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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Monday, April 08, 2019

“A particular Account of all the Plans of Operation”

In 1772, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson entertained thoughts of peeling John Hancock away from the Boston Whigs, thus depriving that party of major financial support.

With troops no longer stationed in town and no new taxes coming from London, the populace wasn’t feeling so many irritants. Samuel Adams had a hard time finding issues to rally people around. Hancock, his political instincts flowering, recognized that reality and stopped supporting militant actions.

I don’t think Hutchinson ever had a real chance of winning the young merchant to the side of the royal government—Hancock was too eager for popular acclaim. But the governor did throw out some favors.

One was giving Hancock the command of the Company of Cadets. Hancock loved the title “Colonel” and the chance to design new uniforms for that militia unit.

Hutchinson’s tactic seemed to bear fruit after a confrontation in May 1773. Hutchinson hosted a public dinner with the Customs Commissioners among the guests and the Cadets as his honor guard. Two of those young men, Moses Grant and James Foster Condy, left the ranks and joined the crowd yelling at the Commissioners. Hancock publicly took the position that military discipline had to overrule political positions and expelled Grant and Condy from the company.

Later that same month, at the start of the legislative term, the Massachusetts General Court elected a new Council. Hancock made the list, as he had before. This time, Gov. Hutchinson approved his name. He probably hoped the grateful merchant would become a more sedate member of the upper house.

On the day before the Council election, however, Hancock had visited Edmund Quincy’s house. Abigail Adams was there, and she reported to her husband John that Hancock “gave before a large Company of both Sexes…a particular Account of all the Plans of Operation for tomorrow, which he and many others had been concerting.” By that point the letters from London had been circulating among top Whigs and were no doubt part of those plans.

On 27 May, Secretary Thomas Flucker came to the house chamber with Gov. Hutchinson’s invitation for Hancock and select other members to move across to the Council.

Hancock declined.

A week later, on 2 June, Samuel Adams revealed the “Hutchinson letters” to the house. Hancock took the job of chairing the committee of the whole that discussed those documents. He apparently drafted the committee’s conclusion that they had been designed to “introduce arbitrary Power into the Province.”

When the Massachusetts Spy ran the first report on that ominous closed-door session, it also stated:
We are desired to inform the public, that the Hon. John Hancock, Esq; commander of the Cadet company, and ten of the members, then present, were against the late vote for expelling two of their members.
Hancock thus signaled that he was on the side of the popular protest, free from the governor’s influence.

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