In 1760, Boston’s four representatives to the lower house of the Massachusetts General Court were John Phillips, Royall Tyler (father of the author who took the same name), Thomas Flucker, and Samuel Welles.
In early 1761, Flucker moved to Charlestown. Phillips, who had served off and on for decades, apparently decided not to run again; he had by far the highest vote total in 1760, and I know no reason he wouldn’t have been reelected.
That opened up two slots for other gentlemen. At a town meeting in May 1761, the qualified voters chose:
- Thomas Cushing, a prominent merchant and selectman (shown here).
- James Otis, Jr., the lawyer who had argued against renewed writs of assistance back in February, as quoted here.
Before that moment, Otis had filled appointive offices in the royal patronage system rather than elected offices that depended on maintaining popularity with the voters. These were two parallel tracks for rising within government in the eighteenth-century British Empire. As a brilliant, learned man who was sometimes snobbish and moody, Otis made a better fit for the patronage track. Royall Tyler reportedly had to give him tips on winning over voters.
But Otis had apparently soured on the patronage system when the new governor, Francis Bernard, had dismissed the previous governor’s promise to appoint James Otis, Sr., as chief justice. He resigned his royal appointment in the Vice Admiralty court system and offered his services to the Boston merchants. That party in return supported his election to the Massachusetts House, where the senior Otis was already a representative for Barnstable and the Speaker.
The legislative records aren’t as clear as we might want, but they say that the younger Otis began to serve on lots of committees, a sign of influence. Within a short time he was recognized as a leader of the “country party” or Whigs who usually opposed the royal governor’s policies. Cushing also rose in the House, becoming Speaker in 1766. (Oxenbridge Thacher, Otis’s co-counsel in the writs case, would join them in the House in 1763, but died in 1765 before the Revolutionary arguments really heated up.)
TOMORROW: The next round of the writs of assistance argument.