J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Boston’s Caucus Expands in 1772

One of Boston’s political changes in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, according to John Eliot’s A Biographical Dictionary (1809), was an expansion of the caucus to include craftsmen as well as genteel officials and businessmen.

In his entry on Dr. Joseph Warren, Eliot (1754-1813) wrote:

From the year 1768 [actually much earlier], a number of politicians met at each other’s houses to discuss publick affairs, and the settle upon the best methods of serving the town and country. Many of these filled publick offices. But the meetings were private, and had a silent influence upon the publick body.

In 1772 they agreed to increase their number, to meet in a large room, and invite a number of substantial mechanicks to join them, and hold a kind of caucus, pro bono publico. They met in a house near the north battery, and more than 60 were present at the first meeting. Their regulations were drawn up by Dr. Warren and another gentleman, and they never did any thing important without consulting him and his particular friends.

It answered a good purpose to get such a number of mechanicks together; and though a number of whigs of the first character in the town were present, they always had a mechanick for moderator, generally one who could carry many votes by his influence. It was a matter of policy likewise to assemble at that part of the town. It had the effect to awake the north wind, and stir the waters of the troubled sea.

By this body of men the most important matters were decided—they agreed who should be in town offices, in the general court, in the provincial congress, from Boston. Here the committees of publick service were formed, the plan for military companies, and all necessary means of defence. They met about two years steadily at one place. After the destruction of the tea, the place of assembling was known, and they met at the Green Dragon in the spring of 1775, with as many more from the south end, and the records of their proceedings are still preserved.

The writer of these memoirs has been assured by some of the most prominent characters of this caucus, that they were guided by the prudence and skilful management of Dr. Warren, who, with all his zeal and irritability, was a man calculate to carry on any secret business; and that no man ever did manifest more vigilance, circumspection and care.

In every country there are politicians, who are the mere cymbals of the mob, and answer some good purpose, when they are not left to themselves. In this country, through all stages of the revolution, we had many such, who, to their own imagination, appeared to direct the affairs of the publick. Such men were never admitted to be members of the caucus here mentioned; many of them never knew the secret springs, that moved the great wheels, but thought themselves very important characters, because they were sons of liberty, and excelled others in garulity, or made a louder cry upon the wharves, or at corners of streets.
Eliot seems to have had someone in mind when he wrote the last paragraph. I just wish I knew who it was.

TOMORROW: Actual minutes from colonial caucus meetings.

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