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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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

“What an unparallel’d Stock of Assurance & Self-Confidence”

In the fall of 1769, Boston’s non-importation controversy heated up. The town’s merchants, supported and pushed by the radical Whigs, had agreed not to order anything but necessities from Britain until Parliament repealed the Townshend duties.

Boston’s merchants had set up a committee of inspection to enforce that boycott, which had the added effect of showing the merchants of other towns that they were serious.

Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette ran on the front of each issue a short list of the merchants who hadn’t signed on. One of those names was the bookseller John Mein.

Mein, who also published the Boston Chronicle newspaper, responded by running documents from the Customs office showing what goods were being imported and by whom. Many of Boston’s most prominent merchants appeared in those documents, and they filled the newspapers with angry denials that they had actually imported anything. Or if they had, they had very good reasons.

Few of those angry denials were as angry and denialist as what Francis Green (1742-1809) published in the Boston Evening-Post on 25 Sept 1769, two hundred fifty years ago today. Mein had published Green’s manifest in late August. Green responded with a denial in the Boston Gazette on 4 September. Mein answered in his Chronicle on 7 September and then, when no reply appeared, again on 18 September.

Green then unleashed this magnificent diatribe:
To the PUBLIC.

A Most thorough Disdain of John Mein, is the true Cause of my not having hitherto given any Attention to his late public impertinent and arrogant Queries and Objections.

What an unparallel’d Stock of Assurance & Self-Confidence must this contemptible Fellow be possessed of, to imagine himself entitled to call, Time after Time, with the most audacious Effrontery, upon one and another of his Superiors, for Answers to the most pert and saucy Questions that ever issued from the conceited, empty Noddle, of a most profound Blockhead!

Who gave this Mushroom Judge, Authority, to summon even a Chimney-Sweeper to his ridiculous Tribunal? or wantonly, presumptuously, and very fallaciously to assume the respectable Title of The Public, in his romantic and indecent Addresses to an affronted Community? From whence does this so late an abject and Cap-in-Hand Beggar of Favours in a strange Country, derive the Shadow of Right, to put on a dictatorial Air, and publickly to insult his Benefactors? Ingratitude, Perverseness, and the most obstinate Self-Sufficiency, with a large Share of egregious Folly, can alone account for such Insolence and Stupidity; to the natural Consequence of which I drop him with ineffable Contempt.—

But lest any Part of the Public should be deceived by his Insinuations respecting my Importation in the Susanna, H. Johnson, Master. I now assure the World, that, (tho’ I hold not myself so cheap as to yield any Account to John Mein) if any Gentleman is yet unsatisfied, and chuses to apply either to the Committee of Merchants or to me, he may and shall be convinced, beyond all Possibility of Doubt, that I did not deviate from the Agreement in any Instance, of Course did not import any Tea.

But as I consider the entering into any kind of Contest with John Mein, as too great a Stoop, and as any Notice being taken of him, even in Opposition, may tend to make him of some little Consequence, and seems to be what he is aiming at, the Public, will, I doubt not, excuse my adding to the general Neglect of him, by never answering any of his future Publications, even though his consummate Impudence, should prompt him to be more vulgarly scurrilous, than he has already repeatedly been to the Committee of Merchants.

Sept. 20, 1769.
Green thus attacked Mein as an upstart mechanic, a recent arrival in Boston, and a purveyor of fake news who didn’t deserve to question a gentleman like himself.

For all his anger, however, Green proved to be a less than staunch supporter of non-importation. He had brought in proscribed goods. According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, “he was dropped from [the Whigs’] ranks in 1769 for violating the non-importation agreement.” By May 1770 Green was probably arguing to end the boycott, and in early 1774 he was among the Loyalists voting to have the town meeting quash its committee of correspondence.

During the siege of Boston, Green stayed in town with the British military, was an officer in a Loyalist militia company, and evacuated to Halifax. He became just as much of a Loyalist as John Mein.


ShugBear said...

Mushroom Judge?

J. L. Bell said...

"Mushroom" was a common eighteenth-century pejorative for someone who had risen too fast in society and was being presumptuous, like a mushroom sprouting overnight.

Mike said...

To steal a phrase, the gentleman doth protest too much.