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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Saturday, December 09, 2017

Thomas Hutchinson as “a monster in government”

You might think that getting through November meant the end of the saga of Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s controversial 1771 Thanksgiving proclamation. But he wasn’t that lucky, and neither are we.

On 14 November the actual holiday was still a week away, but the controversy was at its height in newspapers and meetinghouses. Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy published this essay from one of its regular contributors:
If it be true, that the exceptionable clause in the late proclamation, was not proposed by Mr. Hutchinson, but by ONE of the council; yet there it stands, and is nevertheless exceptionable, and must reflect dishonor somewhere, even though it were inadvertently inserted.

It is not denied, even by Mr. Hutchinson’s friends, that the other part of the proclamation was drafted by him: We may consider him then as triumphing over us as SLAVES, or persons who have no priviledges; and though we well knew it would be a piece of mockery, to lead us to the throne of grace, with thanksgivings, for the preservation of privileges, which, by his means, in part, we have been deprived of; yet he thought fit, with the advice of six, out of twenty-eight of his council. (if by HIS CRAFT, could make it their act) to insert it.

We have need of the wisdom of serpents, who are concerned with such rulers; to be considered by them as fools, is irritating; for fools they must think us, if they can imagine that we can complain of loss of liberty in one breath, and with the next solemnly thank God for the preservation of it. What account can be given for such conduct, consistent with common honesty, mankind must judge.

It would give me pain to harbour one thought, that the six members, who it is said voted for the insertion of that impious paragraph, intended thereby to curry favour with the ministry; I cannot indulge such a thought, besides there is no danger that this people will ever receive a council appointed by the KING himself: And certainly it is unlikely, that if the representatives of this people should once adopt such a sentiment of them, that these men should ever again be re-chosen into the council. Mr. Hutchinson may think we are easy, because we have for so long waited for a redress of grievances; but our patience is nearly exhausted. It cannot be that we shall hear much longer, to have our money forced from us.—
(It’s interesting to read that argument about the Council while looking ahead to the popular response to the Massachusetts Government Act of 1774, which created just what this essay said the people of the province wouldn’t stand—“a council appointed by the KING himself.”)
An Englishman should never part with a penny but by his consent, or the consent of his agent, or representative, especially as the money thus forced from us, is to hire a man to TYRANNIZE over us, whom his Master calls our Governor. This seems to be Mr. Hutchinson’s situation; therefore I cannot but view him as a usurper, and absolutely deny his jurisdiction over this people; and am of opinion, that any act of assembly consented to by him, in his pretended capacity as Governor, is ipso facto, null and void, and consequently, not binding upon us. A ruler, independent on the people, is a monster in government; and such a one is Mr. Hutchinson; and such would George the third be, if he should be rendered independent on the people of Great-Britain

A Massachusetts Governor, the King by compact, with this people may nominate and appoint, but not pay. For this support, he must stipulate with the people, and until he does, he is no legal Governor; without this, if he undertakes to rule, he is a USURPER.

It is high time then, my countrymen, that this matter was enquired into, if we have no constitutional Governor, it is time we had one. If the pretended Governor, or Lieut. Governor, by being independent on us for their support, are rendered incapable of compleating acts of government, it is time, I say, that we had a lawful one to preside, or that the pretended Governors, were dismissed and PUNISHED as USURPERS, and that the council, according to the charter, should take upon themselves the government of this province.

This essay attacked Hutchinson personally as a “USURPER” and denied is authority as governor. It also explicitly stated that the king could be deposed on the same grounds, and that might have galvanized Hutchinson more than the attack on himself.

TOMORROW: The governor returns to his Council.

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