Amid the chaos brought on by the collapse of the Grafton administration and the death of Charles Yorke, Frederick, Lord North, gradually emerged as the king’s principal advisor. Hutchinson often complained that political paralysis under Grafton prevented Britain from taking a firm hand with its discontented colonies. Although North, at least initially, was generally inclined to avoid conflict with the colonies, one of his first initiatives was to move on 5 March to repeal the Townshend duties on paper, paint, and glass, which since they taxed British manufactures he regarded as particularly wrong-headed. Parliament did, however, retain the tax on tea, because it accompanied an even larger drawback on that commodity when exported to the colonies, and, thus, was part of a larger plan to lower the price of East India Company tea so that it could compete better with smuggled tea in North America. (For a more comprehensive discussion of the British political situation, see P. D. G. Thomas, The Townshend Duties Crisis: The Second Phase of the American Revolution, 1767-1773 [Oxford: Clarendon, 1987], ch. 9.)
Pall Mall February 3. 1770
Dear Sir, Among my Letters by the Packet which went from hence Jan. 20th., there was a long Letter giving an Account of the proceedings in the Parliament on the first day, cheifly of the House of Lords, where I was present.1 My Account including the P. S. came to the 16th; Since which there has happened a Series of Events in the political World, more extraordinary than perhaps the like Time, about a fortnight ever produced.
On Tuesday last Jan. 16 Mr York positively refused the Seal. On Wednesday the King sent for him & took him into the Closet, & talked with him in such a Manner, that, as he himself said, It was impossible for him to refuse it. It is supposed that his Refusal was under the Influence of some of the Opposition, & that his Acceptance might be contrary to some Assurances he had given them: however the whole had a fatal End. On Wednesday night he was sworn into his Office; On thursday at Dinner he was obliged to rise from Table by a Disorder which proved to be the breaking an inward Blood Vessel; On Fryday his Physicians endeavoured in vain to releive him; and on Saturday at 6 in the Evening he died. He was naturally of a sanguine Habit, & for some Years past, it is said, he has lived too freely both in eating and drinking. And therefore it is no Wonder, that in a Man very full of Blood, an extraordinary Agitation of Mind, such as his must be, should add such force to the Blood as to make it break its Vessels. He is universally lamented, by different People on different Accounts, but by none more than by the true Friends of the King, upon whom His Loss falls very hard as [at?] this Time. The Seal was immediately put into Commission to J. Bathurst, B. Smith & J. Aston, C J Wilmot declining being in the Commission;2 and Lord Mansfield was appointed Speaker of the House of Lords.
While this was passing we were at the same time losing the Speaker of the House of Commons. Sr John Cust had had a severe fit of Illness some Weeks before the Parliament met; but at the same time seemed to be pretty well: but it is supposed that the first days sitting, which lasted to near3 the next Morning, gave him his Death’s Stroke.3 Two or three days after this he fell down in a fit before his Chair, but recovered immediately. After this he went to the House once or twice, but could not go on with Business; & at last was obliged to resign. Sir Fletcher Norton was chosen Speaker not without Division in which the Numbers were 238 to 121:4 this was the same day; on which Lord Mansfield was appointed Speaker of the House of Lords.
On Thursday Jan. 25 the House pursuant to a Order resolved itself into a Committee of the whole House to consider the State of the Nation. It was moved by the Opposition, that it be resolved “that the Proceedings of the House of Commons should be governed by the Laws of the Land & the Usage of Parliament.” Lord North asked to what Purpose it was to put a Question to which no one Man would answer in the Negative; and desired to know what other questions were to follow this. This being refused, he then said he would make an Addition to the former Question to make it a real one; & moved that it be added “and that the Proceedings in the last Session in Regard to Mr. Wilkes were according to the Laws of the Land and the Usage of Parliament.” This brought the Matter on at once & the Debate began in which Lord North showed great Ability in the Opinion of his Opponents as well as his Friends. Between 2 & 3 the Question was put, when they were pro 224 con 180. This is coming very near a Ministry: but then it must be considered how trying a Question it was, which contradicted the Addresses lately sent up by near half the Counties in England. For my Part I think that the putting the Question in that Manner was a bold Act, & the carrying it with 44 Majority great Success.5
And now comes a more extraordinary Event than any yet: On Monday January 29th. the Duke of Grafton resigned his Place. The Account at Court is that he represented to the King that as the Law was without a Head & the Army also, the Business of a Minister would become too weighty for him, especially as he had no Lawyer in the Cabinet to assist him.6 He was therefore obliged to withdraw from a Post of so great Responsibility, but he & his Friends should support Administration in the same Manner as if he continued in Office. This I beleive is the best Account: there are others of less Credit. The D of G has been allways looking back at the Lord who brought him into Office & has seemed to stand in Awe of him. Hence he has kept in the Cabinet & had constantly at his Ear the intimate Friend of that Lord. This has made two Parties in the Cabinet on two Sets of Principles; & this accounts for the Unsteadiness irresolution & sometimes Inconsistency which has appeared in Administration for a year past & more particularly in the American Affairs of the last Session.7
The rest of the Ministry determined to keep their Offices in which they were encouraged by the King who immediately appointed Lord North first Lord of the Treasury to hold the Chancellorship with it as Mr. Greenville & other Commons have done.8 This was scarce done before another Trial of Strength was at hand in the House of Commons upon the report of the resolution of the House on Thursday the 25th., which was before a Committee of the whole House. This was appointed for Wednesday Jan. 31st.: when the Opposition instead of rearguing the former Question, produced a new one. “That, if a Man is eligible by Law to a Seat in the House of Commons, he cannot be rendered incapable by a Vote of the House of Commons alone.” You will observe that the Question is equivocal; for either Side might vote for the Affirmative consistently with their Principles. For they who support the Rejection of Wilkes might assent to the Terms of the Vote, & add that Mr. Wilkes was not eligible by Law the Usage of Parliament, upon which he was rejected upon his Reelection, being Part of the Law of the Land. In this Debate Lord North again made a great Figure, & shone particularily in a reply to Col. Barre, in which, it is said, he gave that Gentleman a proper & full Reprehension.9 About one o’clock the Ministry put the Question that the Chairman should leave the Chair, which it seems is the only Way of putting the previous Question in a Committee. The Numbers were 226, 186; no contemptible Majority, considering how the Ministerial Party laboured at that Time, under the Resignation of the premier made publick only the day before and no time to explain the Motives of it.
Fryday febry. 2nd. was appointed in the House of Lords to consider the State of the Nation: it had been postponed to that late day on Account of Lord Chathams Want of Health. The Question proposed by Lord Chatham was “that the Proceedings of the House of Commons in disqualifying Mr. Wilkes were illegal & unconstitutional & contrary to the Law of the Land & the usage of Parliament” Observe I don’t pretend in any of the Questions to give you the very Words, but only the Substance of them, preserving the disputable Points. I shan’t enter into the Arguments upon the Question, as they must be similar to those of the former Debate which I have given you an Account of from my own hearing; whereas I have these only from a reporter. But I will mention a Digression in the Course of the Argument, which was much attended to.
My Lord Denby charged Ld Camden with a Breach of his Duty in suffering the Kings Ministers to proceed in the Affair of Wilkes in a Manner which he now said was illegal, tho he was continually in the Kings Councils at that time & should have warned them of the Illegality of what they were about.10 He reminded him that he had said he was the Keeper of the King’s Conscience; if so, He should not have stood by & seen that Conscience misled & then turned the Accuser of it. Lord Cambden admitted that he was the Keeper of the King’s Conscience, by which he understood that he was obliged to inform the King of the Law, which was to be the Rule of his Actions. That He had been allways ready to give his Opinion in law in all Matters that were referred to him. In the Case in Question, he had declared against that Measure in such strong Terms, that it might have been inferred from thence that he had no Opinion of the Legality of it. The Duke of Grafton rose & said, that he had heard it had been reported that he had resigned his Office, because he had changed his Opinion upon the Matter in Question & now disapproved of the Measures of the Ministry he had lately been joined with. He now rose to falsify that report; He was of the same Opinion upon the Subject Matter which he had declared when it was last debated, that the Proceedings against Mr. Wilkes were legal & Right.11 And as for the Ministry he declared that in his Opinion the King had got a very good Set of Ministers; he knew not where he could get a better; & for his Part he should support them with all his Power. He remembered very well that the noble Lord did declare against the Expediency of the Proceedings against Mr. Wilkes; but he stopt there; not one Word of the Illegality. And he never imagined that that Lord did think those Proceedings illegal, till he pronounced them so in the House. Lord Weymouth confirmed this, & said that he knew that that Lord did not approve of the Proceedings against Wilkes in View of Expediency, & observed that he kept out of the Way whenever that Matter came under Consideration.12 But he had no Suspicion of his having any Doubts of the Illegality of what was there doing. Lord Chatham to vindicate his Friend said that about that time Lord Cambden used to visit him as he lay in a sick Bed, & that he frequently declared to him that in his Opinion the proceedings against Wilkes were illegal. To this Lord Weymouth observed that if the learned Lord had been as attentive to the Service of the King, as he was to that of the noble Earl, He would have given the same Testimony in the Kings Council as he did at his Lordships Bedside. And now he recollected, that, having observed that when, after a particular Business was over, Wilkes was mentioned that the Lord took his Hat, he asked him one day to stay & talk a little upon that Subject. He answered that he had Nothing to do with it. He then should have had Nothing to do with it in this House; & not let a Business pass by him unnoticed in the Kings lesser Council in Order to impeach it in the greater Council.
I have thought proper to give you this Account of a particular Debate which is not uninteresting. You must consider it to be the Substance only & not the forms, as it passes thro’ two Hands to you; and the first did not pretend to repeat Sentences. When the Question was put the Numbers were pro. 47. con. 96.
The Question is whether Lord North will be able to support himself in the high Station he is now in. This will depend upon these Questions 1. Whether he is really designed as a permanent Minster. 2. Whether he is to stand upon his own Bottom and be under no Influence from Persons out of Sight; 3 Whether the King is resolved to support him as a permanent and independent Minister. If these Questions shall be determined in the Affirmative, He will soon see enough under his Banners to enable him to go on with Business. His acknowledged Ability & unexceptionable Character make it very probable that he will gain a firm Establishment; & he appears to be the very fittest Man for such an Appointment at this very critical Time. I am &c,
SC (Houghton Library, Sparks 4, 8:47–55); at head of letter, “The Honble Lt Govr Hutchinson.”
Boston 5 Febr. 1770
Sir, By a late opportunity I informed the Right Honourable the Lords of Trade & Plantations of certain Paper Mills erected and erecting in the Town of Milton.1 James Boyes the Proprietor of one of the Mills sailed yesterday in the Lydia Brigantine Captain Hood for Bristol. He is also Proprietor of a Mill in the same town for slitting Iron and I am informed intends to bring over a large number of Nailers and also a number of persons well acquainted with the paper manufacture. He has the loan of several hundred pounds sterling from the Province to encourage him to go on with those manufactures. In the paper he may succeed. In Nails I think he cannot. We never yet could make any nails less than a Decknail so cheap as we import them from England but he is enterprizing and a Schemer and fancies that he can procure workmen on such terms as to afford a nail as small as the Three penny nail as cheap as they can be bought in England. I am instructed to advise their Lordships of new Manufactures set up, and if you think this Intelligence comes within the reason of my Instruction you will be pleased to communicate it. I am with great Regard Sir Your most obedient humble Servant,
RC (National Archives UK, CO 5/759, f. 52); at foot of letter, “Mr Secretary Pownall”; docketed, “Boston 5th Feby 1770. Lieut. Govr. Hutchison JP. Rx 15 March.” AC (Massachusetts Archives, SC1/series 45X, 26:437); at foot of letter, “Mr Secretary Pownall.” SC (National Archives UK, CO 5/768, ff. 80–81); docketed, “Lieut: Govr. Hutchinson. Boston 5th. Febry 1770. Rx 15th. March JP.”
Boston 11 February 1770
Sir, I received the last evening your Letter of the 6 Instant. It has always appeared to me to be the more immediate business of the Officers of the Customs to enter ships &c. and also to break open Cellars Warehouses & others places to search for contrband and uncustomed goods but they are required in certain cases to have a Writ of Assistants which is directed to all Officers & all His Majesty’s Subjects in general who are required to permit the Officers of the Customs to do their duty & to be aiding & assisting. I think every person may be justified who shall prevent the Officers of the Customs from being impeded in the discharge of their duty & that it is the especial business of the Civil Officers to whom the Writ is directed to see that the Officers of the Customs are protected and aided and assisted whensoever they shall be obstructed in the discharge of their duty but in the particular case that you refer to I do not see that you was obliged to furnish hands to unrigg the Vessel but it is to be supposed there are inferior Officers or Servants of the Customs to be imployed in such Services. Had there been an attempt to rescue I think you would have done well in requiring aid to prevent it. Notwithstanding the remarks you have seen in the News Papers this Writ of Assistance after a long argument by the unanimous voice of the Judges of the Superior Court has been determined to be legal & constitutional & by a late Act of Parliament the Court is required to issue it and undoubtedly all who oppose the due execution of it must be considered as Offenders.
Please to present my Compliments to Mr Ross and Mrs Tyng.2 I am Sir Your very humble Servant,
The Comissioners wonder they have received no account of this Affair from the Custom house Officers.
AC (Massachusetts Archives, SC1/series 45X, 26:439).
New York February 12th 1770
Sir, I was truely concerned to see by your favor of the 24th Ultimo, that the troubles of your Government rather increase than abate, and that there is at present so bad a prospect of the People’s being brought to Submit to any Government, or under Subjection to any Laws.1 But the Situation of the Province is now so well known at home, that I trust effectual means will at length be taken by the Administration, to restore the Publick Tranquility.
We are looking out for the Packet, but imagine She will bring nothing that will be new at Boston, for we learn that a Ship is arrived there, which left Falmouth after the Packet Sailed. If I learn any . . . Authentick News concerning the Colonys by the Mail, I shall not fail to acquaint you therewith. I have the honor to be with great Regard, Sir, &ca.
AC (Clements Library, Thomas Gage Papers); at foot of letter, “Lieut. Govr Hutchinson.”
Pall Mall February 13 1770
Dear Sir, Since I have wrote to you my last, I have received from Mr Taylor a particular Account of the Attack of the Naval Office.1 I observe thereupon that the Method they have taken to abolish it (for that is the Word) will lye in your Power to defeat; And I doubt not but you will see the Reasonableness of it as well as the Practicability. They propose to indict Mr Taylor upon the Act of Assembly in 1701 & by frequent Prosecutions to wear him out.2 But as it seems to me undoubted that that Provincial Act does not extend to the present Naval Office, you will, I persuade myself, defeat the Intention of harassing an Officer by repeated Prosecutions by ordering Noli prosequi.3
To shew that the Act does not extend to the present Naval Office It must be observed that the Naval-Office was established in the 15th of Charles 2, & vested in the Governors.4 The General Court of Massts. Bay, being then, properly speaking, the Governor, I suppose they took Care of that Business. However in 1692 the Assembly past “an Act for erecting a Naval Office.” This Act was repealed by the King in Council in 1695;5 and I inclose with this the Reasons given by the Lords of the Council forthis repeal in their Letter to the Governor of Massts. Bay. But notwithstanding this the Assembly (a Lieut. Govr. being in the Chair) passed another Act in 1701 intitled “an Act for establishing of a Naval-Office & for ascertaining the Fees.” As I have not been able to get a Sight of the first mentioned Act, I cant compare it with the present: but it is most probable that the latter was only a transcript of the former. This appears to be so from observing that the Objections made against the former are perfectly applicable to the latter.
It is generally understood that this last Act was never carried into Execution, neither in the Appointment of the Officers therein ordered, nor in ascertaining the Fees thereby appointed. It cannot be supposed to relate to the Office appointed by Act of Parliament, the Business of which at that Time was particularly described & regulated by the 7 & 8 of Wm 3rd.:6 for in such Case the Provincial Act would be void as being contrary to an Act of Parliament, which appoints an Office of the same Denomination & for different & more extensive Purposes than the Provincial Act. The Provincial Act considers the Offices to be appointed under this Act as new Offices, without any Reference to the Parliamentary Office. In the Provincial Act the Officers are to be many, one for every Port; by the Act of Parliament the Officer is to be but one, that is the Governor or his Clerk, for the whole Province. By the Provincial Act the Business of the naval Officers is declared to be onely for the entring and clearing of all Ships; by the Act of Parliament the Cheif Business of the Naval Officer is to look to the Execution of the Act of Navigation, whereas the entring & clearing was more properly the Business of the Custom house Officer.
As the Officers appointed by the Provincial Act were distinct from the Officer appointed by Act of Parliament, so the Fees appointed by this Act are assigned to the Officers appointed under the Act only by the Words said Office repeated twice in this short Act, which must refer to the Naval Office in the Title which was to be established by that Act. And as there never were such Officers established under that Act, It is not to be wondered that the Bill of fees prescribed by the Act was never in Use. As for the Words in the Act as has been accustomed they must refer to what was done before the new Charter, when it might probably be accustomed for the General Court to appoint Naval Officers. But no such Custom, if it was to be set up against the Parliamentary Naval Office, could be prescribed under the new Charter, as the only Attempt of it was set aside by the King in Council.
Hence it was that when Mr Pemberton came into the Office in 1733 he found not the least Traces of the Act in 1701.7 The Parliamentary Office had been filled up by the Governor generally out of his Family; and the Naval Officer was so far from submitting to the Bill of Fees in the Act of 1701 that He took more fees than are taken now. Mr Pemberton settled a Bill of fees with the Merchants, in which no Regard was had to the Act of 1701, but the Act in 1716 for the Fees of the Custom house was made a rule for the Naval Office, altho it was not included in it, & the principal Fees of the Naval office were settled by that Act, with the Approbation of the Cheif Merchants.8 This Table of Fees has continued ever since, that is for 37 Years: & in the Year 1764 the King having ordered a Return of the fees of all Offices, I returned this Table for the Naval Officer and ordered it to be hung up in the Office, to the Satisfaction of the Merchants, as I was told by several of the principal of them. And now it is not the Bill of Fees, but the Office itself which is attacked.
Under these Circumstances I cannot think that you will suffer this Office to be run down by frequent Prosecutions, but that you will interpose in its Behalf that Power with which you are vested to stop litigious Prosecutions. I also hope that if any Bill should be sent up establishing a worse Bill of fees than that which has been returned to his Majesty, you will suspend the passing of it till the Opinion of the Minister shall be taken upon it. If the Party should attack the Office in a different way from that now proposed, you will give it such Assistance as you can. Mr Auchmuty & Mr Sewall are engaged in its Support:9 Mr Taylor will attend you with proper Information. I am with great Truth and Regard Sr. Your &c.
SC (Houghton Library, Sparks 4, 8:58–61); at foot of letter, “Lieut Govr Hutchinson.”
Pall Mall, Feb 14 1770
Dear Sir, By my Letter dated feb 3 I gave you an Account of the political Proceedings so far:1 I have not much to add now, but what I have tends to confirm the Stability of the Ministry. It has been generally said that the Stability of the Ministry will depend upon the Resolution of their Master:2 I have very good Reasons to persuade myself that the latter will not be wanting.
There has been another Set Battle in the House of Commons which turned out more to the Advantage of the Ministry than the last. On Monday last upon an Appointment to consider the State of the Nation, It was moved that all Officers of the Revenue should be rendered incapable of voting for Members of Parliament. Lord North shewed what a Complaint the Opposition had made of a pretended Violation of the Rights of a few freeholders in one County only; & now they proposed at one Stroke to disfranchise many thousands of Freemen throughout the whole Kingdom. It was fully debated; but the House would not bear along sitting, but insisted upon the Question about nine o’clock. The Numbers were pro 188, con 263, Majority 75. The Friends of the Ministry consider this as decisive; it will help to settle Waverers: the Opposition treats it as not at all conclusive. The same day there was a Division in the House of Lords of no Use but to divide: The Numbers were 81,41, besides Proxies which were allmost wholly on the Side of the Ministry.
The Business of repealing the American Act is referred to Wednesday next. There is a Petition of the American Merchants given in: but it prays only for general Releif. It is now certain that the Ministry will only propose the Repeal of the 3 Articles; & it is supposed that the Opposition will move for the Repeal of the whole Act.3 Both Parties will be divided among themselves; there are several leading Men among the Ministerials, who, it is expected, will speak & vote against any Repeal whilst the Americans continue their Combinations against the British Trade: So that it is possible that even the Repeal of the three Articles may not pass. Some talk of extending the Repeal only to those Colonies who have not combined: but they are scarce enough to make such a distinction except they take in the Islands into the reckoning.
I have sent you among the Newspapers two protests in the House of Lords which are like the Times “full of Sound & Fury, signifying Nothing.”4 The Printer of a Newspaper, in which they appeared has been obliged to get out of the Way to avoid being sent to Newgate.5 Enough of politics for this Time. I am &c,
I have Nothing to add concerning what is designed for you & Mr Oliver: things stand as they did; & they can’t be better whilst they remain in a State of Inactivity. I have the Pleasure of telling you that I shall continue to have free Access to Lord North. He talked to me a good deal Yesterday at the Princess of Wales’s drawing Room, & ended with telling me that he should have some Leisure in a few days time, & should be glad to see me when I had any thing to communicate. I sent you in my last by Freeman a Letter from Mr Pownall which will give you more Satisfaction than any thing I can write.6
SC (Houghton Library, Sparks 4, 8:62–64); below the closing and above the postscript, “Lieut. Govr. Hutchinson.”
Whitehall. Febry 17: 1770
Sir, I have received, and laid before the King, your dispatches Ns. 11. & 13. as also a letter numbered 1. dated the 1st. of last Month, but I do not find amongst your letters any one numbered 12.1
The King very much approves your Attention to what passed amongst the Merchants who have subscribed to and support the Associations for non Importation, and the Paper upon that subject, inclosed in No. 11, is very material, and will be of great use.2
I do not clearly see what relief can be given in the case of the prosecutions with which the naval and custom-house Officers are threatened, on the Ground of their taking other Fees than are allowed by Law, but there is no doubt that whenever that matter comes to an Issue they will have every Support that can be given them, consistent with Justice and Reason.3
I did, by His Majesty’s Command refer to the Board of Trade the petition to you of the Commissioners of the Customs ^complaining^ of their being taxed by the Assessors of the Towns where they live for their Salaries; and inclosed I send you a Copy of their Lordships’ report thereupon, containing the Opinion of His Majesty’s Attorney & Solicitor General on that case.4
I have also, by His Majesty’s Command transmitted to the Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty that part of your letter No. 13. which relates to the Collection of the Six Pence per Mensem for Greenwich Hospital, demanded of the Men belonging to the fishing Vessels of Marblehead, Salem, and Gloucester, together with a Copy of the petition presented to you by the Inhabitants of those Towns, in order that I may receive from their Lordships, (within whose Department it lies to carry into execution the Act of Parliament that establishes this duty,) their Sentiments of the case, and such information in respect to what has been the practice, as may enable me to judge what may be fit to be done; In the mean time I must not omit to express to you that I entirely agree with you in the opinion you entertain on this subject, which appears to me to carry with it great propriety.5
In consequence of the death of Mr. Yorke a few days after he received the Great Seal, His Majesty has thought fit to commit the Custody of it for the present to Commissioners; and the Duke of Grafton having been permitted by His Majesty to retire from the Treasury Board, Lord North is become, in consequence thereof, first Commissioner at that Board. I am &c.,6
AC (National Archives UK, CO 5/759, ff. 29–30); at head of letter, “Lieut. Govr: Hutchinson”; docketed, “Draft to Lieut. Govr. Hutchinson Whitehall Febry. 17th 1770 (No. 32).” SC (National Archives UK, CO 5/765, ff. 75–76); at head of letter, “Lieut. Govr. Hutchinson (No. 32).”