Seditious Libel

    304. To [Richard Jackson], [14 March 1768]

    305. To Richard Jackson, 23 March 1768

    306. To Thomas Pownall, 26 March [1768]

    307. To Nathaniel Rogers, 26 March [1768]

    308. To [the Duke of Grafton], 27 March [1768]

    When news arrived in Boston that Parliament was considering suspending the legislative powers of the New York Assembly until it complied with the Quartering Act, two letters appeared in the Boston Gazette on 31 August 1767 urging the colonists to do everything in their power to resist this expanded tyranny and “throw off the gaudy ensigns of dependence.” When news of these articles, written by “Sui Imperator” and “A. F.,” reached England, George Grenville demanded that Parliament summon the printers, in this case Edes & Gill, to identify the authors. The letters also prompted Lord Shelburne to urge Francis Bernard to work with the legislature to bring charges of seditious libel (Papers of Francis Bernard, 3:423–24). With this instruction in mind in the midst of his bitter exchanges with the House, Bernard asked the Council to proceed against the author of an article signed “True Patriot” in the Boston Gazette of 9 February 1768, which charged him with calumniously misrepresenting the legislature to Lord Shelburne and concluded with a disparaging reference to the king (JHR, 44:210–11). Though initially sympathetic, the Council failed to act, and the House declared it could find no actionable libel in the author’s words. Thomas Hutchinson, at the next meeting of the Superior Court, lectured the new grand jury on the law pertaining to libel and implied the jurors would be departing from their oaths if they failed to find a true bill in this case. Hutchinson initially believed he had convinced the jurors to act but, ultimately, they found no indictable offense.

    304. To [Richard Jackson]1

    [14 March 1768]

    Dear Sir, There being no Vessel near sailing for London I send you this by the way of N York for the sake of covering a part of the publication of this day. The piece against the Gov. is the most villainous of any which has yet appeared.2

    We are full of Rumors of intended Riots. I have been this Evening with the G & S in consultation with 4 of the Commissioners of the Cust. who seem alarmed. I wish you may not soon hear of further Tumults. It is possible they may be prevented. I am Sir Your Obliged humble Servant,

    AC (Massachusetts Archives, SC1/series 45X, 26:293); unaddressed; undated. Enclosure not found.

    305. To Richard Jackson

    Boston 23 March 1768

    My Dear Sir, I sent you by way of NY a scrap of one of our News papers.1 I will under this cover send you the Gov.’s message to the Court upon this Subject and the Address of the Council and another of the R the latter a very desp.2 performance.3 The warmth of the former is very much owing to a gentleman of the C who has a very voluble tongue but is extremely unsteady & hapned on this occasion to be of the Right side.4 The Council had not firmness enough to persevere & when they were sounded by the Gov. to satisfy himself whether they would direct the Att. Gen. to prosecute the printer he found they would fail him.5 A few days after began the Superior Court in this County. I endeavoured to give the G Jury a just sense of the Law Respecting Libels and to eradicate the absurd notions of the Liberty of the Press & gave them in charge to present this paper as a Libel and several others printed some months ago which I thought bordered very near upon High Treason.6 Wagers were offered that they would find a Bill and the Att. Gen. tells me that the first day they were generally disposed to it but an opportunity being given of conversing with the people of the Town they had changed their minds before the next day and the Printer has escaped for altho Informations are sometimes brought in our Courts they were not thought adviseable at a time when the laws in general have lost their force. The honest & independent Grand Jurors is now a favorable Toast with the Sons of Liberty. The Commissioners of the Customs were under apprehensions of danger the 18 Instant. This being the anniversary of the Repeal of the St. Act a Tumult was expected. In the morning two Images one for Paxton the other for the Inspector Williams were hanging on the Tree of Liberty & Williams who was bred a Cabinet maker had a Glue pot by his side.7 This was no part of a concerted plan & therefore some of the Sons of Liberty took down the Images & declared there should be no Riots and in the Evening we had only such a Mob as we have long been used to the 5. of Nov. & other Holidays. The populace were told that application had been made for the Repeal of the Act of Parl. establishing the Commissioners & it was best to stay till they saw the Success of this Application. At present the greatest opposers of Parliamentary Authority declare against Mobs but we are in a very precarious state. The least hint from their Leaders would encourage them to any degree of violence & how soon that hint may be given we know not.

    About a fortnight ago as I think I mentioned to you before I was in consultation with the Commissioners. They were very desirous the G. should [four words written in cipher] for a R.8 If he had done it by some means or other it would have transpired & there is no saying what length the people would have gone in their Resentment.

    The claim of Right to an independence of Parl. in whole or in part is now become almost universal. When they are most moderate Lord Chathams distinction is admitted9 others say it is but Reasonable we should be Restrained in our trade but the true heroes for freedom say that if we are to be under Restraint at all by any authority without us we are so far Slaves.

    The Merchants have had their meetings they have agreed to send for no more goods but have made a Reserve that unless New York & some other Colonies shall join with them the agreement is to be void.10

    The Report is that all ^in Town^11 but a dozen or fourteen have subscribed. I have two sons of the minority but the largest importers R. H. &c. are subscribers.12 This is the most sure way they say of procuring Redress. Either my brain is turned or else the brains of most people about me are so.

    They are more quiet in the other Colonies but are of the same principles. The Commissioners shewed me a Letter from some of their Officers in Connecticut who by direction had applied to the Superior Court for Writs of Assistance agreeable to the late Act of Parl. The Officers say they were Refused & that the Ch. Just. gave as a Reason that the Court was of opinion such Writs were unconstitutional. The Officers are ordered to make a more formal application & to obtain the Answer of the Court in writing.

    My Nephew Mr R. writes me of the 26 of Jan. that a writ had passd the T upon the B of C13 here for the payment of a sum he thought [a warrant for 200 pounds?] to me but he does not whether [illegible or not?] This is all the Account I yet have of it. I hope something [was done for the secretary at the same time?]14

    The great addition made to your own fortune I know will make no great alteration in the state of your mind. It will enable you to be more extremely15 useful than you have ever yet been. I wish you for many years the enjoyment of it & am with the sincerest Respect & esteem Sir your most obliged servant,

    I have sent to the Owner of the Vessel I intend this Letter by a pacquet of Pamphlets & newspapers & desired him to direct the master to deliver it with his own hand.16

    AC (Massachusetts Archives, SC1/series 45X, 26:295–96); at foot of letter, “Mr Jackson.” Enclosure not found. Contemporary printings: Boston Gazette, 17 July 1775; Massachusetts Spy, 26 July 1775 (only the section “About a fortnight ago . . . resentment”).

    306. To Thomas Pownall

    26 March [1768]

    Dear Sir, Our General Court sat till they were tired. The House in the beginning of the Session seemed inclined to pacific measures. The last fortnight they were in the most quarrelsome humor that ever I knew an Assembly. Edes & Gill printed a most infamous libel upon the Governor which he desired the two Houses to consider of. The Council sent him a very proper Answer. The H rather seem to justify the printer & dont think it proper to take any notice of it. I gave it in charge to the G Jury a few days after & wagers were offered that they would find a Bill but they found some Salvo for their Oaths & whatever others may say will not allow that they are perjured.1 The laws have lost their force.

    There has been no Remarkable transaction in any of the Colonies the Winter past to shew to you in England that they are more inclined to independence than they have been, but to an Observer here it is easy to perceive that it is a principle which spreads every day & before long will be universal. It is the lowest part of the vulgar only who have not yet been taught that if they are to be governed by Laws made by any persons but themselves or their Representatives they are Slaves. When the people lose all sense of their obligations to submit to law it cant long have its course. We have not internal authority ^power^ to carry any law into execution which the people dislike, and I know nothing we can do here more than we have done to bring our Affairs into a better State.

    I have delivered the master a pacquet of News Papers which were not worth the Postage & desired him to deliver them to you with his own hand. I am Sir Your most obedient humble servant,


    AC (Massachusetts Archives, SC1/series 45X, 26:297); at foot of letter, “Gov Pownall”; partially dated. Enclosure not found. Contemporary printings: Boston Gazette, 17 July 1775.

    307. To Nathaniel Rogers

    26 March [1768]

    Dear Sir, I sent you a few lines by way of New York. This goes by a Rhode Island vessel.

    The 18. March the Repeal of the Stamp Act went over with such sort of mobs as they have there pope nights. We have been quiet ever since but I think people never looked more sowre and discontented than at present. It has been a hard winter & many poor creatures suffered for want of work. They think every difficulty they feel is owing to Acts of Parliam Custom house Officers &c.

    The Gov. never has been so grossly abused as in a late libel in Edes & Gill. I never gave any offence to the Gr. Jury with more zeal than I did this & I told them almost in plain words that they might depend on being d[blank space in MS] if they did not find a bill but they were willing to run the risque of it.1 This has convinced me as much as any thing which has hapned among us that the Laws have lost all their force. And I see less prospect than ever of their Recovering it. I am Your Affectionate Uncle,

    AC (Massachusetts Archives, SC1/series 45X, 26:297); unaddressed but the closing indicates that TH was writing to his nephew; partially dated. Contemporary printings: Boston Gazette, 31 March 1777 (only the last paragraph); Remembrancer for the Year 1777, p. 111 (same passage).

    308. To [the Duke of Grafton]

    27 March [1768]

    My Lord Duke, I wish so much to see the people of America Return to their senses that I am too apt to flatter my self with the least appearance ^prospect^ of it. I thought the ^general^ silence upon ^receiving^ the Reproof from the Secretary State was a favorable Symptom but it was rather sullenness in the heads of the party who smothered their resentment till this a little while & then gave ^vented^ it with more fury,1 the Messages of the House to the Governor having been ever since more rude and coarse than at any time before2 and when a most infamous libel ^upon the Gov.^3 was published in one of the News Papers the House Rather justified than condemned it,4 but as the Governor ^transmits to the Secretary of State^ a full account of all proceedings it will be trespassing upon your Graces time to repeat it. I gave it in charge to the Grand Jury to present this paper & ^also several^ others published before by the same Printers ^some of^ which appeared to me to be High Treason or to approach ^to the very borders of^ it as to make but although I have been generally able to impress upon the minds ^of G Jurors^5 a due sense of the Oath they are under I failed here and have reason to believe ^more Reason then ever to be^ convinced that the laws have lost their force.6

    The Right Authority of any Acts Parliament over the ^to make Laws of any nature whatsoever bind to have force in the^ Colonies by any Acts of Legislation whatsoever is now denied with the same freedom as their Authority by Acts of Taxation ^to tax the Colonies^ has been for two or three years past and it is evident the principle spreads through the Continent. This ^is a^ new Doctrine has not yet at present been so generally Received as the other but it spreads every day and bids fair to be as generally Received as the other. I cannot see why they may not in time with equal reason make another step and deny the Regal authority and yet I dare say at present not a man has it in his thoughts. These people do not consider that it is by force of an Acts of Parliament that all the Crowned Heads Princes since the Revolution have been Sovereigns over the British Colonies in America and I cannot see why the ^advocates for independence Sons of Liberty^ may not with equal Reason make one step more and deny the Regal as well as Parliamentary authority and yet I dare say not ^although I do not think^ a man of them ^at present^7 has it yet in his thoughts. I shall not presume to give your Grace the trouble of another of my letters unless I have your commands to do it. I have the honour to be with the greatest Respect Your Graces most humble & most obedient servant,

    Dft (Massachusetts Archives, SC1/series 45X, 26:298); unaddressed, but Grafton was the only duke TH was corresponding with at this time; partially dated.