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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Royalist View of the Patriot Leaders

By Thomas Hutchinson (1711–1780)

[From the Third and Final Volume of The History of Massachusetts. First printed in 1828.]

MR. BOWDOIN was without a rival in the council, and, by the harmony and reciprocal communications between him and Mr. S. Adams, the measures of council and house harmonized also, and were made reciprocally subservient each to the other; so that, when the governor met with opposition from the one he had reason to expect like opposition from the other. Mr. Bowdoin’s father, from a very low condition in life, raised himself, by industry and economy, to a degree of wealth beyond that of any other person in the province, and, having always maintained a fair character, the attention of the people was more easily drawn to the son, and was chosen, when very young, a member for Boston, and, after a few years, was removed to the council. He found more satisfaction in the improvement of his mind by study, and of his estate by economy, than in the common business of the general assembly, and had taken no very active part during the administrations of Mr. Shirley and Mr. Pownall. In general he was, in those times, considered rather as a favorer of the prerogative than of the opposition to it. But Mr. Temple, the surveyor-general of the customs, having married Mr. Bowdoin’s daughter, and having differed with Governor Bernard, and connected himself with Mr. Otis and others in the opposition, Mr. Bowdoin, from that time, entered into the like connections. The name of a friend to liberty was enough to make him popular. Being reserved in his temper, he would not have acquired popularity in any other way. His talents for political controversy, especially when engaged in opposition, soon became conspicuous. He had been used to metaphysical distinctions, and his genius was better adapted to entangle and darken than to unfold and elucidate.

The act of parliament laying duties on wines, etc., and the proposed stamp act, then engaged the attention of the colonies. Mr. Bowdoin, though of the council, greatly encouraged, if he did not first propose the association for leaving off the custom of mourning dress for the loss of deceased friends; and for wearing, on all occasions, the common manufactures of the country. He found his importance to be much increased by the removal of the lieutenant-governor from the council, and he was the principal cause of the council’s acceding to the demand of the house, that the lieutenant-governor should be excluded from the debates of council, at which all former lieutenant-governors had been present as often as they thought fit.

Mr. S. Adams’s father had been one of the directors of the Land Bank, in 1741, which was dissolved by an act of parliament. After his decease, his estate was put up to sale by public auction, under authority of an act of the general assembly. The son first made himself conspicuous on this occasion. He attended the sale, threatened the sheriff to bring an action against him, and threatened all who should attempt to enter upon the estate under pretence of a purchase; and, by intimidating both the sheriff and those persons who intended to purchase, he prevented the sale, kept the estate in his possession, and the debt to the Land Bank Company remained unsatisfied.

He was afterward a collector of taxes for the town of Boston, and made defalcation, which caused an additional tax upon the inhabitants.

These things were unfavorable to his character, but the determined spirit which he showed in the cause of liberty would have covered a multitude of such faults. He was, for near twenty years, a writer against government in the public newspapers; at first, but an indifferent one: long practice caused him to arrive at great perfection, and to acquire a talent of artfully and fallaciously insinuating into the minds of his readers a prejudice against the characters of all whom he attacked beyond any other man I ever knew. This talent he employed in the messages, remonstrances, and resolves of the House of Representatives, most of which were of his composition, and he made more converts to his cause by calumniating governors and other servants of the crown than by strength of reasoning. The benefit to the town, from his defence of their liberties, he supposed an equivalent to his arrears as their collector; and the prevailing principle of the party that the end justified the means probably quieted the remorse he must have felt from robbing men of their characters and injuring them more than if he had robbed them of their estates.

Mr. Hawley was a native of Northampton, in the county of Hampshire. His mother was sister to Colonel Stoddard, who all his life had great influence in that county; and the nephew derived some of his importance from the uncle, but more from his own strong natural parts, improved by a liberal education, and the study and practice of the law. He had a very fair character as a practitioner, and some instances have been mentioned of singular scrupulosity, and of his refusing and returning fees when they appeared to him greater than the cause deserved. He was strict in religious observances. Being upon his return home from a journey, the sun set upon a Saturday evening when he was within a few miles of his house. He remained where he was until the sun set the next day, and then finished his journey. He was, however, violent in his resentments. He had been at the head of an opposition to the minister of the town where he lived, and the chief cause of his leaving the town and removing into another colony. In a few years after, he made a public acknowledgment of his unwarrantable conduct in this affair, which he caused to be published in the newspapers. This ingenuous confession raised his character more than his intemperate conduct had lessened it. He was subject to glooms, which confined him, and rendered him, while they lasted, unfit for business. Men of this habit, when the glooms are off, frequently go into the contrary extreme; but he always maintained great decency and propriety of behavior, with the appearance of gravity and seriousness, without any mixture of levity or undue freedom. He was more attended to in the house than any of the leaders, but less active out of it. He was sometimes carried by strength of passion farther than he could justify, but had too much virtue to go all lengths, and was the less fit for a complete partisan; and for this reason, probably, he found it necessary to decline the employments and honors offered him, and to retire from business when his popularity was at the highest.

Mr. John Adams was a distant relation and intimate acquaintance of Mr. Samuel Adams. After his education at the college, he applied to the study of the law, a short time before the troubles began. He is said to have been at a loss which side to take. Mr. Sewall, who was with the government, would have persuaded him to be on the same side, and promised him to desire Governor Bernard to make him a justice of peace. The governor took time to consider of it, and having, as Mr. Adams conceived, not taken proper notice of him, or given him offence on some former occasion, he no longer deliberated, and ever after joined in opposition. As the troubles increased, he increased in knowledge, and made a figure, not only in his own profession, but as a patriot, and was generally esteemed as a person endowed with more knowledge than his kinsman, and equally zealous in the cause of liberty; but neither his business nor his health would admit of that constant application to it which distinguished the other from all the rest of the province. In general, he may be said to be of stronger resentment upon any real or supposed personal neglect or injury than the other; but in their resentment against such as opposed them in the cause in which they were engaged, it is difficult to say which exceeded.

His ambition was without bounds, and he has acknowledged to his acquaintance that he could not look with complacency upon any man who was in possession of more wealth, more honors, or more knowledge than himself.

Mr. Hancock’s name has been sounded through the world as a principal actor in this tragedy. He was a young man whose father and grandfather were ministers in country parishes, of irreproachable character, but, like country ministers in New England in general, of small estates.

His father’s brother, from a bookseller, became one of the most opulent merchants in the province. He had raised a great estate with such rapidity that it was commonly believed among the vulgar that he had purchased a valuable diamond for a small sum and sold it at its full price. But the secret lay in his importing from St. Eustatia great quantities of tea in molasses hogsheads, which sold at a very great advance; and by importing, at the same time, a few chests from England, he freed the rest from suspicion, and always had the reputation of a fair trader. He was also concerned in supplying the officers of the army, ordnance, and navy, and made easy and advantageous remittances. When he died, he left to his nephew more than fifty thousand pounds sterling, besides the reversion after the death of his widow, of twenty thousand pounds more.

The uncle was always on the side of government. The nephew’s ruling passion was a fondness for popular applause. He changed the course of his uncle’s business, and built, and employed in trade, a great number of ships; and in this way, and by building at the same time several houses, he found work for a great number of tradesmen, made himself popular, was chosen select man, representative, moderator of town meetings, etc. He associated with those who were called friends to liberty. His natural powers were moderate, and had been very little improved by study, or application to any kind of science. His ruling passion kept him from ever losing sight of its object; but he was fickle and inconstant in the means of pursuing it; and though, for the most part, he was closely attached to Mr. Samuel Adams, yet he has repeatedly broken off from all connection with him for several months together. Partly by inattention to his private affairs, and partly from want of judgment, he became greatly involved and distressed, and the estate was lost with much greater rapidity than it had been acquired.