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, June 29, 2018

“The House then adjourn’d till To-morrow Morning”

At the end of the workday on 28 June 1768, Gov. Francis Bernard demanded that the Massachusetts House respond to his week-old message about their Circular Letter to other colonial legislatures.

The Crown—meaning Secretary of State Hillsborough speaking for the British government in the voice of King George III—was requiring that the House rescind that letter or the governor would dissolve the legislature for the year.

The House responded with the tested tactic of stalling for time. First they said they’d discuss the question at 10:00 A.M. the next morning—250 years ago today.

On that Wednesday morning, the legislators discussed a bridge in Westford, clarifying the province’s benefit of clergy law, burning old government securities, and their own attendance and travel records (so they could be reimbursed).

The representatives considered this question: “Whether the House will at this Time order a Tax-Bill?” The House voted no, 54 to 46. You may recall that Gov. Bernard was hoping the prospect of such a bill lowering voters’ taxes would be his leverage over the legislature, but the representatives narrowly took that off the table.

Only then did the House turn to the Circular Letter. And they asked for more time. As Bernard described:
The House sent me a Message desiring me to grant them a Recess that they might consult their Constituents respecting the Requisition.

I knew that such an Indulgence would be liable to great Abuse; but if I had thought it could have produced any good Effect, which I had not any Reason to expect, I did not think myself at Liberty to postpone the Consideration of this important Question.

I therefore returned an immediate Answer that I could not consistently with my Sense of my Duty prorogue or adjourn the Court untill I had received an Answer.
The committee sent to the governor to ask this favor didn’t include any of the House’s Whig firebrands. In fact, those designated members might have been on the fence, most eager to consult with their neighbors. But Bernard didn’t relent.

In the afternoon the House moved through bills on financing, Native communities, and other matters until the governor’s thirty-nine-word reply to its request was recognized and entered into the record. And in response:
The House then adjourn’d till To-morrow Morning at Eight o’Clock, the Members bring first enjoin’d to attend punctually.
Oh, the suspense!

TOMORROW: Can’t put it off any longer.

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