Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

Article Index

Two men of very different metal were especially prominent in Boston at this time,--Thomas Hutchinson, the royal governor, and Samuel Adams, the man of the people. Both were natives of the town, and graduates of Harvard College. Hutchinson, during a public life of over thirty years, had held the offices of representative, councillor, chief justice and lieutenant-governor. No man was so experienced in the affairs of the colony, no one so familiar with its history, usages and laws. As a legislator and as a judge he had manifested ability and impartiality.

Unfortunately for his peace of mind, and for his reputation, he set himself squarely against the popular movement. He advised altering the charters of the New England provinces; the dismemberment of Massachusetts; the establishment of a citadel in Boston; the stationing of a fleet in its harbor; the experiment of martial law; the transportation of "incendiaries" to England, and the prohibition of the New England fisheries, at the same time entreating of his correspondents in England to keep his opinions secret.

For these errors of judgment he paid dearly in the obloquy heaped upon him by his countrymen, and his exile from his native land, in which he earnestly desired that his bones might be laid. The recent publication of his diary and letters shows that he not only acted honestly and conscientiously in opposing the popular current, but that he, at the same time, used his influence to mitigate the severe measures of government. He counselled them against the stamp act; against closing the port of Boston, and against some features of the regulating act, as too harsh and impolitic. It was his sincere wish that his countrymen would admit the supremacy of parliament, and he believed that such a result could be attained without bloodshed. He was courteously received in England,--where his course was very generally approved,--and offered a baronetcy, which, however, he declined on the score of the insufficiency of his estate. His judgment in American affairs, though often sought by the ministry, seems to have been seldom followed. Candor requires that in the light of his letters and diary, in which his real sentiments appear, the harsh judgment usually passed upon Hutchinson, should be materially modified.

His opponent, Samuel Adams, the great agitator, possessed precisely those qualities that the times required. His political creed was, that the colonies and England had a common king, but separate and independent legislatures, and as early as the year 1769, he had been a zealous advocate of independence. He was the organizer of the Revolution, through the committees of correspondence, which he initiated, and was one of those who matured the plan of a general congress. A genuine lover of liberty, he believed in the capacity of the Americans for self-government. It was Samuel Adams who, the day after the "massacre" of March 5, 1770, was chosen chairman of the committee, to demand of the governor the immediate removal of the troops from the town of Boston. The stern and inflexible patriot clearly exposed the fallacy of Hutchinson's reply to the demand, and compelled the governor to yield. No flattery could lull his vigilance, no sophistry deceive his penetration. Difficulties did not discourage, nor danger appall him. Though poor, he possessed a lofty and incorruptible spirit, and though grave and austere in manner, was warm in his feelings. His affable and persuasive address, reconciled conflicting interests, and promoted harmonious action. As a speaker he was pure, concise, logical and impressive, and the energy of his diction was not inferior to the depth of his mind. As a political writer he was clear and convincing, and was the author of able state papers. No man had equal influence over the popular mind with Samuel Adams, who has been aptly styled, "the last of the Puritans."

At Boston, where the feeling against receiving the tea was strongest, the consignees were, "by a singular infelicity," either relatives of the hated governor, or in sympathy with the odious administration. Two of them were his sons. Richard Clarke was his nephew. One of Clarke's daughters married Copley, the painter, and became the mother of Lord Lyndhurst, the future lord-chancellor of England. Benjamin Faneuil and Joshua Winslow were respectable merchants. All but Faneuil were connected by marriage. They were well aware of the temper of the people, and of the proceedings in Philadelphia and New York; and would doubtless have yielded to the popular demands, but for Hutchinson. Public sentiment was stimulated against them by representing them as crown officers, whereas they were only factors. They were thus put upon the footing of the obnoxious stamp officers.