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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Friday, January 11, 2008

"We Therefore Request Your Votes..."

Boston’s Caucas Club was “outed” in the spring of 1763, with Thomas and John Fleet printing satirical remarks about that political gathering in a pamphlet and in their Boston Evening-Post newspaper.

It’s interesting, therefore, to find this notice, apparently from the club itself, in the Evening-Post of 14 May 1764:

To the Freeholders, &c.
MODESTY preventing a personal Application (customary in other Places) for your Interest to elect particular Persons to be your Representatives. WE therefore request your Votes for those Gentlemen who have steadily adhered to your Interest in Times past, especially in the Affair of Trade, by sending timely Instructions, requested by our Agent, relative to the Acts of Trade late pending in Parliament.
Your humble Servants,

N.B. Nothing further need be added here, as one of our Writers, will, as usual give something in OUR Paper of this Day, preparatory to the Election To-Morrow, shewing the Expendiency of such a Choice.
That same day, Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette—long associated with the town’s political leaders rather than the royal government—ran a two-column article signed “Nov-Anglicanus,” which seems to be the writing this notice alluded to. That essay made one of the first public arguments that Parliament had no right to lay taxes on American colonists without the consent of their own legislatures. It also praised representatives who had wanted to instruct the colony’s agent (lobbyist) in London to argue against such expanded Customs duties:
It was indeed mov’d and urg’d by some friends to liberty in the late house of representatives, whose names, would it not give them offence, should be mentioned, and who I hope will for ever be supported by their constituents, that an humble remonstrance should be sent home, professedly to set forth, how hard these schemes would bear upon our civil constitutions and our rights as britons, as well as upon our trade—what a grievance it would be for us to be depriv’d of that inestimable privilege of taxing ourselves

A committee was appointed and a remonstrance was drawn up in decent manly terms, and with great force of argument; but the subject truly was so delicate, that the majority of the committee it seems under pretence of touching it more more delicately in some future time, gave it the go by and never touched it at all; nor did the house that I can learn ever call upon them after—

Does this not look as if it was the disposition of the last assembly, under what influence let any man judge, instead of affording aid to our agent, to keep him in the dark and without support?
After that month’s elections there was a new Massachusetts General Court, and in October it sent Parliament a petition asking for several Customs duties to be repealed.

The 14 May Evening-Post notice above appears to be the first time the word “caucus” ever appeared in print as people thought it was really spelled (as opposed to “Corkass”). John Adams had written it the same way in his diary, with an A before the final S. That early spelling might be a hint about where the word came from: it looks less and less like a Latin derivative.

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