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, May 29, 2020

Preparing for the Political Season to Reopen

Back in May 1768, the Massachusetts General Court added seven Whig House members involved in the Circular Letter dispute to the Council, which functioned as the legislature’s upper house and an advisory board for the governor.

Gov. Francis Bernard had vetoed six of those seven men.

In May 1769, a new legislature convened and elected those six men to the Council again. On 1 June, Gov. Bernard vetoed them again. He also vetoed five more names, including:
A couple of weeks later, Gov. Bernard moved the whole legislature out to Cambridge. Meeting in Harvard Hall (a building the governor himself had designed, shown above) instead of Boston’s Town House produced even more controversy. The House petitioned the Crown to remove Bernard from office. The legislative session ended in July. Bernard left Massachusetts forever in August.

On 15 Mar 1770, acting governor Thomas Hutchinson called the Massachusetts General Court back into session, once again in Cambridge. He said that he didn’t feel he had the authority to change the venue. There was a lot more arguing about that, as well as about Bernard’s and other officials’ letters to London, the recent Boston Massacre, and more.

Towns held elections for new General Court representatives in May. I discussed the Boston election here. The legislature was due to reconvene on 30 May, once again in Cambridge, and one of the first tasks would be to elect a new Council. The 28 May Boston Gazette shows the Whigs maneuvering to resume the arguments from the previous years.

One Councilor whom Bernard had removed in 1768 and 1769 was James Otis, Sr., but he would be back in the legislature nonetheless:
The Town of Barnstable have made Choice of the Hon. JAMES OTIS, Esq; to represent the Great and General Court the Year ensuing.——It is observable the good old Patriot had 92 Votes out of 101.
Edes and Gill also reported a complaint from the legislature’s unwitting host:
We hear that the Honorable Corporation of Harvard College, from a Regard to the Rights of the People and the good of that Seminary, have lately presented a Remonstrance to his Honor the Lieutenant-Governor, on the General Court’s being summoned to meet at that Seat of Learning, and have also entered a Protest on their Records to present this illegal Measure from being drawn into a Precedent.
The other big political development chronicled in that issue of the Boston Gazette was that Parliament had repealed most of the Townshend duties while keeping the most lucrative one, the tax on tea. What did that mean for the North American non-importation protest against all those tariffs? Merchants in Newport were reportedly shipping in goods already. Committees in Philadelphia and New York were asking what Boston would do.

On 23 May the Whigs had convened another public meeting of “the Trade” in Faneuil Hall, which “VOTED almost unanimously” to “still strictly adhere to the Non-importation Agreement.” The Boston Gazette assured “our Brethren of the other Colonies” that Boston wouldn’t be the first to reopen for regular business.

TOMORROW: Election day in Boston.

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