681 | To the Earl of Hillsborough

    No 22

    Boston Sep 16 1768

    My Lord

    In the Boston Gazette of the 5th inst appeared a paper containing a System of Politicks exceeding all former exceedings. Some took it for the casual ravings of an occasional enthusiast: but I persuaded myself that It came out of the Cabinet of the Faction and was preparatory to some actual operations against the Government.1 In this persuasion I considered that if the Troops from Halifax were to come here of a sudden, there would be no avoiding an insurrection, which would at least fall upon the Crown officers, if it did not amount to an Opposition to the troops. I therefore thought it would be best that the Expectation of the troops should be gradually communicated, that the Heads of the Faction might have time to consider well what they were about, & prudent Men opportunity to interpose their advice. I therefore took an occasion to mention to one of the Council, in the Way of discourse, that I had private advice that troops were ordered hither, but I had no public orders about it myself. This was in the 8th inst: & before night it was throughly circulated all over the town.2

    The Faction immediately took the alarm; & at first nothing was to be heard among them but declarations that the troops should not enter the Town.3 But nothing was done in public, but appointing a Town Meeting on Monday following. In private there were, as I am told, two meetings, the one a large one on fryday Night (the 9th) where it was the general Opinion that they should raise the Country & oppose the troops[:]4 the other meeting, as I am informed, was very small & private on Saturday Night, at the House of one of the Cheifs;5 and there it wa[s] resolved to surprise & take the Castle on the Monday night following. I dont relate these Accounts as certain facts but only as reported & beleived.6 On Saturday night an ^empty^ turpentine Barrel was put up upon the pole of the beacon, (which had been lately erected anew in a great hurry by the Selectmen without consulting me).7 This gave a great alarm, the next day, and the Council sent to me on Sunday afternoon to desire I would order a Council, which I held at a Gentleman’s House8 halfway between me and Boston. Here It was debated what Means should be used to take the barrel down; & it was resolved that the Select men should be desired to take it down: but they would not do it.

    On the Monday at the Hall9 the Faction appeared surrounded with all its forces: there were very few of the principal Gentlemen there; such as were, appeared only as curious & perhaps anxious spectators.10 The Meeting was opened with speeches much to the same purpose as the paper enclosed and first mentioned.11 Nothing was then resolved but to put 2 questions to me, which your Lordship will see in the printed Account;12 and to appoint a general Commit[tee] to consider & report. The next day the Reports were made, upon which followed a Set of speeches by the cheifs of the faction & no one else; which followed one another in such order & method, that it appeared as if they were acting a play, evry thing, both as to matter & order, seeming to have been preconcerted before hand. As they have printed their own Account to circulate it round the province, I shall only add to it an Account of some of these Speeches, from the tenor of which the general intention of the whole transaction will be fully explained.

    I should have mentioned before that in the middle of the Hall where they met, were deposited in chests, the Town Arms, amounting as it is said to ^about^ 400. These, as I have before informed your Lordship, about 4 or 5 months ago were taken out of the lumber rooms, where they had lain for some years past, to be cleaned; & have since been laid upon the floor of the Town hall to remind the people of the use of them.13 These Arms were often the subject of discourse & were of singular use to the Orators in the way of Action. As the Subject of their debates turned upon arming the Town & Country against their Enemies, The probability of a French War was mentioned as a pretence for arming the Town & a Cover for the frequent use of the Word Enemy. It was said that the Enemy would probably be here before the Convention met, that is within 10 days; It was moved that the Arms should be now delivered out to oppose the Enemy; this was objected to for that ^they^ might fall into hands who would not use them. But this flimsy Veil was not allways kept on: it was often said that they had a right to oppose with arms a military force which was sent to oblige them to submit to unconstitutional Laws; and when it was required to be more explicit, the Chairman14 said that they understood one another Very well, & pointing with his hand added “there are the Arms; when an attempt is made agst your liberties they will be delivered; our Declaration wants no explication:” and indeed it does not.

    When first it was moved that the Governor be desired to call an Assembly, it was said to be to provide for the Safety of the province & put it in a posture of defence: it was thereupon observed that that would make troops necessary; & it was immediately struck out. One cried out that they wanted a Head; this was overruled: for indeed it was rather too premature. Another, an old Man, protested against evry thing but rising immediately & taking all power into their own hands. One Man, very profligate & abandoned, argued for massacring their Enemies: his argument was short. — Liberty is as pretious as Life; if a Man attempts to take my Life, I have a right to take his; ergo, if a Man attempts to take away my liberty, I have a right to take his Life. He also argued that when a Peoples Liberties were threatened, they were in a state of War & had a right to defend themselves. And He carried these Arguments so far that his own party were obliged to silence him.

    I will now make one observation on one passage in the printed declaration,15 to show to what length is capable of being carried a pretension to an exemption from the Authority of Great Britain. It has been heretofore argued that the parliament has no authority over the American Colonists, because they are not represented in the parliament of Great Britain; and in Consequence, that the provincial Assemblies are to all intents & purposes the parliament in regard to the subjects of the respective Colonies. This has been heretofore applied only to the raising & disposing of public Money: And now Observe a large stride to a Very different business. Because it is declared in an Act of the first of Willm & Mary16 that no standing Army shall be kept up in the Kingdom in time of peace, but by consent of parliament, therefore the King shall not keep any part of the standing Army raised & supported by the parliament in any American province, without the Consent of the provincial Assembly. And this Exemption is pleaded in Virtue of a Charter granted by King William &c without the Authority of parliament,17 & consequently according to true Revolutional principles not to be pleaded against the parliament; as according to such principles the King has no power, by his own Act only, to exempt Any Subjects of Great Britain from the Authority of parliament.

    I herewith inclose a blank Copy of the precept which the Select men of Boston have used in calling together the Convention.18 Surely so daring an Assumption of the royal Authority was never practised by Any City or Town in the British Dominions even in the times of greatest disorder; not even by the City of London when the Great Rebellion was at the highest, & the Confusion arising from thence most urgent for some extraordinary Measures.19 How large this Meeting will be & what they will do at present can only be guest at. But as they have hitherto pursued the Dictates of the Paper in the Boston Gazette, It may be supposed that they will go thro’ with them; & exclude the Crown officers & resume the first original Charter which has no ingredient of royalty in it.20 It certainly will be so, if it is not prevented by power from without: and I much doubt whether the Force allready ordered ^by Genl Gage^ viz 2 regiments will be sufficient. For my own part, if I had any place of protection to resort to, I would publish a proclamation against the assembling Convention: but I dare not take so Spirited a step without first securing my retreat.

    It is now a great question whether the Kings troops will be suffered to enter the Town or not: the general Opinion is in the affirmative. The Design against the Castle is now so well known that it is probable that the Very Names of the people who were enrolled for that Service to the Number of 500, or of the Chief of them, will be discovered. The Cheifs of the Party now own that it will be impossible for them to hold the Castle or the Town, tho’ they should seize & Garrison them for the present. They therefore, at least some of them, seem content that the troops shall stay here, till the parliament has determined upon their remonstrances: as, they say, the troops cannot remain here for 2 years, if the parliament refuses to do them justice.

    I am with great respect, My Lord, Your Lordships most obedient and most humble Servant

    Fra Bernard

    The right honorable The Earl of Hillsborough

    ALS, RC     CO 5/757, ff 405-408.

    Endorsed: Boston Septr. 16. 1768. Govr Bernard, (No. 22). R 2 Novr. A.49. While the letter is dated Boston 16 Sept., it is possible that FB commenced writing it at Jamaica Plain. It was there, at c.2 pm, he started writing No. 680, in which he summarized the contents of this letter to Hillsborough and stated his intention of returning to Boston the following day; postage of No. 681 was delayed long enough for FB to include a newspaper dated 19 Sept. Enclosures: circular from the Boston Selectmen to the Massachusetts towns, CO 5/ 757, ff 408-409; copies of the Boston Gazette, 5 Sept. and the Boston Post-Boy and Advertiser, 19 Sept. 1768.21 Probably also enclosed the minutes of the town meeting of Boston, 12 Sept. 1768, prepared by an informer (not found), of which there is a copy in NEP, f 81. Variants of letter in: CO 5/767, ff 87-96 (L, RLbC); BP, 7: 37-43 (L, LbC); Coll. Mass. Papers, 1768 (L, Copy); Letters to the Ministry (1st ed.), 52-56; Letters to the Ministry (repr.), 70-75. Hillsborough acknowledged receipt with No. 712.22 Copies of the letter together with the enclosures were laid before both houses of Parliament on 28 Nov. 1768. HLL: American Colonies Box 3.