act, prepared to make a return for it on the Part of this Province.

    As I have now got to the Opening of the new Assembly, I will finish this Letter; that if your Lordship shall think, as I fear will be the Case, that I encumber you with too much writing, you may lay this preliminary Account aside, without giving it a formal Consideration. However as I have thought it necessary to explain what follows, I could not excuse myself prefixing it. I am with great respect,

    My Lord, Your Lordships most obedient, & most humble Servant

    Fra Bernard

    The Right Honble, The Earl of Shelburne.

    ALS, RC      CO 5/756, ff 5-9.