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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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gossip from Daniel Leonard, part 1

Prof. Ben Carp at Tufts pointed me to this gossipy scene from John Adams’s diary on 20 Jan 1766. Adams recorded a talk with a man he called “Leonard,” probably Daniel Leonard (1740-1829) of Taunton:

Leonard gave me an Account of a Clubb that he belongs to, in Boston. It consists of John Lowell, Elisha Hutchinson, Frank Dana, Josiah Quincy, and two other young Fellows, Strangers to me.
Most of these young men were studying the law on their way of becoming attorneys. Adams was five to ten years older than all of them, but was about to move from Braintree to Boston and try to grow his practice in a bigger town. So he was eager to learn about the legal scene in the capital.

These are the club members Adams named:
  • John Lowell (1743-1802) had come from Newbury to Boston to study under the attorney Oxenbridge Thacher—who died suddenly in 1765. Lowell would go back to Newbury and practice there until the war had started, then return to Boston and become one of the town’s richest attorneys and founder of the town’s famously upper-crust Lowell family. (The portrait of him above comes courtesy of Wikipedia.)
  • Elisha Hutchinson (1745-1824) was Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s younger son. He never practiced law, but with his older brother Tommy would become one of the East India Company’s designated tea consignees in 1773.
  • Francis Dana (1743-1811), son of one of Boston’s leading justices of the peace. As the U.S. of A.’s first minister to Russia, he would take young John Quincy Adams to St. Petersburg as secretary and French translator.
  • Josiah Quincy, Jr. (1744-1775), son of a leading Braintree property-owner, would become Adams’s colleague in the Boston Massacre trial and in Revolutionary politics. He would die of tuberculosis on the eve of the Revolutionary War.
Leonard and his friends were debating the issues of the day—which in early 1766 meant the Stamp Act. Adams described the talk:
Leonard had prepared a Collection of the Arguments, for and against the Right of Parliament to tax the Colonies, for said Clubb. His first Inquiry was whether the subject could be taxed without his Consent in Person or by his Representative? 2d. Whether We Americans are represented in Parliament or not?

Leonard says that Lowell is a Courtier, that he ripps about all who stand foremost in their opposition to the Stamp Act, at your [James] Otis’s and [Samuel] Adams’s &c. and says that no Man can scribble about Politicks without bedaubing his fingers, and every one who does is a dirty fellow. He expresses great Resentment against that Line in Edes & Gill[’s Boston Gazette], ”Retreat or you are ruined,” and says they ought to be committed for that single stroke.—

Thus it seems that the Air of Newbury, and the Vicinage of Farnham, Chipman &c. have obliterated all the Precepts, Admonitions, Instructions and Example of his Master Thatcher, and have made him in Thatchers Phrase a shoe licker and an A—se Kisser of Elisha Hutchinson. Lowel is however very warm, sudden, quick, and impetuous and all such People are unsteady. Too much Fire. Experientia docet [experience teaches].
When Charles Francis Adams published his grandfather’s diaries in the 1860s, he left out the phrase “and have made him in Thatchers Phrase a shoe licker and an A—se Kisser of Elisha Hutchinson.” Pity.

Adams’s remark about “the Vicinage of Farnham, Chipman &c.” refers to leaders of the Essex County bar, where young Lowell would practice: Daniel Farnham (1719-1776) and John Chipman (1722-1768, died from a seizure he suffered while arguing a case in Maine). For some reason, Adams was always suspicious of attorneys from that part of Massachusetts. Years later he would elevate such a group into the “Essex Junto,” a label that took the men themselves by surprise.

Back in 1766, I suspect that Adams was a little jealous of those young men’s connections in Boston. They came from rich, established families. Despite his seniority, they threatened to become his professional rivals. Plus, despite his protests against wishing popularity, Adams disliked being left out of anything.

As the political turmoil heated up in the following decade, two of the young men in that club became firm Loyalists: Leonard and Hutchinson. In fact, Leonard would debate Adams in the newspapers in 1774-75—the widely reprinted Novanglus-Massachusettensis exchange. Two of the young men became Patriots: Dana and Quincy. The fifth, Lowell, first proclaimed his loyalty to the Crown and then repudiated it. Curiously, his career worked out best of all.

TOMORROW: Leonard’s stories about another club Adams probably wished he were in.

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